Toxic rightwing economics and religion are causing revolt in Turkey
by David Atkins
Want to understand what's going on Turkey right now? It's not just anti-authoritarian protests against an increasingly autocratic regime. It's much deeper and more interesting than that. It's a protest against privatization, right-wing economics and religious conservatism. The Guardian helps explain:
This morning, Turkish police surrounded protesters in Taksim Gezi park, the central square in Istanbul, blocked all exits and attacked them with chemical sprays and teargas.Behold the unholy combination of IMF loans, corporate power, privatization and conservative religion. A Turkish blogger has more:
An Occupy-style movement has taken off in Istanbul. The ostensible issue of conflict is modest. Protesters started gathering in the park on 27 May, to oppose its demolition as part of a redevelopment plan. But this is more than an environmental protest. It has become a lightning conductor for all the grievances accumulated against the government.
Police have waited until the early hours of each morning to attack, just as police in the US did when dealing with Occupy protesters. They set fire to the tents in which protesters were sleeping and showered them with pepper spray and teargas. A student had to undergo surgery after injuries to his genitals.
The occupiers adapted and started to wear homemade gas masks. More importantly, they called for solidarity. In response to yesterday's assault, thousands of protesters turned up, including opposition politicians. But this morning's attack allowed no defence or escape. The park, and the area around it, is still closed, and still under clouds of gas.
In April, a Justice and Development party (AKP) leader warned that the liberals who had supported them in the last decade would no longer do so. This was as good a sign as any that the repression would increase, as the neoliberal Islamist party forced through its modernisation agenda.
The AKP represents a peculiar type of conservative populism. Its bedrock, enriched immensely in the last decade, is the conservative Muslim bourgeoisie that first emerged as a result of Turgut Özal's economic policies in the 1980s. But, while denying it is a religious party, it has used the politics of piety to gain a popular base and to strengthen the urban rightwing.
It has spent more than a decade in government building up its authority. The privatisation process has led to accelerated inequality, accompanied by repression. But it has also attracted floods of international investment, leading to growth rates of close to 5% a year. This has enabled the regime to pay off the last of its IMF loans, so that it was even in a position to offer the IMF $5bn to help with the Eurozone crisis in 2012.
This is how it started. A small group of thoughtful, committed citizens camped out in the last green space of the city centre to save it from being sold out. Two nights in a row, authorities sent in the police to disperse them with massive use of tear gas and water cannons, as if they were disinfecting it from a harmful infestation.The police crackdown has led to events like this, in which a woman bravely stands up in the face of a fire hose:
There were dozens of wounded, tents were burned, there was blood on the streets. The park was closed and fenced in.
The people refused to accept it. Gezi Park has become a symbol for many more of their grievances. It’s not just against the private sector taking over the public space. It’s also against the assault on civil liberties under pressure from the religious right. And it’s a personal matter, with Reçep Erdogan.
The prime minister is being accused of behaving like some kind of postmodern Ottoman sultan, who is not to be questioned, but to be obeyed. He has led the country for ten years now, he has always been a fierce opponent of the left and a friend of the islamists. Because of this, he has been losing support from the liberals, and from the kemalists, who defend the secular nature of the state. Even big business seems to be frowning on him now, since some big Turkish investors have stated they won’t open a shop in the new mall as a result of the public outcry.
We have been following and rebroadcasting the events day and night. I’m so proud of my brother Memed for the visual coverage he has been providing. Throughout the afternoon there were clashes with police. As the gruesome pictures of the wounded came in via Twitter, all over Turkey people took the streets. When evening fell, barricades were erected in the Istanbul, and police attacked with gas, bullets and bulldozers.
One is reminded of that chilling scene in Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine in which the Iraqi worker at a state-run facility tells a reporter that he will convert to radicalism rather than watch the people's utility be privatized.
There is nothing that says that Islamism is in any way opposed to neoliberal economics. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. But more often than not, conservative religion abroad plays right into the hands of the multinational powers just like it does here at home, with precisely the same effects.
Resistance is key. Resistance against religious fundamentalism. Resistance against neoliberalism. Resistance against privatization of gains and socialization of losses. Resistance against the subjugation of green spaces, renewable energy and the environment to the profits of a very few.
A few brave Turks are showing that resistance. That's a great thing. Now it's up to the world to join them.