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Deep ignorance: Most Turks know nothing about what really happened on the "Mavi Marmara" 

In May, a ship full of civilians — but not full of humanitarian aid — sailed from Turkey to join the Free Gaza flotilla. Having warned the Mavi Marmara that it would not be allowed to breach the blockade, Israeli commandos raided the ship. In the clash, nine Turks were killed. I've lived in Istanbul for five years and I've spoken to hundreds of Turks about these events. A Turkish documentary filmmaker and I have filmed some of these conversations. Something will immediately strike the viewer: the Turkish people have no idea what happened. This is because the most basic facts about and surrounding these events have not been reported in Turkey. 

In billing the flotilla as a humanitarian mission, the IHH — the expedition's Islamist sponsor — exploited the Turks' Achilles heel: their generosity. Turks think of themselves as charitable and compassionate, as indeed they are. They genuinely believe, because this is what has been reported here, that the Palestinians are starving. They know almost nothing about the reasons for the blockade. They believe that the ship was on a humanitarian mission and nothing but a humanitarian mission. They are bewildered that anyone would have interfered with such a noble-minded endeavour. They do not know that there were no humanitarian supplies on the Mavi Marmara. They do not know the most rudimentary facts about Hamas. As one man said: "These are elected people. It's not like they took over by force, via a coup."

Almost no one in Turkey understands any language but Turkish. If this obviously thoughtful man was unaware that indeed, Hamas took over precisely by force, via a coup, it is because he had no way to know. The men and women to whom we spoke were astonished when we told them that Israeli officials had invited the ship to disembark at Ashdod and deliver the aid overland. But they were not disbelieving — and importantly, when we told them this, it changed their view. Many spontaneously said that they knew they could not trust what they heard in the news, that the situation confused them and that something about the story just didn't sound right. 

Turkey's Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish initials as the AKP, came to power in 2002. Journalists struggle to find the right catchphrase to describe the nature of this party, usually settling on something like "mildly Islamist" — to which the party's critics reply that this is like being mildly pregnant. The ensuing theological debate quickly crowds out what is perhaps the more important observation: whether this party is mildly Islamist or gravid with a mullahcracy, it is in its instincts, and in keeping with Turkish tradition, profoundly authoritarian. It is no different from other Turkish political parties this way. But the intersection of authoritarianism and Islamism, no matter the degree of the latter, is not giving rise to a sterling candidate for EU membership, whatever David Cameron might think. The fate of the Turkish media since the AKP came to power illustrates this point.

When Western journalists note in a casual aside that press freedom has experienced certain setbacks under the AKP, they are failing to do justice to the severity of this calamity and its ramifications for Turkey and the region. The calamity is exacerbated by the tendency of the foreign media to repeat, without scrutiny, the very idiocies peddled in the Turkish press, where the range of opinion on offer has become severely limited. The result is the growth of a grossly distorted and dangerous consensus about Turkey, here and abroad — to wit, that Turkey under the AKP has become more democratic and politically healthier, even if it is a bit up the duff with Islamism.

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November 9th, 2011
7:11 PM
Claire, Do you actually want us to believe that a military coup happens spontaneously? That there are no plans or blueprints. All coups have a plan - who are you to say that Ergenekon is fiction? The violence that preceeded the 1980 coup was remarkably similar excluding Greek part of course. And as far as the poor generals in prison - they were the ones that created the laws that caused people to rot in jail for indeterminate lengths of time - university student socialist activists, professors and sociologists that sat in jail for years on end and than got 10+ years. They are getting what they gave and what they deserve minus the torture, so cry me a river. To other readers - for a better perspective read this link by a reuters journalist who was on trial for her reportage.

November 9th, 2011
6:11 PM
An interesting mixture of fact, cherry picked facts interspersed with fiction and omissions, and opinion, which combined removes this piece from the category of journalism. Hamas did indeed win an election in Gaza, the IHH did indeed collect aid (I assisted with this), and if I were you I'd be more concerned with the growing presence and influence of Saudi Wahabbi schools than moderate Gulen who is not as rabid as the christian missionaries of the last century. Your fear is Islam is showing and has distorted your perception. As for corruption - of course the AKP is corrupt - you name me a government anywhere that does not suffer from corruption and deceit. Your piece is insulting to the intelligence.

