March 1, 2015

Davutoğlu follows in Erdoğan’s footsteps with harsh rhetoric

Politicians have long relied on harsh language and discourse in Turkey. In one case, then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made strong and offensive remarks about his opponents and the Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement, after the Dec. 17 bribery and corruption investigation. But this did not change after Ahmet Davutoğlu became prime minister; he now follows in the footsteps of Erdoğan.

Davutoğlu relies on a discourse involving phrases like “parallel state,” “gang” and “spies.” Davutoğlu, known by many for his academic integrity in the past, acts like Erdoğan. He argues that the Republican People's Party (CHP) is cooperating with the Hizmet movement to stage a plot against the government, that they were controlled by external forces and that they started a dirty campaign against the government.

Intellectuals who say that such an extreme discourse and statements would further polarize society are worried that the people themselves will be further polarized. Academic, journalist and author Mehmet Altan says some politicians have expectations for political polarization; Professor Ferhat Kentel from Bilgi University, on the other hand, says that those involved in Turkish politics use polarization as a tool to attain their goals.

Noting that Davutoğlu is trying to imitate Erdoğan, former Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay also explains Davutoğlu's efforts with this motive. Günay says, “I hope Davutoğlu [will] give up acting like another Erdoğan and choose to become Professor Davutoğlu.” Columnist Doğu Ergil says the discourse the politicians have used in recent times does great harm not only to the Hizmet movement but also to many other groups as well.

Noting that some politicians want to benefit from a state of polarization in Turkey, Altan says: “If there is a parliamentarian regime, then you have to rely on a language of reconciliation and peace. On the other hand, there is need for courtesy and politeness to attain common denominators between diverse groups and political actors.

There is no such tradition of parliamentary democracy in Turkey. For this reason, some believe that polarization will serve their agenda and interests because we do not politicize issues and social needs. We politicize race and sectarian identity. And this leads to polarization.”

Günay hopes that Davutoğlu will abandon his hateful discourse. He says: “People hear a lot of offensive words and remarks when listening to the politicians. They hear them calling each other thieves, separatists and corrupt. This harsh and offensive discourse harms not only the parties involved in politics but also causes serious damage to society. It causes damage in daily life, the schools and the street. Erdoğan relied on his harsh discourse to keep his support base united and unified. But now he is not tolerant towards even minimal objections within the party. Davutoğlu, on the other hand, was known as an intellectual and competent academic. So he is expected to create a more constructive discourse because he is well-educated and polite. But it seems that Davutoğlu is unable to get rid of the hate discourse. Instead of acting like himself, he chose to imitate Erdoğan. I hope that he would give up on acting like Erdoğan and be himself and act like Professor Ahmet Davutoğlu.”

Pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) Diyarbakır deputy Altan Tan recalls that the reliance on hate speech is something that everyone complains about. He believes that the language of the politicians is more like a language between enemies than political opponents. He even argues that this goes beyond enmity, saying: “There is a style and custom of enmity in the Middle East that includes Arabs, Kurds and Turks. Even if there is enmity, a certain style is used. Currently, this discourse of hate harms the country. Unfortunately, the president currently insults everybody. How would the people act if the president acts like this? We do not see any difference between Davutoğlu and Erdoğan on this matter. Davutoğlu is following in the footsteps of Erdoğan. I tell him he should at least not do this. He should at least adopt a more lenient approach and discourse.”

Kentel believes that a masculine political style contributes to the language of polarization. Kentel says those who engage in politics in Turkey use polarization as a useful tool. This language has been revived, in addition to references to traitors and external elements. The masculine politics in Turkey, which suggest that a politician needs to be strong and harsh to attain his goals and serve his country, also contributed to the evolution of this discourse. “If we consider that all actors rely on this language, we actually realize that there is a pathetic situation there. But the most important part is this: We are eager to consume this sort of language because, instead of understanding the complexity of life, we prefer connecting to a camp by reliance on clichés in our codes,” Kentel adds.

Ergil believes it is not only the Hizmet movement that is a victim of this harsh rhetoric but also many other groups. “The government started this process of harshness. So it was the government that relied on such offensive remarks first. We generally look at the outcomes rather than understanding the whole matter. We have some assumptions that somebody with bad intentions conspires against us. If there is a conspiracy, then there is an enemy, too. This enemy collaborates with some domestic actors to become successful. If you create a discourse suggesting that the external enemies have domestic extensions and supporters, the people will buy this allegation. This is why it is not only the Hizmet movement but also many other groups that were seen as supporters of external enemies. But the Hizmet movement is a recent victim because of the recent political tensions and disagreements,” Ergil says.

Published on Today's Zaman, 28 February 2015, Saturday