The Madness of Turkey’s ‘Sultan’ Erdogan

May 25, 2016

By Maajid Nawaz

Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power in 2002, a year after the formation of his AK party. But spending 11 years as prime minister wasn’t enough. In 2011, Erdogan changed the system, clearing the way for him to become  the country’s first directly elected president in 2013.

True to all incremental power grabs, he initially sold this move to Turks as merely “ceremonial.”

 That facade has now ended.

After this month no one was left in any doubt as to Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman delusions of grandeur, as he pushed out Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu while maneuvering to replace him with a long-time crony.  At one point his own son in law seemed a likely appointee.

To use the cliché “palace coup” would not even be metaphoric on my part. Perched atop a hill on the outskirts of Ankara sits Erdogan’s specially commissioned 1,000-room White Palace, or AK Saray. Bigger than the White House and the Kremlin, this Sultan-like extravagance cost even more than the budgeted $615m. And as Erdogan’s sultanate grows, so too does Erdogan’s sultan-like caprice.

Freedom House reports that Erdogan has been eroding freedom of the press in Turkey at an alarming rate over recent years. This unhinged crackdown on journalists culminated last month in the seizure and state takeover of opposition newspaper Zaman, which is now embarrassingly owned and operated by the Turkish state. Such has been Erdogan’s assault on journalists that even President Barack Obama felt the need to warn the authoritarian Erdogan to back off.

But this is all run-of-the-mill for tinpot strongmen, who so often mistake their ability to retain office as a demonstration of popularity and power. The truth is, it’s also a weakness. Power is a weapon. And like a domestic firearm, it is a weapon that is likely at least as dangerous to you as to others.

Nothing highlights this weakness, this manic insecurity, and this puerile obsession with control in a more darkly comical way than the stunt Erdogan just pulled in Germany.

The president of Turkey, this once great leader of that proud and historic nation, filed a criminal complaint against Jan Boehmermann, a German satirist for… writing this poem  about him.

The origins of the truly serious offence that was taken are found in the peculiar incident of Germany’s ambassador to Turkey, Martin Erdmann, being summoned to the Turkish Foreign Ministry over an ‘Extra 3’ satirical video about Erdogan. There, Erdmann was asked to explain—yes, explain— the video, and to ensure that it was taken off air. It was this incident that inspired Boehmermann’s poem.

You see, the Great Leader was butt-hurt.

But he won. Due to Germany’s archaic laws against offending organs of “foreign states,” one of Germany’s most intelligent satirists has been ordered by a Hamburg court to censor his song about Erdogan’s brutal assault on Turkey’s press.

Boehmermann responded on Twitter  by linking to the iconic Beastie Boys song, “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!).”

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10 comments on “The Madness of Turkey’s ‘Sultan’ Erdogan

  • 2
    Cairsley says:

    To Phil Rimmer #1

    Maajid Nawaz has, I agree, been doing very well for the secular cause and certainly deserves our respect and support in that.

    Not entirely off topic, Phil, is the movie Agora, which you kindly recommended on an earlier discussion-board. Having recently watched it on DVD, I think very highly of it. There were two main points of interest for me in this movie: (1) the religious conflicts that were resolved by bullying and terrorism, and (2) the display of knowledge attained in antiquity by the portrayal of the speculations and discussions of Hypatia and her associates concerning the “wanderers”.

    On the first point, the religious conflicts in early-fifth-century Alexandria, what I found especially interesting in this version of that unhappy struggle was the clear interplay presented between the firm faith of the moderate, well-educated Christians (e.g. Synesius, Bishop of Cyrene, a former student of Hypatia’s) and the faith of the fanatical Christians led by Cyril, who became Patriarch of Alexandria. The most telling scene on this subplot was the private talk between Synesius and Orestes, the prefect of Alexandria, who was also Christian and a former student of Hypatia’s. Cyril, now the patriarch, was winning the struggle against Orestes for control of the city, and it was the moderate Synesius who supported Cyril’s overthrow of traditional civil liberties and rights and insisted that Orestes must submit to the demands of scripture championed by Cyril, for “it is written”. Orestes, being a Christian himself, was morally hamstrung by this firm stance from a close friend whom he had long respected. If anything, this scene presented very well in dramatic form why there is always a need for suspicion of the influence of religion in those who are well-educated and reasonable and still adhere to a religious faith. As Jesus put it (and he was no Christian), “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16).

    The second point was by far the most enjoyable part of the movie, namely the fictional display of Hellenistic knowledge to show what might have been possible, had the Roman empire not been brought under the control of a certain religion. Aristarchus’s hypothesis of a heliocentric system was combined with the conics of Apollonius to speculate that the movements of the “wanderers” would be resolved if they moved in ellipses around the sun. As we are now in the fortunate position to know, all that was needed was a little evidence, such as might have been obtained by means of a telescope.

