If the word “chapulling” in the title makes you scratch your head, stay tuned. It’s a neologism coined by the protestors against the “moderate” Islamist government of PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Recent events in both Turkey and Egypt graphically demonstrate the truth of the dictum that “tyranny by a majority (or by a large plurality in either case at hand) is no better than tyranny by a few or tyranny by one.” Though many others have talked about “tyranny of the majority” in the past (John Adams first, followed by Alexis de Toqueville, John Stuart Mill, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Ayn Rand, among others), I may be the first to phrase the matter exactly thus. Those great minds are, in order, American, French, English, German, and Russian, by the way, if you’re keeping track.
Of course, none of the afore-mentioned worthies had as predecessor the Vulcan philosopher Mr. Spock, who famously said in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”. The alternate younger version says the same thing in this summer’s Star Trek: Into Darkness. Nor did those illuminati have the example of Ben Martin, who said in The Patriot, “Why should I trade one tyrant 3000 miles away for 3000 tyrants one mile away?”
Lest ye think that making a pop culture reference such as quoting a science fiction film, even the words of so iconic a character as the renowned Mr. Spock, trivializes the matter at hand, you should know that no less an institution than the Texas State Supreme Court quoted that very same line in its 2008 decision in Robinson v. Crown Cork & Seal. It even noted that the source of the quote was from the planet Vulcan.
Another spin on Spock’s famous aphorism, by the way, is that “the needs of the many should outweigh the greed of the few”, which is the implicit cry of the 99% in the Occupy and indignados-indignés movements against the 1% and their infliction of austerity upon the poor and less affluent to pay for the mistakes of the wealthy.
The current situation in Turkey (like that of Egypt) clearly shows what happens when an electoral majority, or rather near-majority (49.83% of the vote in the 2011 general elections) in this case, exercises its power and authority without thought or regard to the wishes of the minority (or minorities) or its effects upon them. Prime Minister Erdogan and the AKP have justly received accolades and praise for the economic, general welfare, health, and human rights advances they have made since first coming to power in 2002.
However, as so often happens with humans when flushed with success and praise, especially with those who believe they have God on their side as the members of the AKP (however covertly) do, they have begun to see themselves as infallible. Thus, critics of any regime policy such as the destruction of Gezi Park become “haters of religion” or “terrorists”, and those who protest the authoritarian direction of the government’s overall standard operating procedure become “mohareb”, or “enemies of God”.
The eleven years since the AKP first came to power in 2002 as the first party in the republic’s
history to win enough seats not to have to form a coalition in Parliament have seen a slow but ever-increasing attack by the supposedly non-theocratic AKP against the barriers between the official secular nature of Turkish state and the ultimate establishment of religion.
Most famously, the AKP passed a law in 2007 allowing female students, teachers, and administrators in universities both public and private to wear headscarves (as visitors have always been able to do). The law was overturned in 2008 by the republic’s Constitutional Court.
Since the outbreak of the Arab Spring in 2011, the AKP has actively supported, with money and advice, the “moderate Islamists” in countries across the region of the organizations fraternally connected to the Muslim Brotherhood. Writers of the English-language Turkish press refer to these as “Ikwanists” after the Arabic word for brotherhood.
A little over a year ago in late spring 2012, the AKP passed an education reform bill that not only increased the number of years of compulsory education for both boys and girls from eight to twelve, but also mandated the study of the Quran in schools.
Most recently, late this past May, the AKP passed a law prohibiting the advertisement of alcoholic beverages and limiting where and when they can be sold and consumed. Other dominoes in the march of the AKP toward what many Turks fear is toward total Islamicization of their society includes a ban on outdoor seating at cafes and bars during Ramadan.
Wandering AKP supporters have taken up violently harassing people who do not observe Ramadan and couples kissing in public, reminiscent of the hezbollahi gangs in the early years of Iran’s Islamic Republic.
Turks have also witnessed the likewise ever-increasing tendency of MP’s from AKP to behave as if none of the opinions of others matter, much like American Republicans in Congress. This tendency not to play well with others sometimes finds Erdogan and his acolytes shooting themselves in both feet.
For example, at the beginning of June the AKP’s MP’s voted down an amendment to a bill in a knee-jerk reaction to its proposal by a rival party, the CHP or Republican People’s Party. In fact, the provision was one from the AKP’s own program.
