Turkey’s self-serving bias is counter-productive


Professor Gulnur Aybet, Senior Advisor to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is a familiar name to Turkey watchers in the UK.

She has lectured at some of Britain’s best-known universities. The Times newspaper once named her one of the top 20 most powerful Muslim women in Britain.  She has a high profile in the UK media.

This morning, Professor Aybet tweeted:

I used to say the West has a blind spot when reading Turkey. Recent events alarmingly show there are several-they’re totally in the dark.

Another senior advisor, Yigit Bulut, targeted comments in a German newspaper critical of Turkey’s Sovereign Fund, claiming that such articles were part of a wider Anglo-Saxon conspiracy.

Power obviously comes with intoxicating side effects and can lead to cognitive biases.

What psychologists call “the false-consensus effect” occurs when people start overestimating the commonness of their beliefs, opinions and values.

They only hear evidence when it already fits their world view.

The extent to which the influence of presidential advisors on policy making is debatable, but an analysis of President Erdogan’s army of advisors’ statements indicate that they are notoriously prone to being disconnected from reality.

Add to this the paranoid style of Turkish politics, the prevalent attitude is to perceive the world as a gang of conspirators, hell-bent on forcing their will on Turkey.

Whipping up hostility to friends and foes alike may play well with the Turkish public, but alternating between being a bully and victim is both short-sighted and misguided.

Reaction to the unprecedented rift between Turkey and the United States this week was the epitome of ignorance and arrogance.

Contrary to senior advisor Gulnur  Aybet’s claim that “the West having a blind spot”, outside the country, politicians, diplomats and journalists seem to be following developments in Turkey closer than their  heavily censored Turkish counterparts.

As self-absorbed with Brexit as they may be, the political and diplomatic circles as well as think-tanks in the UK continue to take a close interest in Turkey.

Not a day goes by without someone expressing dismay about Turkey veering so far away from democracy, that neither values nor interests are shared any longer.

Phillip Gordon, a former US assistant secretary of state and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank, this week wrote in Financial Times that the relationship between Turkey and the US was probably beyond repair.

Mr. Gordon suggested that “the Americans must treat Turkey as the country it is, not the one they wish it to be”.

In the United States, too, Turkey is moving higher up the agenda.

Washington-based Turkish journalist Amberin Zaman has been offering insightful and well-informed reporting on the latest crisis on a regular basis, both for Turkish and English online media.

On 13 October,  David Ignatius’ column in The Washington Post also showed how powerful this kind of investigative journalism can be.

Turkish public is no stranger to David Ignatius of the “one minute” fame. He was the moderator at Davos in 2009, when the then Prime Minister Erdogan stormed out of a debate on the Gaza war with Israel’s President Shimon Peres.

Pro-government media has chosen not to see Mr. Ignatius’ latest revelations and I am not sure if and how they were relayed to the President, but one thing is for sure. Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.


This post is also available in: Turkish

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