Our Views: A setback for Turkey

If Americans understand anything about Turkey, it is that we instinctively sympathize for Turks standing up for themselves against an autocratic government.

Across the country, after the brutal crackdown on protesters in Istanbul, people are standing silently in solidarity in public places. It is a symbol of how Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has polarized the country with his confrontation against his rule.

“Under normal circumstances it should not be a crime to just stand here peacefully,” one protester told The Guardian. “But in (Erdogan’s) Turkey, everything is possible.”

“Thanks to this process,” the prime minister sneered, “we know our enemies and allies as they came out and showed their true colors.”

It is a statement worthy of Huey P. Long, whom Erdogan emulates: He built his power base among country folk faithful to Islam and hostile to the secularized city folk. And he’s used his power to jail critical journalists and army officers on trumped-up charges, and pushed to change the constitution to allow him to run for president — once a largely ceremonial office — to keep his hands on the levers of power.

The international community is taking notice. “It is important that the authorities recognize that the initial, extremely heavy-handed response to the protests, which resulted in many injuries, is still a major part of the problem,” said Navi Pillay, the United Nations commissioner for human rights.

Punish the oppressors? We doubt that Erdogan is interested.

Turkey’s future as a democracy is bright. Its future under strong-man rule is much cloudier.