Ruling Party’s Embrace of Attacker Is a Message to Future Recruits

The treatment of the attacker as a hero is a message to other government supporters. They would not be alone if they do the same — attacking opposition figures.

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Only a day after I wrote an extensive piece about the treatment of a suspect, who attacked the main opposition party leader at a soldier’s funeral on Sunday, as a hero, unpleasant details continue to emerge.

Osman Sarigun received a hero’s welcome after his release. An official from the ruling AK Party visited him to kiss his hand, a traditional act that shows one person’s reverence and respect for older members of the society. A hashtag was opened to express support for the Uncle Osman, as AK Party supporters call him. The ruling party circles almost came closer to declare him a national hero, only to the dismay of the opposition. Osman Sarigun, as this piece pointedly argues, has become a national figure of extreme fragmentation and polarization in the society.

Metin Kulunk, a close associate of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and former lawmaker from the ruling party, also called Sarigun to convey well-wishes after he was briefly detained by security forces for punching CHP leader.

Kulunk, one of the senior figures of the governing party, did not mask his opposition to terminating Sarigun’s party membership after media reports suggested that the AK Party mulls expelling the attacker from the party.

The attitude toward Fatma Basaran, who also came to the public spotlight after calling for the “burning of the house” where the CHP leader was kept for safety against the attackers, was no less disturbing. After a brief detention, she was also released. The party apparatus did not waste time to offer a similar set of loving words and a gesture of comity toward her.

Some of the posts on her Facebook page reveals Basaran’s affection for guns.

Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu, not without reason, believes that the attack at the funeral was premeditated and pre-planned. The opposition party was furious over the treatment of Sarigun and other attackers.

Why rewarding those provocateurs? In a country where critical tweets cause prison sentences for dissident journalists, why are the authorities so soft and forgiving on these attackers? Were, as the opposition party claims, the suspects part of an organized attack orchestrated by the ruling party?

Nobody knows that. It is difficult to corroborate such charges. But the plethora of materials on social media and how the ruling party officials treat Osman Sarigun and others do not put arguments to rest.

Regardless of the debate above, I have another explanatory model to dissect the meaning of benign treatment and rewarding the attackers (government calls them protesters) by some senior officials. It is a message to citizens, the loyal supporters of the ruling party that if they one day somehow involve in a similar act (not a serious, bloody attack of course) against the opposition party figures, then they would not face dire consequences. The hero’s welcome is more an endorsement of future protests (read attacks) than of the current one. They aim to inspire potential recruits and volunteers for the future by extending benevolence to these ordinary folk who appear grateful and moved by the treatment they have received so far.

Imagine. You punch a politician you dislike and you get away with it. More than that, you even become a national hero, at least in the eyes of some segments of society (half of the country) whose elected representatives govern the national government. The president’s lifelong friend and de facto advisor calls you to praise you for what you did. What kind of message do other people get from this? An endorsement, encouragement, praise, support, a hero’s welcome…

But make no mistake. This line of thinking, if that is the case, is a slippery slope. The only barrier between the disaster and Kilicdaroglu was a handful of attentive and brave guards. Such blind encouragement of ordinary people misses the delicate nature of the risk out there. If, next time, attackers get close enough to give more harm to a politician (from any party), who would be responsible for such a disaster? Would the ruling party take the responsibility for a mob lynching tomorrow after endless rabble-rousing and unscrupulous inducements of ordinary people today? I don’t think so. If the answer is no, then they should cut the crap and stop this hero treatment.

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Virginia-based journalist and writer. Politics, culture, art, and technology. American political affairs, Turkey, the MidEast, and beyond. Twitter: @abyasun

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