The Language of Violence

There was an attempted coup in Turkey on the weekend. So far there are no real details on why and militaries can end up intervening in politics for a variety of reasons. Jets were scrambled, an attack helicopter was shot down and people massed in the streets and suddenly as it started it was over.

What is known is that while Erdogan is back in power I don’t think this is really a victory for democracy as he has become increasingly authoritarian over time and been connected to more than one scandal while in government.

Already the media has been talking about “purges” of both bad military personnel and anyone else who happens to oppose him so don’t expect the underlying issues which sparked the coup to go away anytime soon.

Add to this an ongoing bombing campaign in Turkey, often directed at military personnel and the “fun fun fun” next door in Syria and it’s not too difficult to see what may have been going through the minds of the plotters when they decided to have a coup.

The death toll from all of this is around 300 and it appears that those in the coup maker’s side decided to fire on civilians at least once, which while not the turning point, would not have been a recommended means to gather support when overthrowing a government.

Meanwhile in the US more police officers are dead in what is starting to appear to be tit for tat style killings in response to police killing various black American males.

While tragic I can’t help but feel somewhat concerned that in a nation full of guns and racial tensions (among other things) this is not going to be the last time this happens. An example has been set and if the police continue to use guns as a means to enforce the law then expect others to do so as well in response to issues of police behaving lawlessly.

And while somewhat peripheral to the situation, killings those tasked to enforce the law is a text book indicator of a brewing insurgency. Usually these acts happen to not only send a message and destabilize the current authority (allowing the insurgent to substitute its own authority) but to also acquire weapons to which further the struggle but in gun crazy USA there is no need to worry about getting your hands on high power weaponry (thanks NRA!) so consider this just a message sent.

Politicians and pundits wring their hands, the president says something reassuring but I can’t see any political means for the US to step away from this. The US looks more and more like an apartheid state every day and nothing I hear from friends and family living there gives me any indication that the horrible momentum of a dying super power will be arrested before the inevitable fall happens (for those who would like to get an indicator of how this goes I strongly recomend Gibbons Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as a text book read for how Empires fail).

And over in Asia the sabers are being rattled after the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) decided to enforce the UNCLOS (United Nations Law of the Sea) against Chinese actions in the South China Sea, deeming them illegal.

Will that actually stop China from building islands and military bases on coral reefs and atolls and behaving belligerently? Probably not as the immediate response out of Beijing was to declare it “rigged” in favor of the West which I would normally consider an appropriate response from China but in this instance just smacks of sour grapes.

In fact I expect immediate action form China in the wake of this as its already verbally blasted Australia for commenting unfavorably on this and I wonder if our current trade spat with China might be related to our not kowtowing to China on this issue.

What is clear that this one has been slow brewing for the past half-decade and even longer once you get into the history of it (one of my specialist areas of Masters study) and with natural resources like fishing, possible oil, and territorial sovereignty on the line among China, Taiwan, The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan (as something similar is brewing between Japan and China over disputed islands between them) no body is likely to be able, or willing to back down.

Add to this increased naval and related weapons sales to all parties and the US firmly opposed to China on this issue and you have all the makings of a cold war style thriller (which, if I remember correctly, was actually predicted by some Cold War style Tom Clancy type novelist in the 1980’s, whose names escapes me at this time).

And finally in NZ we have two individuals shot dead by the Police in one week. Both may have been in self-defense and both may have been justified (as details, while sketchy, seem to indicate that it was a means of last resort or in the face of imminent threat) but again the message is clear and unlike the US not (at least yet) a common occurrence in our society.

There is no common thread among these events except one which is, as the song* says, that “death is the silence” in the language of violence.

*-The Language of Violence by The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy




12 thoughts on “The Language of Violence

  1. The defeat of the coup is a victory for democracy in Turkey for the obvious reason that the Erdogan government was a democratically elected civilian government threatened with the imposition of a military dictatorship and for the less obvious, but perhaps more profound reason, that it was civilians, backed by loyal elements in the armed forces, who faced down the rebel junta’s tanks and machine guns.
    So now the rebel elements will get short shrift. They must be dealt with severely, even ruthlessly, in order to ensure that this is last time the Turkish military tries to seize state power. The world does not need another Egypt on the northern shores of the Mediterranean, and the people of Turkey certainly do not want another al-Sisi ensconsed in Ankara.
    Will Erdogan use the coup as a pretext to attack his legitimate political opponents? Possibly he could, but it is too early to draw such conclusions.
    Closer to home we faced another tragic death in our community. Some eye witnesses are suggesting that the killing was unnecessary and unjustified. The New Zealand police will no doubt beg to differ over that point.
    The “common thread” in these deaths is the break-down of discipline among some elements of our community, which leaves them exposed to all manner of harm. There is little we can do for those who choose to place themselves at risk, but the New Zealand police should still exercise caution and restraint before resorting to the use of lethal force. Should they allow themselves to go the way of United States law enforcement officers the consequences would be serious for us all.

