For what purpose freedom?

Published 31.10.2015 00:00
It is always worrying when a government interferes with the press. However, this happens the world over; indeed on Thursday the British government seized the laptop of a journalist, referring to anti-terrorism laws.
It is always worrying when a government interferes with the press. However, this happens the world over; indeed on Thursday the British government seized the laptop of a journalist, referring to anti-terrorism laws.

As elections approach once again, things get confusing in Turkey. But are things really as they seem? Why are we not hearing the other side of the story?

As I have mentioned before I have lived in Turkey for 23 years. You'd think I would understand the social dynamics of the country by now. But with every election I realize that I understand less and less. It is not a question of language or culture; I have figured those out. I think it is more to do with social reactions to situations which have been created by Turkey's unique history.

When I came to Turkey in the early '90s I was living in Ümraniye, which at that time was a place most people wouldn't have chosen to live. Dirt roads, scant and filthy running water.

Soon after we arrived there was a news item that I had trouble comprehending, even after it had been explained to me. A garbage dump in a part of Ümraniye – Hekimbasi – had blown up, killing 23. Many more were injured and 12 people were unaccounted for. They remain unaccounted for to this day.

I understood the science – a buildup of methane gas – but I could not comprehend why a dump was so close to houses, and why, even though experts had warned the government numerous times that there was a buildup of gas, the dump was allowed to ferment until it was as dangerous as a bomb. Was there no concern for human life? Where was the compassion, where was the responsibility?

These concepts simply did not exist. But then a new person stood for election as mayor. He led his team in cleaning up the streets. They did it themselves; this was all new in Turkey. And this new broom swept into victory and transformed the brown, dried up, polluted city of Istanbul.

This person was Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's former prime minister and current president. His team was the nucleus of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party).

Now we read in the English-language press that Erdoğan has changed, that he has lost the plot, that he is a cruel dictator who wants to crush all freedoms.

And herein lies the confusion.

This election is not about the president. Yes, Erdoğan wants the AK Party to be in government, but if the result of Sunday's free and fair election – no one is questioning that it will be as free and fair as its predecessors – then he will accept the people's mandate.

Secondly, recent events have caused worries – not only abroad and not only in anti-government circles. It is always worrying when a government interferes with the press. This happens the world over; indeed on Thursday the British government seized the laptop of a journalist, referring to anti-terrorism laws.

However, what happened with İpek Koza is not as black and white as being depicted in the majority of the English-language media. For whatever reason, the English-language media is only showing one side the story.

Honestly, I can't really blame them. This is the side that has all the best tunes:

Press freedoms under oppression!

Media outlets being closed down!

Dictator fighting free media!

Free media is something that no one should take lightly. But before getting caught up in this siren's song of the abuse of our freedoms and principles, perhaps we should really look at both sides of the question.

İpek Koza is a conglomerate consisting of 21 companies. That is 21 individual companies were not closed. Two newspapers and two television channels are among these. Yes, these media outlets have been anti-government, but 60 percent of Turkish media is anti-government. Yes, this could be the thin end of the wedge, but looking at Turkey's history, this doesn't seem likely or even practical. The media have always been a polarizing force, with no media outlet being neutral. This is how it works and has always worked.

Let us turn back to İpek Koza

The charges made against the company and the reason trustees were appointed are very grave.

The conglomerate has been accused of tax evasion, and fraudulent practices are suspected. The directors of the company have also been accused of price manipulation, secreting of assets and insider training. All of these would be cause of similar actions in any healthy democracy.

İpek Koza is a company that is openly affiliated with the Gülen Movement. The Gülen Movement is a proven fifth columnist movement that has infiltrated the police, military and judiciary. They were responsible for more than 7,000 wire taps in 2013. The people who were tapped include many of the journalists who are rallying to the defense of the Gülen Movement. The mind boggles. A conglomerate is given to trustees due to suspected corruption and an attempt to undermine the government, nay even overthrow it, but they are now victims. And their victims are rallying to their defense?

If one looks at the New Turkey document, published by the AK Party before the last elections, there are some interesting clauses. However, first it should be remembered that the 2023 vision set out here was something instigated and drawn up by Erdoğan.

Paragraph 29 reads: "The restriction of liberty in the name of security leads to dictatorial regimes, which eventually eliminate human dignity. In turn, ignoring security for the sake of liberty creates chaos and internal strife. As such, we believe that a healthy balance and harmony between security and liberty lies at the heart of democratic political legitimacy."

Paragraph 55 reads: "As a result of post-coup interventions, which placed restraints on elected governments, Turkey's parliamentary system has drifted away from its essential operational principles. As seen in the series of events that lead to the 2001 economic crisis, certain constitutional contradictions arose between the Office of the Prime Minister, which, albeit exercising limited power, holds all legal and political responsibility for its actions, and the presidency, which is equipped with vast powers bearing no responsibility for its deeds."

Paragraph 56 reads: "The administrative system and the executive branch, which suffer from a lack of clarity about their official mandate, require reorganization."

The clarification of the constitutional balance between the authority and responsibility of the executive branch is absolutely essential in order to institute efficient government and accountability.

Paragraph 5 reads: "In the aftermath of the 2007 constitutional reforms and the direct election of the president by the people in 2014, we find it necessary to restructure the administrative system in accordance with a presidential system so that we can address questions about balance of powers and dispel confusion about accountability and checks and balances."

Paragraph 58 reads: "We imagine the presidential system to be a model of government in which the legislative and executive branches remain independently active, with the necessary checks and balances in place, and in which diverse social groups enjoy political representation within a liberal constitutional framework."

So what is clear here is that AK Party, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Erdoğan want to introduce a new presidential system to prevent an imbalance in power. And it is also clear that the president has wide-ranging powers which he himself wants to restrict. More importantly all the actions he has taken or been accused of taking are within his remit at the present time.

There have been many people who wax lyrical about freedom and how these freedoms are being abused. But as is clear above, ignoring security in the name of freedom leads to social disintegration.

To quote David Harvey ("Neoliberalism"): "Values of individual freedom and social justice are not, however, necessarily compatible. Pursuit of social justice presupposes social solidarities and a willingness to submerge individual wants, needs and desires in the course of some more general struggle, say, social equality or environmental justice."

That is, the needs of society are greater than the needs of the individual. If an individual/conglomerate is undermining the government, evading taxes and cheating the people, it forfeits its rights.

Freedom is a great thing. But as Matthew Arnold said: "Freedom is a very good horse to ride, but to somewhere." Freedom without a purpose, without direction, freedom for freedom's sake is at best pointless and fruitless and at worst dangerous, leading to chaos.

The people will have their say. Once again I find myself writing the same words. The decision of the Turkish people on Nov. 1 will be made in the light of recent events, weighed up with their understanding of their own people, politics and history.

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