Monday, June 24, 2013

Erdogan, the AKP, and the language of Fascism

Ten days on from my last article about the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the language coming from Erdogan and his ministers has reinforced the point I made comparing him to other authoritarians in recent European history.

Erdogan praised "his police" as "heroes"(see link) for dealing with the harsh conditions while dealing with protests. This is a hideous contortion of the truth for two reasons: not only were the police tactics absolutely brutal at times and inexcusably disproportionate; Erdogan's "heroes" were forced to work without breaks even for food, sometimes for days - surely with Erdogan's knowledge. There are two possible reasons for this: either Erdogan and his allies knew that the police were loyal to man, and could push the police to the limits; or second, and following from this, they also knew that ill-treated (and thus short-tempered) police would make a stronger "impression" on the protesters. Considered how appallingly cynical much of what has come out of Erdogan's mouth in the last few weeks, anything is possible.
In the meantime, the police's brutish behaviour is praised as heroic, while peaceful protest (and social media) is damned as akin to terrorism, and thus worthy of the strongest response possible. Thus language is used by the AKP (like Fascist regimes before) to create the opposite meaning.

It is clear that the police are effectively working as the AKP's foot-soldiers. Erdogan, as I said in my previous article, has followed in the footsteps of previous authoritarians. In order to control the country and prevent him from being kicked out in a coup, Erdogan needed to neuter the army. This was done through the "Ergenekon" scandal that erupted several years ago, which was then used to make a widespread overhaul of the pro-secular military top ranks, replacing them with Erdogan place-men. At the time this was done in the name of "democratising" the establishment from military interference, which gained Erdogan some Western plaudits.
In a similar manner (though in different circumstances), the "Night Of Long Knives" in 1934 was used by Hitler as a way to gain the trust of the army, who at the time were still loyal to President Hindenburg, and were seen as protectors of the constitution. The "Night Of Long Knives" was a wholesale destruction of the leadership and power of the SA (the main Nazi militia), who were seen as a threat to the army (and whom the SA's leader, Ernst Rohm, wanted to replace). Hitler claimed there was a threat of a coup by the SA, and used this as an opportunity to gain the eternal trust of the army and destroy the rival power-base of the SA.
Hitler used the threat of an SA coup to gain the trust (and control) of the army, and the respect of President Hindenburg for "saving the country" from the SA; in the same way, Erdogan used the "Ergenekon" scandal as a way to gain effective control of the army, and the respect of the West for appearing as a "democratic reformer".

Over the last few weeks, the rhetoric from the AKP has become increasingly intolerant of "Western morals", resorting to outright lies to create further polarisation and hatred of the protesters.
Erdogan, for instance, has continually stated as a bland fact the complete lie that protesters drank beer, and other disrespectful behaviour in Dolmabahce mosque, in Besiktas, Istanbul. The imam of the mosque itself has stated that no such behaviour happened; regardless, Erdogan continues to state this lie as truth; clearly continuing Hitler's maxim that if you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it is true.
Furthermore, Erdogan has said at a rally that headscarved women were being attacked; meanwhile, Turkey's Deputy PM, when seeing a woman standing in a bikini in Istanbul's central Taksim Square, stated he "could barely restrain himself", such was his anger. He then went on criticise the woman for thinking that "nudity is freedom", while seeming to completely misunderstand that "nudity" requires no clothes at all; the woman was simply wearing what any Western-minded woman would wear at a beach - she was not nude.

Using "facts" to fit into a moral agenda (such as in Erdogan's "National Will" rallies), is as old as the hills in the language of authoritarianism. Phrases such as Erdogan's use of the "national will" is redolent of Fascism; though he uses it with a supposed democratic connotation, its real meaning is much darker, implying that those against him are against the "national will" and thus unworthy of his supporters' respect. The use of religion gives an even further sense of righteousness, and less need for respecting the wishes of one's (infidel) inferiors. Violence thus lurks just barely beneath the surface, as the police (and zealous AKP supporters) have been keen to demonstrate.

Thus Erdogan's AKP and his supporters are fighting a "moral battle" against the forces of Western immorality, like the Fascist regimes of the past, and Putin's of the present.

But the earlier woman's "nudity" is another example of facts being besides the point when dealing with authoritarians. "Facts" are malleable with Fascists and authoritarians; the same with truth. The truth is whatever a Fascist is saying at the time. If it contradicts what he said before, then his previous contradiction becomes "disinformation" or a "wicked distortion", as Erdogan has seen saying repeatedly of the Western media.
The Western media are the new target of Erdogan and his AKP. In behaviour that would have seemed unthinkable before, the Turkish government is fighting a war of words with Germany, the UK (over historic allegations of phone-tapping), the EU in general, and also the USA. Such a sudden backlash by another European country has not been seen in Europe since perhaps the Second World War. Serbia had its fair share of attacking Western media in the recent past, but Turkey is probably the only major European country to have resorted to such vehement rhetoric and propaganda against the foreign press in living memory. The fact that Turkey is now at the strongest position it has been in compared to other powers since before the Second World War, is also another unprecedented development.

Where does Erdogan intend to take this? His foreign policy has been described as "Neo-Ottomanism". Like how Mussolini was intent on restoring the ancient Roman Empire, Erdogan seems eager to recreate his own, "soft-power" version of a reconstituted Ottoman power across the region.
While Erdogan seems to have no desire for using the military directly, he has already done much of the hard work over the last ten years, making Turkey as the de facto power-broker and trade giant in the Middle East, and the bridge between the East and West. Though Erdogan appears to be doing his best to burn those bridges westward, he is reinforcing them to the East.
It seems when he looks to the Middle East and the way the Gulf States (not to mention Iran) have managed Capitalism with Islamic authoritarianism, Erdogan perhaps sees his future vision for Turkey. But Capitalism and authoritarianism (regardless of if religion is in the equation) is a recipe for Fascism.

Erdogan's behaviour all fits in with that of previous Fascist regimes, as I said in my previous article about Erdogan and authoritarianism. The only difference is in the detail.
Sometimes you just have to call a spade a spade. If the "spade" is Muslim, Christian, pagan or atheist, it makes no difference.

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