Erdoğan’s ‘white meat’ comment places money over lives

The forests on the coasts of Turkey have been burning for days. This catastrophe not only causes harm to the environment but is developing grave economic and social consequences. However, in his recent remarks, it appears that if Erdoğan does not see the death of wildlife as “economic harm,” he does not see it at all.

In Turkish, livestock is also called mal, a word derived from Arabic roots. Since ancient times before the Oghuz people, the word cattle was used for both livestock and property or wealth. These synonyms served to establish the property hierarchy of a nomadic society that revolved around livestock. They define the property relations of the nomadic economy objectively.

Yet, whether in nomadic tribes or in settled farming, the livestock economy is ‘at peace’ with the concept of regarding livestock as a commodity and a means of production. However, they also regard the environment as a prerequisite, an indispensable part and source of their production. Nevertheless, the ‘future’ of said production is directly related to the wellbeing, predictability, and stability of nature.

Capitalism does not change the axis of this ‘mal’ or ‘commodity’ when it transforms this economic relationship into an extension of it. Animals are regarded as ‘commodities,’ as a unit of wealth. However, this system inevitably damages the second half of the equation. Capitalism is not ‘at peace’ with nature by definition and instead attacks the natural life that the basic rural economy uses and protects. It attacks it via armies of tourism, mining, energy, and construction. While processing agriculture and livestock in the machines of the food industry, it turns to its resources, exploiting and destroying them. A new relationship is then established after intrinsically linking the goals of capitalist production with the farmer and nature.

President Erdoğan’s remarks the other day on TV, which were noteworthy for his calling dead poultry ‘white meat,’ are a clear warning bell. Society was horrified by his remarks; but Erdoğan is a capitalist politician who should speak the naked truth. He cannot be evaluated from a single point of view or from the lens of love for animals. Erdoğan represents those who produce ‘white meat’ and those who look at a burning house and see new construction opportunities. He does not represent villagers whose precious environment is being destroyed, who say they “miss the snakes they were afraid of."

Erdoğan said: “When there is a fire, living creatures also burn. We took immediate precautions. We said, ‘Have a burial for all these creatures.’ We will pay the owners of the living creatures as much as [the cost of] these creatures. No matter whether it is cattle, sheep, white meat, we will pay for it all.”

Here, perhaps, there is a more distinct confession in there than the “white meat” phrase: “We will pay the owners of living creatures as much as [the cost of] these creatures.” By saying “living creatures” he means livestock and other animals that have commercial value. He added a religious tone by inserting the burial processes, but even this is undermined by immediately following it up with “paying as much as [the cost of] these creatures.” Since he does not regard the destruction of wildlife as “economic harm,” he does not refer to them at all. He sees the market value of animals he considers “commercial goods.” He has priced and labeled the dead animals.

It is not strange that putting a price tag on “the life created by Allah” becomes an act of political Islamists who “love all creatures because of the creator.”

The biggest advantage and success of Erdoğan and political Islamists has been their ability and ambition in harmonizing with the current capitalist system. For this, they had a very helpful tool: a flexible, pragmatic political religion that they use not as a system of principles, but as a master key, which they can mold to suit their interests. This is where this kind of piety stands when they see religion as a political asset; they not only fail in the face of social realities, but within the core of religious discourse.

Turkey has been experiencing grassroots resistance for a long time in the Black Sea, Mount Ida (Kaz Mountains), the inner and coastal Aegean, Konya, Bursa, Thrace, Malatya, and all across the country. Local populations are trying to defend their land against quarries, mines, construction, and power plants. Capitalist growth needs energy, easy money, and easy profit-loving political power to attack and destroy whatever is above and below ground. Meanwhile, ordinary people wake up to an enemy at the foot of their bed holding a match, ready to burn down their house. It is not a coincidence that these resistances occurred just before successive disasters. Before sea snot covered the entire Marmara Sea, before the flooding at the Black Sea and Van regions, and before fires hit the Mediterranean coast, there were popular resistances in all these regions, large and small, weak, devoid of political support and direction. In many places, there still are.

The forests that surround the western and southern coast of Turkey have been burning for 10 days. The situation has become a regional disaster, both in terms of the size of the area it is spreading and in terms of its seriousness. This catastrophe not only causes a harm to nature, humans, and animals, but it is developing into a disaster of grave economic and social consequence. Moreover, this is happening alongside the economic crises and pandemic problems that Turkey has been struggling with.

Despite all its majesty, the cruelty the state imposes on society and the wealth resources it distributes has resulted in their being unable to pour water on literal and metaphorical fires. The current owner of this neoliberal state, which only defends the interests of its shareholders, is political Islamists. Thus, the destruction of this period is their responsibility politically.

There is a direct link between the 301 miners who died in Soma and the destruction of the Mediterranean forests. The floods in the Black Sea and Van, north and east of the country respectively, have the same cause as the fires in Manavgat and Hozat, south and east of the country respectively. The reason why nationalist attacks are happening in disaster zones is to distract from this. Everyone is responsible for the armed agitators hunting ‘Kurdish arsonists’ around the forests. The overwhelming majority of socialists are aware of this responsibility, but are not strong enough because of 40 years of oppression. The expansion of this front by overcoming the patterns imposed by the AKP regime is an urgent need similar to movie current politics away from being simply a rhetorical issue.