What We’re Reading

Happy (belated) 4th of July! While you work off that post-celebration hangover, here’s some more of what we’re reading to pass the time:


What We’re Reading

Taksim: The Public’s Square

Amnesty International.

(Editor’s note: The following is a guest contribution by Jonathan Endelman, PhD student in Sociology at Yale University)

Ostensibly, the protests in Turkey began after the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan planned to place a shopping center and luxury housing complex in the Taksim Square’s Gezi Park in Istanbul, an historical gathering point for protest movements of the Turkish left. However, the current controversy over the proposed shopping center in Taksim square in Istanbul is a much larger matter than a construction project. As many analysts have recently pointed out, it was never really about the trees. What we are seeing today is nothing less than a power struggle between two opposing sides with radically different visions for the country’s future.

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What We’re Reading

  • Joshua Foust delves into the Bradley Manning court-martial and reveals some fascinating insight into the proceedings, Wikileaks, and the man on trial. Foust’s final, depressing conclusion: “It says something about the world that such a tiny organization can create such disruption yet face so few consequences. In its wake, Wikileaks has left a trail of upended lives — including Bradley Manning’s. It will be sad to see such a troubled, fascinating young man be thrown into prison at the age of twenty-five, but that is the bed he made. It is approaching time for him to lie in it.”
  • Seyla Benhabib on Erdogan’s culture war against Turkish secularism and the growing illiberalism of Turkish democracy: “This moral micromanagement of people’s private lives comes amid an increasingly strident government assault on political and civil liberties. Turkey’s record on journalistic and artistic freedoms is abysmal; rights of assembly and protest are also increasingly restricted.”
  • Pakistan analyst Imtiaz Gul speaks of the difficulties ahead for Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, including normalizing relations with the U.S.
  • Women, family and academia: not an easy combination. “Our most important finding has been that family negatively affects women’s, but not men’s, early academic careers. Furthermore, academic women who advance through the faculty ranks have historically paid a considerable price for doing so, in the form of much lower rates of family formation, fertility, and higher rates of family dissolution. For men, however, the pattern has been either neutral or even net-positive.”
  • The season of inspiring commencement speeches is upon us. Ben Bernanke at Princeton.

Will the Gezi Protests Change Politics in Turkey?

Nearly a week ago, on 28th May, the first people gathered at Gezi Park, Istanbul, to protest the demolition of the park to accommodate a shopping mall and a replica of an Ottoman-era barracks. However, by Friday, the protest had already reached massive proportions – police used tear gas and water gas to disperse protestors, a number of people were taken in police custody and 3G was blocked in the area around the Taksim Square. By Saturday, access to Twitter and local internet was temporarily cut off, and protests had spread to other major cities such as Izmir and Ankara.

Gezi Protests

While an Istanbul Administrative court stayed the construction of the Ottoman-era Topçu Barracks on Friday, a number of other reasons probably exacerbated the protests – among them, the issue of naming of a third bridge over the Bosphorus after Yavuz Sultan Selim, an Ottoman ruler known for his massacre of the Anatolia Alevis, the controversial recent bill on the sale, consumption and advertising of alcohol, and most importantly, the excessive use of police force during the protests.

Despite the strong crackdown beginning Friday afternoon, protestors kept increasing in numbers, and by Saturday, a large chunk of protestors were chanting for Erdoğan to resign. What do these protests mean for Erdoğan’s support base?

Şule Kulu at Today’s Zaman, one of Turkey’s largest newspapers, argues that “Erdoğan has shot himself in the foot” due to the violent nature of the crackdown. She further argues that many of Erdoğan’s supporters united with those in the opposition due to their common ground in opposing the Taksim project and police brutality. However, Mustafa Aykol, a renowned Turkish journalist and author of Islam Without Extremes, is of the view that, “Erdoğan’s support base is still intact,” and not everybody agrees with the protestors. However, he argues that Erdoğan needs to acknowledge that, “the ballot box is not the only thing that counts in a truly participatory democracy,” which seems to be sorely lacking in Turkey.

Most importantly perhaps may be the lack of a credible opposition. Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been in power for the last 12 years, and  Erdoğan is the only prime minister in Turkish history to win three consecutive general elections and receive more votes each time. In the 2011 elections, the AKP secured almost double the number of votes than the opposition party,  the center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP), Turkey’s oldest political party established by Atatürk in 1923.

Further, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s CHP has not shown much initiative on two main issues facing Turkey: the peace process with the PKK and the civil war in Syria. With regard to the former, the party has refused to take any responsibility for the solution to the Kurdish question, when in fact, a recent poll shows that two-thirds of CHP voters back the Kurdish peace process. Earlier last month, when 30 deputies from the CHP’s reformist wing released a declaration supporting the peace process with the PKK, others from the party’s nationalist wing condemned this stance, a move which many might see as evidence of rift between the party and an inability to take a stance of pressing issues. The party’s Syrian policy has also been criticized because the CHP has yet to condemn Assad’s policy of targeting his own citizens. However, Kılıçdaroğlu’s decision on Saturday to cancel his party’s rally in Istanbul in order to keep the protest apolitical and not hijack the movement for political gains was appreciated by many.

It is still too early to speculate on the next general elections. But in the face of a democratic government acting in an undemocratic manner, and the dividends from AKP’s economic success (which propelled them to power in the first place) being distributed unequally across society, one thing is clear: even if a weakening of Erdoğan’s support base does take place, any significant electoral shifts are unlikely to occur in the 2014 elections in the absence of a credible and effective opposition.

For more on the Turkish protests, follow Suparna on Twitter.

