I have never touted the Turkish model as—well—a model. Indeed, much of my time has been spent making fun of that absurdity. But with that, hopefully, established, I think it is worth appreciating that, by way of (unfair) comparison, Libya is a non-state, Egypt is politically back to square one (with more jihadists), Yemen is endlessly fractured (by drones), Bahrain is a den of repression, Tunisia has never had more violent dissidence, Syria is rubble, and Lebanon is Syria. Civil unrest has indeed yielded regional change in MENA, and it is—as the sober voices of the Arab Spring insisted it would be—messy.
Now that the Arab Spring is no longer trending and the narrative threads have been cut and forgotten, it is worth taking a (brief) second glance at Turkey’s place in the chaos (to say nothing of the Turkish business interests that fed the regional flames). And at such a juncture, there is something to be said for a country that has such deep, and deepening, rifts in its vision of what the Turkish nation ought to be—such a genuine dissonance—and where the death of a Turkish national is still generally treated as an unacceptable consequence of disagreement.
There is something impressive about the Turkish case. Some would attribute it to a “more modern” political system (complete nonsense), some would attribute it to its proximity to Russia (like Ukraine?), some to its being in NATO (what is “NATO”?), some to its not being in the EU (I actually read this somewhere), some to its lack of mineral wealth (Tunisia, Egypt, Syria?), etc. But that’s not it. There is something, something less tangible, about Turkish civil society that does not lend itself to the same destructive forces that rend the rest of the Middle East and, to some extent, Europe.
But all the same, I urge the reader not to look too far down the rabbit hole, for he will only find that those forces which hold the Turkish nation together, which forged a robust Turkish civil society in the first place, are those very forces—a subtle blend of blind religious observance, gender discrimination, xenophobia, blind nationalism, nepotism, etc.—that the civilized Western world abhors. Better not to think about it too much, really.
I’ve only quoted Carl Schmitt once before on this blog. He deserves some more mention. So here’s a good quote, from The Nomos of the Earth:
A historically meaningful imperialism is not only or essentially military panoply, not only financial and economic prosperity, but, also, this ability to determine in and of itself the content of political and legal concepts. . . . A nation is conquered first when it acquiesces to a foreign vocabulary, a foreign concept of law, especially international law.
The following was written as a guest post for Atatürk’s Republic, a collaborative blog that seeks to follow Turkish news, politics, arts, and culture.
Weather-permitting, it is not uncommon to see a young man selling books outside of the Nâzım Hikmet Cultural Center in Ankara. As in many places in Turkey, the wares are carefully assembled on a repurposed aquamarine* bed sheet and laid out on the sidewalk for passers-by to politely ignore while the peddler busies himself with something else—in this case, reading.
On one particular late-May afternoon, I happened across this man after a perplexing transaction with an unctuous electronics salesman and a relatively gratifying transaction with a tobacconist. The point being, I was in a good enough mood to stop and look. I’d always found these displays somewhat romantic, yet crude. So while interested, I didn’t want to be seen patronizing the odd practice. I would rarely stop to look.
As usual, the books were mainly either beyond my linguistic abilities of comprehension or counter to my sense of propriety. One, however—an older, water-damaged paperback—caught my attention. It was a compilation, a volume of the collected newspaper articles and columns of the late Peyami Safa, journalist and novelist extraordinaire. An unusual find.
After several more minutes of nervous browsing, I picked the book off of the sidewalk for the third and final time, leaving a conspicuous aquamarine gap, like a missing tooth. The young man looked up from his book only when I approached him with my selection. He asked for three lira. I gave him five—it was worth far more than five lira to me.
A few days ago, I found the time to give that book some of the attention it deserves. Here’s one of the more serendipitous, yet disturbing, selections I found, titled “The Book on the Sidewalk.” I will let it speak for itself, perhaps to be expanded on later:
THE BOOK ON THE SIDEWALK
In yesterday’s article, “Book Morgue,” Salâhaddin Güngör had this to say about the book displays that have cropped up on nearly every street-corner: “There are so many valuable and rare books in those displays that one would be shocked what can be had for the price of a glass of Hamidiye† water.”
In Turkey, there is nothing that suffers as much indignity as books. Not just Hamidiye water, but cigarette butts, filthy rags, old shoes, empty bottles, and even the broken wood and iron scavenged from rubble will all fetch a higher price than their own raw materials—and more buyers, too. Only books, only those damned, wretched books are placed on the same ground as dog waste and put up for sale without so much as a piece of cloth beneath them. When a country gives the same position to knowledge and literature as it gives to its heels, and places the nourishment of its mind underfoot, that suggests that books have about as much dignity as the brooms in grocers’ shops (at least the brooms are hung one or two meters off the ground).
Script both new and old,‡ authors both great and insignificant, works from both east and west, compilations, translations, and every variety of writing, writer, and quality—all underfoot.
Fellow-citizen! There is a danger as dreadful as an enemy invasion hidden in this tragedy. Fellow-citizen! Great catastrophes will utterly destroy the progress of any nation where books crawl on the ground. Fellow-citizen! Good, bad, valuable, worthless, compilation, and translation, buy your share of these books! Sell your bedspreads if need be, but buy these books and get them off the ground!
Tan, July 23rd, 1935
*I.e., the color of public pool locker room tiles. No, the peddlers’ bed sheets are not always aquamarine, but when they are, I remember it.
†A high-mineral-content water piped from Istanbul’s Belgrade Forest since 1902; apparently a subject of derision for quite some time now.
‡Referring to both Latin and Arabic script, the latter of which was officially canned in 1929 and replaced by the modern Turkish language.
Turkish Lira Rises on Rate Hike
Prabha Natarajan; The Wall Street Journal; Jan. 28th, 2014
Turkey’s currency surged after the country’s central bank aggressively hiked key interest rates, a move that revived confidence in other battered emerging-market assets.
Within minutes of the announcement, the Turkish lira strengthened 3% against the dollar—a big move in foreign-exchange markets. That brings gains in the lira to almost 10% since the currency hit a record low Monday. In recent trade in New York, one dollar bought 2.1867 lira, compared with 2.2522 late Monday, according to data provider CQG.
After an emergency policy meeting Tuesday night, Turkey’s central bank said it is raising its overnight lending rate to 12% from 7.75%.
Fethullah Gulen: Powerful but reclusive Turkish cleric
Tim Franks; BBC News; January 27th, 2014
Fethullah Gulen has been called Turkey’s second most powerful man. He is also a recluse, who lives in self-imposed exile in the US.
An apparent power struggle between his followers and those around the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has reached a new pitch of intensity and loathing.
Since arriving in the US in the late 1990s, Mr Gulen, 74, has not given a single broadcast interview. What rare communication there has been with the media has almost exclusively been conducted via email.
But now, the BBC has had exclusive access to the Muslim cleric. I travelled with Guney Yildiz from the BBC Turkish Service to a remote part of Pennsylvania to meet the man.