Turkey under Erdoğan is a human rights disaster. It imprisons reporters, judges, activists and novelists. It tortures, censors, and abused broad powers under a state of emergency. A recent piece in The Guardian by Turkish journalist Ece Temelkuran makes for disturbing reading:
Truth is a lost game in Turkey. Don’t let the same thing happen to you
In Turkey we observe how even tragedy plays a role in manipulative government and post-truth repression. The terrorist outrage last week in central Istanbul, which left 38 dead and 166 wounded, was the 31st terror attack in the last year and a half. And it was the 31st time the country had followed exactly the same routine: shock, followed by a ban on news that was augmented by calls for national unity from official spokesmen, and then a statement from the president paving the way for social media trolls to target anyone who questions the government.
”This refashioning of a post-truth, post-fact Turkey has not happened overnight. The process has involved the skilful and wilful manipulation of narratives. We gave up asking the astonished questions “How can they say or do that?” some time ago. Truth is a lost game in my country. In Europe and America, you still have time to rescue it – but you must learn from Turkey how easily it can be lost.
It started 15 years ago, with a phenomenon that will now be familiar to you, when intellectuals and journalists reacted to a nascent populism with the self-critical question: “Are we out of touch?” To counter that possibility, they widened the parameters of public debate to include those who were said to be representatives of “real people”. We thought our own tool, the ability to question and establish truth, would be adequate to keep the discourse safe. It wasn’t. Soon we were paralysed by the lies of populism, which always sounded more attractive than our boring facts.
We found, as you are now finding, that the new truth-building process does not require facts or the underpinning of agreed values. We were confronted – as you are being confronted – by a toxic vocabulary: “elite”, “experts”, “real people” and “alienated intellectuals”. The elite, with experts as mouthpieces of that oppressive elite, were portrayed as people detached from society, willing to suppress the needs, choices and beliefs of “real people”.
Events moved quickly. Those who believed experts should be excluded from the truth-building process, and that the facts were too boring to be bothered with, became the most active participants in a reconstruction of their own truth. The magic word was “respect”, with the demand that the elite, since they were so out of touch, should respect real people’s truth.
What is the practical effect of this new truth on everyday life? Well, consider one example. In Turkey today, we are obliged to indulge a debate about whether minors should be married to their rapists. It is predicated on the “real people’s” truth that in rural areas girls get married even when they are just 13, and thus have sexual maturity. It is, we are told, a thoroughly elitist argument to insist that a minor cannot give consent.
We have learned a lesson, but too late. The question “Are we out of touch?” leads to “them and us”, which then morphs into “either us or them”. As we found in Turkey, the masses choose “them”. From that point you find yourself, like me, labelled “not real people” in your own country. Europe and the US will soon learn that being “elite” is not about social class or education: it is about obedience to one version of the truth. …
Read the whole piece in The Guardian. It will be worth re-reading many times in the years ahead.