From all indications, Turkey seems marooned at a dark crossroads today. A failed coup last Friday has not only exposed the rump of military generals but also the darker side of a democracy entrusted to an intolerant hawk, Tayyip Recep Erdogan.
Since triumphing over the putschists Saturday, the Turkish president has been acting in a manner that gives a new poignancy to the fascism German playwright tried to describe sarcastically several decades ago. Once a state loses confidence in the people, proposes the bard, it should then not hesitate to dissolve the citizenry.
At the last count, no fewer than a record 50,000 persons have been summarily rounded up in a country of less than 80 million people. Addressing his nation Wednesday, President Erdogan did not sound conciliatory of someone intent in fixing the fissures the coup has inadvertently brought to light.
In declaring a three-month emergency rule, he preferred the gloating words of a conqueror determined to in fact escalate the witchhunt against the remaining opposition, real or imagined. For effects, he left no one in doubt that he is desirous of resurrecting the death penalty earlier abrogated in 2004 as part of a precondition for Turkey to be admitted into the European Union.
Signs that all is still not well in Turkey despite the coup's crash on Saturday were evident Tuesday. Even as officials were still counting the cost of the Friday/Saturday mayhem, a car bomb exploded in central Istanbul, killing 11 people instantly with many more badly injured. The following day, there was another lethal bombing in Mardin province. Predictably, the authorities quickly point a finger at an opposition party, PKK.
And there precisely lies the peril to liberty in Turkey today and a clarion call on the rest of the world not to look away. Given the peculiar evolution of Turkey as a nation in which the military is more or less cast as the Praetorian Guard, there is no denying the fact that the country truly needs a muscular president to scare adventurous generals away. But that sort of strength is not just about the weight of the biceps but more of the generosity of spirit. That is, the will to still accommodate, to tolerate those unwilling to view life through your own lens. A critical virtue obviously in deficit today.
And what makes the prospects even more unthinkable is Erdogan's bringing religion into an already toxic mix. Though Turkey is 99 percent Muslim (of the Sunni affiliation), her founding fathers were, however, generous enough to conceive a secular state with a view to removing any possible sectarian threat to her continued harmony and balance.
But with his ascendancy in the last fifteen years, Erdogan has nudged his Justice and Development Party (AKP) to drag the nation more towards Islamist extremism. To further seduce the mullahs, he once described the EU as "a Christian club." To the discomfort of moderate elements who would wish Turkey's original architecture of secularism be preserved.
At the boom of artillery fire last Friday in Turkey's two key cities of Ankara and Istanbul, the initial interpretation was that a coup was underway. Happily, people's power prevailed so dramatically that military's otherwise awesome might was made to look so feeble. Though at a huge human toll: no fewer than 250 were killed and thousands suffering varying degrees of harm in a grim encounter that dragged from Friday dusk till Saturday morning.
In one instance, we saw footage of a brave Turkish youth jumping on an armoured tank and punching the soldier on duty. In yet another was an epic reversal of role: a civilian was shown whipping the back of a group of subdued soldiers lying face down on the highway. But if as much as 50,000 could be linked to that coup as Erdogan's action so far has suggested, then we honestly can no longer call that a putsch. What actually confronts Turkey today ought to be seen properly as an uprising, or what the Arabs call "intifada". It is only a manifestation of deep fracture in the Turkey's democracy as presently constituted. To pretend otherwise is to live in denial.
Previously, allegations of coup plot were often parlayed to witch hunt of Erdogan's perceived opponents within and outside the military. But the current episode, apparently on account of its actuality, has broken past records. Already, a hundred of generals and admirals have been charged. Thousands of rank and file soldiers, said to have been tricked to the streets with the lie of "routine parade" by their superiors, would be made to face a scrutiny that potentially carries a death penalty.
The growing casualty list also includes 1,577 university deans ordered to resign beside 21,000 teachers and 15,000 education ministry officials. Just as vocal journalists and independent media houses are being hunted down. Paranoid still, Erdogan has barred access to the WikiLeaks website in continuation of his old tactic of crude censorship of the social media and manic obsession to control people's minds. (Ironically, when guns started booming last Friday, it was the same social media Erdogan resorted to while in hiding to incite supporters to troop to the streets and confront the coupists.)
By the time the purge is over, one then wonders how many people would be left in Turkey for Erdogan to rule over. It is for these reasons that those who have Erdogan's ears like the United States (which leads the NATO to which Turkey belongs) must impress it on him that he cannot continue like this.
