Given that one of this blog’s many self-imposed tasks it to test to the limit the integrity of all those who think of themselves as Having A Conscience and Knowing What’s Best For The World (even if the world disagrees), here’s a cracker: what should be the official Man With A Conscience line on Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, he of the OTT response to the protesters in Istanbul’s Taksim Square? By all accounts he’s a bit of a tough nut and shows every sign of getting tougher. Universally acclaimed by all Men With Conscience’s (aka Thinking Men) when he was first elected, he strengthened the economy, improved the living standards of many in rural areas whose living standards were in dire need of improvement and pledged that, although he had islamist inclinations and his was a kind of vanilla, he would demonstrate that islamist bods such as himself could be just as democratic as non-islamist bods.
He set about neutering The Generals (sorry, that’s Greece – I mean the Army) whose democratic credentials weren’t half as well-defined as his apparently were and who were far to fond of grabbing power ‘in the interests of the country’ (isn’t it always?). (NB – ‘?).’ – without the quote marks, of course, they are just intended to isolate the ‘?).’ – is that allowed? Looks horrible, but strictly I think it’s correct. One for the pedants. Back to Mr Erdogan.) These were thought to be Good Things, and another Good Thing he undertook was to come to some kind of arrangement with the Kurds, who until then had been imprisoned. Erdogan decided there must be a more fruitful way of dealing with the issue. He had also been imprisoned himself under a previous regime, so that, too, helped to burnish his credentials among those Men With A Conscience for whom that kind of thing is important.
Over the years, however, Erdogan has become something of a headache for his liberal champions. He was first elected in 2003 with a rather attractive majority, and has since been re-elected twice, each time with an increased majority. That, surely, is a Good Thing. The people have spoken and what they said was ‘Erdogan’s the man’. The trouble is that over the past ten years our hero – well, not mine – has grown rather fond of being in charge. I’ve read that more journalists are languishing in jail in Turkey than in China and that you have to be rather careful in public with what you say if it isn’t something along the lines of ‘that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he’s the man, isn’t he, aren’t we lucky to have him!’
In the past few weeks it has all come to a head: as far as I know there were two catalysts for the unrest in Turkey. The first was when folk heard that the government planned to build a shopping mall in one of Istanbul’s parks, and the second was when the government brought in restrictions on the sale of alcohol (and Erdogan declared rather loftily that people who drank were ‘alcoholics’). You wouldn’t think either issue was great enough to spark off the protests and, of course, it wasn’t. Not only were there protest rallies in Istanbul and Ankara but in several other cities, and it would seem reasonable to assume that it was Erdogan’s autocratic approach to power which they were protesting about.
Now here’s the rub for all those who like to think they are on the side of the angels: there was never a suggestion during any of Turkey’s previous general elections that they were in any way fixed. And at those elections, Erdogan was returned each time with an increased majority. In other words a more Turkish voters thought he was a good egg than didn’t. And what’s the liberal line on elections: why, the people must be heard. The dilemma, of course, is what does the Man With A Conscience do when he doesn’t like what the people have to say?
. . .
From my small and insignificant corner of the world here in rural, rustic, delightful and today rather chilly North Cornwall, the arrangements for staging World War III seem to be progressing rather well. Today’s news that America Is Going To Get Involved in the civil war in Syria is surely a turning point. Given that the forces of president Assad are now known almost certainly to have used chemical weapons in attacks on the rebels, they have crossed ‘a red line’ and president Barack Obama is finding it nigh-on impossible to resist calls for the US to assist them. The official line is that the US (and Britain, because our homegrown Good Guy, one David William Donald Cameron) are keen that the slaughter now underway in Syria should take place evenly and fairly: we can’t have Assad chalking up all the deaths.
Putin and Russia (in Putin’s eyes the same thing these days) are broadly backing Assad, though they are under no illusions as to what a nice chap he is. It’s the naval base they have in the Med, courtesy of Assad, which might be a factor. I have to say that, Putin notwithstanding, I’m rather more in favour of the Russian insistence that the only way to settle the Syrian civil war is by diplomacy rather than giving the rebels enough weapons and assistance to ensure they can kill as many people as Assad’s forces. But then holed away in my small corner of rural, rustic, delightful and today rather chilly North Cornwall as I am, no one has yet seen fit to consult me.
Now there’s a thing: a world war yet not a German in sight. Marvellous. And at least they are off the hook for a change.
There were two interesting and rather depressing items on BBC 2’ Newsnight last night, which each have a bearing on the war in Syria. The first, and by far the most serious, was how Lebanon is being sucked into the conflict, with the Shi’ite Hezbollah ensuring Assad’s forces could get off what was increasingly looking like the back foot and the backlash from Sunnis to this involvement. And that, really, highlights, a crucial element of it all: the continuing – since just a few years after The Prophet died – clash between Sunnis and Shi’ites.
The second was the vote in Iran – today – for a new president. The choices seem pretty narrow: a moderate hardliner, a hardline moderate and a hardline hardliner, although who eventually is given the rosette and gets to take home the cake is pretty irrelevant because the Supreme Leader has the final say on almost most things.