After at least 39 people were killed in a heinous New Year’s attack on Istanbul’s Reina nightclub there has been a lot of soul searching in Turkey. What does the attack mean for a country that is rejected by the West on most terms, yet is targeted by ISIS for being a member of the West? Understandably, this “identity crisis” has affected many Turks. The latest news claims that the attacker may have been a Uighur, a member of the Turkic Muslim ethnic group that lives mainly in Western China’s Xinjiang region. If this is the case, it would represent (sadly) yet another example of blowback in American foreign policy, since there have been reports of Uighurs being trained in Pakistan (and, by extension, their client the United States) in order to destabilize China. A 2009 piece in the Washington Post called for increased support of Uighurs in the face of Chinese repression, and such American support is not surprising given the Soviet Union’s support for Uighurs in the past; the policies of the USSR in the distant past—and the United States in the recent past—both aimed to destabilize China, a geopolitical rival to both powers. Now with the rise of the Turkistan Islamic Movement—yet another Jihadist group that has emerged from the Syrian civil war—these policies have been complicated and have begun to produce unexpected consequences.
Given the complicated mix of international intrigue and ethnic affinities that are swirling around the Middle East, it is understandable that there is a sense of bewilderment in Turkey. One disgusting response came from, of all people, a football referee.
The Referee In Question. Image Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/hakem-suleyman-belliden-reina-saldirisi-sonrasi-skandal-paylasim-40323917
Regional referee from Kutahya province, Suleyman Belli, posted on his Facebook page in the wake of the Reina attack:
“What happened your Santa Claus isn’t always going to bring presents 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 Maybe the raki [Anise-flavored Turkish Brandy] and beers you drink will be your bliss on the other side just kidding you’ve been left empty handed 🙂 🙂 🙂 :)”
Mr. Belli’s Distasteful Post (With an Even Worse Graphic). Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/hakem-suleyman-belliden-reina-saldirisi-sonrasi-skandal-paylasim-40323917
The reference to Santa Claus refers to reports that the Reina gunman was wearing a Santa Claus outfit; it is also an example of the thinly veiled anti-Christian sentiment that has gradually emerged in Turkey during the rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the last 14 years, which also led to a gun being pulled on a Santa Claus character in western Turkey during the last week of 2016.
Santa Claus Has Seen Better Days. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2017/gundem/noel-baba-protestosuna-10-gozalti-1598573/
While Mr. Belli was forced to delete the comment from his Facebook page after public outrage, it is notable that the response—especially from authorities—wasn’t more severe. Unfortunately, it is representative of a far bigger problem in Turkey: many people have accepted the hegemony of the ruling AKP and are all-too-willing to accept, at times, anti-Christian and anti-Semitic rhetoric in favor of the party’s pro-Sunni Muslim stance. Of course, this conflicts with the fact that ISIS/ISIL/DAESH—who claimed responsibility for the Reina attack—are also Sunni Muslims. The most disturbing issue is that the AKP’s hegemony means that free speech exists only insofar as it does not hit the government.
Mr. Belli faced no legal repercussions for his disgusting support of the cowardly killing of innocent party-goers. On the other hand, just days later on 3 January 2017, Turkish designer Barbaros Sansal was attacked on the tarmac at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport by Turkish Airlines employees. Mr. Sansal, an outspoken critic of the AKP government, was returning to Turkey after being deported from Northern Cyprus for ”insulting the Turkish nation”. While Mr. Sansal’s comments, in which he criticizes the government for all of the recent instability and closes by telling Turkey to “drown in [its own] s***”, were not the most couth, they were still just his opinion (just like Mr. Belli’s Facebook post). It was Mr. Sansal’s comments, however, which got a response from the AKP’s outspoken Ankara mayor (who football fans know well) Melih Gokcek and led to his arrest for “inciting hatred among the public”.
Mr. Sansal’s Attack. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/turkish-fashion-designer-attacked-istanbul-aiport-following-critical-video-1015234313
Mr. Gokcek’s Attack and A Few Opposing Views. Note the Ankaragucu Football Club’s Badge in the Post by “Ankara Jan”. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/turkish-fashion-designer-attacked-istanbul-aiport-following-critical-video-1015234313
Mr. Sansal effectively paid the price for going against the AKP’s cultural hegemony (to borrow the term from Antonio Gramsci) when making his (admittedly uncouth) comments. This cultural hegemony which aims to (re)define the nation state is further dividing Turkey every day. Even a small scale industrial worker in Istanbul became an internet phenomenon overnight after his battle with AKP supporters on social media. After experiencing an unexplained power outage in Istanbul during the first week of 2017, Sehmus Seven Tweeted Energy Minister Berat Albayrak to ask for help since his business had been without electricity for five days. Government supporters attacked Mr. Seven on social media, accusing him of being an Israeli agent, a member of the opposition CHP, and a member of the Kurdish PKK, among other things. In response, an exasperated Mr. Seven said “some [people] called me a Marxist-Leninist! I don’t even know what a Marxist-Leninist is. One [person] says I’m an agent for [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad, another [person] asks if I’m an Israeli agent. I say there is no electricity and the person asks if I want to divide the country. I don’t get it! I just wanted electricity. I’m a nationalist. I have seven insured employees. I pay my taxes and insurance on time”.
The Exchange between Mr. Seven and Government Supporters. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cnnturk.com/turkiye/esnaf-sehmus-marksis-leninist-nedir-bilmiyorum-ben-milliyetciyim
Here, Mr. Seven was shamed for going against the AKP’s narrative of developing the country by protesting the lack of electricity. Interestingly, just as the international trend of decolonization in the 1960s and 1970s saw its parallel in the United States with the civil rights movement, we have seen developments in the United States parallel to those in Turkey where a similar attempt to re-define the nation-state has led to further division.
Since Donald Trump’s victory in the election the United States has become divided to a dangerous degree. One of the most sickening manifestations of this division surfaced on 5 January 2017 when four people were held for an attack that was live-streamed on Facebook. In the attack four African-Americans assaulted a bound and gagged special needs man while making “derogatory statements against white people and President-elect Donald Trump” according to the BBC story (CNN later reported that they said “F*ck Donald Trump! F*ck white people!”). The assailants remove part of the victim’s scalp with a knife and make him drink from a toilet bowl while forcing him—at knife point—to say “I love black people”. While the four assailants have been arrested and are being charged with a “hate crime” it doesn’t solve the problem that there is a real division in American society. US President Barack Obama made a predictably weak statement in response to the attack, calling it “despicable” while opining “What we have seen as surfacing, I think, are a lot of problems that have been there a long time. Whether it’s tensions between police and communities, hate crimes of the despicable sort that has just now recently surfaced on Facebook. The good news is that the next generation that’s coming behind us … have smarter, better, more thoughtful attitudes about race.” I suppose Mr. Obama didn’t realize that the assailants were the next generation—three of the four were 18 years old!
The Assailants in Question. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38525549
Instead of realizing that the recent emphasis on racial identity in the United States (please see college sports and the Confederate flag debate)—in order to re-define the country as a racist state—has actually perpetuated further division, Mr. Obama chose to pay lip service without actually addressing the real problems. Until people in the world—whether in Turkey, the United States, or anywhere else—realize that the answer to societal problems is not to be found by dividing people by creating new cultural norms (and hegemonies), however, it is unlikely that we will see any more global stability in 2017 than we saw in 2016, and that in itself should make people think. Many people would do well to make a New Year’s resolution to think more independently—and more critically—about the world around them so as to not fall into the trap of blindly succumbing to cultural hegemony.