(Hey, it’s May Day after all, and the fancy parades of Soviet military might are a thing of the past (oh yes, you still get them, but they’re nowhere near as cool) – I thought I’d get a bit of May Day militarism going on in blogland.)
Current events in Turkey seem, from what I can tell of mainstream news coverage during the last few days, to merit practically no attention at all. I mean yes, there has been the occasional article, but buried in the back somewhere and normally fairly small, but despite having the 24 hour news channels on pretty much constantly while I’m working, I don’t recall hearing anything whatsoever about what’s going on.
So while the riots in Estonia (still escalating, that situation, by the by) have got a bit of coverage – people smashing things making good telly – massive protests in Turkey seem not to be worth mentioning.
For why? Well, because everyone’s a bit confused. To cover the current crisis in Turkey, journalists have to get their head around the idea that by supporting democracy, they’re supporting nutty Islamists – and that by opposing a possible military coup they’re opposing the maintenance of Turkey as a secular state.
Tricky, you see. Turkey is one of the few secular and democratic Islamic states, and could be the West’s best hope of calming the situation in the Middle East, acting as mediator / cultural translator between the two systems. But it’s still a bit odd and occasionally nutty – with a suspect (if improving) record on human rights and a pretty shoddy attitude towards its minorities (be they Kurdish or Armenian or whatever) that gives the EU just enough justification to say “sorry, old chap – you’re a bit too unstable to join, that’s all – we’re not being racist or Islamophobic, honest” with a straight face.
Still, it’s been a decade since the Turkish military last got involved in politics (although only via a series of increasingly harsh warnings to then Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, which eventually made him back down) – which means we’re overdue, as the country used to have military coups bang on every ten years (1960, 1971, 1980).
If a coup happens this time (which is possible) it’s going to be fascinating to see how all those pundits – especially the right-wingers who normally hide their anti-Islamic prejudices behind veils of supporting the spread of democratic freedoms – manage to keep a straight face while supporting a military dictatorship in the name of democracy. Much like in Pakistan, I suppose (military dictatorship in the name of democracy for seven and a half years and counting).
The thing is, of course, what all us Westerners still really think – if we’re honest and ignore the self-righteous “weeee! democracy!” crap for half a minute – is that these foreign johnnies really just need a firm guiding hand. After all, it worked in the good old days, didn’t it? Nice white man’s army marches in with its better technology and superior ideas of how to run a country, gradually imposes it with the aid of a great big stick, and soon you’ve got a bunch of loin-cloth-wearing natives running around fawning at your feet, peeling you grapes, calling you “Sahib” and fanning you in the midday sun. All they need’s a bit of discipline. They’re not ready for democracy – they can’t handle it. (“They”, of course, being anyone remotely dusky-skinned – be they knocking about on Europe’s fringe, wandering around the Middle East, South Asia, South America, East Asia, wherever.) And, of course, should you happen to be a maharajah / friendly dictator who doesn’t do what your white masters says, you can expect to be smacked down now just as then.
Imperialist paternalism* lives on – dark-skinned chaps in far-off hot and dusty places need a strong military presence to keep them in check, and someone with authority to tell them what to do. They can’t be trusted to rule themselves, or to decide for themselves what’s best – hence various Western governments being able to happily condemn the democratically-elected Palestinian and Venezuelan governments while simultaneously supporting the corrupt quasi-dictatorships of Central Asia.
This goes for Turkey, too. If the EU was honest about the general attitude to Turkish membership, they’d bluster a bit and then use similar reasoning to that used by Churchill in the 1930s when he was leading the campaign to block India from being granted Dominion status – these wogs simply can’t look after themselves.
Which is, I’d guess, part of the reason for the Turkish situation having received so little attention in the European (and American) press, despite the potential ramifications of further escalation being absolutely massive – if Turkey fails to maintain itself as a democracy, all our little prejudices will have been proven right. Plus, rather conveniently, it’ll give the anti-Turkey lot in the EU a perfect excuse to tell them to bugger off permanently. The fact that we’d have replaced a secular and stable Muslim neighbour with an unstable and potentially increasingly religiously fanatical one may be a bit of a downer – but hey, we’d have also managed to get rid of one of the few inconvenient examples of Muslim states that aren’t absolutely insane that all those damned liberals keep using to prove our theories about Muslims not being able to handle statehood are wrong. Bonus!
So, let’s just let Turkey get on with it and pretend nothing’s happening. Because whatever the result we can confirm our prejudices and feel all superior at our cozy Western systems of government that increasingly seem to provide precisely no check on the executive doing what it wants, allowing us to sleepwalk into illiberal constitutional reforms and wars with shadowy enemies based on little or no evidence.
Personally, I rather envy Turkey.
* Hey, it’s May Day – and although I’m not a socialist, it’s traditional to have a bit of socialist rhetoric spewed at this time of year. Cue various one-off visitors in the comments accusing me of being a communist who thinks Stalin was great, etc. etc. – And no, I can’t be arsed to turn this into anything other than a glib off-the-top-of-my-head thing. I took my copies of Edward Said’s Orientalism and Culture and Imperialism off the shelf, as well as a few on Latin America in the 1970s, a bit of Chomsky, a spot of Kipling, various books on the Raj, a bit of Mill (volume 6 of his collected works), etc. – but then I realised that I had proper work to do, and couldn’t be arsed, leaving a long and rambling post, the point of which even I’m not too sure of any more. Sorry.