On the rule of law, and what happens when basic institutions fall
by Mustafa Kilicarslan
Imagine that one side of the Lincoln Tunnel is closed by soldiers at 5pm, on Friday. There’s no way to exit the tunnel; cars and buses are locked in, people having restful weekend dreams are waiting nervously, and no one can find any news, any reports on the web. What happened? Even the seagulls are asking each other: what happened? A driver at the end of the tunnel asks fearfully to one of the soldiers: What is happening? The young soldier holds an M3 in his hands. “It is just a sham operation,” he answers. After a while, history speaks stealthily on social media: it is a coup.
People don’t want to hear this. “No, it can’t be, we’re in the 21st century, we are a democracy!” Suddenly, F-16 jets fill the sky, dancing between the skyscrapers of New York. Tanks appear on the streets, block the roads, settle in the parks. Some children, mesmerized by the sounds of the jets and the huge green tanks ask their parents if they can play with the soldiers. Then, one official declares on TV that “There seems to be a coup attempt, we don’t exactly know what is happening, but we are sure that this is that clandestine group’s operation.” After a few hours the president gives a speech via Facetime: “This is an attack on our democracy, this is an attack on our civil rights, this is a game of that traitorous group!” He calls everybody outside, to city centers and streets and bridges to stand for their rights. And people listen: they fill the streets. The Lincoln Tunnel fills with protestors, all shouting and walking. They push the soldiers back (I don’t want to write that some soldiers opened fire on civilians: some civilians killed some soldiers, and most soldiers were unaware of the coup). One of the longest nights in human history pass in New York. But, how about the next days?
People still crowding in the streets spread rumor about another coup, that this next one “will be the real one.” “These traitors! How can they use the weapons of our country against us?” “We should find them, we should finish them!” Officials ignite people: “Report these people, these people who have a single dollar in their wallets, this is their symbol. We will award a thousand dollars to those who report them!” Then the arrests begin. Some bloggers, journalists, professors, officials, and businessmen are put in prisons (I don’t want to tell that when the prisons fill up, gyms and warehouses will be used; I don’t want to tell that some prisoners were released to open places; I don’t want to write that prisoners were tortured). Some passports, college diplomas, and commercial licenses are cancelled. Some Wall Street skyscrapers and gold mines and trade centers are seized. All of this happens while people still crowd in places chanting anthems and hymns, praising their state as the epitome of democracy in the 21st century. Imagine New York like this, somewhere else in the world, where no one asks each other, “Who are these traitors, who is this clandestine group, who judged them, where is the evidence…”
However, why should one demand the answers to these questions? It was the most trustworthy people that told them who the guilty were. It was the queen bee for bees, the queen ant for ants, the alpha wolf for a pack of wolves, the matriarch for a herd of elephants. How can he deceive his own people? Values he bears on his shoulders like tattoos speak of honesty, democracy, equality, tolerance...can someone betray his own tattoos?
Then, hundreds of people labelled as traitors flee New York. Human traffickers transport lawyers, businessmen, teachers, students, and the unemployed like commodities off to Africa, Japan, Antarctica, and Greenland. “We are proud of ourselves,” says one smuggler in South Ferry. “This is the century of human smuggling. Borders are useless; we are invincible, for we carry the most valuable thing on earth, and we are aware of our responsibility.”
Labeling was so easy, accusing someone so powerful that people begin to accuse each other. Ambitious politicians eliminate their rivals with slander, jealous employees spread rumors about their employers, opposing candidates defame each other with affiliations to the accursed group. Fathers renounce their children as being tied to this group, and neighbors inform police officers about their traitorous neighbors.
That city, that New York, is now alive in my country. I just watch with fear and anxiety. I can see how rule of law was so important for living together. I can also see that rule of law wasn’t the colossal, flamboyant, ornamented parliament buildings. It wasn’t well-dressed, well-fed, well-speaking deputies. It wasn’t regularly read, long, detailed, and boring constitutions. It was an ethereal thing that quivers minds and hearts. It was, rather, a soul, transforming anger and hatred to love and tolerance. It was a dynamic and open-minded brain that always asks, questions, and learns with all its respect and joy for others. I hope to see it again.