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

In the absence of good and fair coverage, social media thrived. Research by New York University revealed that in just eight hours, 2 million tweets were shared about Gezi Park. The number of Internet users in Turkey exceeds 35 million, and Facebook and Twitter are incredibly popular. Nevertheless, social media is open to misinformation, rumors, hate speech and conspiracy theories.

In a society where few people trust either the politicians or the media, this can be dangerous. Yet Twitter has proven itself to be the main platform in sharing ideas, images and uncensored information.

“Thank Allah for twitter” was one of the messages. The same tweeter was described as a “menace” by Erdogan on a live TV interview on Sunday.

A month ago, the mood was utterly different. With the much-awaited Turkish-Kurdish peace under way, there was optimism everywhere. Erdogan was seen as a determined leader who had finally brought to an end a conflict that had killed more than 40,000 people over the past 30 years. There was a lot of talk about Turkey, with its overwhelmingly Muslim population and secular democracy, being a role model for the rest of the Muslim world. That optimism deteriorated dramatically.

However, it can be revived once again if the government learns from its mistakes.

Calling the recent events a “Turkish spring” or a “Turkish summer,” as some commentators were quick to do, is not the right approach. It is true that Turkey has lots of things in common with many countries in the Middle East, but it is also very different.

With its long tradition of modernity, pluralism, secularism and democracy — however flawed and immature it might be — Turkey has the inner mechanisms to balance its own excesses of power. However, if this cannot be achieved, there is concern that the demonstrations could be hijacked by extremist groups and turn violent.

The same concern has been voiced by Turkish President Abdullah Gul, who gave a constructive statement saying the people had given the politicians a clear message, and the politicians should take these well-intentioned messages into account.

Now, after days of upheaval, it is raining gently on the burning tires and graffiti, and the voice of the young father who wrote the open letter to the prime minister represents the feelings of many people on the streets and in their houses: “You called us ‘unlawful,’ my dear prime minister. If you only got to know us, you would see that we are anything but.”

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