The ‘Mankurts’ of Turkey
Nationalism, conservativism and right-wing politics in general have always been nativist in Turkey. But recently, they are on the rise along with xenophobia, anti-Westernism and anti-intellectualism. All societies in times of turmoil seek refuge in authoritarianism, always search for unity and become skeptical of domestic and foreign enemies. Anti-intellectualism is an essential aspect of authoritarianism, since intellectuals are perceived as the enemies of stability as long as they refuse conformism and defend freedoms and the right to difference and dissent. In this respect, Turkey’s story is no different than other epochs and examples of swings toward authoritarianism.
The most recent example of anti-intellectualism was President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s attack on academics who signed a petition addressed to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who visited Turkey, asking her not to support Turkey’s authoritarian rulers in exchange for a deal on Syrian migrants. In fact, I was among the signatories, but I did not think that it was very brilliant idea, or an important effort in our struggle for democracy. Nevertheless, I have no regrets since I support all efforts against authoritarianism in Turkey.
Besides, it emerged to be a new indicator of the extent of intolerance concerning dissent and freedom of thought. The president did not miss this chance to accuse “alienated intellectuals” of being “the fifth column” as pawns of foreign powers. This time, he used a brand new term: “Mankurt,” a term that, until recently, nobody knew meant “those who lose their mind and became robotic servants of their masters, who tortured them previously, to serve their needs.” The term is claimed to originate from ancient Turkic mythology.
All xenophobes think that they are unique in their skepticism against “others.” Nationalist and Islamist anti-Westernists think it is particular to Muslims of this or that particular nation. All nativists think that only they feel that their values are attacked by enemies of their community. Nonetheless, it is the banal story of xenophobic and conspiratorial narrow-mindedness and another simple example of fear from freedom and difference.
What is more interesting is that some of those so-called liberal democratic converts to the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) cause do not hesitate to feed that narrow-mindedness by accusing the petition’s signatories of being alienated from their own society and seeking refuge in the help of foreigners, or as being “the new seekers of the Western mandate.”
One of them was “clever” enough to use a more complicated term like “diasporic-mindedness,” by which he meant the mentality of those intellectuals resembles those who live in the diaspora and that their minds are shaped by enmity toward the AKP and Erdoğan more than anything else.
The rise and promotion of narrow-mindedness is an alarming thing in itself for any society. Nevertheless, the rise of hypocrisy in the name of power worshipping and indirectly supporting authoritarianism in return for career opportunities is even more alarming, as it exposes the extent of moral decadence that authoritarian regimes always produce.