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Erdogan and the ‘looters’: what’s behind the protests in Turkey

Ali E Erol gives some background to the Turkish movement, and how it is challenging the prime minister’s version of ‘ethics’

June 5, 2013
4 min read

erdogan

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (pictured above) has a simple message for the millions currently protesting all over Turkey. According to him, they are nothing more than ‘a couple of looters’ – and he doesn’t need their permission to do whatever he wants.

The truth, though, is that this kind of attitude is exactly the reason why so many people in Turkey are resisting on the streets – facing down serious and even fatal injuries, torture, arrests and police brutality. This movement was sparked by Gezi Park, but the causes have been years in the making as Erdogan’s rule has become increasingly authoritarian.

Witness Erdogan’s support of the police in previous protests when they used tear gas and brutality not as a last resort but as an initial reaction; Erdogan’s nonchalant, even blaming, attitude towards the fact that Turkey has more journalists in jail Iran and China combined; Erdogan’s patriarchic and ethnoreligiously exclusive discourse. All of these have contributed to the endurance and perseverance of the protestors.

On the streets, people from different ideological camps, different football teams (and, yes, that is a big deal), different religious, ethnic, sexual identities are protesting – and they are protesting against Erdogan’s rule.

Ideological morality

When Erdogan suggested that millions of people were just ‘looters’, he attempted to impose an ideological morality not only unto the protestors, but also to the country, to the land, to those observing. ‘Protesting as looting’ not only frames street politics as unethical, but also, and in contrast, suggests that ethical and exemplar behavior is one of compliance. It is not hard to deduce that if dissent against the state is unethical, the ultimate ethical behavior is, therefore, defending the state – the actions of the police.

This is the perfect moment to contrast the actions of the unethical ‘looters’, immoral dissenters, versus those champions of the state, knights of the king: the police.

Please note for the next protest: a positive, upbeat attitude; cleaning out the garbage; smiling; loving; speaking out your mind; rebuilding damaged city streets; offering food to the people who take pleasure in beating you to death; reading books; singing and playing instruments; helping those in need; being compassionate; demanding freedom and human rights – these behaviors are ‘unethical’.

On the other hand: beating unarmed and unarmored civilians; hitting another human being in the face with a gas canister; torturing; using chemical weapons against your fellow human beings; running over people with trucks, making the elderly bleed; sadistically beating a helpless person – these behaviors are ‘ethical’.

Incredible potential

Now we’ve got that straightened out, I want to say one more thing. This protest is an anno domini – a ‘year zero’ – for Turkish politics. It has shown the true face of the mainstream media in Turkey, as it kept silent while the real reporting happened on Twitter. It has shown that youth who were thought to be apathetic and apolitical can organise – without needing the banner of any political party, union or any other existing organising body.

And they hold an incredible potential to redefine Turkish politics, if they can go beyond hatred of Erdogan and frame who they are and their solidarity on the basis of ideals such as freedom, democracy, antimilitarism and plurality.

I thank the international media for their support, and hope for a bloodless victory for my sisters and brothers who struggle on the ground.

Ali E Erol is an expert on Turkey, social conflicts and new media. He is covering the Turkish movement at The Daily Direnis

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