Nice terror, police killings fuel global right’s message of fear
Right-wing politicians were getting a big charge this week from new outbreaks of violence: in France from the Bastille Day massacre in Nice; in the United States from more shootings of police by black vigilantes.
The massacre by truck in the French Riviera capital again showed how mundane things can be turned into weapons of mass slaughter by those who don’t care about their own lives, and how the mentally disturbed can attach a message of religious extremism to their actions − or have one attached posthumously for them, as when Daesh claimed Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel as one of their “soldiers”.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, has said the Tunisian-French citizen was radicalised too quickly for security agencies to register him as a risk. His preparation consisted of internet searches of fatal traffic accidents, a look at the Bastille Day plans for Nice, and a trial drive along the waterfront in the days beforehand. Separately, none of these can reasonably be expected to set off alarm bells.
But Valls was unwise to say that “times have changed, and France is going to have to live with terrorism”. He got booed at the public memorial for the 84 dead on Monday. It didn’t take long for Nicolas Sarkozy, hoping for a comeback in next year’s presidential election, to declare that “everything that should have been done over the past 18 months was not done”.
Last Sunday’s killing of three policemen and wounding of three others in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, by an African American former marine, later shot dead himself, and Tuesday’s shooting of a police officer in Kansas City continued a retaliatory spiral for the shootings of black Americans pulled over by police, including one notorious case in Baton Rouge. It helped Donald Trump with his “law and order” theme for this week’s Republican convention in Cleveland, Ohio, for his anointment as presidential candidate.
Trump has been trying to look and sound more presidential of late. But he couldn’t resist this one, echoing the innuendo made after the Orlando mass shooting. “I watch the president and sometimes the words are okay but you just look at the body language and there is something going on, there is something going on,” Trump said on Rupert Murdoch’s Fox TV, adding: “There is just a bad feeling, a lot of bad feeling about him.”
And so the convention rolled on. Many party grandees stayed away, citing urgent needs elsewhere, such as mowing their lawn. Trump advisers turned on the Ohio host governor, John Kasich, for not embracing Trump after his primaries defeat. A rebel group of delegates tried procedural manoeuvres to free up delegate votes for someone, anyone else, but got shouted down. A motley array of foreign observers turned up, including Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage and Dutch anti-Muslim politician Geert Wilders. Speakers attacked Hillary Clinton, whose Democrat nomination comes next week in Philadelphia. Trump’s Slovenian-born wife, Melania, led The Donald’s daily endorsement by a family member. By Tuesday night, the convention formally nominated Trump as the Republican’s candidate.
Palestinians, meanwhile, join Muslims and Mexicans among those who need to worry about a Trump victory in November. The Republican platform drops all reference to the two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, a longstanding bipartisan goal in US foreign policy, and opposes any measures to “dictate borders” to Israel.
With many of the usual corporate donors backing away from him, his campaign managers had to go to casino magnate Sheldon Adelson for a $US6 million top-up to convention funding. Adelson is a generous backer of Israel’s right-wing prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Through the newspaper he owns in Israel, he opposes any territorial concessions in the West Bank.
More broadly, however, Jews from the left and right have figured prominently among the voices condemning Trump’s foreign policy positions and opposing his candidacy. His campaign has been criticised for its failure to condemn anti-Semitism and for sharing anti-Clinton material from neo-Nazi internet forums.
So whose coup was it in Turkey on the night of July 15? If President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan finds the finger of suspicion pointing back to him, he
has to take some of the blame for encouraging conspiracy theorists.
Over his years in power he’s launched campaigns against an ultra-nationalist “deep state” movement called Ergenekon, a Kurdish opposition that to most people was observing a truce, and a Gülenist movement that was happy with him until corruption and nepotism surfaced in his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.
That Friday night in Turkey was certainly bloody, with 290 killed in clashes involving troops who seized parts of Istanbul and Ankara. Yet as many have noticed, it was pretty amateurish for an army well practised in successful coups d’etat. A special forces unit sent to the coastal resort where Erdoğan was staying failed to arrest him. Two F-16s piloted by rebels locked their radars on Erdoğan’s aircraft but allowed it to land in Istanbul, where he rallied AKP and army loyalists.
As senior European Union official Johannes Hahn observed, Erdoğan was well prepared with lists of people to arrest. By Monday night, 6000 military personnel and 755 members of the judiciary were detained, while 9000 police, 2745 other judges and more than 25,000 civil servants and teachers were suspended. The numbers, already staggeringly high, increased day by day, even before Erdoğan gave himself more sweeping powers of arrest on Wednesday by declaring a three-month state of emergency.
At the start of his purge, Erdoğan targeted the army. “They will pay a heavy price for this,” he said. “This uprising is a gift from God to us because this will be a reason to cleanse our army.” Yet as days wore on his focus shifted to Fethullah Gülen, the exiled Muslim cleric living in the US since 1999. The Gülenists were behind the attempted putsch, Erdoğan charged. This didn’t make much sense. The Turkish army has upheld Kemal Atatürk’s secular state legacy. Gülen’s Turkish followers of his brand of soft Islamism are strongest in the police, judiciary, academic institutions and the media. So the military action became an excuse to move against the AKP’s rival Islamism. The Americans are asking Erdoğan to show some evidence for his theory.
Erdoğan will now advance his plan to consolidate power in the presidency. It’s the start of the “Turkish Winter”, commentator Burak Kadercan writes in the War on the Rocks website: “The road ahead is stark: either an absolute presidency that will not only further ossify but also institutionalise Erdoğan’s one-man status, or civil strife that will either take the country down the road of Syria or lead to yet another coup attempt.”
As the early 20th-century London writer Humbert Wolfe said in a epigram that might apply in Australia too: “You cannot hope to bribe or twist (thank God!) the British journalist. But, seeing what the man will do unbribed, there’s no occasion to.”
Alas, it’s far different in the financial capitals of Asia’s rising economic powers, where “envelope journalism” is widely practised. As well as handing out glowing press releases to the hacks at company news conferences, corporate PR men more or less discreetly pass over envelopes of cash or spending vouchers.
The practice is not only thriving in China, writes China specialist James Kynge in the Financial Times, but is made systematic for the new IT era. A Chinese company offers an “intellectual community platform where media professionals help entrepreneurs” through an app called Zhao Jizhe (“Find a Journalist”). It helps companies contact a journalist for hire. Charges start at 1000 yuan ($200) for a “standard” reporter working for only one media outfit, and rise to 8000 yuan for “senior” journalists who can spread the message in 25 outlets, of which four are influential. The app company claims to have more than 1000 hacks on its list, and access to 3000 publications. The app is temporarily off the internet, following too much publicity, but the practice of media bribery no doubt continues.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 23, 2016 as "Violence fuels global right’s message of fear". Subscribe here.