I’ve mentioned before that I dabbled a little in politics years ago in New Zealand. In fact I actually stood as a candidate in one local body and two parliamentary elections. To tell you the truth, I was singularly unsuccessful on all three occasions. I wasn’t especially disappointed for myself. I was never particularly ambitious for power or personal influence. If I had been, I would probably have tried to work my way up through one of the two political parties that held sway in the first-past-the-post electoral system in force In New Zealand in those days. However, I was young and foolish, and still nursed the belief that I could save the world, or at least my own country, if the world as a whole didn’t want to be saved.
At the time I was fired up by the economic theories of an eccentric Scottish engineer and amateur economist, CH Douglas, who claimed to have found a third way between communism and capitalism, before the New Labour parties of Tony Blah and his ilk reduced the term to meaninglessness. The Douglas Credit philosophy, or Social Credit, as it came to be known in New Zealand and Canada, essentially maintained that you could privatise pretty much all aspects of a nation’s economic system, except the creation of the money supply, which power must be retained by the state alone. This may appear to the naive and economically uninitiated as a self-evident truth, but unfortunately it is not the case in any nation on Earth to the best of my knowledge. Economists will tell you that banknotes and coins make up only a small fraction of a modern state’s money supply, the bulk of it being in the form of cheques, credit cards, bank deposits, loans, mortgages, and other arcane instruments that bankers and financial wizards may from time to time invent to bamboozle the rest of us into bankruptcy and penury.
In short, the creation of a modern nation’s money is essentially in the hands of a relatively small coterie of privileged private sector financiers whose major motive, needless to say, is the generation of profits for themselves – the larger the better. The money is created and loaned out at interest – and who are the biggest borrowers? The governments, of course, who have handed over the right of money creation to the wealthy few. Every project financed by this borrowing at interest will be paid for twice or three times over during the term of the loan – and, to cut a long story short, the nation sinks under an ever-increasing mountain of unrepayable debt.
Anyway, I’m not writing a paper on Social Credit economic theory here. If you want to read more, there is plenty of information available online. The simple fact is, it’s true – and it is the refusal to admit or recognise this that prevents our governments from solving the ever deepening crisis of unemployment, economic stagnation and unequal wealth distribution with the attendant costs of endemic poverty, family breakdown, substance abuse, crime and violence that plague our societies. Why I’m telling you this is that, back in my foolish youthful days, I used to believe that the truth would out. That in a free and democratic nation such as New Zealand (whose freedom and democracy, we were, as kids, constantly told, my father and his father and their peers had fought and died for), you would offer the electorate a solution to their problems, the majority would vote for it, and the resulting government would implement the policies they had been mandated to pursue.
Ah, such innocence and naïveté! I am sure, as you read this, you are pitying my youthful self. You are wondering that such a one could ever have expected to be elected to the parliament of any civilized nation on Earth, and you are imagining the blows rained on this poor innocent in the school of hard knocks that forced a sense of reality into his ludicrously idealistic head. Well, I did give up the struggle, I confess – but not because I’d realised the error of my ways. What I came to understand was that the forces of entrenched privilege would do anything to ensure that the simple tenets of that revolutionary political movement would never be put into practice.
Their first line of defence was a propaganda machine that churned out readily digested and easily reproducible sound bites designed to ridicule the concept of Social Credit, thus avoiding the need to engage with it on an intellectual level. Once we started to overcome this defence, and gain some electoral successes and media attention, the opposition became more aggressive. First the corporate mass media began to ignore our party and focus back on the two traditional parties, despite clear evidence that a significant portion of the public was fed up with both of them. Then the government of the day created a major issue in our sports-mad country that polarised the nation along the old two party lines. That was enough to ensure victory in one election, but it wouldn’t work a second time. The next electoral cycle produced a more subtle and effective long-term strategy. First, a government-dominated commission altered the boundaries of certain electorates to divide the concentrated power bases of our successful candidates and see them removed from parliament. Second, the conservative establishment found a high profile entrepreneurial character to front a newly created and well-funded political grouping to ensure that the anti-both-your-parties vote would be fragmented. The result was the virtual eradication of our party and a return to the good old days of two-party “Tweedledum and Tweedledee” politics in New Zealand. Needless to say, the aforementioned “high profile entrepreneurial character”, the election over and his purpose achieved, returned to his preferred business of making money for himself.
