Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Sultan-Reincarnate

This is not an Onion piece. It is real. An olive tree (reportedly a thousand years old) had been uprooted to be planted somewhere else by the President during a ceremony. (And yes, there is a giant mascot there...)

There are many things to discuss in this picture: The notable absence of women; The subservient body language of most of the men in suits, especially the hands folded in front. However, I just want to briefly discuss the mindset that uproots a thousand-year old tree to replant it during a ceremony.

I did not research the issue, but I will assume that there is a risk in replanting a tree. It is possible that it could wither and die. The ruthless and reckless audacity in taking the risk of killing a thousand-year old tree for ceremonial purposes represents what Erdoğan has become. First, his decisions are backed up by almost unrestricted power. Erdoğan has dominated the state apparatus (including the judiciary) to a great extent; but he also controls and/or co-opts important social forces such as media and academia.

Second, Erdoğan seems more and more like Marx's sorcerer (in the Communist Manifesto) "who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells." Marx was describing the bourgeois society and how it is no longer able to control the enormous means of production that it created. Similarly, Erdoğan seems like he has unleashed a buried inner demon upon Turkey that devours dissent and gets bigger and more self-righteous after each feast.

He knows what is best and necessary. If he has decided that a thousand-year old tree could and should be uprooted, it will be done. It is a curious mindset. We as a country, embodied in the mascot and the men with hands folded in front, are expected to conform. If laws are not in congruence, they shall be changed. If academics do not agree, they shall be fired. If journalists criticize, they shall be jailed. I am not writing these in mockery. This really is the mindset. All other systematic sources of knowledge are deemed subservient to the needs and orders of the Sultan-reincarnate. Law, science and rationality need to adapt because he has decreed so.

What is really frightening is the dissemination of this model of power and authority in daily life. More and more people seem to be imitating this ruthless and reckless audacity in Istanbul, which makes daily life much harder and very unpleasant. In public transport, parking, traffic, and queues, I observe more and more self-righteous behavior that is unchecked by custom, religion, or rationality. He has done it. He has moved on. You will live with the consequences of his behavior.

Let me not end on such a discouraging note. Here is a picture from Erdoğan's visit to another park last year. In this visit, he was pictured poking the doves with an umbrella:

I think this picture is another perfect example of the mindset I have been discussing. But on a funny note, it became another internet phenomenon. Here are a couple examples that play with the image:

With Darth Vader and Luke

In the Sesame Street

And you can find some more here.