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Free Speech Threatened in Turkey

Daniel Patrick Moynihan once quipped that “if the newspapers of a country are filled with good news, the jails of that country will be filled with good people.” When a government begins prosecuting and imprisoning members of the press on dubious charges, in other words, it is time to worry. Which is why this New York Times report from Turkey–where more members of the media are now in jail than in China–is so disquieting:

A year ago, the journalist Nedim Sener was investigating a murky terrorist network that prosecutors maintain was plotting to overthrow Turkey’s Muslim-inspired government. Today, Mr. Sener stands accused of being part of that plot, jailed in what human rights groups call a political purge of the governing party’s critics…

The other defendants include the editors of a staunchly secular Web site critical of the government and Ahmet Sik, a journalist who has written that an Islamic movement associated with Fethullah Gulen, a reclusive cleric living in Pennsylvania, has infiltrated Turkey’s security forces.

…Turkish human rights advocates say the crackdown is part of an ominous trend. Most worrying, they say, are fresh signs that the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is repressing freedom of the press through a mixture of intimidation, arrests and financial machinations.

This disturbing erosion of freedoms has in fact been happening for some time, though without nearly the press coverage the story deserves. For many westerners and Muslims alike, Turkey has been a much hoped for model of reconciliation between Islam and democracy, but if trends like these continue alongside other alleged human rights violations, that will no longer be the case.

For the sake of genuinely democratic governance in Islamic societies, the world needs to watch carefully and speak the truth about what is taking place in Turkey. Longtime Turkish supporters of the AK Party like Mustafa Akyol are increasingly worried about the degree to which the Turkish Islamists are following in the footsteps of their Kemalist predecessors.  News of the arrest of the former top general Ilker Basbug on charges of plotting a coup will be received with more skepticism as more and more people worry that the AK Party is abusing the judicial process to entrench its power.

Turkey matters and what happens there helps shape wider regional realities. Between growing economic worries and signs that the ruling party can’t keep its own baser instincts in check, those who have welcomed Turkey’s rise now find themselves worrying about its ability to fulfill those high hopes.

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  • Kris

    Wow, Mead is even writing my own comments: “This disturbing erosion of freedoms has in fact been happening for some time.” Though my version was: “So what’s new?”

    Mustafa Akyol and others have spent several years convincing us that although the AKP was moderately Islamist, it was much better on individual rights and less chauvinistic than the Kemalist alternative. So now Akyol is worried?

  • Mick The Reactionary


    I corrected your typos and omissions:

    For many deluded willfully blind westerners and Muslims-In-Name-Only, Turkey has been a much hoped for model of reconciliation between Islam and democracy, but if trends like these continue alongside other alleged human rights violations, that will no longer be the case.

  • gmt18353

    Bringing these concerning issues back to our shores, it is high time for the American public to realize that the above-mentioned Gulen movement is present and extremely active in the U.S., where their primary activity is the clandestine control of 131 publicly-funded charter schools in 26 states. The school operators simply portray themselves as Turkish scientists, academics, and businessmen who want to help American kids, but the truth of the matter is that they belong to a secretive religious group with a long-term geopolitical agenda. Today the Gulen movement’s taxpayer-supported schools enroll approx. 35,000 American students. The parents of these children have no idea that their schools are the U.S. component of a religious group’s global project.

    This extremely powerful Turkish religious subgroup was the subject of the book for which Ahmet Sik was arrested and has been languishing in jail. The rise of political Islam in Turkey and the increased number of arrests are absolutely tied to the Gulen movement’s ascendance.

    For nearly two decades, members of Fethullah Gulen’s cemaat have been fanning out across the globe. They serve as his missionaries by starting schools, business networks, media, and Turkish cultural and so-called interfaith dialogue organizations. They started their first U.S. schools in 1999 in Ohio, two Horizon Science Academy charter schools in Cleveland and in Columbus. Gulenists also operate a huge chain of charter schools in Texas. In June 2011, the NY Times published a lengthy story about their corrupt business practices, triggering additional investigations.

    This piece explains a bit more:

    “Hakan Yavuz, a Turkish professor at the University of Utah, who has co-edited a book on the Gulen phenomenon, describes the movement as the most powerful force in Turkey and says its main goal has been the ‘Islamisation’ of Turkish society…Yavuz argues that there is a wider agenda as manifested by its increasingly global reach…’The movement, which is rooted in selective vision of the glorious Ottoman past, has its own imperial vision of turning Turkey into a global power,’ he says.”

    I’m sorry to be so lengthy, but Americans deserve to know what’s going on. Dr. Mead, I hope you will consider helping to spread the word about this.

  • Cunctator

    Nothing about what Mead writes here about Turkey should come as a surprise to those who have been following the AKP, unless they have purposefully avoided the facts. Erdogan is no Islam-inspired liberal democrat, he is an Islamist who has mastered the use of democratic instruments (like elections). The method might be different, but his goal and that of his mentor Necmettin Erbakan, are exactly the same.

    What I cannot figure out is why the military brass have been taken so much by surprise Basbug’s arrest this weekend is a complete shocker — he knows the enemy as well as anyone in Turkey.

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