It is reassuring that the US has so far not succumbed to Erdogan's blackmail that his arch political opponent and Americanbased cleric, Fethullah Gulen, be extradited to Ankara to face trial over alleged involvement in the failed coup plot. Rather, Washington is insisting on strong proof of complicity before entertaining such request.
In retrospect, the Turkish president has proved to be too intolerant and would not mind burying an entire town led by the illusion of tranquility, even if it is that of the graveyard. Memories of the Cizre massacre are still fresh. In the city of Cizre, hundreds of young people were burned to death in basements in what readily recalled the ghost of Hitler's gas chamber against the Jews decades ago. So much that even the United Nation has called on the Turkish government to establish an independent commission of inquiry to investigate the killings.
Through intimidation, Erdogan has stampeded the congress to pass obnoxious laws granting him sweeping powers to hunt down opposition elements, particularly those with sympathy for the longsuffering Kurds. Earlier, he fired the moderate AKP prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, who was critical of the proposed constitutional changes.
But the budding fascist in Ankara needs to be made to understand that the peace of the graveyard is not sustainable. At best, he would have only succeeded in delaying a civil war.
Trump's intellectual shoplifting
Beyond his now legendary adroitness at tweeting and hell-raising on the microphone, it appears Donald Trump is less gifted with the written word. All his campaign, what defined the presidential flagbearer of the US Republican Party is hubris and certain superiority complex. But an opponent, Marco Rubio (who he condescendingly put down as "Little Rubio"), made a huge joke of Trump's lexical inadequacy early in the day by publicly exposing the syntactic chaos in his tweets. In many instances, the billionaire jumbled his spellings.
Things dramatically reached a head Monday at the much awaited Republican Convention at Ohio when Trump's spouse, Melania, was invited to deliver a much hyped speech. Daintily clad, she sashayed to the rostrum. Throughout, her speech was punctuated by cheerleaders planted around the convention ground acting on cue. But the applause soon turned howls of disapproval.
Transcript of her speech would reveal massive, barefaced theft from the address the incumbent US First Lady, Michelle Obama, had delivered under the same circumstances way back in 2008. In cannibalizing Michele's 2008 speech, Trump's lazy hirelings probably thought the world had forgotten. So dumb, the Trump people did not seem to realize that the etiquette of a casino is different from that of literary transaction. The way you trick a guy off his wallet at the roll of a dice inside the Trump Casino is not the same way you handle the owner of an intellectual treasure outside in line with the literary theory. The least expected of you is credit the originator of the phrase or idea. Otherwise, that is stealing. And you stand accused of the felony of plagiarism.
Having committed the literary equivalent of shoplifting, one had expected the Trump camp to be contrite. Instead, they began by only admitting that Mrs. Trump had worked with a group of paid writers for the speech. That hardly absolves the crime still. Later, they said the English language is not the native tongue of the Slovenian-born jewelry designer and former model. But she owned it. When that would not fly, they finally set up a Fall Guy on Wednesday among the speechwriters who claimed responsibility for padding Melania's copy with stolen verses from Michele. His resignation offer was cynically rejected by the Trump team on the grounds that people "make innocent mistakes".
Ironically, there is no invective or foul word Trump had not used against Michele's husband in his divisive campaign rhetoric until now. So, how cool is it to steal from the Obamas they already tried to discredit?
What is particularly galling is the straight face they initially kept after their hand had literally been caught in the cookie jar. Now the billion dollar puzzle: if it took Trump and his people almost an eternity to try to come clean on little things like this, how do they expect to be trusted on bigger matters?
Revulsion at Trump is not only over stolen phrases and verses. There have been thunders as well over unauthorized melodies. After riding the waves of some discontents at the opening ceremony, the Republican candidate waltzed onto the Ohio stage to the Rock music of 'We are the Champion". But the echo had not faded when the copyright owner, Queen, fired an angry statement not only denying authorizing Trump to use the song but also disclaiming his polarizing message to the United States and the world.
Said Brian May, Queen's cofounder: "I can confirm that permission to use the track was neither sought nor given. We are taking advice on what steps we can take to ensure this use does not continue. Regardless of our views on Mr. Trump’s platform, it has always been against our policy to allow Queen music to be used as a political campaigning tool." Before Queen, Trump had equally been told off by a couple of artistes whose songs were rendered at his rallies without authorization. They include British-born, multiple award-winning Adele, R.E.M. and The Rolling Stones. Neil Young scoffed at the use of "Rockin in the Free World" at another outing, labeling the Republican candidate "misogynist and racist".
So much for the all-knowing guy who wants to "make America great again".