Fri, Jun 07, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Once a model for the Muslim world, Turkey is now in turmoil

A peaceful sit-in to protect one of Istanbul’s last public parks has become a barometer of the discontent with an increasingly authoritarian government

By Elif Shafak  /  The Guardian

Third, even though Erdogan’s government has been effective in terms of restricting the role of the army to purely military matters, and in this sense contributing to the progress of democracy, it has been insufficient in protecting freedom of speech and press. Writers and artists are still brought to trial because of their comments and are being accused of insulting the nation or religious values. The media has been losing its diversity and numerous critical voices have been pushed to the margins, while self-censorship is not unusual.

Another source of contention has been the name of a new bridge to be built in Istanbul. The government has chosen to name the third Bosphorus bridge after Yavuz Sultan Selim, the Ottoman sultan, nicknamed Selim the Grim, famous for his massacres of the Alevi minority as part of his war against Shiite Iran in the early 16th century. This choice has deepened the dissatisfaction of the Alevi minority, who already suspect they are being systematically discriminated against. It has also created disappointment among democrats and liberals, who would rather have a neutral name for the new bridge.

Mario Levi, the Jewish-Turkish novelist, tweeted: “Why not Rumi Bridge or Yunus Emre Bridge?”

Both Yunus Emre and Rumi are well-respected historical figures and mystics famous for their humanitarian and peaceful outlook. Other people made different suggestions. Yet the name of the bridge, like other things, was chosen without much debate, widening the gap between the rulers and the ruled.

Erdogan is a successful politician, but compromise is not what he does best. The AKP has been better at winning the hearts of the Turkish people than any other party in Turkey’s political history. However, there have been shifts in the party’s discourse that have left many liberal intellectuals, who initially supported the progressive steps taken by the government, feeling deceived and abandoned.

After the general election in June 2011, Erdogan gave a beautiful speech, saying he would be the prime minister of those who had voted for and against him, equally. That speech is embedded in the collective memory as “the balcony speech.”

Today, from their own balconies, people are banging pots and pans to protest against him. Among them are those who had applauded the balcony speech for being so embracing.

The prevailing mood among Turkey’s discontents is that Erdogan now cares for primarily, if not solely, those who voted for him.

The rest of society — 50 percent of the population — feel alienated, distanced and, at times, belittled. Turkey’s politics remains polarized, contentious and stubbornly male-dominated. The sad fact that women are under-represented in both local and national politics does not help. Furthermore, even though nobody talks about this, people are emotional beings. Politics is too often shaped by emotions and reactions, rather than rational choices.

Save for a few newspapers, the mainstream media has been astonishingly reluctant to cover the protests. NTV, one of the most respected TV channels, was booed after failing to cover the events. Interestingly, NTV aired live broadcasts of the protests against itself.

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