  2. Geoff: Turkey has had four military interventions in its modern history plus a few other coup like moments.

    All of these interventions/coups took place in times of violence and political uncertainty in Turkey and with an aim of either restoring order or removing elements of concern (97s move to get rid of an Islamic style government).

    Current events in Turkey (public bombings, the war in Syria, Erdogans increasingly authoritarian government and issues with the PKK and Russia) show a government unable to deal with events and a leader not willing to remove himself from the picture.

    Erdogan has been accused of massive corruption, sought to remove those that criticize him (including a guy who made some memes of him comparing him to Gollum from LOTR), shut down the media and played loose and fast with the constitution and been involved in accusations of electoral fraud. None of this screams “democracy” to me.

    I don’t defend the coup plotters but in the context of Turkeys history its easy to see why they might have been plotting and concerns about a “democratic” government were not one of them.

    On the breakdown of community I do agree. Specially in the US, less so in NZ.

  3. Whenever the military seek to take state power – as for example in Egypt, Thailand, Venezuela and Chile – they claim that the democratically elected government has been guilty of “electoral fraud”, “authoritarianism”, “massive corruption” and “failing to maintain order”. In other words all the claims that you make, without substantiating, against the Erdogan government.
    The military then systematically eliminate all opposition, close down democratic institutions, silence all criticism and proceed to enrich themselves from the common wealth.
    It does not take a professor of political science to see the defects in the arguments in favour of a military takeover in such circumstances.
    Turkey, Egypt, Venezuela and Thailand all had flawed democracies. As do New Zealand, the United States and the United Kingdom. None of that justifies a military takeover.
    The only justification for violence comes when no legal avenue remains open through which to rectify clearly proven abuses of power, and only then in the form of a popular insurrection. Turkey was nowhere near that point of constitutional crisis, and there was no popular insurrection. Rather there was a popular defence of the elected government, extending well beyond its partisan supporters.
    Democracy is relative,and Turkey was very democratic, relative to most middle eastern nations and its own recent history.
    The Turkish people have stood up to the tanks of the army. I have no doubt that they will have the courage to stand up against Erdogan if he exceeds the limits of his authority. What they don’t need is western intellectuals telling them that their hard-won progress towards democracy was of no value and that an elected leader who would not willingly “remove himself from the picture” could be removed by brute force.

  4. Geoff:

    You really need to read up on arbitrator versus ruler militaries and on the slide towards authoritarianism under Erdogan (all of which has been amply documented in a variety of academic and journalistic sources). While military coups are undesirable in all instances, they can, in fact, be justified in some. You simply do not seem to have a grasp on differences in types of military intervention (as witnessed by your list of interventions) and you certainly have no grasp on what has been happening in Turkey since 2003.

    There is increasing suspicion that this coup was in fact, a staged “auto-coup” orchestrated by Erdogan’s intelligence services to draw out opposition within military and civilian ranks and subsequently justify the now ongoing crackdown on all opponents and dissent. While a cunning move, it is quite undemocratic.

    Whatever the case, you may think that this is understandable and acceptable. But if so you would be wrong.

  5. “There is increasing suspicion that this coup was in fact, a staged “auto-coup” orchestrated by Erdogan’s intelligence services to draw out opposition within military and civilian ranks”
    What evidence is there to support that allegation?

  6. Geoff:

    The pre-drawn lists of people to be detained and proposed constitutional changes to be made, the spurious claims of Gulen’s involvement, the ease with which Erdogan escaped capture, the choice of mostly empty targets for air attacks and the absence of significant number sod grounds troops are just some of the indicators that this coup may not have been what it appears at face value. It remains to be seen how, exactly things transpired, but there is very good reason to doubt the official explanation at this point in time.

  7. One is always wise “to doubt the official explanation” and to be cautious about taking things “at face value” but rather unwise to make serious allegations based on evidence that could and probably does point in quite different directions. It seems to me that Kate and Paul have jumped to this conclusion in the heat of the moment. Enough said?

  8. I doubt the coup was an inside job, but it is certainly a plausible explanation and I wouldn’t discount it at this stage.

  9. While on the fence on staging at this time (Im not up on the extra details) but the fact that they missed their primary target (Erdogan) does seem to be a real botched job.

    Is this Turkey’s 911?

