Why are there so many traitors?
Last week, the head of TÜSIAD, the Turkish Businessmen and Industrialists Association, Muharrem Yılmaz, gave a keynote speech at the annual gathering of his organization. He warned the government about the bad signs regarding the economy. If the current political tensions are prolonged, and if the rule of law is compromised, he said, foreign investors might begin to withdraw their resources from Turkey.
The next day, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan spoke. He, as is now his usual, responded to criticism with counter-attack, saying:
“The TÜSIAD chair cannot say, ‘Global capital won’t come to such a country.’ If he said that, then that is treason against this country. After you said that, with what nerve are you going to invite the ministers of this government to TÜSIAD? With what nerve you will come to this prime minister and his government to solve your problems regarding your investments?”
In other words, Erdoğan not only blamed the country’s top businessmen’s association for high treason, he also threatened them by noting that their “problems” might not be solved by the government if they use such “treacherous” rhetoric.
This is, of course, very saddening. Because the branding of criticisms against the government as “treason” is not the hallmark of democracies. It is the hallmark of much less pleasant regimes.
This is also sad, because it was none other than Erdoğan himself who challenged and, for quite a while, suspended this rhetoric of “treason,” which has dominated Turkish politics for a century. There probably is no major political camp which has not been accused of high treason by their political opponents.
Notably, it was Erdoğan himself who was passionately blamed for this unpatriotic crime - for “selling Cyprus,” weakening the Turkish military, or approaching Armenia - by the hard-core secular nationalists. (A delusional conspiracy theorist had even written a popular book in 2007, which depicted Erdoğan as a “secret Jew” who collaborates with the Elders of Zion to undermine Turkey’s “full independence.”)
In other words, Erdoğan is not inventing a rhetoric of treason. He is just adopting this long-established tradition for his own benefit, at a time when he feels politically cornered.
The deeper problem, I believe, is that we Turks simply cannot imagine that what we see as the right path for the country can really be seen as the wrong path by people who, like us, have good intentions. We rather believe that The Truth is so obvious that those who do not accept it can only have evil intentions. They can only be liars, thieves, and “sellers of the homeland,” another term for traitors. They cannot just simply be mistaken. The possibility that we can be mistaken is not even remotely possible.
Perhaps, the long-term solution would be to introduce some culture of relativity to our education system, which sorely lacks it. Students must be told that people can see the world with different eyes and that does not necessarily divide them as good versus evil. (This might sound like common sense to you, but it would sound like naiveté, fantasy and wishy-washiness to most people in Turkey.)
In the short term, however, I have no magic solution. We might rather need to go through yet another period of “traitor” hunting, until a new political cadre emerges with a less paranoid and more reconciliatory message.