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A warning from post-truth Turkey

Written By: - Date published: 2:10 pm, December 19th, 2016 - 22 comments
Categories: human rights, International, journalism - Tags: , , ,

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.

22 comments on “A warning from post-truth Turkey”

  1. Siobhan 1

    Depressingly ‘on point’.

    The Guardian editors should take note, especially given their rather bold ‘post-truth’ reportage in both the UK Edition; being quite boastful of its anti Corbyn bias. And the American edition with it’s ‘fake news’ coverage of both the DNC leadership contest (so called ‘Bernie Bros’, and the “nothing to see here” coverage of Hilary, and the Donna Brazile carry on etc ) and the coverage of the General Election..up to the point they realised they didn’t actually know diddley about the American voter


    • garibaldi 1.1

      Yes it is ironic that the post truth Guardian should print such an article.
      Turkey is a strange beast. Hard to know whose side they are on. More often than not they back Israel, which is counter productive if they were to be pro Arab in general. However they are Sunni so tend to go pro Saudi/Egypt when they’re not backing the West ( when trying to enter EU, which is now all over); so now Erdogan seems to be trying for another Ottoman Empire. In other words what the hell are they doing and how dangerous are they?

      • One Anonymous Bloke 1.1.1

        Hard to know whose side they are on

        Which ones? Those who agree with Temelkuran, or Ergodan?

      • aerobubble 1.1.2

        Turks live in Syria. Syria borders Turkey and has imploded. ISIS terrorists are just one of a long list of Muslim groups, enemies of us all, but mo so Russia and Turkey, on the border with Islam. So it follows when Rusdia targets Syria Turks…

        As for Israel, welll the long nothing changes the more the slow process of land grab etc. Assad is more responsible for sustaining, whats the saying about good enemies.

        Look its simple big picture stuff, US, EU, Russia, allwant terrorists in Syria getting shot at. The learning you should draw is living in a totalitarian state like Syria, or N.Korea means you live in a state whose leader is fearful and weak, the sooner you get out the better for everyone. Syrians had decades to leave. Syria is now used by the great powers to deal with terrorists and assorted sociopaths.

        Turkey needs to appear more Muslim to provoke moderte Islam to expose terrorists, now if Urduan becomes a dictator it means the terrorist war moves to Turkey, weak leaders are fascist authoritarians its easy and lazy to press the free button. Trump was the change candidate.

        So no i have no fears for Turkey democracy, this is a war and Turkey needs our support.

  2. Draco T Bastard 2

    We can also look to the West for lessons in post-truth politics.

    Lies, damned lies and Donald Trump: How the Reagan and Bush assaults on truth and science may presage what’s coming

    Echoing Hertsgaard, Lucas Graves’ new book, “Deciding What’s True: The Rise of Political Fact-Checking in American Journalism,” notes how the press basically abandoned fact-checking Reagan’s almost-constant flood of lies. Writing about the book for the Washington Post, Heidi N. Moore notes:

    In the 1980s, journalists fact-checked Ronald Reagan, “who came to the White House with a well-established reputation for error and exaggeration,” in Graves’s words. Newspapers, particularly The Washington Post, truth-squadded every one of Reagan’s news conferences until readers demonstrated so little concern that the paper backed off, according to former Post reporter Walter Pincus: “It’s up to the Democrats to catch people, not us. We would quote both sides.”

    The “quote both sides” approach was an abject surrender. If one ignores the origin story of why it was adopted, one can almost believe that it’s intended as a way to fair and impartial, even “objective.” (A tape recorder is objective, right? Even if everything it records is a lie.)

    Things is, we can see this happening here now.

  3. Bill 3

    What a curious piece. Can we agree that there is no such thing as “post-truth” or (not mentioned in the article) “fake news”? There are lies and propaganda. There has always been lies and propaganda.

    What is happening now is that (broad brush stroke) the liberal narrative is being rejected. Unfortunately, in a drive to maintain a grasp on power, those who have benefited from that narrative (liberal elites and their fellow travelers) are marginalising the only sensible narrative that could replace their discredited one. I’m referring to the liberal media – “stenographers” – nobly peddling anti-left lines as they have done, and do do in reaction to Corbyn, Sanders, SNP, BREXIT etc

    When Ece Temelkuran writes –

    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…

    I immediately think “how big of you to ‘widen the debate’ (as though it’s “yours” to control and manage) – and then I reflect on the all too common reaction of liberals (individuals and institutions) who, in the face of losing control of society’s narratives always react to any counter narrative with fear and loathing. So BREXIT was racist and nothing to do with a rejection of liberal political/economic prescriptions/hardships – support for Sanders was quaint but unrealistic and a bit dangerous and so ought to be abandoned – independence was a dangerous beast that would see Scotland being consumed by financial uncertainties – support for Trump was only driven by stupidity and racism – the Democrats and ultimately the liberal establishment lost an election only because nefarious Russia…and so it goes. Fear, fear and more fear (with a little loathing on the side)

    That only works to destroy any nascent narrative coming from the left and leaves the field open to the populist right (Farage, Trump, Le Penn etc) whose stock and trade is fear.

    Liberalism needs to step back and step away or it will usher the rise of really bad shit in its quest for relevance (it ‘kills’ the left and promotes the very right it claims to oppose by its endless refrain of “fear all ye who would abandon us”.)

