Michel Foucault described the discipline mechanism exercised from the state on its citizens as “biopolitical” form of power exertion. The uprising of Taksim Square was for many Turkish people the public manifestation against the Erdogan administration’s effort to create submissive citizens - both politically and biologically – and thus more easily controlled and manipulated.
When the uprising in Taksim Square broke out, there was an attempt to explain it through the obsolete binary oppositions which have been defining the Turkish public life for many decades. One of them was the debate between the secular and the Islamic character of the state and society in general. Such an explanation partly corresponded to reality, to the extent that the demonstrations taken place in our neighboring country did not only concern environmental issues but also to the extent that some protesters considered their participation in those protests as an opportunity to express their opposition to the government’s pro-Islamic character.
Soon, it became clear to us who took part in the uprising both as demonstrators and researchers that this dipole concerned only a small group of demonstrators and even for them this was only one of the many reasons that reinforced their participation in the protests. The demonstrators’ main concern was undoubtedly the broadening of democracy against what they themselves were and still keep defining as authoritarianism. For most of the groups and individuals who participated in Taksim both the uprooting of the trees in the Gezi park as well as the new legislation regarding alcohol consumption and public display of affection, were seen as a metaphor symbolizing an attempt to control on the one hand, the public space in its material dimension, and the human body within this space on the other.
As I have formerly written, one of my students had said that “women in this country are getting sick of being afraid that one government will take their scarf and the other will put it on”
Michel Foucault had described this form of power exertion as biopolitical describing the discipline mechanisms both on political and biological level that control citizens in almost all their activities. Thus, according to Foucault authority centers create submissive beings (politically and biologically) which are more easily controlled and manipulated; In this effort medical science has played a major role legitimating these efforts in several cases.
For instance, smoking tightening has been analyzed as a case of biopolitical control which is legitimated through scientific “truth”. In any case, this means that citizens feel like losing control of their own life even if this policy is allegedly exercised “for their own good” just as in the case of smoking. As the prime-minister of Turkey claimed in an interview during the days of the protests, alcohol regulation was decided having in mind “the citizens’ own good”. However, as protestor friend of mine told me when I asked her about the reasons that made her participate in the demonstrations: “Becasue we want our lives back”. This phrase illustrates that the citizens did not share the prime-minister’s opinion. On the contrary, they demanded less control over both their political and biological existence.
An ethnographic caption from the square may help one understand better the above argument: The group of “Anti- capitalist Muslims” that was actively participating as a separate entity in the demonstrations, obviously did not protest against Islam and in favor of the secular character of the state. Anyone who knows the country’s latest history and the restrictions that until recently were applied (and in some cases they still do) to headscarved women, is well aware that all the previous governments until that of AKP were very rigid regarding those women’s right to headscarf. For example, it is as late as 2009 that headscarved women were allowed to go as such to the University. So, this group of Muslims was not protesting in favour of secularism but for the right of free determination of their bodies over every form of power either secular or pro- Islamic forcing them to dress in a certain way. As I have formerly written, one of my students said that “women in this country are getting sick of being afraid that one government will take their scarf and the other will put it on”. In other words, the movement developed those days in Taksim Square, originates from the country’s secular past that was not more liberal than the present. The attempt of today’s government to tighten alcohol use and public display of affection is seen by them, as a continuation of biopolitical policy that comes from the past.
It is as old as capitalism itself as Antonio Negri reminds us: biopolitical power is not irrelevant to the capitalist system’s economic model and this is the viewpoint under which it should be analyzed. Following this train of thought, the Gezi uprising stems partly from the biopolitical authority of Turkish capitalism either in its secular or in its Islamic version.