I asked a deputy from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) how he interpreted CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s attendance at the “Jerusalem Rally” organized at Istanbul’s Yenikapı square by the Felicity Party (or SP, an Islamist Turkish political party) on February 9. I reminded him that Kılıçdaroğlu spoke under a poster of the 34th Ottoman sultan, Abdul Hamid II, known for his autocratic rule. The deputy first wanted to hear my interpretation.
I told him there was no need to cling to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) style in order to defeat the AKP. I also told him that Kılıçdaroğlu did not need to use Islamist discourse to advocate for Jerusalem. I said I could not understand why he thanked the late Necmettin Erbakan for having held the first “Jerusalem Rally.” I could not understand the chants of “Mujahid Kılıçdaroğlu” either. I told him that I don’t believe this kind of discourse has a place in the opposition to the Islamist movement.
The CHP deputy told me an anecdote that happened years ago in the Black Sea region. “Two of our deputy candidates were visiting Black Sea and wandering through villages. They saw an elderly woman carrying two plastic water bins. They rushed and took the water bins and carried them to her house. They later told her that they were parliamentary candidates from the CHP.”
The CHP deputy telling me the anecdote asked me what her response could have been. I guessed, “No votes for you?”
“No,” he said, “She reacted negatively to them, saying, ‘Why did you not tell me this beforehand. I was going to perform ablution with that water,’ implying the water has now been polluted.”
This deputy from CHP went on to say that a significant portion of “average citizens” thinks of CHP in terms of the picture drawn by the AKP and its leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He also said that Kılıçdaroğlu has been struggling to change that picture for years, and finally he has gained acceptance in the eyes of the Islamist segments who have detached from the AKP.
It was a month ago when I heard similar evaluations in a chat I had with a person very close to Kılıçdaroğlu. It looks as if Kılıçdaroğlu and his team are determined to take the “Islamist card” that is in the hands of AKP.
However, it seems difficult not to see that this effort to gain the hearts of conservatives, while risking the negative reactions and even resentment of the secular, left-wing front, will eventually make the CHP conservative and addicted to the Islamist discourse.
As a matter of fact, the opposition in general and especially the CHP have to rethink the assumption that Islamism is the power that keeps AKP alive. If this is not examined wisely, then becoming conservative and Islamist will be the only option to reach out to the “conservative” segments. This in turn will make the CHP, and in general the opposition, distance themselves from their roots, and eventually take on the mindset of the AKP.
In fact, the effect of the Islamist discourse of AKP on the ordinary citizen could be the opposite of what has been assumed.
“It is important that we feel we are not alone,” psychiatry professor and former head of the Turkish Medical Association Raşit Tükel said in our interview last week, adding, “It is possible for the issue to be approached within a social context, with an effort to fight against inequalities and create environments of solidarity and unity.”
The key of the prolonged life of the AKP government may lie in this comment by Tükel, because the AKP has been able to maintain its reign by using the feelings of loneliness and destitution of people, especially poor people, and the insecurity and fears that stem from these feelings. Concentrating and working on these feelings of precarity, they then incorporated them into a community with Islamist or nationalistic discourses and fed them through charity. This situation was protected by creating domestic and foreign enemies. As long as AKP could do all these things, they kept their political power. Now, exactly because they have lost their ability to do so, they are tumbling down.
So now, with large segments of the population suffering from hunger, poverty, insecurity and a lack of a future, do we have a need for a “mujahid,” or for a politics of solidarity?
In our interview, Raşit Tükel said, “We can say that the accumulated rage that has not been able to find a target can only exit by the person turning on to themselves. The recent suicide cases can be seen from this perspective.”
As those who experienced the 2001 financial crisis will recall, the lack of a social explosion was attributed to "social solidarity.” According to this thesis, the people fighting hunger are surviving thanks to the solidarity of relatives and acquaintances. The validity of this idea is debatable.
We can reason that millions of desperate people who aren’t able to warm themselves up in this cold weather are becoming more lonely every day. And because this loss of a sense of community is caused by the AKP, these people are turning that accumulated rage against themselves.
The suicide of the individual is not because of lack of Islam or lack of a “mujahid,” it is due to lonliness in the face of hunger.
If the opposition, starting from the CHP, sees the answer in using an AKP-style discourse, thinking that an Islamist and nationalist discourse will feed stomachs — and that this route will carry them into government — they may be very wrong.
But again, remembering the Black Sea woman’s rejection of the CHP members who showed their solidarity by carrying her water, we should also agree on the fact that not everyone can pull off making prescriptions.