June 21, 2014

Fact manipulation as means of politics

Emre Uslu

Fact manipulation is perhaps the only term that explains a new form of politics in recent years. When the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government faces a problem, the first and best thing it does is manipulate facts.

This has been going on since 2011. It seems that as it asserts its presence in the media, it has found an easy way to govern through manipulating facts.

For instance, the biggest promise of the AKP government for the 2011 election was to pass a democratic Constitution. However, soon after the election, the AKP formed a constitutional committee in Parliament that practically made passing a new Constitution impossible. As soon as the committee was formed, constitutional law academics revealed that the committee was not formed to write a new Constitution. Indeed, after two years of working, the AKP claimed that it is not possible to write a new Constitution with this committee and dissolved the committee.

But because of the government's heavy dominance on the media, the AKP presented the failure of writing a new Constitution as a failure of the opposition. AKP officials argued that they had created such a committee as a form of compromise, but the opposition abused their goodwill and, therefore, the opposition is the one responsible for the failure of passing a new Constitution.

The second example is the prep-school debate. The government passed a law to close prep schools. The aim of the law was obvious: to punish the Gülen movement. But the government successfully manipulated the facts and presented the law as if it was education reform. Even Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan came out and said his poor citizens are not able to send their kids to prep schools, so these schools foster inequality between the poor and rich. He said the government would support poor families to send their kids to private schools.

Well, the facts are just the opposite. The prep schools are what create opportunities for children of low-income families to compete against rich kids who go to private schools. Many people believed that the government would support their kids and send them to private schools at a low cost. Therefore, they supported the government initiative, and the prep schools were shut down.

In a few years, when these kids fail to pass national exams to enter university, those low-income families will realize that shutting down the prep schools went against the interest of their kids.

Establishing a 'parallel state'

Similarly, the AKP government decided to end the Gülen movement's social activities and took some measures against them, one of which was the shutting down of the prep schools. In order to alienate the Gülen movement, Erdoğan manipulated facts and claimed that this group established a “parallel state” within the state and that they should be removed. As if Erdoğan suddenly woke up from a deep sleep and realized this about the Gülen movement, after 12 years of his reign.

The facts are as follows: Erdoğan has decided to create a “religious generation” and, in order to achieve his goal, he supported his close associates and family members to establish foundations, institutions, etc. The shortcut toward achieving this “religious generation” was for Erdoğan to take over Gülen's “golden generation” -- a generation that Gülen had encouraged since the 1970s and which had long ago established institutions and foundations -- to reach his goal. This was the reality behind Erdoğan attempting to criminalize the Gülen movement; it would be easy for him to pull Gülen's generation to his side.

Another example of fact manipulation is the Gezi event. While the urban youth were defending their park, Erdoğan presented the protests as they were an international plot against his government. Well, most of Turkish people believed in Erdoğan's fiction instead of the facts on the ground.

Related with the Gezi event, Erdoğan even twisted fact and presented the Gezi protesters as a threat to religious values. He, for instance, said the protesters had attacked a young woman wearing a headscarf. He claimed that they had brought alcohol inside a mosque.

Similarly, he manipulated simple facts about the corruption scandal. While it has obviously been evidenced that his close associates and ministers were involved in high-level corruption, Erdoğan presented this as if an international plot was again against his government. And he won 45 percent of the population's support as a reward for his successful fact manipulation.

Most recently, it seems that Turkey's bizarre relations with radical Islamic groups in Syria and Iraq are causing Turkey problems, but Erdoğan, once again is manipulating the facts on the ground.

Because Erdoğan and the AKP government are so successful at manipulating facts, I think Erdoğan and his government should get a Nobel Prize in the fact manipulation category.

Published on Cihan, 21 June 2014, Saturday