Yeah, ok, you say. More groundless conspiracy theories from another failed political aspirant. So what has all this got to do with Turkey? The connection was brought home to me the other day while chatting with a Turkish colleague at work. We were discussing the education system, and my friend informed me that pretty soon all the schools in Turkey would be religious schools, by which I understood him to mean they would become fundamentally Islamic establishments. Well, my previous place of employment was one of a chain of almost rabidly republican secular Kemalist institutions, and I couldn’t resist asking if he thought these schools would be forcibly converted. Pretty unlikely, Ekrem acknowledged. And what about all the state schools whose freedom from religious interference is protected by the constitution? Well, maybe not those either, he conceded. Feeling that I had made my point I didn’t pursue the argument further – but I couldn’t help wondering about the source of the outrageous statement that had begun our discussion. I am reasonably confident that Ekrem is accustomed, in a circle of his peers, to having such a claim received with sagacious nodding of heads, and probably the offer of several other similarly preposterous forecasts of impending doom.
This is a relatively recent phenomenon in Turkey: the proliferation of assertions that the country is headed down a slippery slope towards a neo-Ottoman dark age of bearded men muttering Koranic verses in Arabic as they inflict Shariah-sanctioned beatings and stonings on their black-burka-clad women. The principal target of these accusations is the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan – who, admittedly, makes no secret of his Muslim faith, and whose wife unashamedly wears a headscarf in public. I remember an email circulating a year or two before the Arab Spring began to blossom. The mail showed pictures of leaders of Islamic nations like Syria, the United Arab Emirates, and Tunisia with their beautiful young European-style trophy wives, comparing them with the modestly dressed matronly ladies of Mr Erdoğan and his ministers. Subsequently the reputations of those others got a little tarnished, and the comparison lost much of its point – which had been, recipients would assume, that Turkey was more conservatively Islamic than its progressive neighbours.
Nevertheless, demonstrating the absurdity of one such nonsense by no means stems the flow of similar accusations and innuendos. Mr Erdoğan’s plan for the future is unquestionably to re-establish an Islamic Ottoman Empire with himself as Padishah – Sultan Recep the First, and no reasoned argument can dissuade his opponents from their unshakeable conviction that he and his government are following a secret agenda aimed at dismantling the secular Turkish republic and replacing it with an Islamic Caliphate, complete with compulsory mosque attendance, obligatory lessons in Koranic recitation for school children, all enforced by public whippings, stonings and amputation of bodily parts.
Well, let me say at this point that I am not, and never have been, an uncritical mouthpiece for any political party. I am not happy, for instance, with the extortionate price I now have to pay in Turkey for a bottle of beer or wine, knowing that most of it is going into government coffers; and knowing too that this policy could well destroy the fledgling Turkish wine industry, a potentially big earner in a land that probably invented the beverage. I’m not sure that it is fair for Turkey to have the world’s most expensive petrol prices at the gas station pump (again, mostly tax), when a significant proportion of its people are struggling to get by on the minimum wage of 700 TL a month ($US 390). Nevertheless, credit where credit is due. I’ve been in Turkey long enough to remember the days before the AK Party Government was elected . . .
I have a statement of income for 2002, the year Mr Erdoğan’s team took up the reins of power. It shows that, working as a humble teacher of English, I earned almost forty billion Turkish Liras. Sounds all right, huh? Until you understand that, at the height of its inflationary spiral, the Turkish Lira was ‘worth’, if that’s the right word, approximately 0.00006 of a US cent. The annual inflation rate actually peaked at 120% in 1994, the year before I arrived in the country, and was still a gob-smacking 99% in 1997. By 2004 it had dropped to a more or less acceptable 9.35%, allowing the government to erase six zeroes from its New Turkish Lira, thereby adjusting the price of a daily newspaper, and a local bus ticket, to less astronomical levels.