    The movie might be inaccurate in a few things. For example, the murder of Hypatia had nothing to do with the destruction of the Library of Alexandria; yet this historical conflation was, as an effective use of artistic licence, quite appropriate to the dramatic theme, the destruction of Hellenic civilization and in particular of the arts and sciences. Many thanks, Phil, for bringing this movie to my attention.

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  • “Has Nawaz earned his spurs yet, doubters?”

    I’m not qualified to say, but it seems to me that he’s made the intellectual jouney, but where is he emotionally?

    I ask that because I think religious belief is more an emotional state than an intellectual one.

    For instance, in the Intelligence Squared debate with Douglas Murray and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the former said that he didn’t think Maajid Nawaz was capable of openly criticizing Islam.

    I’m not sure that what is usually thought of as cognitive dissonance isn’t really a split, or disconnect, between the heart and the head.

    Witness, Francis Collins for one.

    Or am I talking tripe? Don’t answer that!

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  • Cairsley #2

    So happy you liked the movie. It is mostly unloved by American reviewers. For all its speculation it seems honest speculation. Its complaint of religion is clear, targeting ideology substituting for humanity as the greatest danger and the sad compromises required of the more humanitarian religious because of their faith.

    I thought its zooming out to reveal the infestation-a-like behaviours that can come from ideologies powerful. I liked the planetary perspectives here (available to “Gods” and scientist-philosophers alike). The potential scale of the damage to reason that is possible.

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  • Stafford. #3

    I see Hitchens rather than Collins in Nawaz. Someone ferociously and rapidly shaking off youthful ideology. Someone politically adept and politically well informed.

    Murray, Hirsi Ali, I^2. But, but, but…that was 6 years ago! We’ve done this people changing thing already, surely?

    Collins is hopelessly and vacuously religious. I have his dismal book (sub C.S.Lewis argumentation and with all the intellectual and emotional insight of a Hallmark Card) propping up the video projector. Frozen Waterfalls therefore God, indeed!

    Nawaz has now given himself a very difficult balance to strike in his appearance to others.

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  • Woo priority dominates faith thinkers – including those whose states would like to be considered fit to join civilised Europe!

    Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on Muslims to reject contraception and have more children.

    In a speech broadcast live on TV, he said “no Muslim family” should consider birth control or family planning.

    “We will multiply our descendants,” said Mr Erdogan, who became president in August 2014 after serving as prime minister for 12 years.

    His AK Party has its roots in Islamism and many of its supporters are conservative Muslims.

    In Monday’s speech in Istanbul, the Turkish leader placed the onus on women, particularly on “well-educated future mothers”, to not use birth control and to ensure the continued growth of Turkey’s population.

    Mr Erdogan himself is a father of four. He has previously spoken out against contraception, describing it as “treason” when speaking at a wedding ceremony in 2014.

    He has also urged women to have at least three children, and has said women cannot be treated as equal to men.

    The Turkish Statistical Institute says that the country’s fertility rate was 2.14 children per woman in 2015, which is just above the replacement level and half the rate in 1980.

    Despite this decline, Turkey’s fertility rate is one of the highest in Europe and the country’s relatively young population (compared with other European countries) is still growing. The population is just under 80 million.

    The United Nations Population Fund says Turkey has a “substantial” unmet need for quality family planning. One fifth of married women use abortion as a way of controlling their fertility, it says.

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  • It seems death threats in denial of history are also prevalent!

    Eleven German MPs of Turkish origin have been put under police protection.

    They received death threats after supporting a move to describe the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide.

    Germany’s foreign ministry has warned MPs of Turkish origin against travelling to Turkey, saying their security there could not be guaranteed.

    The German parliament’s move outraged the Turkish government, which does not recognise the killings as genocide.

    The 11 MPs of Turkish origin who voted for the resolution have faced a backlash of negative opinion from the Turkish government and from within Germany’s sizable Turkish community.

    Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan castigated them, saying: “What sort of Turks are they?”

    Honest ones perhaps!!

    Ankara’s mayor showed the 11 MPs in a tweet, saying they had “stabbed us in the back”. According to German media, it was retweeted by many Turkish nationalists, some of whom made death threats.

    And a group of Turkish lawyers has reportedly filed a complaint accusing the MPs of “insulting Turkishness and the Turkish state”.

    Ah! the “insulted card” played in place of evidenced debate!

    Earlier this month, Turkey recalled its ambassador from Berlin in fury after the German parliament voted overwhelmingly for the Armenian “genocide” resolution.

    The leader of Germany’s Green Party, Cem Ozdemir – who initiated the debate on the Armenian massacres in the Bundestag – told a newspaper he had been sent emails saying things like: “We will find you anywhere.”

    He said well-informed friends in Turkey had told him to take the threats seriously.

    Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their people died in the atrocities of 1915, during the Ottoman Empire’s collapse in World War One. Turkey says the toll was much lower and rejects the term “genocide”.

    It seems “patriotic tribalism” and threats, are supposed to trump unsavoury historical facts, as wish-thinkers seek to re-write history.

    The genocide is of course, widely recognised by historians and numerous other countries!

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