Global opinion leaders and observers of politics all agree that 2016 was a “terrible year.” All have good reasons to complain: American liberals suffered from their grave presidential election defeat, British liberals suffered from the Brexit vote, and European liberals worry about the rise of the far right. They are also concerned about the turmoil in the Middle East and the rise of terrorism.
So far, so bad, but there was nothing particularly terrible in 2016 for many who live in non-Western countries, and especially for those who live in the Greater Middle East. So many years have been terrible for war-torn countries like Afghanistan and Iraq following the occupation in 2003; Syria, Libya and Yemen have all shared the same fate after the end of the so-called Arab Spring.
Some thinkers and political observers may still think that the crises of democracy in the Western world is the most terrible thing among all sufferings on earth – after all, the West represented the last hope for humanity. Nevertheless, the idea of Western civilization as the savior of humanity has long been dead, even if it “could be a good idea” as Gandhi stated in the middle of the last century. In fact, it was this idea that led to many wars and much despair in both the past and the present. Most recently, the U.S. interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq were justified in the name of democracy and “nation-building,” and even in the name of “women’s emancipation.”
I am not one of those Occidentalists who believe that the cause of all evil in the world is Western modernity and imperialism. On the contrary, I think it was the misled patronage of change and the idea of “bon pour l’Orient democracy and modernity” that led to disastrous shortcomings. After all, during the Cold War the Western world supported “reactions against modernity” (Islamist in the case of Muslim countries) in the name of the war against communism. A recent case was the support of the idea of “Islamic democracy,” which ended up very badly indeed after the collapse of the happy idea of the “Arab Spring” and the so-called “model country” Turkey’s slide to authoritarianism.
As for Turkey, 2016 justifies being defined as the “most terrible year” in recent decades. Starting from 2015, the shortcomings of the end of the Kurdish peace process culminated in the sweeping arrest of Kurdish politicians, and the escalation of the “war on terror” has been used to legitimize curbing democratic freedoms. The defeat of the July 15 coup attempt did not pave the way for national reconciliation and democratization as hoped; on the contrary, it was used by the ruling party to justify emergency rule and led to an even more authoritarian new constitution and a new system proposed in the name of Turkish-style “presidential system,” which was recently dubbed the “President of the Republic System.” Already, the suppression of dissent has reached unprecedented levels and this process seems to be promising harsher measures against the opposition. Leaving aside the grim prospects for the economy and foreign policy, we have plenty to worry about in the coming year.
PS. I wrote this article on Saturday, intending to spend a couple of days off after New Year’s Eve. Right after the start of the New Year, which I celebrated with our extended family at home wishing for a better year, Turkey witnessed yet another terror attack. The final sentence of the article was sadly proven right so quickly, and I could not stomach writing a new article on the subject. We now console ourselves that we were cautious enough to advise the younger members of our families not to go out on New Year’s Eve. Sad and hopeless, isn’t it?