It takes a few years of hyperinflation for a currency to get into a state where you need to pay a million dollars, or liras, or whatever, for a short ferry ride across the Bosporus. Turkey’s inflation rate passed 50% around 1978, and fluctuated between 30% and 100% for the next quarter century, with successive governments either unwilling to, or incapable of stemming the tide. Perhaps it’s not altogether surprising. In the twelve years from 1987 to 1999 there were ten different governments formed from coalitions of minority, mostly right-of-centre secular republican parties. The one exception was when Turkey’s first woman Prime Minister formed a coalition that brought the Republic’s first overtly Islamic Prime Minister into short-lived power – short-lived because the Turkish military ousted him in what became known as the “post-modern coup” of 1997.
Well, better a post-modern bloodless coup than the full-on variety with tanks and guns, hangings and disappearances which had characterised Turkey’s political scene in the two decades from 1960 to 1980. Prior to the advent of the AK Party, the most stable government in recent memory had been the precarious perch of Bülent Ecevit, who managed to cling to power from 1999 to 2002. Mr Ecevit had some sympathetic following in Turkey because it was he who had authorised the Turkish “Peace Operation” that liberated Northern Cyprus in 1974. However, by 2002, the poor man was 77 years old, and clearly not in the best of health.
In a nutshell, since 1960, Turkey had experienced three-and-a-half military coups, a succession of weak coalition governments, inflation of banana republic magnitude, large-scale corruption and ongoing bureaucratic inefficiency, accompanied by violent outbursts brought about in part at least by an unwillingness to recognise the existence of significant minorities within the nation. That a party, formed in 2001 could win a landslide victory in national elections a year later must be a measure of the desperation of the Turkish electorate at that time. That a government so elected could preside over a ten-year period of unprecedented growth and prosperity, and get itself re-elected twice with an increased share of the vote each time, must surely be an indication that they have got some things right. In spite of this, however, they continue to face a barrage of vituperative criticism that seems, to an impartial observer, to be out of all proportion to any mistakes they may inevitably have made during those ten years in power. Let me give one example.
James (Cem) Ryan, according to his own website: “. . . was born and raised in The Bronx, New York City. He has been a soldier, a businessman, a teacher, and a writer. A graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, he holds advanced degrees in economics and English literature, a Master of Fine Arts degree in writing from Columbia University, and a Ph.D. in literature . . . He lives and writes in Istanbul, Turkey.”
I want to quote from an article published by this gentleman on a website turkishnews.com:
“In a classic provocation reminiscent of the Gulf of Tonkin fairy tale that ‘legitimized’ the Vietnam War, and Hitler’s bogus rationale for invading Poland, the Turkish war criminal gang ‘led from behind’ by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are trying to do the impossible. Impossible, if one has half a brain. They are trying to convince the world that Syria, besieged for over a year by its once friendly neighbor, Turkey, its cities ravaged by terrorists based and financed in Turkey, wants to provoke an even wider, bloodier conflict.”
Hard to imagine that a paragraph of ninety words could include so much arrant nonsense, but there you are. “The Turkish war criminal gang” I assume is intended to refer to the present government, who are apparently under the control of Obama and Mrs Clinton. Turkey is said to be financing the Syrian rebels, though there is ample evidence that it is the governments of Saudi Arabia and Yemen who are supplying their arms. Well, I don’t intend to lend credibility to Mr Ryan’s splenetic ranting by debate, though I do wonder who is paying his salary. I can’t help feeling that, if I were a Turkish Prime Minister with a penchant for imprisoning dissident journalists, Mr ‘Renaissance Man’ Ryan would be high on my list of candidates for a spell inside.
What is very clear from that one brief paragraph is that General James is no lover of President Barak Obama. It’s a short leap of logic to assume that he is a manic supporter of the US Republicans and the richest man ever to stand for election to the top job in that land of equal opportunity. It tends to reinforce a feeling I have long held about opposition to Mr Erdoğan’s party in Turkey – that the rich and powerful have been unhappy with him from Day One. They were having a less inhibited time under previous regimes of venal incompetents, when they could rely on a tame military to terrorise the population into passive acceptance at regular intervals. It seems to me that the biggest threat to Turkey’s democracy these days is not Recep Tayyip Bey, but the lack of a credibleopposition.