Watching the events unfold in Turkey surfaced hypocritical Western attitudes.
As I sat watching Sky News on the night 15th of July, Western commentators were brought in to give their “expert” analysis on what was to be a failed coup d’état by a faction within the military. The reporter clarified that the military had enforced a curfew and urged the citizens to remain in doors. Soon after, the news channel aired a local report depicting a seemingly beleaguered Turkish president addressing the nation through Apple’s Facetime, calling on the people to come out into the streets and protest the military coup. President Recep Tayyib Erdoğan addressed the nation again, this time in person and in front of his hotel and before news crews again calling on the people to hit the streets.
All the while, the commentary from the spin-doctor “experts” was sympathetic of the coup, and blatantly contradicting the updates being given by the news anchor:
“The supporters seem to be waving at the military”.
“It shows discontent against the President”.
“This is a secular reaction to an authoritarian leader”.
Statements like the above were repeated across other live news broadcasts. All of this without actually knowing what was going. Of course, the rest became history. Men and women turned out in their droves to reject the putsch in what was a magnanimous display of support for the government. Despite soldiers being dragged through the streets by citizens, the likes of BBC, CNN and other establishment news outlets continued to claim the army was in control.
The silence from the Western bearers of democracy was deafening, as even NATO countries stumbled to issue a supporting statement in favour of their ally. Only once it was apodictic that the government had assumed control did the token statements supporting democracy started rolling in.
It all led to an overwhelming perception that the mainstream media as well as major Western governments were, at the very least, sympathetic to the toppling of a democratically elected government, demonstrating that the mantra of democracy is only supported in the Muslim world if the said government is installed by the West. Anything short of this is game. The Times, whilst maintaining that the coup would have been “disastrous” stated that the “Turkish military is the last strong opposition to the president”, and “an increasingly Islamicised state”. This doublespeak pervaded other state-endorsing organisations like the Quilliam Foundation, with its managing director supporting democracy, and at the same time suggesting the complete opposite:
The problem, quite clearly, was the factor of Islam.
Western Apologia for Terrorism
One wonders whether similar statements by such commentators would be made of other Western “democratic” governments. The apologia for the actions of the putsch plotters would have been considered excuses for terrorism (as understood in the War on Terror paradigm) were the rebels Muslims attempting to overthrow a Western-friendly (anti-Muslim) democratic regime. As it is, the West has choked at even calling it terrorism: a small group of armed men pursued whatever their ideology was through violent means, which resulted in the deaths of around 294 people and thousands injured. Bombings have taken place in Ankara, the Turkish Parliament and the Presidential Palace. Still not terrorism?
Instead, Western governments and the media have focussed on the post-coup crackdown as evidence of the Turkish government’s lurch towards authoritarianism. The worry for leaders is that Erdoğan would use this as a pretext for his own agenda, “oppose dissent” and “disregard the rule of law”.
Rule of Law did you say?
The worry is, in other words, that Erdoğan would behave like Western governments. Using 9/11 and 7/7 as its pretext for perpetual warring, the US started the War on Terror, which has resulted in a genocide of Muslims. Together with other pretexts like the faux “Islamist” plots to takeover schools, ideologically driven security policies which discriminatorily target minorities and curtail freedoms have been pushed, obliterating the rule of law and due process.
In a resolution adopted on 18th September 2001, the US congress authorised the President to “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”
Such unfettered powers to initiate perpetual violence has seen the Middle East devastated. Even today, ISIS has provided a further pretext to fast-track the Authorisation for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), with more ambiguous language being employed.
Commenting on the security paradigm ushered in through the War on Terror, Professor Conor Gearty states,
“the supersession of the criminal model based on justice and due process by a security model that is based on fear and suspicion [is] the single greatest disastrous legacy of the war on terror from a human rights point of view”. (Bingham T., The Rule of Law, 2011)
The fascist thinking behind the erosion of the rule of law has manifested the systematic erosion of civil liberties through the Patriot Act, justifications for torture of people who have not been through a judicial process, the establishment of detention facilities like Guantanamo Bay, and CIA torture black sites in Europe. It has provided the legitimisation of global extra-judicial assassinations of citizens who have not faced trial.
When the attacks in France took place in September 2015, no one urged President Francois Hollande to maintain “restraint”, when he vowed increased retaliatory bombing in Syria. No country flinched at his increased securitisation, which saw warrantless searches of electronic devices, websites deemed to support or incite terrorism blocked without the intervention of a judge, and, press freedoms threatened.
Britain has institutionalised Stasi-style thought-policing PREVENT programme which forces the respect of “British values” producing discrimination based on thought, and consequently violating the absolute right of freedom of conscious and belief. The preposterous nature of the programme has impacted the rights of children, with the recent most reported case seeing a seven year old and his family referred to social service for wearing an “Islamic” t-shirt.
Using the “extremism” discourse, journalists here in Britain have been reportedly “assaulted monitored and stopped and searched by police during their work”. We even have a state propaganda unit which targets the Muslim minority, as well as another McCarthyite government unit dedicated to monitoring views and producing a list of “extremists”!
Need I continue?
The “only democracy in the Middle East” propped by the West has long been a bastion of authoritarianism. Benjamin Netanyahu has made himself communications minister, granting himself control over media regulation. Israel has an army which, under the Defense Act 1948, can shut down and halt the press under national security pretences. In late 2015 a sweeping gag order was imposed on information pertaining to the investigation of an alleged act of terrorism by Jewish perpetrators, in which three members of a Palestinian family in the West Bank village of Duma were killed. Israel is nothing short of a surveillance state. Indeed its censorious policies are infecting and influencing British policies and laws.
Further, Israel’s widespread abject racism against non-Ashkenazi (Mizrahi) Jews, let alone Arabs, is a topic mainstream Western commentators would not touch with a barge pole.
The proponents of Western democracy, who believe in it so strongly they have to bomb it into the hearts of Arabs, have led the way in the erosion of the rule of law and democratic principles. The West needs introspection, before it decides to reprimand other nations about their purported democratic short-comings.
The righteous indignation pouring forth over Turkey would be apt were it not issued forth by leaders and mediums which struggle to hold their own establishments to account in a fashion which deeply scrutinises actions carried out in similar scenarios. Indeed, Muslims understood well the West’s romance with democracy when Abdel-Fatah al-Sissi overthrew a democratically elected leader in Egypt. The country has since seen supporters of the ousted President Muhammad Morsi massacred in what Human Rights Watch described as “one of the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history”, and mass death sentences issued. Sisi has overseen the killing of over 2,500 political opponents and torturing of journalists. Where is the relentless outrage?
Whilst US Secretary of State John Kerry has warned that if Turkey does not “uphold the rule of law”, it could fall foul of NATO’s “requirement with respect to democracy”, Britain, a NATO member, has welcomed Sisi, strengthening her security cooperation with the autocratic regime.
Simply put, there is no moral authority for the West to be lecturing other nations on how to respond to an internal crisis.
What is the implication of this article? Is it that President Erdoğan should be given a carte blanche to do whatever he pleases?
Of course not. My position is universal, and applicable to all countries, be it ostensibly Muslim, or secular liberal. The Qur’an’s moral ethic on justice in this regard is pertinent:
O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you swerve, and if you distort justice or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do.” [Sûrah al-Nisâ’: 135]
My advice to President Erdoğan would be to not imitate examples of destructive Western reactions to atrocities and to observe the rule of law and due process. Indeed, the reckoning of the one who has responsibility over people will be the severest on the Final Day.