Gov’t pins hope on division in Turkey as Erdoğan resorts to hateful speech

Date posted: January 26, 2014

Faced with massive corruption scandals that rattled the government, Turkey’s embattled Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has ratcheted up his polarizing rhetoric in a way many see as a worrying pattern of hateful speech.

Erdoğan’s strong bashing of the opposition, business groups, media and civic groups in public speeches and calling these groups “traitors” may be an indication that he has found himself with his back against the wall amid serious corruption and bribery allegations — implicating those very close to him. He continued his assault on these groups on Sunday at a public rally in İstanbul, even describing the Gezi Park protests and corruption investigations as what he called a centuries-long attempt at revenge on Turkey since the conquest of İstanbul in 1453.

“Judging from past political fights, resorting to ‘betrayal to the country’ [accusations] indicates that the [government] has no option left other than sticking to this line as a remedy. That means we are on the borderline,” Mümtaz’er Türköne, a political analyst, has said.

Criticizing the politicians’ intentional hate speeches in recent days, Grand Unity Party (BBP) leader Mustafa Destici said: “No one has the right to damage a millenarian brotherhood. We have already been divided into Alevi-Sunni, religious-secularist and leftist-rightist. They have tried to create a conflict among pious people as well. I think this is dangerous.”

In an attempt to divert pressure from public opinion from him, Erdoğan is waging a war against the Hizmet (Service) movement, which has openly called on the government to clamp down on the wrongdoers and clean politics of dirt.

Removing prosecutors and police officers involved in the corruption probe, Erdoğan’s reaction was to contrive the “parallel state” term with connections to Hizmet, accuse them of trying to topple his government by plotting a coup through the graft probe and demonize Hizmet, a volunteer-based movement to spread education and interfaith dialogue inspired by Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen, as a criminal gang.

His discourse toughened as he began to label the followers of the Hizmet movement as traitors. He later likened them to hashashins, a Medieval group that used assassinations as a means to spread political influence.

Erdoğan carried his hate-disseminating discourse to a new level on Saturday while speaking at a meeting organized by the state’s Directorate of Religious Affairs in İstanbul. “This nation has spurned the scholars of straw, whose insides are empty, whose hearts are empty and whose minds are empty, like a body rejects a virus and confined them to the trash bin of history,” he said, implicitly referring to Gülen. These words drew massive ire in social media, while intellectuals opposed clearly on the grounds that such hate speech is against democracy and a crime.

Hizmet is not the only suspect targeted by Erdoğan in his attempts to save himself and his government from legal troubles. On Friday, the prime minister accused the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association (TÜSİAD), the most powerful business advocacy group in Turkey, of treachery, following the business group’s issuance of a strong warning to the government in which it said foreign investment would not come to a country in which there is no respect for the rule of law.

Speaking at a party rally in Ankara, Erdoğan lashed out at the TÜSİAD head for what he says is portraying a negative picture of the Turkish economy. “Saying that foreign direct investment will not be made in Turkey is treachery,” Erdoğan said.

In the strongest warning yet to the government from a business group, TÜSİAD President Muharrem Yılmaz said last week that foreign investment will not be made in a country in which there is no respect for the rule of law, where legal codes conflict with European Union rules, public procurement laws have been amended dozens of times and companies are pressured through tax fines.

After Erdoğan came up with the accusation of treachery, TÜSİAD President Yılmaz harshly criticized the prime minister over the language he used and said no one could question his patriotism.

“I was shocked and very saddened by Mr. Prime Minister’s remarks. I have worked for this country my entire life. I represent a business association that contributes greatly to the Turkish economy,” said Yılmaz during a televised interview on CNN Türk late on Friday.

The TÜSİAD president warned that Erdoğan’s inflammatory remarks have led to resentment among significant segments of society and deepen polarization. “Use of the label ‘traitor’ should not be so easy,” Yılmaz said in reference to Erdoğan’s frequent appeal to the notion when he criticizes his opponents.

The rhetoric which Prime Minister Erdoğan has started resorting to more than ever is the epitome of hate speech, and this will only serve to deepen the rifts within society, say experts.

Journalist and author Yavuz Baydar said the man who rules the country must act responsibly. “No matter what happens, he may not make fun of or humiliate the faiths or faithlessness of the people. A ruler does not have the right to hurl insults at some parts of society. I am very worried as this is heading towards impenitent polarizations,” he said.

Taraf daily columnist Hayko Bağdat argued, using Twitter messages, the singularity of a smear campaign against a Muslim scholar by the most conservative government in the republic’s history. “Even the most Kemalist [a Jacobin regime named after the founder of the republic] army did not used foul language this much,” he wrote.

Human Rights Agenda Assessment Association Deputy Chairman Associate Professor Günal Kurşun argued that the language Erdoğan used may have violated a number of articles in the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) such as Article 312 of the TCK for “incitement to commit an offense and incitement to religious or racial hatred” and Article 216 of the TCK for “insulting religious beliefs held by a section of society.” He said the TCK needs a hate speech law specifically targeting hate-related offenses.

Ironically, Prime Minister Erdoğan announced last September plans to pass new anti-hate crime legislation that was welcomed by many civil society groups, including the non-Muslim and Alevi communities as well as human rights associations.

Many, however, are skeptical about the government’s intention to present a well-formulated hate speech law. “If we had a well-rounded hate crimes law in Turkey, first, the politicians who hold power would be put on trial. Therefore, it is hard to believe that a well-rounded hate crimes law will be drafted and implemented in Turkey,” said Mahmut Çınar, an instructor at Bahçeşehir University’s New Media Department who is the editor of a recent book, “Medya ve Nefret Söylemi” (Media and Hate Speech).

According to Professor Yasemin İnceoğlu, a lecturer at Galatasaray University: “In order to maintain social justice and peace and to prevent disadvantaged groups in society from losing their faith in the law, hate crime perpetrators should be punished. Most European Union member states decide for hate crimes with either harsher laws or a separately issued hate crimes law.

Cevher İlhan, a Yeni Asya columnist, says he perceives the prime minister’s imputations from organization to parallel state, from plot to coup and “hashashins,” as a continuation of the operation on religious communities and groups to eliminate, hurt and punish by profiling them, which the Feb. 28, 1997, Sept. 12, 1980 and other coups failed to do. “This attitude does not suit a democratic state, a democratic tone and political thinking,” he said.

Theologian and writer Cemil Tokpınar said, “We should avoid every kind of oral and written statement and attitude, explicitly or implicitly, that could turn our brotherhood and love into dissidence and hate.”

Source: Todays Zaman , January 26, 2014

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