    • JanM 3.1

      Thank you for that very thoughtful and well-written piece, Bill. Saved my sanity, I think!

    • Olwyn 3.2

      Thank you from me as well Bill. The writer of this article is thinking along quite similar lines to yours, but is a bit less succinct: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/12/post-truth-fake-news-trump-clinton-election-russia/?setAuth=24c6ec0539c64641c9f3617b4a8defd2

    • Draco T Bastard 3.3


    • McFlock 3.4

      But “post-truth” isn’t “lies and propaganda”.

      Lies require a statement has an intended relationship with the truth. They can be countered with evidence and reason.
      Propaganda is designed to persuade. It can largely be countered with other propaganda, or evidence and reason.

      All this bullshit we are seeing is just there to bewilder and exhaust people. It’s so blatant nobody knows how to counter it. Any addition to the argument just seems to add to the bewilderment and fatigue, and letting it slide just lets the fuckers win.

      • Bill 3.4.1

        You’ll have to help me out a bit here McFlock.

        Claims about WMD were lies, yes? Their relationship to reality was essentially one of contradiction. And plenty of people countered those claims with evidence and reason (UN inspectorate under Hans Blix for example). And yet…

        So, would you care to explain how the above is any different to any supposed ‘post truth’ environment that’s allegedly come into being today? (Evidence and reason can be applied just the same in any supposed ‘post truth’ environment as it can in any other, no?)

        Or, if there’s such a tsunami of bullshit coming from Trump quarters that it’s too voluminous to contain or react to, then how is that any different to the similar tsunami of bullshit that washed around NZ post ’84 election?

        Or what about the tsunami of bullshit (do we call it post truth or lies?) that flowed from the USSR from the 1920’s onwards? Or ‘liberal media’ reports on Nicaragua in the 70s? Or Venezuela in this century?

        I’m going to reiterate. The problem for liberals is simply that far too many of us are no longer willing to drown in slowly rising tide of liberal bullshit. By and large, we’ve noticed it and are questioning it. Now, if the fucking liberals in the muddled middle are going to keep killing the messenger when the messenger hails from the left, then a populist right is perfectly positioned to take full advantage of the fear the liberals generate and use (unsuccessfully) to scare people into staying.

        There is no ‘post truth’. There is no ‘fake news’.

        • Andre

          What’s new this time around is people just making shit up and posting it to make money from the clicks, whether it’s Macedonian teenagers, slightly older people with marketing training in Denver or whatever. Who quickly found that stuff harmful to Clinton, no matter how bizarre or obviously fake, got plenty of clicks from Trumpets. Even after it was debunked. Whereas apparently stuff harmful to Trump just withered pretty quickly after it was debunked.

          Which is a different phenomenon to the older style lies and propaganda that were directly politically motivated, created and propagated by parties aligned with campaigns. Such as the swiftboating Kerry got in 04.

          • Bill

            So if someone hits some click-bait and it generates cash for whoever created the click-bait, how does that translate into or explain parties aligning themselves with discredited liberalism getting slaughtered at the polls ‘everywhere’? (The clue is in the word ‘discredited’.)

            This hullabaloo about ‘post-truth’ or ‘fake news’ would (ironically) itself qualify as fake news… if it existed. The liberal establishment is in denial and desperately casting around for ‘a reason’ (an outside one) that will explain away their increasing irrelevance.

            And now the threat of widespread censorship is on the horizon to ‘protect’ the supposed liberal idea of truth…eg – facebook flagging what it considers fake etc.

        • McFlock

          Post 1984, I had as a kid (and still have after studying it) the impression that at least some of the major players sincerely believed what they said was true, or only needed a little more time or a little better way of measuring it to become true, and cared that enough of the people thought it was true.

          The classic was pm shipley’s response to massive unemployment, scurrying down the hall desperately repeating to the cameras that “the market will correct” like an article of faith. She was a fool, and didn’t understand that the unemployment was the market correction, but there’s a better than average chance she sincerely believed it.

          I have not the slightest shred of an impression that this is the case today. Not just economics, it’s education, novopay, pike river recovery, the rebuild: just say it’s good and ignore everything. Whether it becomes good is irrelevant. Whether it is actually good right now is irrelevant.

  4. Ad 4

    There’s good reason journalists have as much respect in the community as politicians and tow-truck drivers. The article writer should put away the smelling salts of sanctimony and accept the predictable consequences of their own industry.

    Journalists have no stable definition, no oath or magic powers. Being merely human they will achieve heroism as rarely as most people. For a few, they deserve the title hero. Check out All the Presidents’ Men, and Good Night and Good Luck.

    Personally I like and support The Guardian because it wears its faults, contradictions and virtues on its sleeve. I also respect people like our own LPrent who don’t moan and instead show entrepeneurial guts.

    Political ideas are today under exceptional contest. Facts are useful in the contest, but are otherwise useless free-floating signifiers. Facts only work now when they are weaponised to win.

  5. esoteric pineapples 5

    In other words, responsibility for people voting for Trump or John Key lies with them. They don’t need to be molly coddled so they eventually see reason. They need to be called out for supporting a vile candidate. I know I have a lot less respect for people I know in New Zealand who support Trump. It’s a defining fact about their personality that is impossible to ignore.

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