Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Observations 6.5

I should start by saying this is made up of thoughts I had over the past few days as protests erupted in Turkey. I'm not trying to go anywhere with it, just connecting some of those random thoughts.

Ozan Kose, AFP/Getty Images
Watching Morning Joe yesterday I was struck with a thought. Thank the gods talking heads and pundits didn't exist 200 years ago or we would be a territory of Canada. After spending an hour discussing the IRS non-scandal, non-scandal because imbecilic job performance does not make a scandal, the topic turned to the protests in Turkey. They praised Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan for keeping Turkey from becoming an Islamic Republic, made note that he was democratically elected, than briefly turned to the protests themselves. What I got out of their discussion was that some felt that Erdogan was a good leader who had maybe gone to far in pulling Islam back into Turkish politics. The protesters were regarded as mostly young secularists and idealists who have numbers, social media, but no real plan or power to change things after they mess up the staus quo. After five minutes they moved to the next story.

What Erdogan exemplifies to me is arrogant power on the verge of running amuck. I'm not saying Turkey needs to change or that the protesters are completely right. Unlike the Arab springs this is being compared to Turkeys protests are more of a warning than a revolution but in that region of the world there is a fine line between the two.

I heard somewhere that John McCain called Erdogan the most arrogant leader he has ever met. To live up to that Erdogan went on an official trip to Algeria as his country entered a two day general strike and protesters filled its cities. Also, unable to run for a fourth term as Prime Minister Erdogan, who was first elected in 2003, plans on running for President which is a path first taken by that other famous democrat, Russia's Vladimir Putin. Erdogan would like to change the office before he does because currently it has no real power. It should be noted that Erdogan was first elected in 2003 and is into his third term as Prime Minister. Even Iran limits its President to two terms in office.

The are a few lessons Americans can learn in this if they want to listen. The conservative talking heads forget a simple fact in their passion for all democratically elected leaders. Barrack Obama was elected with over 50% of the popular vote not once but twice.

The other lesson is a bit scarier to think about. What you have in Turkey is a now predominately secular democracy being spoon fed religion by a wealthy ruling elite which thinks it knows better. Turkish life and politics has become polarized to the point that the Turkish people think they have no option other than taking their grievances into the streets. Now you might think something like that couldn't happen here but sit back and think about the polarization of American society today. If the current pro-wealthy, anti-government, and very nonsecular version of the Republican Party ever gained total control (the House, Senate, and Presidency) it could very easily happen here.

In an article today The Guardian asked 21 year old Mervenur Erol what she had been doing when the Turkish police charged into Gezi Park. "I was reading my English literature books," she said.

A quick note, I used the photo above because when I first saw it my immediate thought was "holy crap how did my sister get to Turkey?" It just reminded me of her so much.

update - For anyone interested I found this very good paper written by Turkish journalist Anna Wood. It's an analysis of the Gezi Park protests she wrote to try and explain the events to those outside Turkey. You can read or download the paper here.

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