A Political Debate with Baklava Sellers


Earlier today I had an unexpectedly heated argument with employees of a baklava cafe. I was with a friend, Ozlem, and we were finishing up our tea and conversation, which, inevitably, had revolved around the protests (no one talks of much else here anymore). The baklava seller had evidently picked up bits of what we’d been saying and as we got up to leave he could not resist declaring his allegiance to the government and condemnation of all protests. There ensued half an hour of lively debate between Ozlem and I, this middle aged man and an infuriating youth who poked his head out from the kitchen to join the fun. He snorted derisively at whatever we said, implying that we had no idea what we were talking about, and managed to be incredibly supercilious while wearing an unflattering white hairnet.

The conversation was frustrating because it was like arguing with people living in a parallel universe, where everything is decided, justified and any new or challenging points of view are automatically dead on arrival. These men were not bad, but they were effectively deaf to reasoning.

To make matters worse, we were women, and they couldn’t accept that we were telling the truth when we said we had been at the protests – here we were, two middle class, respectable-looking young ladies eating baklava one minute and ferociously defending protesters the next.

Here is a sample of the quality of highbrow debate we were engaged in:

Baklava Seller: “All this fuss over 3 or 4 trees!”
Ozlem: “It’s not about the trees anymore. It’s about abuse of power, authoritarianism.”
BS: “There has always been abuse of power in Turkey! Before this government there was loads of corruption, there always has been!”
O: “Yes but we want to fight it. And we have the right to protest peacefully.”
BS: “Business has been terrible because of you. Also, you left loads of rubbish in the square.”
Me pitching in: “That would be the police. The protesters have always cleaned up after themselves.”
Man in hairnet: “Protesters? Cleaning up? Yeah right.”
Me: “Have you even been up to see for yourself?”
Hairnet: *snorts scornfully*

And so it went on.

The kind of attitude displayed by these men made me first angry, and then incredibly sad. There is no arguing with wilful ignorance. They had false or irrelevant answers for everything we said, and were absolutely fixed in their views, which they had learnt from dodgy media coverage, sycophantic soap operas and the speeches of a bombastic and irrational leader. We were wasting our breath.

Wilful or lazy ignorance is less dramatically tragic than the deaths and injuries sustained so far during the protests, but in the long run it is much more of a tragedy for society at large. If millions of Turks are not prepared to challenge authority, if they are not prepared to question what they are told, listen to other points of view or exercise even a modicum of independent thought, then all the efforts of protesters so far will come to very little.

I heard a rumour a few hours ago that a political party is in its first stages of development, emerging from the post-protest forums. I hope it is true, even if this party never gets anywhere near winning an election, because taking steps to capitalise politically on the show of solidarity among protesters is of enormous importance. Once people are given proof that the protests were not some kind of passing threat cooked up by foreign agents and interest lobby groups, as the government keeps insisting, Turkey’s future starts to look a little brighter.

The photograph above depicts the kind of spitting rage demonstrated by our political opponents this afternoon.