Two days later, the majority of MP’s from the supposedly secular AKP walked out of their ongoing session to attend prayers on the first day of Ramadan, leaving a majority of opposition MP’s able to pass a bill prohibiting their interior department from approving projects.
These had also been worrying tendency of the AKP to imitate its militarist predecessors more and more. Last year, for example, the Turkish parliament passed and President Gul signed into law a bill doubling detention time without charge for those suspected of espionage and/or acting against the interests of the state, constitution, national defense, or state secrets (in effect, a Turkish version of the NDAA passed by Congress and approved by President Obama). The law was overturned by the Constitutional Court in the first week of this July, by the way.
In the background of all this have been the two largest investigations and prosecutions of alleged conspirators accused of plotting military coups d’etat in Turkish history.
The first deals with an alleged shadowy secret organization within the military and allies in business and the press called Ergenekon which has supposedly existed since the 1990’s but only investigated beginning in 2007. The trial finished just this week (on 5 August), with verdicts being announced under heavy security and court proceedings barred to the press. Three hundred were convicted, sixteen sentenced to life terms. The second regards an alleged coup plot supposedly called Balyoz, or Operation Sledgehammer, which prosecutors charge took place in 2003, though nothing was done about it until 2010. The trial of those defendants took place in 2012, with some 330 convictions; the appeal case began being heard this July.
In both cases, the defendants were subjected to lengthy pretrial detention, sometimes without charge, and in both cases the trials were held in “special appointed courts” subsequently outlawed by the AKP members of parliament (perhaps in fear these could one day be used against them) after the two trails had begun. Tainted evidence, unreliable witnesses, secret testimony, and non-democratic procedures have marked both cases throughout.
Within a few days of the announcement of its afore-mentioned widespread attack on the un-Islamic consumption of alcohol, the Erdogan government announced that it was replacing the private security forces on all university campuses, public as well as private, with state police forces. It reminded me of the Basiji of the Islamic Republic of Iran having been first organized to help carry out its Cultural Revolution in its universities.
Only a few days afterward, the city of Istanbul announced it was going to destroy the last green space in what was once Constantine’s City to put up a replica to the undoubtedly Islamist Sultanate which Ataturk (“father of the Turks”) overthrew. That, to many Turks, was a final
Prime Minister Erdogan has portrayed the Gezi Park protesters as “marauders” with no respect for religion. He accused them of being “looters”, a term intended as a contemptuous insult which the protestors took for themselves as a badge of honor, giving it new meaning as “rebelling”, reminiscent of the way “going Iranian” came to mean “standing up for your rights” in the summer of 2009. Its anglicized forms are “chapuller” and “chapulling” (thus my title for this piece; now you know).
After the brutal attack by police which cleared the occupation of Gezi Park and Taksim Square, protestors united with secularist religious observers to hold public iftars (fast-breaking meals) once the holy month of Ramadan (roughly equivalent to Lent) began. Even these have been raided but continued despite that. Now that Ramadan has ended (today is Eid al-Fitr), we’ll have to wait and see what form of protest Turkish chapullers adopt next.
In the aftermath of the protests, Erdogan called protestors rodents and praised the shopkeepers reaction to them (like beating some of them to death with baseball bats?). Shortly after the final clearing Taksim Square in the middle of June, Erdogan reiterated his intention to replace private security in the universities throughout the republic with state police forces, presumably more loyal to AKP and more inclined to go along with the Islamicizing intentions of Erdogan and his acolytes. He stated that the recent experience of hooligans going around attacking people with baseball bats, machetes, and Molotov cocktails proved the need for this, failing to note that those were his own supporters.
One of the most popular signs born by the neo-Young Turks “chapulling” against the rise of a neo-Ottoman Sultanate this summer have carried messages such as “Keep Religion Out of Politics in Turkey and Everywhere”. The chapullers see themselves not merely as citizens of the Republic of Turkey but as citizens of the whole world, as can be seen from the signs many held saying “We Are All Sao Paolo” even as Brasilians carried signs reading “We Are All Takhsim”.
The messages the chapullers of Turkey, like their immediate predecessors in Egypt, is that theocracy, in any amount, anywhere, is a threat to freedom everywhere. They would no doubt also say that arbitrary populism is not the same thing as actual democracy, nor is the ability to cast a vote in elections for representative government.