Conspiracy theories are the opium of the masses
Not a day passes without at least one commentary about the nefarious plots foreign powers are hatching against Turkey. For instance, if you google “Türkiye’ye büyük tuzak” (Big plot against Turkey), you get 8,700 results. If you search for “Hedef Türkiye!” (Turkey is the target!), you can find—wait for it—a whopping 239,000 results. Naturally, there are many other similar examples.
In such commentaries, Turkey is often portrayed as a strong and rising power, which has been facing unprecedented international plots by jealous outsiders.
In fact, the idea of Turkey being surrounded by internal and external enemies is not a new phenomenon. It has long been embedded in Turkey’s political culture and is often referred to as the Sevres Syndrome—from the treaty that confirmed the defeat and partition of the Ottoman Empire by foreign powers after World War I.
But maintaining the sense of trauma doubtlessly serves a political purpose, since it is instrumental in terms of mobilizing the masses against threats, whether real or imagined. Therefore, it helps policymakers manufacture consent about specific policies. And at times, governments reap the benefits of being a victim of conspiracies without having to assume responsibility for their actions.
However, this approach is very much contradictory in itself. On one hand, such framing presents Turkey as a great power but, on the other, places it in a vulnerable position vis-à-vis its competitors. In other words, if we are that strong, then why are we so afraid?
But that is not the point.
The point is the obvious deterioration of intellectual reasoning in Turkey, which impedes us from generating healthy debates on whatever topic is at hand. We need to discuss pressing issues from a multi-dimensional, thorough and analytical perspective in order to offer sound and objective policy recommendations.
Instead, there is a common tendency among so-called “experts” to posit Turkey at the center of almost each and every foreign policy issue in such a way as to reveal a plot against Turkey by desperately trying to link numerous irrelevant developments occurring during the same period.
“’Twas ever thus,” some might claim, even since the foundation of the Turkish Republic, given persistent problems with regard to education, academic freedom and democracy. Yet, it is also true that growing political polarization and partisanship over the last couple of years have exacerbated this trend.
With the establishment of various media channels and the introduction of new portals of communication, we have perhaps become more exposed to these “experts,” who tend to explain current issues through the prism of conspiracies that lack concrete data and rely on pure speculation instead.
And the media is not solely to blame here either, because given the ratings of such TV shows, people seem to appeal to shortcuts and one-size-fits-all explanations.
In one of my own experiences as a guest in a TV debate, a speaker who had written extensively on foreign policy argued that Britain’s decision to leave the European Union was all tied to Turkey’s EU accession negotiations. When he saw my eyeballs open wide, he went on and said, “The U.K. has always been a Trojan horse for the U.S. to bring down the EU from within. As such, the U.K. has long supported Turkey’s EU membership so as to undermine the EU. When the U.K. realized that the task was no longer possible, the policymakers decided to leave the union.” Needless to say, I was rendered speechless for a few minutes after he finished.
According to social psychologists, opting for conspiracy theories reflects a style of thinking prevalent in the societies in question. The problem is not a paucity of relevant information on a certain issue, but how you interpret the data you do possess. Therefore, your choices reflect the degree of your negligence, idleness, rigidity and prejudices.
Conspiracy theories may seem like effective tools to distract people from searching for the truth, but they inevitably lead to poor reasoning at both intellectual and political levels. If we don’t understand what is occurring around us properly, we won’t be able to comprehend the global and regional trends and as a matter of fact, we will fall short of producing solutions for the complex set of problems facing us ahead. In that case, we shouldn’t look too far afield for someone to blame.