Sunday, July 29, 2007

Hangman’s rope and intellectual consistency

For days, we have been debating the hangman’s rope that the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Devlet Bahçeli threw to the crowds in a party demonstration. It was a chilling reaction that Bahçeli gave to Prime Minister Erdoğan’s accusation that MHP was responsible for not executing PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan who was caught and brought to Turkey when MHP was part of the governing coalition.

Let me note in passing that the only good that came from Bahçeli’s cheap spaghetti-western show was to present the real face of the gray wolves and to demonstrate how mainstream media was wrong for broadcasting at every opportunity that MHP, despite its bloody past, was tamed and had moved closer to the center of the political spectrum.

That capital punishment, abolished in Turkey in 2002, can still be open to debate is startling for most of us. Actually the level of the arguments shows that the current situation is mostly a territorial fight. The conclusion which concerns us most in this fight is this: Among the players on the Turkish political scene, nobody has openly declared that they are against capital punishment in principle or criticized the enmity-strengthening essence of the current bickering.

Since one of the main principles of law is that laws and punishments are universally applicable to everyone, those who use the “Hang Öcalan!” slogan as a vote gathering bait in election demonstrations are calling and crying for capital punishment.

Even the media pens that underline the impropriety of the Erdoğan-Bahçeli bickering approach the issue from the perspective of “Would hanging or not hanging Öcalan serve the national interest better?” Since the subject is Öcalan, nobody talks of convict rights.

Milliyet columnist Taha Akyol began his column on July 3, Tuesday by stating: “Would hanging Öcalan frighten terror and make it recede? Or would it escalate? This is very important. This issue is not something for provoking mob psychology in public demonstrations but one that should be discussed in sang-froid, with all the available data by committees of experts.”

We understand from the column that if a conclusion in ‘sang-froid’ is reached that applying capital punishment would be useful, Akyol would support the decision. That is, Akyol is not against capital punishment in principle.

Those who look warmly upon Abdullah Öcalan’s execution under certain conditions include not just capital punishment supporters like Akyol. For example İsmet Berkan in his column in Radikal on July 4 emphasizes that the Kurdish issue is distinct from the terrorism issue and that it is the Kurdish issue that needs resolution and says:

“But the issue cannot be resolved through Öcalan’s execution, if it could, although I am against capital punishment, I too would support his execution.”

Confusing, is it not? Is it not necessary for those against capital punishment to defend their positions regardless of Abdullah Öcalan’s identity? Or is it too much of a luxury to expect this kind of intellectual consistency in Turkey’s gray and murky political climate?

Translated by Deniz Akkuş
June 6, 2007

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