It was indeed something that was out of the ordinary. Every global media found it unavoidable; headlines saying it almost in the same number of words: Turkey’s Erdogan says social media is a ‘threat to democracy’.
My mind clicked: “That cannot come from Erdogan. Where did he pluck the courage from? Could he have been under Dutch courage?” To anybody who realizes what the Turkish Head of State, his party and allies have done to democracy that reads very idiomatic.
Immediately I remembered my secondary school days of the 1950s. In the English language subject – combining grammar and literature—we came across idioms and axioms. Idioms were a bit tricky. One had to understand the Anglo-Saxon culture to get the idioms right – sayings like smelling a rat or kicking the bucket. Its either you know or you don’t. Sometimes we found similarities across cultures like the Dutch courage (what the British take people of the Netherlands for) and the Roman’s In vino veritas.
When it came to axioms, the deal was not very much. We could take recourse to mathematics or logic. An axiom is an unprovable rule or first principle accepted as true because it is self-evident or particularly useful such as: “Nothing can both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect.”
Generally, axioms are statements made about real numbers. Under the mathematics option of studying arithmetic, algebra and geometry as separate subjects, sometimes axioms are called algebraic postulates and often what they say about real numbers holds true to geometric figures and, therefore, an important part of geometry when it comes to measuring figures.
And this is where we find simple principles like “a part cannot be bigger than a whole” forming the Seven Axioms of Euclid’s Geometry. I don’t know whether Mahatma Gandhi took this into consideration when conceptualizing his “Seven blunders of the world”, practically setting a politics worthy snare for Erdogan’s erratic ideas on democracy.
Going by the Ghandi view, the Seventh Blunder pins Erdogan down. This is “politics without principle”. Swahili indigenous knowledge says: “Wengi wape” – contextually, it’s the majority decision that counts.
Erdogan vowed to trek the democratic path. But after the voice (vote) of the majority put him into power in the 2011 polls, he thereafter forgot them taking the road to one-man rule. He has pulled down all the democratic pillars.
Under his rule, the separation of powers between the legislature, judiciary and government no longer exists. Perceived non-loyal prosecutors and judges have been laid off and, even tried on trumped up charges and jailed.
Civic institutions have been struck off the register. Operations of national and international human rights activists have been curtailed. Schools and hospitals belonging to and run by institutions deemed dissident have been taken over or closed. Teachers and doctors have consequently lost jobs. The lucky ones have fled the country; the unlucky ones have been detained, arrested, prosecuted on false charges and are serving jail sentences. There are even claims of persecution. Turkey has children being born and bred in prisons.
The fourth pillar of democracy, the media, has been paralyzed almost to the extent that even clutches wouldn’t help. In the Erdogan circumstances, the social media would serve as the last resort for providing the people’s remaining window for exercising some level of their democratic right to information.
Now, the Head of State, in the name of democracy, comes out and tells the world in a video message to a government-organized communications conference in Istanbul: “Social media, which was described as a symbol of freedom when it first appeared, has turned into one of the main sources of threat to today’s democracy.”
He adds: “We try to protect our people, especially the vulnerable sections of our society, against lies and disinformation without violating our citizens’ right to receive accurate and impartial information.” Unbelievable!
Even the controversial Machiavelli who died in 1498, in The Discourses, argued that “a republic, where it commands the support of honest and independent masses, is the best and most enduring style of government.” Today is 2021.
In his Foreword to A Dialogue of Civilizations based on Gulen’s Islamic Ideals and Humanistic Discourses, Prof. Akbar Ahmed remarks, “ Gulen but also provides us with an example of the type of dialogue needed in the twenty-first century, one where thoughts and ideas wholly different from our own are presented before us in a rational thought-provoking manner.” He clearly points out that “dialogue and understanding are no longer an intellectual pastime; they are an imperative if we are to survive the twenty-first century.”
The writer, B. Jill Carroll, in the introduction, takes us back to antiquity in the fifth century BCE with Greek philosopher Protagoras saying: “Man is the measure of all things…” bringing in questions of “the meaning of life, human values, the nature of good life and the components of a just human society…” This boils down to aspects like “the nature of human reality, the good human life, the state and morality.”
As far as Erdogan’s innermost view on democracy is concerned, Dr. Bulent Kenes, in A Genocide in the making? Erdogan Regime’s crackdown on the Gulen Movement, points out: “However, when he garnered the votes of almost half the electorate on June 12, 2011, Erdogan who had previously described democracy as ‘a tram that you get off when you come to the destination’ believed there were no obstacles left before him and thus returned to his former ideological position and political factory settings. Instead of using public support for further democratization in the direction of his pre-election promises, he preferred to use this support for his Islamist agenda and for setting up a one-man rule.”
In the preface of Ecce Homo, the section addressing the question of How One Becomes What One is, incorporating Friedrich Nietzsche Genealogy of Morals, Walter Kaufmann, refers to a writer’s character named Zarathustra, whom he explains as the seducer. What does the seducer himself say, as he returns again from his first time in solitude? Precisely the opposite of everything that any “sage”, “saint”, “world-redeemer or any other decadent would say in such a case. Not only does he speak differently, he also is different
Some statements run as follows: “Now I go alone my disciples. You too go now alone … The man of knowledge must not only love his enemies; he must also be able to hate his friends… One repays a teacher badly, if one remains nothing but a pupil … Now I bid you lose me and find yourselves and only when you have all denied me will I come to you…”
The biggest lesson here is never to mistake somebody for someone else. In the present Turkish circumstances, is Erdogan telling his allies what Friedrich Nietzsche’s Zarathustra told his disciples? With all social, political and economic pressures on his government, could Erdogan be poised to kick the politics bucket –particularly as the polls draw nigh?
The Erdogan rule does not walk the talk. The cooked up story of the century about the July 2016 coup attempt aside, how does a government characterized by the Freedom House’s Net report, published three months ago, as “not free”, come out to claim “protecting our people, especially the vulnerable sections of our society, against lies and disinformation without violating our citizens’ right to receive accurate and impartial information?”
As great thinker Said Nursi points out, in the absence of consensus, how does Erdogan talk of unity and solidarity? Turkey’s justice system completely ignores the principle of ‘crime being personal’ so that an innocent person close to a criminal is punished because of him.
If the Turkey democracy structure were likened to a house, it could qualify for that of a spider. And what could hold back the leader, Erdogan in this case, from abandoning other occupants in the case of trouble? That is the question.