I mentioned once before watching a BBC documentary called The Great War – narrated by Laurence Olivier no less, so it must have been important – which was an in-depth, not to say interminable account and analysis of that terrible conflict, what led up to it – vanity mainly in Germany, conceit in France and pique in Britain – and what then happened. And what has stayed with me all those years was a shot of a crowded Brighton beach (Brighton beach in Sussex, England, not New York) taken in August 1914 when the country apparently did not have a care in the world. Then, when the first shots were fired – and the French cavalry went to war in full, colourful dress uniform – there was a general feeling that it would all be over within months if not weeks.
I’m not suggesting that we here in the West are in the same kind of insouciant devil-may-care state, but for a period when we are being persuaded that ‘times is ‘ard’, times are patently not all that hard. (Moral:
Don't forget, you read it here first!
News programmes tell us that it was all sparked either by government plans to build a shopping mall in a site which until now had been a green park or government plans to stop people drinking. Well, to be honest neither explanation strikes me as good enough to account for five days of vicious rioting and an extremely brutal police response. And nor does it explain why rioting has taken place in three major Turkish cities. There are quite obviously far deeper feelings at play here which have now been given an outlet.
A Turkish commentator on the radio pointed out yesterday that when Recep Tayyip Erdogan was first elected, he was regarded, or at least, marketed as the democratic face of Muslimism (I won’t say Islam because that would be misleading). He was praised for neutralising the political instincts of the army and generally regarded as a Good Egg. The turning point came when it was made very clear to him by the EU that Turkey wasn’t really wanted as a member, and, says the commentator, he took this personally and gradually became more autocratic. Those who support the prime minister point out that he has been re-elected in what are accepted to be democratic elections three times. Would a reputed ‘dictator’ manage that? they ask.
The rioters respond by criticising him for an increasingly autocratic style of government, though I, of course, am in no position to comment on either claim. So far it’s all more or less a domestic affair in Turkey. What strikes me as dangerous, however, is that to the south of Turkey is Syria and that Turkey, which once had good relations with Syria, is now growing increasingly hostile.
In the past Turkey has stressed that it rules out no action at all if it wants to retaliate to Syrian aggression (this was after a few ‘mystery explosions’ in a Turkish village on the border with Syria. Should matters threaten to get a little out of hand in his cities, Erdogan might well consider taking Caesar’s sage advice to deal with domestic troubles by creating trouble abroad and taking the plebians’ minds off matters.
Then there’s Hezbollah’s increasing involvement in Syria, and for Hezbollah read Iran. Russia has already broaden the conflict rather by giving its support to Assad, and the fact that Syria hosts a Russian naval base will have something to do with the matter. Britain is getting all very gung-ho and is apparently champing at the bit to fight the good fight, but the U.S. – thank goodness - is very, very reluctant to get involved, not least because any involvement will clash with the coming presidential election the Democrats would rather not be at war when the country goes to the polls. Good to see Uncle Sam doing the right thing for a change, even if it is for the wrong reasons.
So there you have it: I predict doom. (Of, course, if you live in Somalia or the Congo, you probably don’t give two hoots what happens in Syria, you’ve got troubles enough of your own.)