Press freedom in Turkey is once again making headlines. Newspapers in and outside Turkey, which have argued for a long while that there is a growing risk of civil war, are now back to focusing on liberties and freedoms in the country.
It is hard to say that the situation in the country is as good as it should be. There is quite a lot of exaggeration and manipulation in news reports and op-eds in the mainstream media concerning what is happening in Turkey and complicated issues are frequently taken out of context, but Turkey has been facing huge difficulties for the last three years. Sharing an 822-kilometer border with worn-torn Syria or being neighbor to the never-ending violence of Iraq, it should be no surprise that Turkey has been going through hard times. Hosting almost 3 million refugees who have fled war requires more security measures than a country normally needs. Providing shelter for this number of people and carrying out security checks without violating human rights takes great effort. In the meantime, Turkey is fighting terrorist groups. Not only DAESH, but also the PKK, which ended the ceasefire last summer, threaten Turkey's unity, security and stability. The PKK kills security officers almost every day, and new reports of terror attack plans, especially in the southeast, come out. But Turkey has also been harshly attacked by other states, including its allies, for a couple of years as it tries to protect itself from growing threats and secure its own interests in the Middle East. As a sovereign country, it has every right to do so, and other sovereign countries can make comments, but criticism of Turkey has gone beyond limits. They are almost verbal threats. Two years ago, Turkey came through another big danger of the "parallel structure." A group led by U.S.-based, self-exiled imam Fethullah Gülen infiltrated the state, possessed power and tried to overthrow the democratically elected government.
But it is really intriguing that those who claim that Turkey has been on the verge of a civil war or in trouble regarding terrorism and violence ask for more freedom, while they accuse President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of almost everything -- even the Syrian civil war. I am not saying that we do not need freedom, but did the West not teach us national security is much more important than freedom and transparency after 9/11? Have the Westerners not argued that the balance between freedom and security may shift in desperate times and there can be more restrictions on some people.
Since 9/11, the U.S. government has turned itself into a big security apparatus, while Europe has followed in its footsteps. I still remember the days when the White House warned all Americans to watch what they watch, watch what they do. Who can forget that then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said TV executives should not air al-Qaeda videos because they could contain hidden messages. Even U.S. President Barack Obama, who came into office promising more openness, has fallen short of his pledges. Government officials suspected of talking to the press about issues the government has classified are still subject to investigations. When it comes to national security matters, and almost every issue is a national security matter in the U.S., journalists have been compelled to reveal their sources. If they refuse, they have faced subpoenas, which could end with imprisonment. And let's not forget that the US military detained journalists without charge or due process for extended periods during the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention killing at least 16 by the US' fire or bombing Al Jazeera offices in Baghdad or Kabul by US air raids. Sudanese Al-Jazeera correspondent Sami al-Hajj was held in the U.S. Guantanamo Bay detainment camp for over six years before he was released with no charge.
Officials and politicians have defended extreme acts and methods saying that desperate times call for desperate measures. But they have not been temporary and have survived. I believe that no sane journalist would try to reveal state secrets or target Washington with hostile reports after Julian Assange's WikiLeaks or Edward Snowden's revelations. Both are accused of playing with the fire of anarchy, treason, crimes, vandalism and bad citizenship. Even journalists in the mainstream media who take press freedoms seriously chided them for destroying politics and crossing a line that is bad for democracy.
What we are passing through is similar to the post-9/11 era in the West, and Turkey is making a huge effort not to violate civil rights or the rule of law, while fighting terrorism and protecting itself against great risks that threaten the unity and stability of the country. If the West ends the witch hunt against Turkey and Erdoğan then we can start talking about the responsibly of the balance between security and freedom, as it is something we desperately need worldwide.