Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan and marginality

Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan and marginality

In recent days, thousands of protesters have gone to the streets all across Turkey, with all eyes on Gezi Park in Istanbul. But is this really just about a park? Yes it is, but it really is about much more. It is a dispute over the future of Turkey.

Development is central to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). Erdoğan himself has been a man with many projects. This is evident all over Istanbul, where new apartment buildings, hospitals, universities and shopping malls are popping up everywhere. No one can deny that Erdoğan has done much for the country, given that it is now seeing unprecedented prosperity.

However development, in the broadest sense, is also what makes him so controversial. His vision for the future of the country is not shared by everyone. Whether it is about nuclear energy or education reform, Erdoğan consistently angers diverse segments of society throughout the country. And this has all come to a head in Gezi Park.

Erdoğan’s authoritarianism has become abundantly clear in his reaction towards peaceful protests. It is even clearer in his words that this is not just a reaction, but a deep part of the way he tries to lead Turkey. This can be seen in the way he uses the word “marginal”. While he automatically assumed it meant something negative, marginality is also synonymous with diversity. In fact, marginality, as the opposite of the mainstream, is actually the source of creative, innovation and ultimately development. By embracing marginality and diversity, leaders encourage creativity in art, innovation in business and development of the economy.

Companies like Apple or Toyota know that if they do not create new products, they cease to be competitive. This is why they all have research and development departments. The most innovative R&D departments allow for diversity of opinion, where practices like brainstorming and experimenting are encouraged. The best innovation allows for an open-ended process to find what works best, and this is accomplished only by creative people with marginal ideas or marginal practices.

 Successful companies organize the structure of the company in a way that does not interfere with the creative process of R&D departments. For example, if the accounting department controls research and development, it will easily refuse funding of potentially successful projects. R&D departments must be able to give input to the company, thus CEOs cannot be too authoritarian if they want the company to succeed. In other words, CEOs must allow the creative individuals of the company to speak.

Diversity is also very important for governance of states. We have seen, time and time again, certain cultures which have had explosions of creativity. One important example can be seen in the Golden Age of the Islam. Around a thousand years ago, the Islamic world was among the most advanced societies in the world. The best of these emirs, caliphs and sultans did not rely on just one branch or school of Islam, but encouraged diversity in society and even welcomed Jews and Christians to their centers of power. They also supported diversity in thought, by being patrons of science, medicine, theology and philosophy. This helped make them become so powerful.

The Ottoman Empire in its early days also accepted that diversity was an asset. Not only did it utilize the knowledge of Greeks and Armenians, it also welcomed persecuted Jewish refugees coming from Spain. The Muslim world began to decline, in part, when diversity of ideas and practices where replaced with dogmatism that dominated every aspect of society. Perhaps the best example of this can be seen with Hezarfen Ahmed Celebi, who was exiled by Sultan Murad IV, because he was experimenting with flight in the 17th century.

These are all lessons Erdoğan should take to heart. Unfortunately, he does not even seem willing to listen to his own country. By doing this, he is now undermining all of the good he has done for his country. Indeed, he now seems intent on following the patterns of the late Ottoman Empire rather than the early one.

The protest in Gezi Park has thousands upon thousands of supporters. They are the marginal, creative individuals of Turkey. They are a major part of the future of Turkey’s development. While Erdoğan says he wants to see Turkey develop even more, he needs to learn the ways development actually works. Right now, the majority of Turkey’s creative, innovative individuals are now in the protests. If Erdoğan does not start listening to them, Turkey will never become the world power that it seeks to be.