Coups, good coups and bad coups

It is one of the bad tricks of this profession: When there is a "bombshell" with an unknown fate, we are often dragged into the queue of commentators not necessarily because the bombshell is mature enough to comment on, but precisely because it is a bombshell and not commenting on it would be tantamount to "missing the agenda." The latest allegations of a coup attempt within the ranks of the armed forces, based on a document whose authenticity was still a mystery by the time this column was written, is a powerful example.

By all unbiased criteria the "coup attempt" is naturally something to comment on, although it would be too premature to do so, given the ambiguity of the prime evidence.

It is nice, however, to see that both sides of the grand Turkish divide, Islamists and secularists, seem at least to agree on something: If some nut case officers rolled up his sleeves to draft a white paper Ğ that looks more like the homework of an eighth-grade student than a classified military document Ğ to oust a legitimate government, they should face trial right away. That’s fair and unanimously agreed upon.

Would there be, however, an equally peaceful compromise if the document proved to be fake? Would, for example, the Islamists condemn the attempt for such a silly act of psychological warfare in their all-too democratic guises? How democratic would it be to engineer an illegal plot in order to undermine the military? These are hypothetical questions, but we must be prepared to find "democratic answers" should the latest "coup affair" end up in an embarrassing way for one particular side of the divide. But again, it’s just too premature to guess, given the thick cloud of obscurity over the mysterious coup plan.

We all hate coups. Or do we? So far in the land of Crescent and Star we have had two conventional coups (1960 and 1980), one near-coup that came in the form of a powerful ultimatum (1971), one post-modern coup (1997), and one soft e-coup (2007). We have no idea, if proved authentic, how the latest one would be named. Naughty officers’ coup, since the top military command is probably unaware of the plan? Ergenekon 2.0? The name will probably be totally irrelevant. In the real world of modern politics, coups are simply divided into two categories: good coups and bad coups.

What did the Cradle of Democracy most recently say about democratic culture? Let’s go back to Cairo for a moment and listen to President Barack Obama: "É We will welcome all elected, peaceful governments Ğ provided they govern with respect for all their people. É There are those who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. É You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion. É Elections alone do not make true democracy. É"

The same speech would have had an entirely different political connotation had it been made in Ankara instead of in Cairo. In a way, it portrays several practical features of "Turkish democracy" in the year 2009. But when made in Cairo, the addressees looked more like Iran and Hamas, or if it were made in Kiev, heads might have turned to Moscow. All the same, since democratic values and rights are indivisible we can safely conclude that every democratically elected autocrat could find some wisdom in Mr. Obama’s Democracy 101 for himself.

In realpolitik terms, the coup of 1960 was a "good coup." So was the coup of 1980. The near-coup of 1971 was harmless, and so was the post-modern coup of 1997. Just like the Saudi kingdom is a "good" kingdom where even the word democracy could bring bad fortune to anyone who may dare mention it. So are the emirates, where true democracy as described by President Obama is at best an unknown commodity. These examples can be endlessly multiplied. But the bitter truth is that hypocrisy often euphemistically takes different names such as realpolitik, or facts of life or any sentence that may start with ’’yes butÉ’ or with ’’it dependsÉ’’

I recall former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan’s famous and accurate prophecy about an Islamic revolution in Turkey. "It will happen one day. É We just don’t know if it will be bloody or not." Mr. Erbakan, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s chief political mentor throughout most of the younger Islamist’s political career, made a good guess, and fortunately about his second option rather than the first Ğ not necessarily because the Muslim revolutionaries are peaceful men but more because the "with blood" option was not practically feasible.

Sitting at a cafŽ on a cool Ankara afternoon, I was watching every passerby on the street, trying to read their minds about the coup news and to calculate the possible scenarios behind the latest mystery. At that moment I saw an e-mail message falling into my inbox, as a reader had wished to comment on my previous column (A feminism where 1 man = 2 women, June 17, 2009).

Perhaps that reader should forgive me for reading his comments in an entirely different context. Amazingly, what he wrote about "Muslim feminism" explains all that hypocrisy around coups and democracies and every other good and evil we are programmed to accept as we are told:

"Though not a believer or follower, I trust in Marx's insight that what finally counts [are] interests.

Not necessarily those of class, admittedly. It may be gender, or hunger.

So I'm not shocked that ’display’ has a [dominant] role. A constant issue in our satires is display-democrats, display-liberals, display-communists, display-Christians, display-consumers Ğ you name it. It goes with feminists as well, so why not with [display] Muslims? [Display] secularists? It's a constant feature of Yiddish humor. It's a feature of life itself. Believe me, even animals are opportunists. Ask your cat. So these things change with parameters for opportunity. A state of law sets different interests than one of clans, as regards display-obedience, for instance (Many thanks, H.P.G.)."
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