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Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Past is Always Present

I know it's the weekend of the Turkish referendum.

In my mind I've written umpteen analytical articles on the subject. But I found myself putting it off and off until the last minute.

You see, the point isn't whether it will be a "yes" or a "no" outcome, and the significance of each. The point is that Turkey could come to this crossroads at all.

The fact is the outcome doesn't matter. It's already a done deal. We are just talking labels and levels and limits. The bridges between Europe have been burnt, the walls have been built. Diplomacy may not talk about them yet, but they are there.

The people of Europe do not want Turkey, and Turkey does not want Europe. I don't mean generally or in daily life. I mean politically. I mean historically.

Holland did not draw a red line when it set its police dogs on the Turkish politics of protest - dogs they usually keep leashed during other protests. It just showed a line that was already there. If people in Turkey today vote "yes", it will be because they no longer wish to be placed on a line drawn by those who see them as monsters.

I don't mean generally or in daily life. I mean politically. I mean historically. A powerful Turkish political sphere of influence is monstrous. It feels so to me; I can only imagine what it must feel like to a Western world breast-fed on fear and loathing over the mythical bite of rabid Turkish dogs since the Crusades and beyond.

This is why although I know it's the weekend of the Turkish referendum, I am reluctant to write about it. It is so divisive, so poisonous to me, that I don't want to infect my blog with it unnecessarily. The reality is that the outcome of a referendum - however much it will superficially change the political landscape of Turkey - doesn't matter, so why should I waste my time writing about a done deal?

I want to write about why inspirational dreams and good people will prevail, about the good things that happen in our world. I want to write about how I agree with the Easter message by the Church in Wales' lead bishop, the Rt Rev John Davies, who said that although there were "all sorts of atrocities" taking place in the world that are "crushing lives", we must focus on life and hope by supporting those in need.

I want to believe that: To believe in a world that is creative, resourceful, selfless and ready to build bridges, a belief more enduring than those who want to build walls. But we live in a world of Trumps and Putins, and so we have to deal with their poisonous rhetoric, and run the risk of becoming infected ourselves.

If the atmosphere under which the Turkish referendum was taking place was one of unity, or togetherness, I would be more than prepared to write about it. If the country wasn't still under a state of emergency after last year's Islamist coup attempt, if the freedom of the media wasn't so restricted, if the political rhetoric wasn't so nationalistic and regressive, I would be more than prepared to analyse it.

What can I say except that this is a self-fulfulling prophecy. European Christians have made the mythical rabid Turkish dog a reality. The mythical boogeyman from the Crusades and First World War is really here now. And we should all fear and loathe its bite.

For as much as Turkey today is a product of Erdogan, Erdogan is the product of a growing Christianism prevelant through Europe, Russia and the Americas. The once pro-European politician, who signalled a revision of Turkey's past in regard to its Kurdish and Armenian issues, has now become the country's most authoritarian, and conversely most signficant politician unseen since its founder.

In all the writings and analytical reviews I've read, I haven't read about our culpability in creating Erdogan. I've read how dangerous he is, how dangerous for the region and how important at the same time, but I've not really read about our share of the responsibility for the crossroads Turkey finds itself on today.

If Erdogan is abusing the obvious love a major part of his nation's population feel for him to force through his unwelcome constitutional reforms, then it's within the global context of how unwanted Turks feel that they will vote "yes" or "no". Simply put, you can't historically treat someone like a dog, and not expect them to bite back.

In a world where Trump can drop bombs as he sees fit - because of his distaste of the diplomacy, debate and delay options of his predecessor - why should Turkey, then, not choose the more direct, dramatic option available? Indeed, isn't it necessary for Turkey to choose "yes" to defend themselves against becoming an Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria, where the West can just unilaterally invade or bomb as they wish?

When even the most liberal of the Western media applaud a man who sends signals to uncooperative nations with bombs, arguing that it normalises and makes American foreign policy more effective, why should Turkey not vote "yes"? Indeed, it seems to suggest it has no other option but to vote for Erdogan's vision of Turkey, because it's the vision of the future.

