- Conspiracy Theory in Turkey: Politics and Protest in the Age of "Post-Truth" by Julian de Medeiros
Conspiracy Theory in Turkey by Julian de Medeiros reassesses the political role of conspiracy through an analysis of Turkey under the rule of the Justice and Development Party (abbreviated officially as the AK Party from the Turkish Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi). The study is a revision of de Medeiros's doctoral dissertation at the University of Kent and compares and contrasts government responses to two recent political upheavals, the 2013 Gezi Park protests and the 2016 failed coup attempt. De Medeiros makes the valid claim that conspiracy theory is a form of narrative sabotage by which the AK Party delegitimizes and curtails new forms of emancipatory, counter-hegemonic politics, such as those represented in the Gezi protests. This leads [End Page 336] him to develop the critical idea of "conspiratorial praxis" (p. 13), the systemic employment of paranoid narratives for actual political gain, the silencing of opponents, and the consolidation of state power. De Medeiros suggests a novel and insightful way of examining conspiracy theory as a political strategy, and as a "politics of truth."
The study argues that elite articulations of conspiracy constitute systemic disinformation as part of a state response to various manifestations of political resistance and opposition. Conspiracy theories are therefore employed to justify increased political repression and the manufacture of political paranoia among an increasingly polarized Turkish public. This leads to a dystopian outcome that restricts the political participation of the populace.
The book's conceptual strength is its interdisciplinary approach, though this comes with some methodological shortcomings. The terms and categories of analysis are not always defined clearly and the specific cases and historical contexts are described partially (in this last regard a chronology would have been useful). In relying on political science and cultural theory to rethink conspiracy, de Medeiros convincingly traces what he terms "the conspiracy frame" (pp. 45ff); however, the study loses its argumentative focus in places.
At times the writing can be overly descriptive without logical argumentation or densely theoretical without specific guiding examples. The mismatch between claims and supporting evidence is exacerbated by the lack of sources in Turkish. The prose tends to be dense, as the following example demonstrates:
That is to say, rather than focusing on normative definitions, the idea of conspiracy theory as a sum of the forces relating to its contestations is sought through the analysis of key events. In this, cause and effect become necessarily relative units to the extent that the conceptualization of the idea is formed in the very contestation thereof (p. 13).
The analysis becomes opaque in the theoretical sections; for example, when he discusses critical approaches to the nature of truth, suggests the possibility of a dialectics of conspiracy theory, or applies Freudian notions of the uncanny to strongman leadership.
The study also does not mention relevant details about conspiracy in the period under examination: The AK Party corruption scandal of December 17–25, 2013; the role of social media and the army of conspiratorial "AK Trolls"; the effect of branded conspiracies, such as Ergenekon and Üstakil ("Mastermind"); and the central role of the Gülen movement in the above.
As one of the first studies after the 2016 coup attempt of the links between conspiratorial rhetoric and growing authoritarian tendencies in Turkey, de Medeiros's book does help navigate the contradictory and confusing manifestations of political rhetoric in contemporary Turkish politics. Additionally, it situates the debate on conspiracy theory in Turkey within the wider framework of theoretical approaches to conspiracy theory, elite framing strategies, and social movement literature. While the book occasionally suffers from opacity, it is a thought-provoking contribution to emerging debates on the geopolitics of conspiracy in Middle East Studies. [End Page 337]
Erdağ Göknar is director of the Duke University Middle East Studies Center.