August 17, 2014

Back to the witch hunt

Mümtazer Türköne

Prime Minister and President-elect Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's balcony speech increased expectations that a new starting point both for himself and for the government would be established. Only three days were enough to smash this expectation to pieces. Erdoğan is making arrangements to ensure that he leaves behind a smoothly operating government which will have full obedience to him and will not cause him much nuisance. To do this, he uses the best method he knows: maintaining the witch hunt.

To dodge the graft and bribery investigations of Dec. 17 and 25, 2013, Erdoğan labeled the Gülen community his archenemy and embarked on a witch hunt to profile, denigrate and purge the members of this movement. He had claimed that these investigations were actually a conspiracy against him and his government. To add some credence to this argument, he had to find a network big and powerful enough to mastermind such a conspiracy. Thus, he announced the Gülen community to be part of this conspiracy and grabbed this argument with both hands. Using public resources and the media outlets he controls, he disseminated this propaganda and managed to evade any negative effects of the graft probes on this government in the local polls of March 30, 2014. Over time, he further expanded this witch hunt to serve society's need for an enemy. He also obtained favorable results in the presidential election. Today, he uses the same method to leave behind a government whose members will be blindly obedient to him.

As he targets his enemies, he uses populism -- which can be easily reproduced by means of propaganda in a democracy -- as well as demagoguery, which addresses sentiments instead of logic and reason. If you define an enemy for a society, no one cares about what you do as long as all eyes are on the enemy. He used this tactic prominently during his campaign for the presidential election. For instance, he used the fact that his presidential rival Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu can speak three foreign languages as if it were proof of his being a pro-Western elitist who is alienated from the ordinary public and this country's culture. "If a person who knows a foreign language is needed, we can find a translator," he said to denigrate his rival. If he can turn knowledge of a foreign language into a disadvantage for his rival and an advantage for himself, this can be explained only by his ability to satisfy society's need for an enemy. Based on the same logic, he persistently stressed that Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is an Alevi and Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtaş is a Zaza (Kurd). Zazas constitute a minority within the Kurdish minority of Turkey. When you call for mobilization against enemies, there is only criterion you can rely on: that your supporters are the majority.

The Gülen community is the most organized of Turkey's faith-based civil society organizations. Saying that this community was as a "threat to national security" during the last National Security Council (MGK) meeting he attended in his capacity as prime minister, he calls on the state to join the mobilization. Declaring that a civil society organization with broad mass support that sticks to peaceful methods is a "threat to national security" means nothing but searching for support from state organs for the witch hunt being maintained to stifle the corruption investigations. So far, Erdoğan has been unable to show a single piece of evidence for this "threat."

In this setting, we must focus on this question: Why is Erdoğan continuing with the witch hunt even though he won the presidential election? Based on his political style, there is one answer to this question: He does not trust his party and the government he will leave behind. By maintaining the witch hunt, he is urging his supporters and party to side with him. If the enemy still poses a threat, those who don't fight this enemy show their true colors.

The “parallel state” rhetoric is a tool for Erdoğan to pursue his political ambitions. It follows that he still needs it.

Published on Today's Zaman, 16 August 2014, Saturday

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