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Discourses of polarization and the construction of difference (in Turkey)

 written by Zeynep Gulsah Capan

I discussed yesterday in my post , however briefly, the discourses of polarization in Turkey and how it has actually limited, silenced and marginalized voices. Prime Minister Erdogan in his speech yesterday continued his attempts to frame the #occupygezi movement within the discourses of polarization and (re)construct an us/them binary.

He not only reaffirmed his willingness to continue with the project but also that ‘parliamentary democracy was functioning in Turkey’ but also with reference to the protests stated that ‘the aim here is idealogical.’ Furthermore, he states that ‘the first aim is to take the Istanbul Municipality’ referencing the upcoming municipal elections in 2014. He attempts clearly to frame the issue as being against RPP (Republican People’s Party) and reconstitute the binaries of us and them, seculars vs islamists.[1]

He takes this discourse further and states that ‘If this is about holding meetings, if this is a social movement, where they gather 20, I will get up and gather 200,000 people. Where they gather 100,000, I will bring together one million from my party’[2] It is becoming increasingly clear that Erdogan knows that he benefits from continuing discourses of polarization. As long as an issue is framed as being ‘seculars vs islamists’ and ‘us/them’ he can recast it as the Kemalist elite trying to regain their position of power.

The polarization of the discourse and analyzing the events unfolding in Turkey right now by buying into that discourse not only distorts the image of the events and the issues being discussed but also silences the voices of people who want to go beyond the binary oppositions. An example of such an analysis was evident in an analysis posted by BBC yesterday entitled ‘Turkish press slams handling of Istanbul protests’. The article classifies the op-ed columnists as ‘pro-secular’ and ‘Islamist’ pointing out that even the ‘Islamists’ are warning Erdogan about his actions. Imposing a binary on the events, issues and people involved in the #occupygezi movement is a way to reproduce the dominant discourses of polarization. It is a way of reproducing the idea of a Turkey divided into two between ‘seculars’ vs ‘islamists’. Even if the argument is that in this instance ‘islamists’ have agreed with the ‘seculars’, the dividing up itself is a way to reinforce and reproduce the idea of irreconcilable differences.

Contrary to representations based on discourses of polarization, the events that unfolded in the last couple of days has demonstrated that these binary oppositions do not hold and continuing to use them in analyses of Turkey contribute to silencing the opinions of Turkish citizens. If the discourses of polarization and impositions of binary oppisitions to the events in Turkey succeed that the #occupygezi movement will loose its voice again. So any analysis has to clear away from reproducing these discourses  and continuing to underline ‘irreconcilable differences’. Although there are articles that expressly criticise analysis concentrating on these binary oppositions,[3] there are also op-ed columnists on social media[4] that continue to stress these binary oppositions contributing to the silencing of voices.

The below are some photos that have been posted via various social media sites demonstrating that the discontentment being voiced in Turkey is not one that can be reduced to ‘seculars’ vs ‘islamism’.

Revolutionary Muslims joining the protests

The signs read : 'side by side against fascism', 'We can't stand you sober JDP'

 

source

[1] http://t24.com.tr/haber/taksimde-gostericiler-durust-davranmiyorlar-soruyorum-muhattabim-kim/231096

[2] http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/01/us-turkey-protests-idUSBRE94U0J920130601

[3] http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/06/istanbul-protests-who-are-protesters-turkey.html

[4] The rumor that veiled protesters were being attacked has been included in T24’s 17 lies spread by the social media article : http://t24.com.tr/haber/gezi-parkiyla-ilgili-sosyal-medyada-dolasan-17-yalan/231137

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