What We’re Reading

In this new (regular) feature, we will be providing a round-up of what we at The Smoke-Filled Room have been reading that seems interesting and especially germane to the problems of contemporary political science. We’ve noticed that other blogs regularly include links to interesting content they’ve found on the web, and we’ve decided to shamelessly follow that example. Like good academics avoiding our own work, we have eclectic reading habits, as you will no doubt come to see. So, what we’re reading this week:

  • Albert Hirschman lived a more interesting life than most social scientists. “In dealing with events during the difficult period between 1935 and 1938, Hirschman… decided to fight in the Spanish civil war against Franco with the very first Italian and German volunteers, some of whom were killed on the battlefield. For the rest of his life, Hirschman remained entirely silent about this experience, even with his wife, though ‘the scars on his neck and leg made it impossible for her to forget.’ Returning from the war, he worked closely with the anti-Fascist Italian underground, carrying secret letters and documents back and forth from Paris.”
  • Patrick Cockburn provides an excellent account of the war in Syria, which “no one” is winning, in the London Review of Books.
  • Jeffrey Lewis decides to pivot from a technical topic, the overhyped threat of electromagnetic pulses, to questions of threat inflation and isolationism. “One of the criticisms of the Bush administration’s preemptive doctrine was its ‘unilateralism.’ Well, unilateralism is just isolationism on steroids.”
  • Jane Mayer, Human Rights Watch’s John Sifton and Ross Douthat offer their thoughts on President Obama’s National Defense University speech.
  • Check out the funky cover art on this old CIA study of the 1962 China-India War.
  • Boiling over: Sweden finally has to deal with two decades’ worth of inadequate immigrant integration policies. Colin Freeman with a nice take in The Telegraph.
  • Shikha Dalmia blames the harassment faced by women in India (“eve teasing”) on “free-floating male libido with no socially acceptable outlet.”
  • On the naming of American bases: “Fort Lee, in Virginia, is of course named for Robert E. Lee, a man widely respected for his integrity and his military skills…[yet] he was responsible for the deaths of more Army soldiers than Hitler and Tojo.”
  • Turkey’s Parliament is debating a bill to restrict the selling of alcohol. Domestic critics have suggested that the bill’s supporters are pushing an Islamist agenda. However, as Marya Hannun points out, this is not dissimilar to alcohol sale restrictions in Texas. As some of the supporters of the bill point out, it is also not dissimilar to alcohol sale restrictions in Sweden. Coincidentally, Swedish restrictions, which have progressively loosened over time, are directly related to the strong influence of religious temperance movements upon the Swedish Social Democratic Party, which  dominated Swedish politics for most of the 20th century. So perhaps the Sweden comparison is not one Turkish pro-restriction politicians should make.

Not Your Father’s Suicide Terrorism…

… if your father’s name is Robert Pape.

Friday, February 1, witnessed two notable suicide terrorist attacks in quick succession. Both were bad news for Robert Pape’s theory of suicide terrorism, which argues that suicide terrorism is almost always the result of foreign occupation, whether real or imagined. Pape finds that suicide terrorism is employed by ethno-national or religious groups that perceive themselves as being occupied by an outside group, particularly if other types of violence have failed and if the occupying force is a democratic state (see herehere, and here). This answer fits in nicely—perhaps too nicely—with realist skepticism of George W. Bush’s interventionism. Why shouldn’t you invade places? Reason #207: People will blow themselves up. As Pape and James Feldman argue in a 2008 book, “To stop and reverse the recent explosion of suicide terrorism, it is important to reduce the reliance on foreign occupation as a principal strategy for ensuring national interests.”

But why was Friday bad for this theory? While it is still too early to know why the suicide bomber detonated himself at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, the Marxist group that claimed responsibility apparently condemned Turkish support of anti-Assad forces in Syria. That sentence reads like a bad geopolitical “Mad Libs,” but it doesn’t sound like Pape’s theory. Also occurring on Friday (and in my opinion, more problematic for Pape) was yet another suicide bombing in Pakistan where Sunni extremists attacked Shi’as. This has happened repeatedly over the last few years, and whatever the poor Shi’a in Pakistan are, they are not foreign occupiers. (The same case could be made for the Barelvis and Sufis who are periodically targeted by members of the more orthodox Deobandi Sunni movement).

Pakistan was already a problematic case for Pape given its non-occupied nature and its sky-rocketing rate of suicide terrorism from 2001 to 2010. (The chart below is drawn from Pape’s Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism.) Pape’s counterargument has been that because Pakistanis feel that their government is merely a puppet of the United States, the suicide bombing campaign can be interpreted as one against the “indirect occupation” of the United States. While this line of reasoning may certainly explain attacks against the Pakistani state, police, or military, it cannot explain the soaring anti-Shi’a violence. It is basically impossible to construct a narrative where Sunni extremists perceive themselves as occupied by the Shi’a minority.


I think Pape has made the mistake of treating suicide terrorism as a static phenomenon when, in fact, it is evolving. Suicide terrorism has grown much, much more common over the last twenty years, while the level of foreign occupation has remained fairly constant. While not a perfect indicator, one that I have on hand is the percentage of terrorist groups that engage in suicide attacks over time. I have modified data from Michael Horowitz to construct this suicide terrorist “market share” variable, which is just the number of groups employing suicide tactics divided by the total number of terrorist groups in Horowitz’s data.


If suicide terrorism is becoming more ubiquitous, there is no reason to expect that old predictors will remain valid. Imagine if you had a perfect model of who purchased computers in the 1960s and used it to predict consumers today. You would go out of business. The cauldron of the 1981-1983 Lebanon civil war produced modern suicide terrorism. There is no reason to assume that a phenomenon that is only thirty years old will remain the same, nor its causes stay constant over time. Friday’s gruesome attacks are a reminder of that.