At the start of 2016, no one could have predicted the impact or the scale of the events that would occur during the year. In reality, it has been a catalogue of a most surprising range of outcomes.
David Bowie, Prince, George Michael and Leonard Cohen, all giants of the popular music scene, forever gone.
Victoria Wood, Ronnie Corbett, Terry Wogan and Paul Daniels, all immense BBC light entertainment stars, forever gone.
Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder and Robert Vaughn, grandees of stage and screen, forever gone.
Mohammed Ali, one of the most iconic figures of the twentieth century, a hero for so many across the world, forever in our hearts, now gone.
All are profoundly missed. May they all Rest in Peace.
The racist murder of Jo Cox was even more poignant for it highlighted the ugly truth of far-right populism festering in many different spheres of society, from everyday popular culture, all the way to the top of the political spectrum. The Brexit vote was a complete shock, although its full impact has yet to be realised. The pound has plummeted and there is no sense whatsoever of what this Brexit deal will look like. Yet, hate crimes have hit the roof. Intolerance, bigotry and racism are increasingly normalised with little to resist or to respond to this onslaught. It is not as if the Brexit vote created racism. Rather, it was bubbling underneath the surface for quite some time. It then erupted violently when given the opportunity by politicians, commentators and media players leading this populism. The Trump victory was less of a shock, but still a surprise. The United States will soon be in the hands of a tycoon with zero political experience and a great deal of bigoted, reactionary and ill-judged thinking. When sworn in as the President of the United States, in the latter part of January 2017, the full-scale of what the world will have to endure will begin to become apparent. It will not bode well for elections in France, the Netherlands and Germany, which could see the arrival of Le Pen as President of France and the removal of Merkel as Chancellor of Germany.
The miracle that nearly crashed…
Turkey is another country that has witnessed unprecedented drama. Istanbul, the city where I lived and worked for nearly six years, was subject to one terrorist incident after another. In July, there was a failed coup, which led to over 350 deaths and thousands injured – the bloodiest coup or failed coup in Turkish history. With no clear understanding of who was behind the coup and the motivations that led them to undertake it, the Gulen movement has suffered the consequences of an enraged and emboldened president. Since June 2015, Turkey has experienced over 30 terrorist attacks or suicide bombings across the country. The trigger for this could well have been the election outcome in June of that year, which did not lead to an overwhelming majority for the AKP. There was a sense that a coalition was achievable, but it was prevented from occurring. Another election held in November 2015 witnessed the AKP returning to power with an even greater majority than in 2011. Over this period, Islamic State, the PKK and the TAK have attacked tourist sites and the infrastructures of the state, all with a venom and cruelty unknown in recent history. Meanwhile, Islamic State is still in Mosul and Raqqa, although its days are numbered. The attacks it inspires among vulnerable people in Europe and elsewhere is reflective of the fact that it is hitting out as it is on its way out.
I left Istanbul in the first week of July, approximately 10 days before the failed coup that brought the country close to the edge. Had I stayed I would have invariably faced loss of employment, or possibly even imprisonment due to my research on sensitive matters in Turkey, such as the PKK or the Gezi Park issues. I moved to Surrey and took up employment at the world’s oldest think tank, RUSI, working on research in relation to counterterrorism and countering violent extremism. The year 2017 will be very important, as I will be working on two book projects as well as research applications to various bodies all over the world, with the hope of securing a major grant or two. My book on Turkey will be coming out at the end of December, although it is available to order right now. I am looking forward to reactions and responses.
Who you are not…
For me, the biggest issue of 2016 is by far the dramatic change in relation to how we think about differences in society and how we relate to others who are not like us. It seems that in an era of insecurity, still recovering from a global financial crisis, widening inequalities and the lack of a political voice among the silent majority have created deep fissures. It reflects on a growing ethnic and cultural nationalism, which is exclusionary, and often reactionary. These are the worrying trends facing citizens of Europe and North America in the light of recent political developments, but also because of the wider issues of uncertainty, denial in relation to climate change, and globalisation and all its consequences. The year 2017, will reflect much of the problems of 2016, and as Trump takes office, and as the true impact of his premiership unfolds, it will invariably lead to more anxiety, fear and lashing out at the poor, infirm, immigrant and minority for being the undeserving ‘other’ seemingly responsible for the malaise that afflicts all. How inverted matters have become, and all in such a short period of time.