Corruption or noble cause?
Postmodern theories suggest that there are no facts, but only “competing narratives.” We may disagree with the ultimate rejection of claims of reality, but cannot dismiss the importance of “narratives” for understanding politics. It may sound odd, but the recent political crises in Turkey are indeed a very good case of “politics as competing narratives.” The recent grand corruption case is not a corruption case in the minds of many in Turkey, not because the ordinary supporters of the government are fanatics and/or fools and not because PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the ultimate manipulator or a kind of snake charmer. In fact, he is, but that is not and cannot be the whole story.
The PM and his party are currently trying to manipulate public opinion by presenting the corruption case as an attack against not only himself and even his government, but as an assault or plot against Turkey. It sounds and indeed it is the ultimate chutzpah, but after all, it works, and we need to understand how it works to be able to make sense of politics in Turkey. I am not sure if it was hypocrisy on behalf of the founders of the governing party to denounce their Islamist past and to redefine themselves as conservative democrats that they turned their back on their Islamist roots when they felt powerful enough, or whether it is because the AKP could not cope with the challenges of governing Turkey and foreign policy, leading it to seek to take refuge in its previous, simplistic, Islamist understanding of politics. No matter which version is true, it seems the AKP turned to base its politics on an Islamist-nationalist mission at some stage, and the PM and his close circle is not only trying to manipulate public opinion, but genuinely believes what he says in terms of his new Islamist discourse.
According to this discourse, there is no corruption but there is a wicked plan to ruin “the finances of the noble cause.” “The noble cause” is assumed to be rescuing the Islamic world from deprivation and submission to the West under the leadership of Turkey, with Erdoğan as its leader.
It is now clear that it is not secular law and justice or even jurisprudence, but Islamic law that is of relevance for Erdoğan and the leadership of the party, as well as for many of his supporters. In their eyes, “the deals with businessmen” are legitimate, since the corruption probe has been denounced by the Islamic scholar (who is accepted as a religious authority by Erdoğan) on Islamic grounds that “financial help from businessman can be accepted for the public good even if it is offered for financial deals.” Nevertheless, it is not only that the PM, the government and many AKP supporters are Islamists and, being so, do not genuinely acknowledge just a secular law, as well as a secular political system and institutions, but also believe in Islamic legitimacy.
As for Islamism, it is not a religious narrative with reference to politics, but a political narrative with reference to religion, while there is not one but many Islamist narratives. The new AKP version is based on a narrative of “a success story of the new Turkey and its great Muslim leader who is being targeted by global powers and their native collaborators.”
Finally, the corruption case is no corruption case, but a confrontation of competing narratives in today’s Turkey. Turkey managed to overcome some aspects of the democracy deficit resulting from the politics of “secularism at the expense of democracy” under AKP rule, but now it is time to overcome the politics of “democracy at the expense of secularism.”
You see, after all, postmodern theorists have a point: Unless we agree on a narrative (a “secular democracy” narrative in this case) we cannot even define corruption as corruption!