Gentrifying failure

Gentrifying failure

Turkey’s drift from the Western alliance is going to be very painful, and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. As the West has started to perceive Turkey truly as a failing state, the country’s rulers have started to feel freer to express their hostility (past and present) toward the West. 

What’s more, Turkey’s feelings of disappointment are directed at all sides - not just the EU countries that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan condemns harshly almost every day. Most recently, Russia has frustrated Turkey’s high expectations, not only by not lifting trade sanctions but (more importantly) by engaging with the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in northwest Syria. Even the best friend of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of northern Iraq, has enflamed the situation by raising the Kurdish flag at official buildings in Kirkuk, along with the Iraqi flag, and declaring Kurdish as an official language in Kirkuk. This is despite the fact that Kirkuk is not part of the KRG, but has been defined as “disputed territory” since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. 

It is not difficult to imagine how Turkey’s rulers must be feeling being boxed in, rather like the character Helena in David Lynch’s film “Boxing Helena.” Nevertheless, the government has expressed no willingness to acknowledge the seriousness of the problems. Moreover, let alone trying to find ways out of its supposed encirclement, it seeks to repeat its mistakes by trying to use local forces in Syria and Iraq as leverage (if not as proxies).  

Throughout all this, Ankara has chosen to put all blame on the eternal enemies of Turkey who are supposedly acting together to bring down the “rising star of Islam” (Erdoğan’s Turkey). What’s worse, this is not only a propaganda discourse to cover up foreign policy failures big and small; unfortunately, it reflects the mindset of the ruling party and its followers. Similar to the case of individuals who console themselves by thinking only the enmity of others has led to their loss of wealth and status, our rulers and their supporters not only try to cover up their failures but also try to sublimate them. 

Indeed, the best way to avoid acknowledgement of failures and weaknesses is not to try to hide them; rather, the best strategy is to blow them up. That is the way to translate an ordinary policy failure into almost a celestial matter. It may not be a conscious strategy but rather a kind of defense mechanism, as in the case of individuals trying to justify failure to themselves. The best way to overcome discontent is to sublimate failure, to blow up the matter of controversy and confrontation rather than address the root of the problem.

That is how Turkey’s confrontation with EU member countries over the ban on ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) election meetings has been elevated to the level of “clash of civilizations.”

This strategy does not only help politicians justify politics of “imminent danger and threat,” it also helps them reverse their failures into heroism. It turns the situation into a story of struggling against powerful and determined enemies, “formidable power centers” and “the forces fighting against history.” Ultimately, the story emerges as a fight between “good and evil” as the mission of Muslim leaders. 

Nevertheless, while gentrifying failure is a perfect strategy to escape the problems resulting from political mistakes, it also has some shortcomings. The fact that is produces no remedy to overcome problems is just one of them.