08 August 2013

Chapulling in Turkey

If the word “chapulling” in the title makes you scratch your head, stay tuned.

Recent events in both Turkey and Egypt graphically demonstrate the truth of the dictum that “tyranny by a majority (or by a large plurality in either case at hand) is no better than tyranny by a few or tyranny by one.” 

Though many others have talked about “tyranny of the majority” in the past (John Adams first, followed by Alexis de Toqueville, John Stuart Mill, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Ayn Rand, among others), I may be the first to phrase the matter exactly thus.  Those great minds are, in order, American, French, English, German, and Russian, by the way, if you’re keeping track.

Of course, none of the afore-mentioned worthies had as predecessor the Vulcan philosopher Mr. Spock, who famously said in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”.  The alternate younger version says the same thing in this summer’s Star Trek: Into Darkness.  Nor did those illuminati have the example of Ben Martin, who said in The Patriot, “Why should I trade one tyrant 3000 miles away for 3000 tyrants one mile away?”

Lest ye think that making a pop culture reference such as quoting a science fiction film, even the words of so iconic a character as the renowned Mr. Spock, trivializes the matter at hand, you should know that no less an institution than the Texas State Supreme Court quoted that very same line in its 2008 decision in Robinson v. Crown Cork & Seal.  It even noted that the source of the quote was from the planet Vulcan.

Another spin on Spock’s famous aphorism, by the way, is that “the needs of the many should outweigh the greed of the few”, which is the implicit cry of the 99% in the Occupy and indignados-indignés movements against the 1% and their infliction of austerity upon the poor and less affluent to pay for the mistakes of the wealthy.

The current situation in Turkey clearly shows what happens when an electoral majority, or rather near-majority (49.83% of the vote in the 2011 general elections) in this case, exercises its power and authority without thought or regard to the wishes of the minority (or minorities) or its effects upon them.  Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) have justly received accolades and praise for the economic, general welfare, health, and human rights advances they have made since first coming to power in 2002. 

However, as so often happens with humans when flushed with success and praise, especially with those who believe they have God on their side as the members of the AKP (however covertly) do, they have begun to see themselves as infallible.  Thus, critics of any regime policy such as the destruction of Gezi Park become “haters of religion” or “terrorists”, and those who protest the authoritarian direction of the government’s overall standard operating procedure become “mohareb”, or “enemies of God”.

The foundation of the modern Republic of Turkey is the Basilea Rhomain, or Roman Empire, upon which the Turkish republic’s immediate predecessor, the Ottoman Sultanate, was based.  In fact, one of the titles of the Ottoman Sultan was “Caesar of Rome” and his capital was Constantinople, founded as Nova Roma in 330 CE, formerly the seat of the (Greek-speaking but still Roman) empire.

Though their realm became independent under Osman I upon the implosion of the Seljuq Sultanate of Rome in 1299, Ottoman rulers did not carry the title of Sultan until Murad I in 1383 after he conquered the Balkans.  After finally taking Constantinople in 1453, Mehmed II adopted the titles Padishah and Caesar of Rome.  But it wasn’t until 1517, after finishing the conquest of the Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt where the titular Abbasid successor of the Prophet resided that Selim I took on the title of Caliph of the Islamic world.

When Mustafa Kemal’s nationalists abolished the Sultanate in favor of a republic in 1922, they allowed the former Sultan to carry the titles Caesar of Rome and Caliph of Islam until 1924 when those were abolished.  Constantinople then became known as Istanbul and the capital moved to the more centrally-located Ankara in the middle of Anatolia.

The Republic of Turkey was founded upon the “Six Arrows” of Ataturk, as Kemal, the leader of the nationalists in the Turkish War of Independence against the occupying forces from the Allied powers (from France, United Kingdom, United States, Armenia, Greece, Italy, Georgia) and the Ottoman Sultante after the First World War, became known.  These Six Arrows are:

1.       Republicanism
2.      Populism (power in citizenship)
3.      Secularism (akin to the French concept of laïcité)
4.      Revolutionism (radical modernism)
5.      Nationalism (based on the social contract theory of Jean-Jacques Rousseau)
6.      Statism (regulation of the economy and action in it where needed by the state).

Regarding his principle of secularism, Kemal desired to completely separate government from religion, his goal being to stop religious leaders from interfering in government and to prevent government from interfering in religion.  He based a large part of his ideas on the French concept of laïcité, or rationalist anticlerical laicism, and wanted his government to stand at equal distance from every religion, neither supporting nor persecuting any one religion.

