Breaking News: Politics In Constantinople Remain Byzantine
December 27, 2013, 08:54 PM
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Fethullah Gülen of of Saylorsburg, Penn., leader of the shadowy Gulenists.
In the United States, few ploys are more effective at deflecting media interest from a line of inquiry than to label it a "conspiracy theory." In much of the rest of the world, however, with Istanbul traditionally leading the way, conspiracy theories are cherished as the most plausible way to understand political and legal events. After all, what else are politicians, generals, government officials, religious leaders, business magnates, and journalists paid to do other than to conspire over small cups of strong coffee? And why wouldn't you want to know who is conspiring against whom?
A New York Times op-ed illustrates this American-Turkish gap in worldview: Andrew Finkel, author of “Turkey: What Everyone Needs to Know," explains in the NYT:
ISTANBUL — A wave of early morning police raids in Turkey on Dec. 17 gave the world a sudden glimpse into the murky inner workings of the country’s ruling elite, pulling back the curtain on astonishing scenes of bribery and graft.The head of the state-controlled financial giant, Halkbank, had $4.5 million secreted in shoe boxes in his study. Istanbul’s best-known real-estate developer was interrogated over bribes to evade zoning restrictions.
I am shocked, shocked to hear that Istanbul's best-known real-estate developer is under suspicion of paying bribes to evade zoning restrictions, and that high ranking government officials appear to be skimming cash from gigantic construction projects such as the city's new international airport. In Turkey, however, the locals have a different reaction to the news from these police raids on Turkey's rich and powerful: they want to know who is behind these audacious attacks on the power structure. In contrast, Westerners like New York Times' readers are annoyed by Turks' interest in behind-the-scenes machinations. Instead, Turks should just focus on what has been presented to them in the media and not try to figure out why it's suddenly in the media. Speculating about what's going on behind the curtains is downright un-American. Finkel goes on:
...Mr. Erdogan does not know how to play defense. Last weekend, he addressed rally after rally and cursed the “international groups” and “dark alliances” trying to undermine Turkey’s prestige. Newspapers tied to his government named the culprits: Israel and the United States. One pro-Erdogan broadsheet demanded that the American ambassador, Francis J. Ricciardone Jr., be declared persona non grata for trying to punish Halkbank for its dealings with Iran.... Absolute power corrupting absolutely tells only part of the Turkish story. ...
Many commentators have framed the raids as evidence of an escalating row between Mr. Erdogan and the religious preacher Fethullah Gulen, who controls an influential network of adherents from a self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.It’s true that the Gulenists were natural allies of the A.K.P. when it first came to power in 2002. Zekeriya Oz, the prosecutor who initiated last week’s investigation, is the same official who launched the Ergenekon trial — a successful criminal action against the top brass for plotting a military coup (he is believed to have Gulen connections).
Ergenekon was a giant conspiracy theory propounded by Erdogan's elected government alleging that out-of-favor Kemalist generals and other lifetime members of the deep state were formulating a giant conspiracy to overthrow the government to prevent the government from conspiring against the deep state out of its fear that the deep state was conspiring against the government and so forth and so on. To the American mind, this hall of mirrors set of conspiracy theories seems alien—after all, we've been conditioned by extensive campaigns going back to the Warren Report to never believe in conspiracy theories. But to the Turkish mind, an infinite loop of conspiracy theories seems obvious; moreover, the average American strikes the average Turk as a naive dupe too obtuse to notice how he is being manipulated by powerful interests in America and abroad.
The speculation is that many of those police officers who lost their jobs in the last 10 days had Gulen affiliations. A recent brimstone sermon webcast by Mr. Gulen fueled speculation that new revelations about A.K.P. wrongdoing are in the pipeline.But blaming the Gulen movement is a bit like blaming Zionists. It’s a sad commentary on contemporary Turkey that people have to reach for conspiracy theories to explain why public officials are doing their job to prosecute corruption. ... The government is treating the crisis as nothing short of a coup by those jealous of its success. This is nonsense.

The opposition it faces has emerged because of the A.K.P’s own lack of respect for the rule of law and a cynical disregard for public accountability. It can no longer hide behind conspiracy theories and bluster.