The Moral Poverty of Turkish Politics
By Mustafa Akyol
Last week, a new political scandal was created in passing during a “political discussion” show on A Haber TV, one of the many pro-government propaganda channels.
On the show, two unabashedly partisan commentators were discussing why Meral Akşener, a veteran female politician from the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), had lately taken a bold stance against their beloved Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.
“Do you think it is because she has a cassette?” one of them asked.
“Yes,” replied the other, “I know she has a cassette that is why she acts like this.”
The term “cassette,” of course, has a universal technical meaning (an old medium for video recordings). But in Turkey’s immoral political culture, it has a more specific meaning: A secretly recorded sex scene that can shame someone if it is exposed.
These two men, in other words, threw a sex-based libel at a female politician as if they were speaking about the weather. In return, not just Mrs. Akşener but many others rightfully responded with fury, condemning yet another low point in Turkey’s already deeply immoral political scene.
I also condemned those two “commentators,” who would stop talking on TV program if they had any decency left. Yet the problem is not limited to these two figures. It extends to the very propaganda machine that employs them and many similar apparatchiks. As we have all learned over the past two years, this propaganda machine is both orchestrated and financed by the government, and its mission is to intimidate and demonize political opponents by all means possible. Its hall of shame includes false news, fake documents, and insulting headlines. It includes columns by “journalists” who order opposition media bosses to fire certain columnists, threatening these bosses that if they don’t follow these orders they will be heavily “punished” by the state.
To be fair, the government also came out in opposition to the libel against Meral Akşener. President Tayyip Erdoğan called her and offered his support, along with his wife and the wife of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. But this is not enough. The government must diffuse the machine of hatred that they have created, instead of just quietly opposing one of its most indefensible scandals.
Meanwhile, all actors in Turkish politics, including some foes of the government, should see what kind of a country we have become. This is not the first time that a controversy over a “cassette” has poisoned Turkish politics. In 2010, the then leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deniz Baykal was targeted and dethroned by a “cassette.” Months later, the same trick was used against several politicians from the MHP. Conspicuously, in all these cases, the targets were opposition figures. Again conspicuously, both the government and some its allies (some of whom have lately turned bitter anti-government) have politically benefitted from such scandals.
The ugly truth is that Turkish politics is very, very ugly. All values can be sacrificed for the pursuit of power and the accomplishment of vengeance. About a decade ago, I used to blame mainly the old (Kemalist) establishment for this ugliness. But now I have seen another decade and have seen that the new (“conservative”) establishment is no better - if not worse.
Again and again, we see a political zeal that disregards all basic notions of decency. And we realize that if Turkey really needs a “revolution,” it is not the establishment of a “presidential system” or anything like that. Rather, it is the establishment of the very basic and universal rules of morality.