In practice, things have been a little more complex than that, even in the beginning.  For example, while the Sultanate’s office of Sheikh ul-Islam, which governed religious affairs and was second only to the Sultan, was abolished in 1924, in its place was erected the Presidency of Religious Affairs, commonly known as the Diyanet.  However, Secularism has remained one of the Six Arrows of Kemalism, and, therefore, of the official philosophy of the republic.

Preserving the republic’s secularism is one of the excuses given by military putschtists of the four coups d’etat the country’s armed forces have carried out in Turkey since the republic’s beginning in 1960, 1971, 1980, and 1997.  The last of those was directed against the prime minister from the Welfare Party, the country’s first Islamist party with any success, though not directly against the MP’s (members of Parliament) at the time.

Islamist predecessors of the Welfare Party included the National Order Party, founded 1970 and declared unconstitutional in 1971 and the National Salvation Party, founded in 1972 and dissolved by the military government that came to power in the coup of 1980.  The Welfare Party came into being when the military returned government to civilian hands in 1983 and was declared illegal by the Constitutional Court in 1998.  In its wake, the current president, Abdullah Gul, organized the Virtue Party (Erdogan was imprisoned at the time) composed of both fundamentalist and more liberal Islamists, but it too was declared unconstitutional in 2001.

Later in 2001, the more liberal Islamists around Erdogan and Gul organized the Justice and Development Party (AKP), rebranding themselves as socially conservatives who promoted liberal economics with no politico-religious goals.  While the first two points are accurate, experience has proven during the party’s eleven years in power that the third point is little more than a sham to get around the country’s secularism.

The eleven years since the AKP first came to power in 2002 as the first party in the republic’s history to win enough seats not to have to form a coalition in Parliament have seen a slow but ever-increasing attack by the supposedly non-theocratic AKP against the barriers between the secular nature of public institutions and the ultimate establishment of religion.

Most famously, the AKP passed a law in 2007 allowing female students, teachers, and administrators in universities both public and private to wear headscarves (as visitors have always been able to do).  The law was overturned in 2008 by the republic’s Constitutional Court. 

Since the outbreak of the Arab Spring in 2011, the AKP has actively supported, with money and advice, the “moderate Islamists” in countries across the region of the organizations fraternally connected to the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt.  Writers of the English-language Turkish press refer to these as “Ikwanists” after the Arabic word for brotherhood.

A little over a year ago in late spring 2012, the AKP passed an education reform bill that not only increased the number of years of compulsory education for both boys and girls from eight to twelve, but also mandated the study of the Quran in schools.

Most recently, late this past May, the AKP passed a law prohibiting the advertisement of alcoholic beverages and limiting where and when they can be sold and consumed.  Other dominoes in the march of the AKP, particularly that clique around Erdogan, toward what many fear is, toward total Islamicization of their society includes a ban on outdoor seating at cafes and bars during Ramadan.  Wandering AKP supporters have taken up violently harassing people who do not observe Ramadan and couples kissing in public, early reminiscent of the hezbollahi gangs of the early days of Iran's Islamic Republic.

Turks have also witnessed the likewise ever-increasing tendency of MP’s from AKP to behave as if none of the opinions of others matter, much like American Republicans in Congress.  This tendency not to play well with others sometimes finds Erdogan and his acolytes shooting themselves in both feet. 

For example, at the beginning of June the AKP’s MP’s voted down an amendment to a bill in a knee-jerk reaction to its proposal by a rival party, the CHP or Republican People’s Party.  In fact, the provision was one from the AKP’s own program. 

Two days later, the majority of MP’s from the supposedly secular AKP walked out of their ongoing session to attend prayers on the first day of Ramadan, leaving a majority of opposition MP’s able to pass a bill prohibiting their interior department from approving projects.

These had also been worrying tendency of the AKP to imitate its militarist predecessors more and more.  Last year, for example, the Turkish parliament passed and President Gul signed into law a bill doubling detention time without charge for those suspected of espionage and/or acting against the interests of the state, constitution, national defense, or state secrets (in effect, a Turkish version of the NDAA passed by Congress and approved by President Obama).  The law was overturned by the Constitutional Court in the first week of this July, by the way.

In the background of all this have been the two largest investigations and prosecutions of alleged conspirators accused of plotting military coups d’etat in Turkish history. 

The first deals with an alleged shadowy secret organization within the military and allies in business and the press called Ergenekon which has supposedly existed since the 1990’s but only investigated beginning in 2007.  Among the more outlandish of the accusation has been that the Kurdish Communist Party (PKK) has been working secretly with Ergenekon to destabilize the country.  Arrests were made beginning in 2008 but the trial finished just this week (on 5 August), with verdicts being announced under heavy security and court proceedings barred to the press.  Three hundred were convicted, sixteen sentenced to life terms.