  10. Objective commentary needs to assess the aftermath of the failed coup in relation to the scale of the coup, the overall scale of the Turkish military, civil service and general population, and the response to comparable events elsewhere. I don’t have all those facts and statistics but I understand that there are 78 million Turkish citizens, more or less, and about 640,000 Turkish military personnel of whom 340 have the rank of general or admiral. There is compulsory military service which has a significant bearing on the issue because it gives the military power over the lives and thoughts of civil society.
    One can compare the contemporary French response to terror attacks (a state of emergency, bans on demonstrations etc) or the failed Venezuelan coup against Hugo Chavez (the plotters were treated leniently) or the failed (alleged) coup against the Indonesian government in 1960 in the aftermath of which the Indonesian left was massacred leaving up to half a million dead with total disregard for the rule of law.. (Pablo, with his appreciation of finer distinctions, may point out that these cases differ greatly from the Turkish coup attempt, so I will leave him to offer more appropriate parallels if he can find them). It is hard to say at this stage where the character and intensity of Turkish response fits in to the pattern, but I would think somewhere in the middle.
    From our own national perspective it might be more helpful to compare the events in Turkey to the circumstances of our own armed conflicts. The British invasion of the Waikato lands began with a poliitical purge. Our people living north of the aukati were ordered by the British Governor George Grey to swear allegiance to Queen Victoria. When they refused, they were driven off the land and their homes were destroyed by British troops. Fighting then broke out, and over the next twelve years it became increasingly brutal. The British executed their prisoners in the field without trial. Our fighters also committed atrocities against European settlers. Then, after the British were able to claim military victory in 1873 they deported large numbers of our people to penal camps in Otakau for purely political offences. In 1914 and again in 1940 they purged the colonial education system of politically unreliable teachers, lecturers and professors. To this day the only persons allowed to take a seat in the colonial parliament are those who pledge allegiance to the British Queen, and now that parliament is talking of requiring ordinary citizens to “sign up” to a statement of “New Zealand values” which means in fact a statement of British values, or more specifically British colonialist values.
    So the New Zealand state is in no position to urge either mercy or tolerance on the Turkish authorities. Our people, on the other hand, have never been greatly bothered by ideological, theological or fine doctrinal distinctions on which political purges are based. We don’t fret over whether our neighbour is Catholic or Protestant, Christian or Muslim, Labour, National, Maori or Mana, republican or royalist, capitalist or socialist except to the extent that it is expressed in their behaviour. We see no point in forcing someone to subscribe to a particular set of values or beliefs, or in demanding their allegiance to a particular leader or political institution and we would like to think that the Turkish state might find something of value in that approach, even if the New Zealand state cannot.
    On the other hand we are wary of standing armies because our people suffered grievously from the depredations of British Imperial forces. If standing armies are not causing mischief within their own country, they are meddling in the affairs of their neighbours, and the damage they do is in directly proportional to their size relative to the size of the civilian population. So if Turkey was to reduce its armed forces to one tenth of their present size, that would be no bad thing.

  11. Geoff: So if I am reading you right you appear to mostly neutral on the coup but with a slight favor towards the government there.

    On the other hand you seem to be advocating that the colonial govt in NZ was bad/wrong and that Maori are indifferent to such politicization but are not keen on established entrenched power structures (ie the military) due to its history.

    Since I have a post on Maori politics and the Maori Party coming up I will reserve my opinions on that matter but cant say I agree with you vis a vis what went down in Turkey, Erdogan was a bad president and while I don’t agree with the coup it would take a military government a lot of work to get to his level of bad behavior.

    Militray governments are not in and of themselves a bad thing. The degree to which militaries integrate into their respective government structures is not the issue. Its the near monopoly and license on the use of force which tends to be the real issue when they start acting out.

    Sure they ar’nt paragons of democracy but neither are they the nadirs on the governmental scale. One person rule would be that, as a state beholden to a single individual is far more at risk of going off the rails than one beholden to a powerful military clique.

    Suffice it to say that perhaps, like Turkey, time will tell and that the only real winner was Erdogan.

  12. I am unequivocally opposed to the attempted coup in Turkey, but neutral with respect to the Erdogan government. Basically, while my Turkish contacts generally favour Erdogan and his government, I am not a Turk and it is not my business to pick and choose between different contenders for government office in that country.
    I remain firmly opposed to the colonial government here, because it directly impacts on me, and to that extent it becomes my business.
    However many Maori and Pakeha support the colonial government, and that has always been the case. I don’t have any difficulty working with people who take that stand, so long as they are also willing to respect my position.
    We must agree to differ on the principle of military government.

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