The Turkish original of this article was published as 'İnanç' toplumu on 21st October 2015.
Today, those who are capable of distancing themselves from their emotional attachments to take a relatively calm and sober look at Turkey must be taken aback by how such utterly crude disinformation can be consumed so voraciously. Isn’t it the case that we would expect even the best constructed manipulative conspiracy theories about certain complex, shadowy events — those that are trying hard to be convincing, and which therefore appear as “somewhat reasonable” — to give rise to some doubts and questioning in a normal person? People who are likely to be swept off their feet by mysterious, fantastical, counter-intuitive conjectures are the most obvious customers of such theories. But they always remain marginal. The majority pays no heed to such narratives. In this country, however, such relatively sophisticated manipulations aside, we are witnessing how people keep jumping on the most obviously irrational, counterfactual “information” and “opinions,” reproducing and circulating them without any questions whatsoever.
I suspect that it was with Gezi that this weighty campaign got going in its most explicit and intensive form. From the very first day, news of massacres and frightening displays of savagery began to be spread in push-button fashion, and elicited a rapid response. Furthermore, such disinformation was not one-sided. There was a Dolmabahçe Mosque incident that has yet to be clarified, as well as a Kabataş Ferry incident that was crammed full of hard to believe details. Both were made much of by the prime minister [Erdoğan], and debated for days by the conservative media. A mentality hungry for disinformation was manifesting itself throughout.
I don’t want to swamp this article with examples. What matters is to be able to see what it has all come to.
It seems to me that especially the phase that was launched with the Gülen Congregation’s attempt to overthrow the government represented a new oppositional strategy designed to focus different and disparate forces on a single target. It was at this stage that disinformation became much more active and systematic. There emerged a new political line striving, with the help of the conjuncture prevailing at the time, to win the Kurdish movement, too, over to the [oppositional] front. The operations against MIT trucks [heading south across the border] indicated where the attack against the government was going to strike, as well as how relentless the fight was going to be. The Congregation, the CHP, the Kurdish movement, the media of the [ruling financial] oligarchy as well as some global players all concentrated on repeating the same message: “The government is supporting IS.” It was then, that the rain of disinformation which Yıldıray Oğur has been patiently and untiringly dissecting in all its fine detail turned into a deluge. Waged not on the basis of any serious evidence, but pictures that turned out to have been retouched and witnesses that turned out to be false, this campaign was nevertheless poured through all possible channels on society at large.
Then there came a forceful move by the Kurdish movement that aborted the political line set out by Öcalan. Just before the June elections, the language utilized by the Kurdish movement underwent an astonishing change. The search for a joint solution as expressed in the Newroz declaration was replaced by “the AKP as the foremost enemy.” Only yesterday the AKP had been the partner in a prospective solution, but from there it went to “a murderous government hostile to the Kurds” in the space of a few months. But how can you have a murderer if there are no dead bodies around? Somebody therefore concluded that it was time, and two bombs went off in HDP offices on the same day. At his Mersin rally on 17th June, Selahattin Demirtaş then came out with the sentence that had been on his lips, but which he hadn’t fully pronounced: “I am hereby addressing the person who has been sending a message to us through the Adana and Mersin attacks. Message received; we are not going to allow you to become president.” Immediately afterwards, he flaunted the IS disinformation that had been carefully brought to a boil: “Those who have been using the people’s money to send hundreds of arms to the assaulting army cannot preach faith and belief to us. You are going to be made to pay for all this, that you are.”
By the time the Diyarbakır bombs were detonated, there were numberless “men of belief” out there who were capable of instantly recognizing “the murderer,” who promptly ran to their keyboards to dash off “it’s obvious who the murderer is” sorts of messages, and who could even stoop to underlining the provincial governor’s routine messages to local medical units for “ambulances to get ready” as evidence. Yes, that is what and how they believed. It was no longer an age of reason but of belief. For even the most inexperienced mind might be capable of estimating that on the threshold of the elections it was the AKP, fearful of losing the Kurds, that would suffer most from this sort of provocation; you didn’t need to wait for the election results to see this. Instead, from sloganeering young men to knowledgeable greybeards, everybody started penning “you can’t scare us, you can’t bully us” sorts of articles. Soon after that the Istanbul rally was held, where Selahattin Demirtaş smashed the truly inept pro-government press all over the place, while his audience kept chanting a single slogan: “Erdoğan the murderer.”
Unfortunately, however, once more not all the disinformation was one-sided. On 22nd July, the daily Star carried the headline “It was the PKK who bombed the HDP rally.” An 18 year-old “PKK renegade” had just surrendered, it was said, who had testified that they had gone to a house where he had seen bombs in packs that those present had said were to be set off at the [HDP] rally; his friend had then taken the bombs to the person who was going to plant them, he said, and when the bombs had actually exploded the PKK man who was with him had celebrated saying that now they were certain to win the elections… It was so obviously a phony script from which somebody, somehow, had hoped to benefit. It was like an extension of the strange craziness that had started with the initially very loud announcements of an attempt to assassinate Erdoğan’s daughter.
More recently there has been the attack on Ahmet Hakan, which was clearly a hurried, hasty affair. The culprits were immediately apprehended and — perhaps because of their very reliable identities as borne out by their criminal records — promptly confessed everything that their ring-leader had told them. The police department, the National Intelligence Organization even the Boss [Reis = the President] were all part of this!
Finally, a horrific catastrophe that cannot be compared with any of the above came to pass. And even there, we have been bracketed by a rhetoric of “you are the murderers, you are scoundrels, you have blood on your hands” on one side, and an opposing rhetoric of “tweets indicating that the PKK is part of a cocktail mix of terror” on the other. Depending on their stance, the disinformation-starved picked and proliferated and disseminated one or the other. There have even been those who, in order to argue that the massacre had been planned by the government, seized on the words uttered by a mafioso type at a Rize rally about “blood flowing in wave upon wave.” And nobody stood up to say, come on, that is rubbish.
Nowadays what we most hear is “I believe him or that.” Not “I know… That is what the evidence says.” But only “I believe.”
Yes, and why have we come to this? From my end, it all looks very clear. Both sides to the fight have discovered that in the face of various events, what some very broad sections of society are after is not knowledge based on reason but satisfying their emotional requirements. So what you have to feed them is not any real information that can answer the crucial questions, or respond to their doubts or curiosity, but some other stuff that can appeal to their need for justification in confrontation. That is what the customer demands.
And in this regard, the government is nowhere near what the opposition is capable of.
All for the better.
Because if this fight is ever going to be won, it were better that it shouldn’t be won so.