This arena is actually a place in which a person can enter into communication with others. In other words, similar to what we talked about within the framework of the shameful headscarf ban, these public arenas are not the courtrooms, municipal buildings or stadiums where official holidays are celebrated.
The public arena is also the nest where politics and a free society are born. A person gains not only his or her individuality, but also sociability in this arena. This is the arena from which politics originate.
A people who lack a public arena are slaves and not only can they be said to not be a true society, they cannot even be called a tribe. Arendt asserts that in modern times, primarily due to alienation and capitalist-imperialist relations, such a shared world has disappeared. And thus “common” sense also disappeared. Within this framework, she also says totalitarianism basically reduces people to the level of screws in a machine, turning them into beings who do not think, question or judge and who are completely lacking in common sense.
As for those of us from Turkey, the above is also our greatest problem. The public arena was defined for us as a sphere of bans, all alluding to the greater state, and thus the maturing of society, individuals and politics were all de facto forbidden. The truth, though, is that both individuals and society are political organisms. Politics implies by its very nature a collective arena in which human freedom can be truly exhibited and in which the true meaning of human actions becomes clear. Participating in politics allows people to join in collective action as well as to destroy the dirtied, negative meanings that have arisen around politics; it allows people to shoulder true responsibility and it brings about our freedom at the same time. This is all especially true when we are talking about a kind of politics that absolutely excludes all types of violence. As Arendt says, “There can be no words at the point where violence begins and thus, there can be no politics either.”
When one begins to examine Turkey’s state these days from the perspective of things Arendt said, whether you are talking about the era of a single party or multiple parties, it is clear what all interventions and roadblocks we have experienced are really targeting and what they have cost us: our freedom, in other words, everything that is meaningful in connection with our lives.
It is no coincidence that politics in Turkey has been so belittled and so robbed of the esteem of the public by the bearers of the state-guardian mentality. While a military that was not supervised, that was completely devoid of transparency and that, on top of everything else, carried out coups every decade was able to hold the full trust and confidence of the public, the esteem reserved for the arena of politics by the people of this nation was at the lowest possible point. No one questioned why this was so; instead we all just saw politicians as tricksters and immoral thieves.
In other words, ourselves…
We don’t know whether the chambers of guardian power that had us hating ourselves actually read what was written by Arendt or Jurgen Habermas. But they were certainly on the “right” path as far as consolidating their own strength and power was concerned.
A road paved by the Millî Nizam movement
How interesting it is then to consider that the first movement which had the audacity to go straight to the people with its politics was the Millî Nizam movement, which was formed in 1970 and then promptly forced to shut down. This was Necmettin Erbakan’s (Erbakan Hoca) movement. Millî Nizam’s base, which featured house meetings and politics that included women, wound up bringing into the sphere of politics the people of the nation. And the fruits of this work are today’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Voice of the People Party (HAS Party).
Despite various attempts to the contrary, we have been free of military coups for the past 14 years now. And over these 14 years, especially the eight-and-a-half years during which the AK Party has been in power, politics quickly regained its former air of esteem. The masses are once again becoming involved in politics. And what this means is that society is also becoming freer. What this in turn means is that society is constructing itself according to its own wishes. The final exertion of the guardian powers has been evident in events such as the attempt to prevent the election of President Abdullah Gül, the April 27 e-memorandum from the military and the plan to force the closing down of the AK Party. But none of these have had the long-lasting effect on the people of the nation that the guardian powers hoped for. And now, after a successful referendum, we are preparing for one more very important election, the general elections of June 12. It is most likely that the AK Party will once again capture a significant majority of the vote to go on and start its third term in power. And it is also most likely that during this third term of AK Party rule, we will once again debate the civilian constitution, but this time we actually have the opportunity to carry it out.
