‘I don’t have socks, Mr. President!’

‘I don’t have socks, Mr. President!’

President Abdullah Gül captured hearts and minds by visiting quake-stricken Van yesterday, the first day of the four-day Feast of the Sacrifice or the Kurban Bayram holiday. Wisely, out of his fear that his presence might adversely affect the rescue efforts, the president did not rush to the quake region immediately after the quake struck. The timing of the visit could not have been better. In those tents soaked with rain and sleet, as the removal of the debris of what used to be their warm houses began, the people of Van and Erciş saw all of a sudden the smiling and affectionate face of Gül telling them that the Turkish state is big and resourceful and that efforts were underway to accommodate them in quake-resistant new buildings within eight to 10 months.

The reflection of the visit of the president on the faces of people rendered homeless by the quake was vivid. A visit by the president of the Turkish state was perhaps the best rehabilitation gift that might have been extended to boost the morale of the people of the quake area.

As I managed to see on the flat screen, the presidential security personnel were distributing 10-lira banknotes to the kids when a small girl managed to approach the president and deliver him the message of the day: “I don’t have socks, Mr. President.” Puzzled with the innocent expression and biting demand of the small, cute girl, Gül ordered the people accompanying him to immediately provide a pair of socks to the little girl.

Problem solved? Unfortunately not. The little girl approaching the president and asking for a pair of socks was of course a very important development yesterday but more so created an event that symbolically demonstrated the continued problems this “social state” has yet to overcome. In any country, a natural disaster as big as the one that hit Van might produce some serious complications in relief efforts for a brief period, let’s say in the first half day or so. In countries where actions speak louder than words, after the immediate shock of the disaster ends, the relevant state agencies and relief organizations immediately establish coordination efforts and, according to pre-disaster rescue and relief contingency plans, both rescue and relief effort teams begin their work.

Five-year-old kids might still, of course, ask for a pair of socks from the visiting president of the state, but by the time a president visits the disaster area, relief efforts are so advanced that the small girl asking for socks would most probably be deployed there by the visiting dignitary’s PR people to convey the image of an affectionate leader to the viewing public.

No…No… No… I am not saying the little girl was deployed there by Gül’s PR people… Indeed, I wish she had been there for such a purpose. I wish her almost-frozen bare feet had been bare as part of a propaganda effort, but unfortunately, she and many other kids were victims of a second disaster, a relief effort that, after so many days and such an immense donation campaign by the nation, has yet to sufficiently provide relief to the quake victims.

Well, back in 1999 this country initiated a revolutionary – and biting – quake tax on a variety of consumer products including cigarettes, alcohol, fuel and so on. Since then, 50 billion dollars have been collected, giving the state a lot of resources to deploy against natural disasters. Instead, this government used that money to building the double-lane highways it pledged in its election campaign. Should the state not be more serious in its dealings with its citizens?

I wish all our Muslim readers a happy Bayram.