Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ece Temelkuran: "They Shoot Pidgeons, Don't They"

Waiting for a bus from İstanbul to İzmit, I had one of the most pleasantly surprising encounters I have yet experienced in my five months here. The man I met was just a bit older than me, and works for a neonationalist daily. Conveying to me that his political sentiments were not in line with those of his paper, we ended up discussing in brief some of the common problems faced by all nations, but perhaps most especially as of late, Turkey and the United States. As we struggled to communicate using his meager English and my meager Turkish, we somehow managed to get our worldviews across. What came across most clearly was a firm rejection of nationalism as dehumanizing, a force that robs individuals of freedom while at the same time celebrating the notion as something for which to die.

However, freedom is no more to be found in nationalism than are sufficient the flags that consecrate the coffins of those who die under its mantle. While freedom is no doubt worth dying for, it is not death that gives freedom meaning, but life. Insomuch as nationalist ideology calls for the surrender of the thought, expression, and when necessary, bodies, of those from whom it expects the homage of absolute loyalty, so does it deprive its drunken masses of the true pleasures and pains of freedom; so does it sacrifice life for death. The nationalist is an object to be manipulated at the behest of a particular nation-state; no longer is she a subject left to meet life fully, unencumbered by the bonds of graven ideology. Rather, she is left forlorn, cloaked only in the temporary satisfaction of jejune ritual, the host of mantras not of her making, but which nonetheless cross her lips. Their refrain is mandatory and satiates an addiction, allowing her feet to feel the illusion of a ground that is far from stable, her lungs to feel the reassurance of a breath that is far from pure, but rather carries the sickly sweet taste of narcotics—the drugs with which another has prepared her every inhalation, drugs to ease what Erich Fromm has famously called an escape from freedom. Such an escape forgoes engagement, necessitates denial, and requires adherence to forces located outside oneself, the corrupting forces of strength and authority that turn human beings into automatons.

Encouraged by my new friend to examine the writing of Ece Temelkuran, I conducted an Internet search a few days ago and discovered the article I think it appropriate to post today. Commenting on the nationalist surge that has followed Hrant Dink's assassin, it is this narcotic-driven sensation and the violence it all too frequently engenders of which Temelkuran writes.
WHAT HRANT LEFT BEHIND—Ece Temelkuran (The Guardian, 22 Jan 2008)

Recently, a couple of high school students sliced their fingers and made themselves bleed on purpose. They used their blood to paint a Turkish flag. It wasn't a small one, either. They framed the picture and sent it to the chief of military. He cried when he received the "bloody mail"; and reporters were there to witness and report about the sacred flag.

The story of the bleeding didn't end there, though. A few days ago, a conservative and nationalist newspaper (Tercüman) decided to print the picture of the flag drawn with children's blood. And so the blood multiplied as the circulation of the newspaper increased.

If this doesn't seem strange at first, a bit of perspective soon allows you to see the apocalyptic scenery here, which resembles Bosch's paintings of hell. And you realise that the apocalypse started when our friend the Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was shot. He was shot a year ago this week, and a Hollywood-like series of events ensued. People who were touched by the horrible incident were on streets, thousands of them shouting the slogan: "We are all Armenian, We are all Hrant Dink." The slogan touched the weakest link in Turkish nationalism and a counter-slogan by the established writers and prominent opinion leaders was brought to the public stage: "We are all Turks!"

The fever of McCarthyism, as we all know, is the most contagious fever of all and the Turkish public was contaminated overwhelmingly. Soon after this, and just before the elections, the protest demonstrations against the ruling party AKP's Islamisation policies - called "mild Islam" - were combined with this nationalist uprising under the name of "flag meetings". All of a sudden, things got out of control and the streets were full of young rednecks calling to account anyone who didn't hang flags from their balconies. One night Istanbul's Kurdish districts almost reached boiling point, as young men gathered in front of buildings and shouted for Kurdish people to come out. While the media didn't do anything to praise these scenes, it still - with the exception of a few columnists who dared to speak of their concern about the nationalist atmosphere - approved the driving force behind them. Things got so serious that I remember how one night, during a political meeting of intellectuals in Istanbul, we talked about establishing an emergency network so that if something should happen to one of us the others would find out about it.

After a little while we understood what this contrived crisis was about. The army, together with AKP, decided to carry out a big campaign against PKK. The war began. The news bulletins immediately took on the appearance of Fox TV during the Iraq invasion. "We" was the subject, "cleaning" was the verb and the targeted object was always "them", as if Kurds don't live in Turkey. As if the militants of PKK who are bombed don't have relatives in the Kurdish part of Turkey. But who would dare to ask such questions when the streets were strewn with flags and the nationalist gangs were made out to be the "legitimate" ones?

The war - or, as they call it, the "operation" - is still going on: a hygenic war where you see only the rifles, bombs and thermal camera footage broadcast on the TV news, accompanied by a primitive militaristic commentary. Not forgetting, of course, the footage of martyrs' coffins with sad music playing in the background, as if this whole thing is not happening to us but is part of some Middle Eastern version of Saving Private Ryan. But the film that began with the shooting of Hrant and the nationalist uprising that followed brought us to where we are now. Schoolchildren, probably with their parents' and teachers' consent, send their blood to the chief of the army in a glittering frame.

This is the apocalypse of Turkey. The apocalypse in which most of us cannot dare to say that blood only stains a flag.

And if the Turkish flag needed to be a deeper shade of red, Hrant's blood was more than enough. My dear friend was writing his last article 52 weeks ago, saying that his heart was a "timid pigeon" waiting for bad things to happen. Now, after his death, we have all stepped into an era where I can say: "They shoot the pigeons, don't they."

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