Why conservatives now love the Leviathan

Why conservatives now love the Leviathan

For decades, Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) has been a feared institution in the eyes of leftists, Kurds and religious conservatives. These “peripheral” groups, which were often oppressed by the Kemalist “center,” saw MİT as a Big Brother that spies on them, keeps secret files about them and can carry out covert operations against their values, interests and even their very lives.

Times have changed in Turkey, though. And one of the dramatic signs of this change is the new MİT law that has given the spy agency extraordinary powers and extraordinary protection from legal prosecution and media control.

According to the law, for example, agents of MİT will have legal immunity, as any prosecutor who might try to question them will be blocked by the mere statement that MİT is carrying out a covert operation.

MİT will be able to gather almost any private information it wants about citizens, monitoring and eavesdropping on them at will. Moreover, media institutions will be punished severely if they published any secret document belonging to MİT. (To be fair, there are some positive aspects of the law as well, such as the warrant given to MİT “to talk to jailed terrorists,” which will help the peace process with Kurdish separatists.)

Passed in Parliament this week by the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), the law has raised many concerns that Turkey, once again, is heading toward becoming a paranoid national security state. But, this time, the concerned Turks did not include the pro-AKP conservatives. Quite the contrary, those conservatives seem very happy with the new MİT law.

The reason for this dramatic shift is obvious. In the past, Turkey’s religious conservatives were threatened by the state, which was then dominated by the secularists. That is why these religious conservatives agreed with the liberal critics of the authoritarian state – say, the Leviathan – and supported the European Union accession process in order to tame it.

However, this liberal-leaning conservative stance ended very quickly once the conservatives came to dominate the state around 2010-11. The liberals have not changed much in their position: they are still as critical of the Leviathan as they have always been. But pro-AKP religious conservatives have changed dramatically. They just don’t see a problem with the Leviathan anymore, for a very understandable reason: They now own the Leviathan. They know that the new MİT will not go after themselves; it will rather go after their enemies.

This is, of course, very unfortunate. The religious conservatives had a historic chance to diffuse Turkey’s authoritarian state tradition, liberating not just themselves but all other groups as well. Had they done that, they would have written a democratic success story that would have been an example to other Muslim societies and received global admiration. They rather gave in to the temptation of power and the seduction of opportunism. They could have killed the Leviathan and instead build a liberal, limited, transparent state. Instead, they allowed the Leviathan to co-opt themselves.