Someone has died. Just beneath the birds’ lyrical pitch and the incessant hiccup of motors and exhausts, there is a solemn hum passing through the air, like a choir. If one strains to hear it, the hum blends into a mesmerizing, hymn-like chant. It is a funeral announcement at the local mosque; it is a much too dewey, clear skied morning for death.
(My grandmother would “like to be burned” at her expiration, but they don’t allow the dead incineration in this country; your body must join the soil. “It doesn’t matter, the soul will be free,” she said. We disagree on this point but that’s for another day.)
The call of the funeral calmed what was an accumulating fear in me, bubbling to the surface since I arrived, reaching a boil as I attempt to scribble something down. It is the thing about reporting from a place that is familiar, meaningful to one’s self. The desire to do it justice, knowing it cannot be done.
That is a word I’m interested in — justice. Camus writes, “Once more justice must be bought with the blood of men.” Reason, he insists, of men reluctant to take up arms, abhorred by the violence they would have to employ, saved France. “They are as big as hope and as deep as revolt. They are the reasons of the future for a country that others tried so long to limit to the gloomy rumination of her past,” he said. This is Turkey. But the ‘others’ are not the external enemies of Camus’ time. Instead, it is the state itself, limiting the country to its own ‘gloomy ruminations.’
“Calling history ‘a compass shaping the future,’ the president said that attacks targeting schools in Turkey are hurting the country’s youth and for this reason they need to be better educated on the history of their country. ‘We need to re-evaluate, re-interpret recent events, developments in our country and our region in light of history,’ he said, adding: “History is not only the story of the past.”‘ As written in Daily Sabah.
The danger in this mentality is deeply apparent in a place where the past has more a yield than future. Yesterday, Erdogan announced that he would continue the construction of the military barracks in Taksim Square, the same which sparked protests in 2013. I received a notification from the US embassy of the cancellation of all LGBT events planned for Sunday in the square because of the risk of attacks. Today, the gay pride parade in Taksim went on despite prohibitions. Clashes with police likely. It would be a mistake to view the president’s announcement as coincidental; Erdogan is stirring the chaos. This way, once the blood is spilled and the fear widespread, he can ask, “See what democracy will bring you? I will be your president and you won’t need democracy.”
Turkey must decide if it will accept such tyranny. But even if it does not, it is far too unorganized to form a politically consequential opposition. The interests are too varied, their associations weak and narrow, their chances slim. Some take to the street but they do not unite under a single banner with conviction or concision; they are disorganized, fighting blind.
Turkey is at a simmer. A city which has turned so arrogantly against the modernity it seemed to seek, Istanbul is in crisis. Those music fans who were attacked and beaten with pipes serves as only a small example of the tide. This is a confrontation of nationalism, identity. It has not been in the history of this place, nor is it likely to be now, reconciled with ease or deliberation. Instead, negation and absurdity must be confronted. To be sure, justice will have its role. But whether it plays the jester or the soldier must be decided by the price willing to be paid; their reasons must be “overwhelming”; intelligence must prevail.
“…I know as well as anyone that the intellectual is a dangerous animal ever ready to betray,” wrote Camus. “But that is not the right kind of intelligence. We are speaking of the kind that is backed by courage, the kind that for four years paid whatever was necessary to be have the right to respect. When that intelligence is snuffed out, the black night of dictatorship begins.”