Political truths and politics of truth
The truth is the least important matter in politics. It is widely believed that “the truth is the first casualty of war,” but it is also true in peacetime.
I am inclined to think that it is mostly authoritarian regimes that base their politics on the distortion of reality, but it was two of the strongest democracies that occupied Iraq in 2003 under the premises of a major distortion of reality. The United States and the United Kingdom claimed that the Saddam regime possessed chemical weapons, but it later turned out to be a lie which was based on fabricated documents. In the words of the anti-war opposition coalition in the U.K., “He [Tony Blair] lied, millions died.”
Still, we have to admit that authoritarian rulers have more propensity and stronger devices to distort reality since under such circumstances, there is no space to challenge the ruling propaganda. It means that the state, ruling party or ruling clique has a total monopoly on the fabrication of truth. Nevertheless, the process of “truth production” or “perception formation” is not only shaped by political suppression and domination.
The “popular perception of truth” is shaped by a more complex process of reflectivity. In the case of nationalist politics and propaganda, it works through the interaction between nationalist parties and politicians and nationalist public opinion. It may be argued that nationalist public opinion is also the product of nationalist politics, but let’s leave this endless debate aside. Finally, if the public opinion is already shaped by nationalist convictions, it turns out to be a vicious cycle that the implementation of authoritarian politics can be easily justified and legitimized by nationalist propaganda, as long as it works and enforces authoritarianism, more nationalist propaganda follows and feeds its reproduction.
Critical political theorists discuss these themes in brilliant ways, and there is a vast literature on these topics.
I’d like to suggest to them, though, to observe Turkey’s politics to try to see the current politics under that light. That is to say that what matters most for understanding politics and society in Turkey is to comprehend the current perceptions of truth first by the rulers and then by the majority of society. The ruling party, its supporters and their nationalist allies, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which together make up more than half of Turkey’s population believe in the existence of “a total assault on Turkey” by all kinds of “enemies.” The list of enemies are long, starting with “the terror groups”: The Gülenists, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Democratic Union Party (PYD) in northern Syria; then there are “those who claim to be dissidents but are, in fact, extensions of terrorists” – even the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has been targeted as a supporter of terrorism. Moreover, in the view of the rulers, the real enemy is the hostile international powers (the U.S. tops the list) which are supporting terror groups to devastate Turkey. Under the circumstances, any criticism, any voice which is different than the understanding of the ruling bloc first attracts the hostility of a considerable segment of the public, to say nothing of state suppression.
Worse, the minds of the opposition circles are utterly confused. Moreover, the majority of the republican opposition is not immune to nationalist propaganda; on the contrary, despite their opposition to the ruling party, many are arch components of the nationalist authoritarian discourse in general. The so-called “left-wing nationalists” criticize the ruling party for having been soft on Kurds in the name of the peace process and of being responsible for the infiltration of the Gülenist group into state institutions. They are no less hostile to the Western world than the ruling party; in contrast, they are proud of having been ever skeptical of Western powers even when the ruling party was pro-Western.
Finally, the so-called “Kurdish political movement” has done everything to play into the hands of nationalist authoritarianism and enforced the anti-Kurdish perceptions of nationalist public opinion. They decided to take up arms again and the tiny minority of democrats lost all their limited credibility in defending Kurdish rights and peace.
In short, this is how the perception of reality is shaped in Turkey. That perception is enforcing more authoritarian politics and promising even more chaos and tragedy.