As distasteful as it is to almost 98% of Turkish citizens to change their founder's view of a Turkish republic - based on a secular Turkey embracing European values and ending disputes leading to war - that context no longer exists. Turkey voting "no" will not magically mean that context will materialise; it will mean that it keeps the hope alive that one day we may be able to build bridges across our historical biases.

Voting "yes" will just mean accepting the reality that a truly open Europe was just as much a myth as the Turkish dog or cannibalistic barbarian the British-distributed flyers wrote about during the First World War. To put it into Hollywood terms so you Trumpists can understand - that the film Lawrence of Arabia is about as historically accurate as Braveheart.

If you read First World War accounts, many Allied prisoners of war were surprised and ashamed to discover Turks didn't eat the flesh of prisoners, but rather treated them with dignity, which was in direct opposition to the way Allied soldiers treated their Turkish prisoners. Many incidents culminated in war crimes, including burning Turkish soldiers alive.

But the disastrous Gallipoli campaign was disastrous for both sides; it was a stalemate in more ways than one. It was a perfect example, if one is needed, that in war there are no winners. Turkish citizens know this more than most, I would assume, now being a frontier to zealot ideologies and acting as a buffer zone for the West. Today Turkish soldiers are being burned alive by the so-called Islamic State, being forced into a war not of its making or choosing, and not getting much thanks for it in the process.

As much as most of Turkey is angry with Erdogan for his continuing witch hunts after the failed coup, they are also angry at Europe and America for the wars they have created on their own doorstep. They realise that Turkey has come to its own crossroads after nearly a century of navigating between Western liberalism and the authoritarian nationalism epitomised by Hungary and Russia.

The West criticised Erdogan for allowing the IS to roam freely across Turkey from Syria to Europe and vice-versa, but his supporters can say, so what? Erdogan didn't create the so-called IS or the circumstances necessary for it, did he? People are tired of the political hypocrisy that turned a potentially able politician like Erdogan into a bully caricature - that rabid Turkish dog of old.

So, yes, Turkey is sliding into dictatorship, but the slide isn't one-way. And a "yes" or a "no" will not change that, as things stand. For as much as we see Trump's bombing campaigns as necessary in the West, then Erdogan might be just as necessary an evil for the East.

The inescapable truth is that Turkey matters not just for its size, but also as a bellwether of the political forces shaping the world. For centuries it was the seat of a great empire. Today, it is a test case of whether a European Christianist form of democracy can be reconciled with political Islam. The referendum's outcome will not give an answer to that, because the answer is not a "yes" or a "no". The answer is in the question. For reconciliation both sides need to change course, or be reconciled to collide.

The road to a head-on collision goes way back into the past. Look back and the road to Trump entering the White House can be traced to a generation that brought Ayn Rand's ideologies of self-interest to life in the eighties. Trump is a product of that, and that is what we have in the White House defining the future. Turks voting in a referendum over whether to abandon their parliamentary system for an executive presidency will use their own version of self-interest.

They see the way Turkish politicians are mistreated by the West, the way the nation's enemies are protected by the West, the way the country's tourism economy is being not-so-subtly attacked by European and American policy, and they realise in the short-term a vote for "no" is a vote for more of the same, while a "yes" vote means to stand up to Christianism.

But for the long-term? Will it mean a collision or reconcilliation? Well, look back to the past, for it's always present in today. There we will find the answer of what awaits the world - regardless of what Turkey chooses in their referendum - because the course is already set.

It was set with every wrong decision made in, during and after every war. It was set with our focus on money, global markets and self-interest. It was set by our ancient xenophobia of the other.

So, to be honest, I give zero fucks about a referendum when the context is so set in stone - because no outcome matters more than the reality that a now Islamic Turkey finds itself on the brink of a very old Christian war.

Read more: Turkey and the EU | My Say >>

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