Thursday, December 29, 2005

Pamuk Escapes Second Charge (For Now)

In a vaguely encouraging move, Turkish prosecutors have elected not to file new charges against novelist Orhan Pamuk for "insulting the Turkish military" during an interview he gave to a German newspaper. The future Nobel laureate is already facing a possible three-year jail sentence on charges that he "insulted Turkish identity" in the course of a different interview for a Swiss magazine. (Note to Orhan: Maybe you should hold off on that European press junket for a bit?)

A group of nationalist lawyers in Turkey is vowing to appeal the decision by prosecutors to not file this second set of charges. What is everyone getting all worked up about? Apparently Pamuk told Die Welt that the Turkish military had "sometimes been a threat to Turkish democracy." Well, be still, my beating heart! Where could he have gotten that idea?:
May 1960: Military coup. Junta remains in power until 1965.

March 12, 1971: Army forces resignation of Prime Minister.

Sept 12, 1980: Military coup. Junta rules until November 6, 1983.

February 28, 1997: Military forces pro-Islamic government to resign and replaces it with a center-right coalition.
Maybe it was all that.

Turks like to believe that the military is a bulwark against the enemies of the Turkish Republic—external and internal alike—and there's definitely some truth to that. The Turkish military has certainly played a role in maintaining the secular status quo and it is hard to imagine what Turkey would be like today if not for the strong guiding influence of the military. That's not really what's at issue here, however. Whether or not the Turkish military has acted in the best interests of the Turkish people from time to time (and I'm not saying they have, necessarily), there can be no argument that a military coup is by definition the antithesis of democracy. Pamuk isn't saying the military is pure evil, he's just pointing out that their actions have run counter to the democratic process on a number of occasions.

Atatürk's greatest dream for the Turkish Republic was Westernization. They got part of the way there by protecting the nation from the anti-Westernizing influences of Islamists and some ethnic separatists. What they must realize is they can't get the rest of the way there so long as they're not willing to trust the people enough to give them true freedom of expression. One of the great ironies for Turkey is that to fully Westernize and modernize (and join the EU), they are going to have to remove the muzzles from certain people who have no interest in the Westernizing, modernizing project. The government and the military will have to trust that their goals for Turkey can win out in the marketplace of ideas. It's a chance they'll have to take if they want to take the next step onto the world stage.

The secular nationalists may want what's best for the republic, but their actions right now are ultimately what may keep them out of the EU. Orhan Pamuk and others who stand in opposition to rules barring dissent do so because they believe in the freedom of expression—and in Turkey, too.
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