Almost everyone in Turkey subscribes to one of two conspiracy narratives about this party or its antagonists. In the first, the AKP is a party of religious deception that seeks to bring all elements of the government under its control. Its hidden goal is the eradication of the secular state, the wrenching of Turkey from the West, and, ultimately, the imposition of Islamic law. In this narrative, the specter of the sect leader Fethullah Gülen, who has undefined ties to the party and has taken exile in Utah, arouses particular dread. His critics fear he is the Turkish Ayatollah Khomenei; they say that his acolytes have seeped into the organs of the Turkish body politic, where they lie poised, like a zombie army, to be awakened by his signal.In the piece, Berlinksi also assesses Turkey's large informal economy, which Berlinksi assesses has "been exaggerated by statistical legerdemain," as well as what she seems to in part symbolically put "among the most serious of Turkey's problems" -- "the grave seismic risk to Istanbul," which according to Berlinski, is effectively "ignored in the constant din of mutual accusations." Berlinski concludes:
The second version holds that the AKP is exactly what it purports to be: a modern and democratic party with which the West can and should do business. Mr. Gülen's followers say the real conspirators are instead members of the so-called Deep State—what they call a demented, multitentacled secret alliance of high-level figures in the military, the intelligence services, the judiciary and organized crime.
Neither theory has irrefragable proof behind it. Both are worryingly plausible and supported by some evidence. But most significantly, one or the other story is believed by virtually everyone here. It is the paranoid style of Turkish politics itself that should alarm the West. Turkey's underlying disease is not so much Islamism or a military gone rogue, but corruption and authoritarianism over which a veneer of voter participation has been painted.
The system does not look too undemocratic on paper. Turkish political parties are structured, in principle, around district and provincial organizations. There is universal suffrage, but a party must receive 10% of the vote to be represented in Parliament. Party members elect district delegates, district presidents and board members. Yet Turkish prime ministers have near-dictatorial powers over their political parties and are not embarrassed to use them.
Protesters against the rash of coups d'etat in downtown Istanbul in February.
.It is theparty members, not voters, who pick the party leader. Members of Parliament enjoy unlimited political immunity, as do the bureaucrats they appoint. The resulting license to steal money and votes is accepted with alacrity and used with impunity. Corruption and influence peddling are the inevitable consequence. Business leaders are afraid to object for fear of being shut out.
Conspiracies flourish when citizens fear punishment for open political expression, when power is seen as illegitimate, and when people have no access to healthy channels of influence. They give rise inevitably to counterconspiracies that fuel the paranoia and enmity, a self-reinforcing cycle. Throughout Turkey is the pervasive feeling that no one beyond family can be trusted.
The common charge that the AKP is progressively weakening the judiciary and the military is objectively correct, as is the claim that this concentrates an unhealthy amount of power in the hands of the executive branch. Yet the prime minister and his intimates insist that their actions are defensive. "For 40 years, they have kept files on us. Now, it is our turn to keep files on them," AKP deputy Avni Doğan has said.
Their enemies voice the same worldview. "When you look at Turkey today, it is as if the country has ... fallen under foreign occupation," the leader of the opposition CHP party Deniz Baykal has said.
Paranoia is inevitably also grandiose. When the House Committee on Foreign Affairs passed up the recent resolution to describe the massacre of Armenians in the First World War era as a genocide, Suat Kiniklioglu, the spokesman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Turkish Parliament, explained Turkey's outrage thus: "I think the Americans would feel that same if we were to pass a resolution in our parliament talking about the treatment of [native] Indians in this country."
Mr. Kiniklioglu speaks fluent English; he has spent years in the West. Yet he is blind to the most obvious of facts about American culture: No one in America would give a damn.
The failure to prepare for this predictable event is a betrayal of trust, like so many the Turkish people have suffered. Each deepens the paranoia. Each citizen believes that to survive, he must lie and conspire. Everyone assumes everyone else is lying and conspiring against him because he himself is lying and conspiring.
Turkish Ambassador Namik Tan recently said that the West "must understand that in this region, two plus two doesn't always equal four. Sometimes it equals six, sometimes 10. You cannot hope to understand this region unless you grasp this."
Psychiatrists are typically advised to attempt to form a "working alliance" with the paranoid patient, avoid becoming the object of projection, and provide a model of non-paranoid behavior. This is also sound advice in diplomacy.
But paranoia is known to be a particularly intractable disorder. Those who experience it do not trust those trying to help them. The West should keep this, too, in mind, for the paranoid spiral here could easily do what spirals are known to do: spin out of control.