The second case regards an alleged coup plot supposedly called Balyoz, or Operation Sledgehammer, which prosecutors charge took place in 2003, though for some reason nothing was done about it until 2010.  The trial of these defendants took place in 2012, with some 330 convictions; the appeal case began being heard this July.

In both cases, the defendants were subjected to lengthy pretrial detention, sometimes without charge, and in both cases the trials were held in “special appointed courts” subsequently outlawed by the AKP members of parliament (perhaps in fear these could one day be used against them) after the two trails had begun.  Tainted evidence, unreliable witnesses, secret testimony, and non-democratic procedures have marked both cases throughout.

Supporters of the AKP contend the accused are all guilty and deserving of the strongest penalties available.  Oppositionists have universally condemned the proceedings, protested the innocence of the accused, and called the AKP vindictive.  More objective commentators in the middle suggest that charges might be true for a few, if any, but that the AKP government is also using both cases as excuses to rid itself of critics and opponents in government, business, and media as well as in the armed forces of the republic and intimidate the rest.

Within a few days of the announcement of its afore-mentioned widespread attack on the un-Islamic consumption of alcohol, the Erdogan government announced that it was replacing the private security forces on all university campuses, public as well as private, with state police forces.  It reminded me of the Basiji of the Islamic Republic of Iran having been first organized to help carry out its Cultural Revolution in its universities.

Only a few days afterward, the city of Istanbul announced it was going to destroy the last green space in what was once Constantine’s City to put up a replica to the undoubtedly Islamist Sultanate which Ataturk (“father of the Turks”) overthrew.

Prime Minister Erdogan has portrayed the Gezi Park protesters as “marauders” with no respect for religion.  He accused them of being “looters”, a term intended as a contemptuous insult which the protestors took for themselves as a badge of honor, giving it new meaning as “rebelling”, reminiscent of the way “going Iranian” came to mean “standing up for your rights” in the summer of 2009.  Its anglicized forms are “chapuller” and “chapulling” (thus my title for this piece; now you know).

After the brutal attack by police which cleared the occupation of Gezi Park and Taksim Square, protestors united with secularist religious observers to hold public iftars (fast-breaking meals) once the holy month of Ramadan (roughly equivalent to Lent) began.  Even these have been raided but continued despite that.  Now that Ramadan has ended (today is Eid al-Fitr), we’ll have to wait and see what form of protest Turkish chapullers adopt next.

In the aftermath of the protests, Erdogan called protestors rodents and praised the shopkeepers reaction to them (like beating some of them to death with baseball bats?).  Shortly after the final brutal suppression of the occupation of Taksim Square in the middle of June, Erdogan reiterated his intention to replace private security in the universities throughout the republic with state police forces, presumably more loyal to AKP and more inclined to go along with the Islamicizing intentions of Erdogan and his acolytes.  He stated that the recent experience of hooligans going around attacking people with baseball bats, machetes, and Molotov cocktails proved the need for this, failing to note that those were his own supporters.

One of the most popular signs born by the neo-Young Turks “chapulling” against the rise of a neo-Ottoman Sultanate this summer have carried messages such as “Keep Religion Out of Politics in Turkey and Everywhere”.  The chapullers see themselves not merely as citizens of the Republic of Turkey but as citizens of the whole world, as can be seen from the signs many held saying “We Are All Sao Paolo” even as Brasilians carried signs reading “We Are All Takhsim”.

The messages the chapullers of Turkey is that theocracy, in any amount, anywhere, is a threat to freedom everywhere.  They would also say that arbitrary populism is not the same thing as actual democracy, nor is the ability to cast a vote in elections for representative government.

Endnote: Though the (East) Roman Empire had been officially Greek-speaking for centuries before the Ottoman finished conquering it (since the accession of Heraclius in 610 CE), its government, its residents, its neighbors, its enemies, and its sometimes allies in the West all considered it Roman.  In much the same way that the Gaelic-speaking Kingdom of Scots originated as the kingdom of the formerly Brythonic-speaking Picts.  No one, east or west, called it anything but Roman while it existed.  “Byzantine Empire” was an appellation conjured by Bavarian historian Hieronymous Wolf for his 1557 work, Corpus Historiae Byzantinae; his home was then part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, which was, according to 18th century French philosopher Voltaire, “neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire”.  The Roman Empire (Imperium Romanum, Basilea Rhomain) existed from its establishment at the original city of Rome in 27 BCE to the fall of Constantinople (“New Rome”) in 1453, for a total of 1480 years.

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