I’ll preface by saying that I receive all of my information about the recent events in Turkey from the news media, and nothing in my experience or education makes me an expert on things Turkish. But, over the past two years, I’ve been corresponding with an Israel-friendly Muslim sect in Turkey, and so my perspective on the situation is a little better than skin deep.
What’s most striking to me is how similar things in Turkey are to things in Israel. And so, I ask you to please keep an open mind when I tell you that in Turkey, just as in Israel, a largely right-wing, religious or traditional majority is being repressed and manipulated by a system rife with financial tycoons, an anti-religious military establishment, leftist NGOs, and the media, that have marked religion-the-concept as the enemy.
And, much like Israel, Turkey has a tightly centralized system of government, hostile to the free market, the enemy of small business; and they have a brutal and very powerful police force.
Americans sometimes fail to understand the fact that a democracy requires more than voting every 2, 4, or 5 years for our elected officials. The Middle East is crawling with tyrannical regimes that were genuinely elected by the people. It doesn’t make them a democracy.
It takes democratic institutions to have a real democracy—and Turkey, unlike most Arab nations, has them—but on top of those there also must be a democratic spirit, a determination on the part of every screw and cog in the machine to respect the rights of the minorities, to preserve and defend the democratic process, to maintain the sanctity of the system. And Turkey, just like Israel, is not really there in those terms. Neither are many other so-called Western democracies. Indeed, since the final victory of the West, in 1989, as the last vestiges of Communism came crashing down, Western democracy began to die—and not by some evil conspiracy, mind you, democracy has been dying because no one cares enough to keep it alive.
In Israel, we’ve been voting for a majority comprised of right-wing parties every election since 1977, and every single time we’ve ended with left wing governments. It’s not surprising anyone any longer, folks here are voting for the big right wing fox Netanyahu and the giant right wing Bear Liberman, and on the other side of the process they receive Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein. The majority of Israeli Jews support the settlements – and they get a prime minister who’s freezing housing construction in the settlements, while describing how the whole thing will be handed over to the Arabs, eventually.
Israelis vote right wing and they get the left wing media, left wing courts, left wing civil servants. The system is rigged, again, not by some conspiracy, but because a centralized system will always yield repressive results. If MK Moshe Feiglin were made prime minister tomorrow, the next day he would impose a settlement freeze—or he won’t be prime minister. We just saw how, having made it into the Knesset on the Likud line, Feiglin protested the police decree keeping him off of Temple Mount, so, effectively, he is no longer a member of Knesset. He serves on no committee and so has scant opportunities to legislate.
That’s how bad it is in Israel. It’s a lot worse in Turkey, where the centralization of everything in the hands of a relatively small class of anti-religious administrators, military men and financial tycoons is written into the law.
Much like religious and right-wing Israelis, traditional and religious Turks have been voting for Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), and they’ve been getting a state that’s for the most part just as anti-religious as before.
You know what’s been happening in Turkey: some environmentalists were protesting, last Monday, the fact that the government was cutting down trees in a central square park, to make room for yet another shopping mall. But soon enough, the demonstration was hijacked by the left.
Our friend in Istanbul, Sinem Tezyapar, wrote Saturday night:
“People do not burn streets, or demolish stores, in peaceful protests. Turkish Communists love to create an uproar and clash with the police whenever they can. Most of the time, they are the provocateurs at any peaceful protest. And they can easily cause a scene, since they clash with the police in the most central districts.”
I believe her, because I know from experience: there’s no such thing as a spontaneous demonstration—somebody has to get people over, somebody has to make signs, somebody has to pack sandwiches—and there’s no such thing as a demonstration that deteriorates into clashes with police. If there’s a clash, it’s because either the cops wanted it, or the extremists in the crowd did. And neither group do things spontaneously, either. They get the word.
“The excessive force of the police should be and will be investigated, but this is definitely a provocation: you can see the flags of leftist groups in pictures. Istanbul’s population is 14 million—but Turkey has 70 million. So ‘Turkish Spring’ expectations are way too unrealistic just based on the numbers. If an election were held today, Erdogan would have pulled 70 percent of the vote.
“You’re not getting a fair and valid reflection of the way things are here. The reports are simply blowing things out of proportion.
“After police withdrew, protestors continued to destroy, using sledgehammers, shop windows, cars, police buses. Leftist groups have vandalized and spread false rumors to start provocations. It is definitely not about a park or green area. the AK party has forested an area of area 2,225 acres, and according to the new plan they will make this area greener. It was simply provocation.”
I wrote her: It seems that the urban population in Turkey is suspicious of the PM’s intent when he bans the sale of alcohol in the evening – they feel the creeping takeover of state institutions by the religion. Are they entirely wrong?
Sinem wrote back:
“Regarding the alcohol ban, the law bans the advertising of alcohol, prohibits the retail selling of alcohol in shops between 10 PM and 6 AM—except in tourist areas—and forbids its sale to anyone under 18. It means that if you are an adult, you can still buy alcohol at a bar or a restaurant after 10 PM.
“Turkey is just 10 years behind Europe on this issue. These regulations are common all over Europe, and in North America. You can buy trucks of alcohol in Turkey, and no one will stop you.
“But every year thousands of people in Turkey lose their lives in traffic accidents. 65 % of all traffic accidents happen because of drunk driving. And in Turkey, the reason for 85% of the homicides, 50% of the rapes, 50% of violent crimes, 70% of domestic violence, and 60% of cases of mental diseases are linked to alcohol use—mainly at night.”
I must note that I just spoke on the phone with our regular blogger Rachel Avraham, who writes for United With Israel, and she’s been talking to several Turks of her acquaintances who said, yes, there were Communists involved in the riots, but the majority were your middle of the road, urban Turks who’ve had it up to here with the AKP. I’m looking forward to her posting on Monday.
Until then, I’m still stunned by the similarities between the Turkish and Israeli systems—which, actually, gives me a lot of hope for the future.
About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.
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