Turkey’s Freedom Summer

Turkey’s Freedom Summer

“On the first day of summer in 1964, three young activists piled into a blue station wagon in Meridian, Mississippi, and headed into Klan country. Across America, it was Father’s Day, a lazy holiday of picnics, barbecues, and doubleheaders. Transistor radios blared early Beatles hits… High above in Air Force One, President Lyndon Johnson flew home from California, content with the state of the union. Two days earlier, after the longest filibuster in Senate history, the civil rights bill introduced a year earlier by slain President John F. Kennedy had finally passed. But Mississippi was on a hair trigger: it was on the verge of a savage summer, a violent season so radically different, so idealistic, so daring, that it would redefine freedom in America.”

This is how Bruce Watson’s “The Summer of Our Discontent” opens and narrates the events of the anti-racist campaign known as Freedom Summer. Over the course of 10 weeks, four civil rights workers were killed, at least three Mississippi blacks were murdered, four people were critically wounded, 80 Freedom Summer workers were beaten, 1,062 people were arrested, 37 churches were bombed or burned and 30 Black homes or businesses were bombed or burned. According to Georgia Congressman John Lewis, “If it hadn’t been for the veterans of Freedom Summer, there would be no [U.S. President] Barack Obama.”

Half a century later, under the Crescent and Star, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu firmly stated that “Turkey is not a second-class democracy.” He is right. Turkey must walk a long way and reform its crippled electoral democracy to earn that title. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has offered a number of reasons why hundreds of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets across Turkey: This is a conspiracy plotted by a) foreign intelligence services, b) by foreign countries that envy Turkey’s success story, c) by the interest-rate lobby and stock market speculators, and d) by all of the above. I could add one more possibility: This is a direct conspiracy of hundreds of thousands of masochistic Turks who every now and then crave tear gas, pepper spray, plastic bullets and police truncheons. How will the prime minister handle the protests? (His words) a) That bank general manager who publicly supported the protests will pay for this, b) The artists who support the protests will pay for this, c) Those who don’t respect the government will pay for this, d) The government will choke speculators and e) If the protesters continue like this, Mr. Erdoğan will be obliged to speak to them “in a language that they understand.”

Pity, without that much hatred for dissent, Turkey could one day upgrade to the league of second-class democracy countries. “We won’t support the continuation of a regime that oppresses its own people,” Mr. Erdoğan once said. Not of the dissent in Turkey, of course, but about that in Syria. “We see that the voice of the people is silenced by pressure and oppression,” he said in another statement. Syria, again. And in the ultimate irony, the Syrian government has warned Syrian citizens not to travel to Turkey, declaring Turkey “unsafe.”

I have one question for my “yellow” colleagues, and a tiny piece of advice for the protesters. Since you, dear colleagues, love to argue that religious discrimination against not-so-pious Muslims is a non-issue in Turkey, why do you think the crowds of party loyalists who gathered at the Ankara airport to greet Mr. Erdoğan repetitively and loudly chanted in unison “Allahu aqbar (Allah is great)?” What’s God to do with a conflict between protesters and the legitimate government? Dear protesters; you have proven to be exceptionally skillful, smart, creative, humane and full of humor. To avoid further police brutality and violence there is one little trick you must opt for: Keep on protesting, resist the police and demonstrate for your cause. That’s fine, but for God’s sake, replace half of your Turkish flags with Palestinian ones and change half of your placards so that they read slogans like “Killer Jews, stop occupying Jerusalem,” “We want to pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque in the Palestinian capital Jerusalem,” and your choice of a few more like this. And remember occasionally to chant “Allahu aqbar!”