It’s often difficult to look at news of Turkey produced by the foreign press. Of course, some remarkable men and women in Turkey generate exceptional reporting for foreign news outlets. But they are few.
In foreign news about Turkey the tired references to government critics as part of an old-guard or liberal elite are especially unsavory when this government is as elitist as they come. Yet they manage to fool otherwise savvy foreign news folks by dressing in populists’ clothing.
Two international academics who passed through Turkey on a six-month research stay, a married couple, argued Turkish politics and culture with such vehemence over dinner one evening that I found myself gulping wine to calm my nerves. "You’re way more nationalist than you think," the wife said, wagging her finger at my Turkish husband as he tried to outline the balancing act between the country’s secular experiment and political Islam. An Ivy League historian of Islam, she admitted to not having read newspapers or books about Turkey. But she barbequed and cocktailed with foreign journalists in their terrace apartments. When they aren’t expanding Turkey’s cultural bridges with more wordfill, foreign media tend to label those who challenge this ruling government as ’secular elites’ who are ’antidemocratic’ and ’anti-Islam’.
A key distinction also eludes them: Turkey’s laicism keeps religion from meddling in the state while American secularism protects the public’s right to religious freedom.
An American woman who has written in Turkey for top U.S. newspapers told me when I was a new arrival that Turkish journalists have a "quaint" perspective and are "rather juvenile" in their professional outlook. She, on the other hand, writes news of Turkey’s progress: the arrival of malls carrying global brands, foreign film fests and Belgian chocolate shops. She and her editor are paid to keep news light on context and heavy on contrast.
In this climate of sound bites and textable news, let’s cut to the ruse. The following is an abbreviated list of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s, or AKP’s, corrupt moves and alliances that benefit the wealthy Islamist few who go largely unnamed by the ’elite police’ in the foreign press.
w The electronic cash flow that bolstered economies around the world in the last decade is gone. If your economy depends on foreign currency instead of production, as Turkey’s does, it’s speculative and vulnerable to instability and global crisis. Thus, contrary to AKP claims and the praise-heaping consensus of the foreign press, the AK Party had little to do with any improvement in the economy, now fallen, since the 2001 financial crisis.
w These days all government bids on social housing are being awarded to the construction company under Albayrak Holding, which openly nurtures a close relationship with the AK Party. In fact, there are no more bids; decisions on large construction deals are simply made by the prime minister’s cabinet and other party officials.
w The parliament minister in charge of oversight set up to safeguard shipbuilders is an AKP member and a ship constructor. In the country’s main shipbuilding site in Tuzla, scores of people have died on the job in recent years. The minister has yet to ensure that sufficient safety regulations are put in place.
w Another devoutly pro-AKP company, Çalık Holding, won the bid to purchase pro-government media outlets ATV and Sabah newspaper on the last possible day when, by some divine handout, they got credit for $750 million from two state banks.
w The imbalance of taxation in Turkey is extreme. Direct, or income, tax makes up only 25 percent of what the state collects. Meanwhile indirect, or sales, tax comprises 70 percent. This means that the government takes far more tax from the people who aren’t earning the money.
The examples roll like rainless summer thunder. These guys get richer while the middle class and poor get poorer. They’ve turned social welfare that is guaranteed in the Constitution into thin charitable giving. This is elitism, and it’s running the country into the ground.