It would serve the public good to have more nuanced, balanced, understanding approach all around, avoiding polarization.

Dr. Serkan Birgel 08 May 2020

There are drawbacks to weighing in definitively in what is an ongoing and complex process. Although responsible commentary on epidemiological and economic trends are necessary, as well as comparison between countries done in good faith, any conclusive assertions or failsafe premonitions of what the future will exactly hold should always be approached with caution. This goes for both the good and the bad. Simple conclusions that crystallize very definitive futures from an ever-changing body of data are prone to rapid obsolescence. “Seek simplicity and distrust it,” philosopher and mathematician Alfred North Whitehead once said.

In light of this, contrary to what has thus far been undue and untimely assumptions, Turkey’s approach to the pandemic seems not to have backfired as suggested earlier and elsewhere. The comparatively lower mortality rates, ICU bed prevalence and utilization, unique treatment approaches, dynamic lockdown measures and so on, render at this stage the contrarian view superior. What is now picking up speed is a back and forth on Istanbul’s fatalities, between what the state and government have discerned, and those who reason that the official figures could be far too inaccurate.

The nuanced nature of this particular debate is welcome, as exemplified in an erudite piece written for Institut Montaigne. Here the matter is placed in its full political context. It is a more measured approach that highlights what may drive differing ends of the political spectrum in an inter-related controversy. This is a refreshing change from the more quick-fire stenographic accounts the public has been treated to. The latter may drive the news, but also add to needless controversy, mutual distrust, and perhaps even polarization within society. As a situation is better understood, a more somber account emerges, where “Turkey’s fatality rate still remained among the lowest compared to similar European countries and the US,” as the authors of the above report still conclude.

This can be contrasted with earlier and more grandiose assertions, the emotive force of which drew from the preliminary and uncertain stages of the fight against the pandemic. An early prediction in March from Deutsche Welle was very worrisome when penned, but quickly became anachronistic as the situation developed. This added to the perception present in Turkey that a persistent bias is at play, all of which deserve further examination.

At the start of the outbreak, there was also the charge that not enough tests were being done in Turkey, while countries such as Germany were doing more. Surely enough, as time went on, the cumulative number of tests increased. Again, a sober discussion emerged, and the public became aware that testing must be taken alongside a sleuth of other measures such as contact-tracing, social distancing, and heightened hygiene.

Testing is but a delayed snapshot in time that may give a discrete and partial picture of the spread of the virus, which may then be taken forward into policymaking regarding a gradual easing of restrictions. On its own, “the number of people tested is meaningless,” as opined in the New York Times; “if you fail to deliver on contact tracing, then you are testing as a ceremony rather than as a way to contain and isolate the outbreak.” As it happens, contact tracing is the thing that Turkey has focused upon, with the nearly 6,000 mobile tracer units deployed across the country, as reported in both CNN [5] and Reuters.

Turkey has also sent pandemic-related aid to more than 60 countries thus far, with presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin recently pointing out that “Turkey is a foul-weather friend.” The cynics saw something quite different, though. Tending toward labels, Turkey is now engaging in (variously): “Erdogan’s coronavirus diplomacy,” “Turkey’s aid diplomacy,” or even “ventilator diplomacy.”

A number of questions come to mind: what exactly is the ulterior motive here? Is that ulterior motive in fact at all negative? Why in the grand scheme of international relations would such a development hold such deterministic weight? Are such developments actually normal and expected? Or would it rather be that aid is not sent, consensus is not built, and relationships are not improved? What feasible alternative would satisfy the critic, if at all? The trouble with utilitarianism, which finds a more nefarious-sounding tautology in "weaponization,” is that it can be found absolutely anywhere, in all walks of life, if only one chooses to see the world that way. What is then plastered over the headlines is a truncated view of how human beings work.

One wonders also if the development aid – unrelated to the present pandemic – that Turkey has historically provided is also to be brushed aside as mere bragging rights, perhaps by a pride itself that cannot see the good in it. Is this all a rightful takedown of exaggerated Turkish propaganda where all the blame is now shifted to making the helpless observer ‘overly critical’? Is the traffic all one way, or is it a two-way street?

It is for the greater public good to have a more nuanced, balanced, and understanding approach all-round, without which polarization will grow. It is incumbent upon all to counter-act it.

To emulate the utilitarianism, a window of opportunity has now taken the long-term economic detriments of the lockdown as its subject; a lockdown that many in fact demanded earlier and in a stricter form. Every state must juggle epidemiological, economic, and societal concerns, with the bottom line being the imperative to save as many lives as possible. It would be irresponsible not to consider the collateral damage that economic recession can generate in the future, as seen in the fallout from the 2008 global economic crisis. The problem is global, and requires a global approach for the betterment of all.


*This article was originally published in the Anadolu Agency's Opinion Section.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.