Friday, April 16, 2010

If 'Turkey belongs to Turks', the fist is a ‘hammer of justice’

“Let us ask, then: If shooting to kill the children of this country is regarded as ‘democratic rights,’ why should attacking a party leader be labeled ‘racism’? If the land mines are ‘democracy,’ why should a fist be ‘fascism’?”
“The person who ‘landed’ one on the nose of Ahmet Türk, using his fist as the ‘hammer of justice,’ has become a facilitator of sentiments of many people in this country because the nonsense called the ‘democratic initiative’ has turned the bandits not only on one side but also on the other side to be ‘heroes’.”
The excerpts above are not from a speech by an ultranationalist cheerleader. They were published in a column in a major newspaper here, Hürriyet, on Tuesday, as a comment on the attack against a former party leader, a highly respected Kurdish politician with a lengthy affiliation with the country’s Parliament.

One may not be surprised by the column’s content if one has already noticed the age-old motto occupying a space aside the Hürriyet logo: “Turkey belongs to the Turks.” As a confirmation of the staunch devotion to the principle mentioned, the former editor of the paper -- which claims to be “mainstream” -- praised yesterday the columnist (whom he had recruited), Yılmaz Özdil, for his “incredible intelligence and superior style and spirit.”

Meanwhile, lawyers from the Diyarbakır Bar Association had something else in mind. They filed a joint declaration comprising a complaint against Yılmaz Özdil on two points, namely “inciting hatred” (Article 216 of the Turkish Penal Code [TCK]) and “praising an act of crime” (Article 215).

In the jungle of hate speech which has crept into this society, this has become another ugly example, and since it displays a venomous commitment on this writer’s side (he was also responsible for a much loathed headline when he was the editor of Star, years ago, praising the murders of two English football fans in Taksim Square by Turkish hooligans), also a spectacular one.

Every colleague with a decent insight into the Turkish press knows that the so-called “code of ethics” of the Doğan Media Group (of which Hürriyet is the flagship), once upon a time announced with pomp and circumstance, is breached by that very paper almost on a daily basis, thus turning it into neat window dressing. It certainly comes across as very comical when the very group claims to be the bearer of the independent and free press. Obviously, the understanding of press freedom seems to be understood there as freedom to disseminate hatred.

Hate speech is one of the most problematic areas in Turkey, as this case once again reminded us. I spent last weekend with many colleagues in a conference titled “Hate Crimes and Hate Speech.” It was arranged by the Hrant Dink Foundation at İstanbul’s Bilgi University and marked the urgency of addressing these issues.

It is an area thinly monitored by civilian society, weakly covered by the law (Article 216 is insufficient, experts say) and mainly ignored by prosecutors. Given the persistence of examples, immediate action is needed. The Kurdish lawyers’ reaction heads in the right direction, but in İstanbul, where the leaders of the Jewish community file many such cases with prosecutors, complaints are turned down systematically on the grounds that “direct harm” has not occurred.

A ray of hope is to be noted with the Hrant Dink Foundation, which set up a Web site for monitoring and highlighting the cases -- (which contains a section in English as well).

The declaration of the Hrant Dink Foundation points out the strains on the social debate. Let me share the following excerpts:

“We frequently observe that the media in Turkey uses biased, prejudiced and discriminatory language. This trend becomes more visible around issues like minority rights, armed conflict and the EU membership process. The provocative, racist and discriminatory language used in the news, and in particular in headlines and spots, becomes a tool used in fueling the enmity and polarization in society, while also affirming the stereotypes.”

“Turkey has witnessed increasing polarization among different sectors of society over the last 10 years, intolerance to the ‘other’ and the ‘different’ … these include the huge increases in the use of hostile language and negative attitudes towards the people who belong or are deemed to belong to different groups.”

“For many years, the media in Turkey has been one of the major and effective sources of nationalist and discriminatory discourse, which has contributed to the widening polarization in society. By examining the hate crimes that have occurred during the last three to four years, the ‘contribution’ of the media in this role will become clearer.”

I am afraid that as long as the so-called “mainstream media” avoid a proper “house cleaning,” the individuals of this society will continue to live on the edge, living in fear of illegal acts normalized as “hammers of justice.”

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