Parents a problem, otherwise…

Parents a problem, otherwise…

It’s difficult to understand for people outside this region, but without any discrimination, Turks, Iranians, Arabs, Kurds or other peoples of this huge region consider great people of the past as their cultural forefathers. The very same people might have been persecuted, exiled, banished and even abhorred in their lifetime, but the passage of time has perhaps left behind old scars while helping retain the tales of good deeds, successes and contributions to the intellectual advance of humanity.

Nasreddin Hodja was one such personality. In all Muslim lands, there are many legends about him. Many cities boast of being his place of birth or death. In Turkey alone, there are at least two cities with that claim. Was he a real person or a fictional character of a folk story? Who would bother with that? Omar Khayyam is yet another very important figure of these lands. He was Persian by birth but each and every one of the peoples of this land has an Omar Khayyam of their own interpretation. Perhaps that was why he was elevated to cultural immortality.

Turkey’s world-renowned pianist Fazıl Say was handed a suspended 10-month prison sentence in April 2013 for “insulting religious beliefs held by a section of the society” by tweeting a piece from the “Ruba’iat” of Khayyam a year earlier, saying “You say its rivers will flow in wine. Is the Garden of Eden a drinking house? You say you will give two houris to each Muslim. Is the Garden of Eden a whorehouse?”

Perhaps no one knows when Khayyam wrote that particular quatrain, but we have a date for his death: December 1131. At that age, at least some people of this Muslim region were advanced enough not to seek punishment for a poet whose works would result in a sentence almost 900 years later for a globally important pianist and someone who has been a source of pride for his people. Why do we often call those times the dark ages as if the period we are living in, at least in Turkey, is brighter in any sense?

Intolerance for “the other” or the obsessive desire to dominate everything at any cost has unfortunately become the mode du jour. I was talking with Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Didier J.L. Reynders and Justice Minister Koen Geens on the “climate of freedom” in Turkey. I just could not say how lucky Omar Khayyam was that he did not live in today’s Turkey. Someone who just tweeted what the Iranian philosopher, astronomer, mathematician, and of course poet – who is widely considered to be one of the most influential scientists of the Middle Ages – wrote back in the 1100s can go to prison (the sentence was deferred) in today’s Turkey.

Unfortunately, over the past two years since the Fazıl Say sentence, nothing has improved. At that time, there were 76 journalists in prisons. Today, there are 33 journalists in prison while the trials of dozens of others – including Cumhuriyet’s Can Dündar and Erdem Gül who were released on a Constitutional Court ruling that said their rights were compromised – are continuing. The decrease in the number of imprisoned scribes was because of a Constitutional Court ruling that keeping people behind bars for years without a court verdict was a violation of rights.

In today’s Turkey, improved tactics of censorship are exercised along with conventional methods. Rather than trying to censor news stories, the government has been putting them under the control of court-appointed trustees and thus effectively domesticating newspapers, TV stations and news agencies with a simple court verdict. Special courts are there waiting for the orders of the government anyhow.

Does anyone remember what happened to the Koza group’s media outlets? Koza was placed under a trustee last year. On Feb. 29, the trustees decided that the media establishments of the group were all making losses and thus should all be closed down. Some 500 journalists and media workers joined the army of unemployed newspeople in Turkey, bringing the figure to around 8,000. Now what will happen to Zaman, Today’s Zaman and the Cihan News Agency of the Feza publishing company, which was placed under trusteeship last week? Will the trustees make these companies more profitable or will they close all of them within months, also citing “huge losses?”

Cem Küçük, the penslinger working in the Star armada of the pro-government media, wrote this week that placing Koza and Feza under trustees and domesticating them were not enough. Samanyolu TV, Meydan newspaper and some private TV stations who have been supportive of the Gülen “terrorist organization” would soon also be placed under court-appointed trustees and closed down.

How could a newspaper columnist know in advance what issues will be addressed and what decisions the courts will make on those issues? These are rather different times, I would say, but there were people with different political allegiances doing almost identical things yesterday.

If democracy is a system of governance built on norms and values, perhaps Turkey should first overhaul its entire curriculum, teach young Turks the norms and values of democratic governance and then expect democracy to flourish in this land with universal standards. But what would we do then with their power-worshipping parents?