Danny Black
November 16th, 2010
7:11 AM
For Justice, are you joking about the Palestinians? Israel can't blow its nose without the UN getting involved. Maybe you are confusing the Palestinians with Pakistanis in Baluchistan. Johnny Hogue, you ventured outside of Istanbul much? Hmmm, Hamas took total power in 2007, violently. US and Israel apparently didn't try very hard. fewthingstoadd, The Mavi brought expired medicine and the UN human "rights" council was the one which condemned Israel as they do on a regular basis. Of course they didn't praise North Korea for tackling obesity like the chinese member for the UN health organisation did.....( Seriously... )

October 11th, 2010
6:10 AM
Excellent analysis. Gulen Cult Movement is backed by CIA. He is, according to FBI that came out during Gulen's Green Card application, a 'Major CIA Operative'. Gulen schools have been opened in critical countries from Central Asia to Africa both to show milder side of Islam and for CIA agents to move freely as 'teachers'. Gulen's media in Turkey (Zaman, Samanyolu, Aksiyon, Today's Zaman) and other AKP media (Sabah, Bugun, Yeni Safak, etc.) have been manipulating the masses while independent press have been threatened by massive tax fines ($3 billion for Dogan Media Group), journalists are self-censored, and very few opposing journalists (Tuncay Ozkan, Mustafa Balbay, ...) have been in jail for over 2 years.

October 6th, 2010
12:10 PM
Altough I agree in some parts of the article and am worried as well about the press freedom and regime danger in Turkey, I have to say that there are several wrong information in this article, which are hence, not based on sources. Such as; 1) author said: "...they do not know that there were no humanitarian supplies on the Mavi Marmara".. Q: So what is the resource for this information? Who says that there were no humanitarian supplies at the ship? 2) Author says: "Almost no one in Turkey understands any language but Turkish" Q: Again on which statistics is this information based? Not knowing the fact, I did a quick wikipedia search and saw that 12 million people speaks english as a foreign language in Turkey(17% of the population) and this number and percentage as well is way higher than some more developed countries (Russian, Japan, Mexico, China, the least but not least.. Israel (1.37%)) 3) About the Mavi marmara, Yeni Safak, Ortadogu, and Vakit (neccessary to add: these are some of the least popular newspapers in Turkey) were not the only newspapers who were against the attack of Israeli soldiers, but all the media was critizing it. (Anyway, already United Nations found Israel guilty in the subject, because of violating the international law) Just let's try to be always more honest

October 2nd, 2010
12:10 PM
Gulen is a liar, he has emassed a fortune of $25 billion by controlling media, education, military, police and politicans. This is the same approach he is doing world wide under the guise of "interfaith dialog" and "understanding". In the USA he is robbing the American taxpayers and the Gulen Movement or Hizmet manages over 140 Charter schools. Teaching our American children Turkish language and customs.

Rob Fairchild
September 30th, 2010
9:09 AM
Thank you so much for exposing how the Gulen Movement has gotten such favorable press. I long wondered about such pieces as Sabrina Tavernise's May 4, 2008 New York Times article "Turkish Schools Offer Pakistan a Gentler Vision of Islam" which was pure propaganda for Gulen's schools in Asia. The Gulen Movement is probably the best manipulator of the press that the world has ever seen. Note the paragraph in the above article beginning "I am regularly invited to lectures for foreign journalists here sponsored by the Gülen movement...." This isn't just happening in Turkey, it's happening IN THE UNITED STATES. Look at this propaganda piece that they managed to get the Texas Tribune to publish just the other day Those of you who follow these issues in Turkey, PLEASE start noticing our struggle against the Gulen Movement here in the United States. They have infiltrated our publicly-funded charter school system and now run over a hundred such schools all over the country. We are tired of journalists falling for their press releases! Their schools are no service to us, and are nothing but fronts for the Gulen Movement to grab American money and bring thousands of their followers into our country under the H1B visa system. PLEASE somebody start paying attention to, and exposing, what the Gulen Movement is really doing in the US! Ms. Berlinski....can you help us?

September 13th, 2010
9:09 PM
Great analysis and it is all true.No one in Turkey has freedom even to think as every way of enlightenment has been blocked for years and situation got even worse under the AKP regime. There is a saying in the country which is Turkish version of Descartes' famous statement:"Cogito ergo sum" meaning "I think therefore I exist.";"Dusunuyorum oyleyse vurun." meaning "I think therefore I should be shot." There is a lot to see behind the scene.

Andrew Lale
September 10th, 2010
4:09 PM
I find it hilarious that people are comparing wealth statistics between Turkey and the US. When was the last time somebody risked their life to enter the nirvana that is Turkey?

Johnny Hogue
September 6th, 2010
7:09 AM
An ex-USA cititzen, I lived in Istanbul for 7 of my 10 years here. I have seen amazing economic changes for the better. I also believe the AKP has reached a point where their power can become dangerous by nature of no significant opposition. An outstanding article regarding points about media control and fear mongering among the population by the controlled media--just like in the USA. HAMAS swept elections in Jan 2006, then the US and Israel stepped in, just like the USA did in Vietnam in the late 1950's. According to the OECD Gini reports, income INequality is nearly as high in the USA as it is in Turkey. I do not deny that there is a poor and exploited class of villagers and recent big city immigrants from the villages. That being said, if there is no middle class then how does one explain the literal explosion of ultra-chic and very modern shopping malls in major cities, especially Istanbul? Carrefour is almost everywhere. Hepsiburada is doing a booming business, I see mobile phones and laptops everywhere.

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