Turkey’s nationalist consensus
It is good news the majority of the United Nations have voted against Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. However, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his party have seized this opportunity to benefit from the United States president’s unwise decision, by portraying the U.N.’s decision as evidence of Turkey’s international triumph and Erdoğan’s “global leadership.” No politician would miss such an opportunity for domestic political propaganda.
Nevertheless, I hope the president and his governing party know that in reality, the U.N. decision was a result of an international consensus rather than a leading role by Turkey. Otherwise, it might be another case of delusion in global affairs.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) foreign minister’s recent verbal attack on Ottoman General Fahreddin Pasha, who was the last defender of the holy city of Madina at the end of World War I, has been another reminder of national grandness. The UAE politician’s claim that the Ottoman pasha was a thief, who transferred historical edifices to Istanbul before the city’s inevitable surrender, has received a fierce reaction from Erdoğan. In his response, Erdoğan recalled the 1916 Arab revolt, which has always been a controversial issue between Turkish and Arab nationalists.
In fact, it has been a long lasting argument by secularist Republicans against the Arab world that the Arabs had revolted with the help of the British to undo Ottoman war efforts, proof that the idea of Muslim solidarity was untrustworthy. This is not to say Erdoğan has come close to the Kemalist-Republican thesis, but it rather reflects the deterioration of the ruling party’s relations with pro-Western Arab countries, especially with the UAE. Moreover, the last issue has been another opportunity to underline Turkey’s national-historical mission.
Recent developments have enforced the legitimacy of nationalist politics in general. The Republican opposition (CHP) has found itself in the difficult position of supporting the ruling party’s stance on both the issues of Jerusalem and defense of the Ottoman legacy. Since it has been the president and his party who have capitalized on those issues, the CHP has chosen to assert itself on other nationalist terms as a challenge to the ruling party.
Now, the CHP has attacked the ruling party on nationalist grounds by raising the issue of “Greek occupation of some Aegean islands.” The opposition has claimed Greece occupied 12 islands during Erdoğan’s term while the ruling party looked away. Since nationalism has turned out to be the major source of political legitimacy for some time, Republicans have chosen to take the lead rather than challenge the problematic rise of nationalism. On the contrary, the CHP leader has adopted a belligerent stance and has promised to take “the occupied islands” back when he comes into power.
The problem is that the rising nationalist legitimacy of politics or nationalist populism in other words, is not the remedy for Turkey’s political, social and economic crises. Turkey needs a democratic consensus rather than a “nationalist consensus” to overcome its domestic and international problems. Unfortunately, politics are moving in an opposite direction and every single issue enforces a “nationalist consensus,” which only contributes to the political impasse.
While nationalists everywhere legitimize their politics in the name of society’s “unity,” nationalism only divides and polarizes societies along their rigid definitions of community. Turkey is no exception to that rule.