Of course, the greatest barrier that blocks the path towards an elevation of the esteem that politics should command and that prevents normalization from occurring is the continuation of the Kurdish problem. The only explanation for the Tunceli operations and the Kastamonu attack that followed is the reality that those who oppose normalization in Turkey are still able to wield initiative. Don’t Arendt’s descriptions of how violence manages to drown out politics and freedoms explain this clearly enough?
If there is violence, there can be no politics. And if there is violence, there can be no freedom, which means that there should absolutely never be violence. That is our golden rule.
The guardian powers, while trying to articulate themselves through the videotape operation within the ranks of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), is also trying to protect its opportunities to regain its old position. I have absolutely no doubt that there was a plan afoot by way of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) video footage to get Bahçeli under control and to thus try and bring forward a strong CHP-MHP coalition that could overturn AK Party rule. Personally, though, I am not far removed from the view that says, “Let them engage in politics, no matter what those politics are.” At least this recent attempt was much more rational than past plans against the AK Party that have included coups, assassinations and the carrying out of massacres or mosque bombings. Of course, we should also always remember that these are forces not given to hesitation when it comes to returning at any moment to their despicable old ways, particularly for the AK Party and our emotional democrats.
The chance that Turkey might lose all that it has gained in recent years and that the nation might enter into some sort of period of “restoration” still worries me. And the center of this worry of mine is the fact that the Kurdish initiative, as well as the Ergenekon, Balyoz, Kafes, Dink and Malatya publishing house massacre cases have all slacked off in pace and that the political will is not taking a resolute enough stance in this regard. The AK Party may in fact see its sole shouldering of so many enormous cases as unfair, and in a sense, they are right about this. But there is no other force in the Turkish Parliament who has the necessary will to see these cases through, and for as long as this regime battle continues, there won’t be.
At which point, the question to be asked becomes this: If Erdoğan and the AK Party do wind up losing the resolute stance necessary to win the nation back from guardian powers and see politics put in its proper place, what will take the place of this resolute stance and how we will continue down this road? Will certain arenas simply be abandoned to the guardian powers and will the AK Party thus attempt to carry on its own existence? Is this possible?
An answer bearing miracles: No, this is not possible. Over two terms in power, the AK Party has gained so much ground and dealt such swift blows to the guardian powers that the first stumble taken by the AK Party would be interpreted as the starting signal to lynch Erdoğan and his party. And I suppose that Erdoğan himself sees this as clearly as I do.
I do not believe that in this sense either Erdoğan or his party have gone through any shifts in axis. To wit, this would be a sort of suicide. The real problem at hand then is that Erdoğan does not seem to trust the people of the nation as much as they trust him. Another factor at play here is that Erdoğan wants to see problems taken care of in the same way one would pull stray hairs out of butter. And lastly, there is the fact that, for the reasons I counted above, Erdoğan believes not in radical change, but evolutionary change. What lies beneath this last belief is that there is no political movement on the horizon that threatens his party and thus his conviction that he has enough time.
To illustrate the above, we note Erdoğan’s failure to bring forward headscarved candidates to be elected in the coming elections, his lack of encouragement of non-Muslim candidates and his belief that all this would do more harm than good for Turkey. On the other hand, it is possible that the whole question of whether the MHP will even be able to surpass the voting threshold may have a serious hold on Erdoğan’s attentions these days.
All week long, I watched Erdoğan speak at campaign rallies in Turkey. I scrutinized his masterful use of language, mimicry and tone of voice. Erdoğan is for Turkey a great opportunity, and the harmony he has been able to create between himself and the people of the country is wonderful. He is literally like some sort of rock star. When he talks, the people listening are enthralled. Watching him on stage one feels that fortunes have been reversed, esteem returned to its rightful owners because he is one of the people of the nation, and he makes this felt. And the message he gives is this: “If I am leading this country, what this really means is that you are leading it.” Yes, Erdoğan is leading this country, and let’s give credit to this courageous person before it’s too late; he is a better leader than any we have seen throughout our history. And until someone better emerges, there is no alternative.