Turkey’s Twitter Problem, and Our Own

Turkey’s Twitter Problem, and Our Own

Always castigating the opposition as extremists is no way to run a modern society.


Erdoğan’s trouble starts with T and stands for Twitter.

By Alejandro Crawford

“If Twitter, YouTube and Facebook will be honest, if they’ll stop being so immoral, stop attacking families, we’ll support them.” So says Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. If one were trying to do comedy about the vilification of the Internets and their corrupting influence, it would be hard to come up with something much better (or more suitable for re-tweeting). Mashable has published acraziest quotes list, but the list is in dire need of updating. Since Turkey’s courts impelled him to lift his ban on Twitter (YouTube and tens of thousands of other sites remain blocked), Erdogan has come up with even better lines.

The joke is an old one, though. When the confidence man in the classic Broadway show “The Music Man” needs a convenient source of trouble, he scapegoats an activity popular with youth in order to stir up concerns about the dangerous liberalizing of social mores. The satire works because the con man is able to pick a relatively arbitrary activity (playing pool) and associate it with the erosion of traditional rules for language, attire and the like. In Erdogan’s version, there is indeed trouble in Turkey; it starts with T, which stands for Twitter, and it must be rooted out.

[Read more from Alejandro Crawford on the cost of Turkey’s censorship.]

Never mind the fact that social media platforms are conduits for communication for millions of decentralized users. “All our national moral values are being set aside,” Erdogan has explained. Worse still, Twitter is “the product of an American company.”

The rhetorical force that guilt by association with the United States carries in many parts of the world can be difficult for us Americans to comprehend. Yet what happens if you switch out the bad guy in Erdogan’s formulations, but keep the conviction that corrupting forces need to be held at bay? Change the name of the scapegoat, and Erdogan’s rhetoric sounds not all that different from what we hear every day here in the good old U.S. of A.

When it comes to the Muslim world (Turkey is a secular Muslim state), with a straight face we talk about a fundamental clash of civilizations. Has history not demonstrated conclusively enough the productive power that is released when disparate societies expand their commerce with each other? Yet we cast our vital economic partners as the threatening Chinese buying everything up or those illegals from Mexico taking American jobs. What to do but put a fence along the border watched by guys with guns? And if you see someone who might be foreign, ask him for his papers.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Chinese hacking.]

Even amongst those to whom we’ve granted the right to participate in our economy without having their identity cards checked, the picture isn’t pretty. Our social and political bugaboos have the look of cartoons – latte-drinking East Coast intellectuals at universities, corrupting young minds; bumpkins in pickup trucks waving the confederate flag while shooting off guns. It’s not that neither type exists. It’s that interpreting the world according to these types shortcircuits our ability to see what the other camp might have figured out (or more importantly, what we might be able to come up with if we put our collective mind to it).

We possess the innovative capacity, the market mechanisms and the capacity for good government (yeah, that’s a thing, or at least it used to be) required to free us from petroleum’s noose, for example. We have the wherewithal to achieve economic growth and global competitiveness beyond anything we have seen before. But at a time when we need to be applying the best of all our tools, we’re enacting an epic battle between the scissors and the knife. We hear incessantly of evil capitalists, perpetuating a system that by its very nature rapes the planet and exploits the “99 percent.” Meanwhile we are regaled with tales of those dangerous socialists, fundamentally corrupting our free enterprise system with their health care regulations and wild notion that the climate might indeed have changed.

Business school students learn of the dangers that come with sidelining conflicting viewpoints on a management team. Under the pressures of competing in the marketplace, a manager who surrounds himself with others who gratifyingly confirm his assumptions often veers off course. The cost lies in critical problems unexamined, worthy solutions not derived, smart strategies left unpursued. On the scale of the larger economy, what is the loss when we fail to convene with those who might lead us to question those assumptions and our modes of operation?

Here in the U.S., we allow our social media chatter to go on without direct interference (our government has distinguished itself more in the monitoring department). Yet even as this chatter continues, our conversation has effectively split into separate streams. It is an everyday matter in the United States to cut short meaningful debate through casting media and other institutions as beholden to those whose viewpoint we want to write off. Americans are regularly treated to folks on the right invoking “the liberal media” to discredit arguments they dislike, while their counterparts on the left decry “corporate media” or “the media industrial complex.” Whatever the biases of the owners and editors of traditional media, at this point the charge has become a reflex. Whoever is ranting at the moment considers himself to be a reasonable thinker exasperated by the bias of what he encounters. Depending on where he sits, the game has been rigged either by unpatriotic moonbats or jingoist wingnuts, by government beholden to trough-feeders and hangers-on, or by corporate interests bent on marginalizing the rest of us.

[Read more economic analysis from our Economic Intelligence blog.]

This evidences a fairly severe kind of breakdown. Think of a couple you know, each member of which is convinced that the other is “nuts.” Put such a couple on a roadtrip or make it responsible for the care of a child, and you don’t tend to see a lot of constructive decision-making, much less creative problem-solving and the development of worthwhile ideas.

We can’t have a problem-solving conversation when we have effectively written off the other half.Name-calling and condemnation of the discourse itself have become standard-issue equipment for today’s great enterprise of digging into one’s own insular viewpoint. This is at a time when our future depends on finding real solutions that release economic energy and keep up with the ever-accelerating demands of the global economy, while enabling us to stop effectively living off the equity in our common building. Can we think the unthinkable? That the left might have to recognize that their own incomes result from someone having hung up a shingle somewhere, or having dirtied her hands through dealing with business (oh dear) – and the right might have to deal with the fact that we’re actually going to have to guzzle less gas and get over it with the guns (the horror)?

This is not to say the other side is not crazy. The more we fail to participate in a common conversation, the more normal our own crazy becomes – and the more crazy the other crazy sounds. This perpetuates extremes of thinking that really are somewhat nuts, because they have been too long unchecked by contrary frames of reference and modes of living. The irony is that putting two kinds of crazy together can be extraordinarily generative, but only if both crazies manage to stop ranting long enough to understand what’s making the other so nuts.




DUMBBELLS (English slang for stupid fools)

DÜMBELEKLER (Turkish slang for stupid fools)

I sing what was lost and dread what was won,
I walk in a battle fought over again,
My king a lost king, and lost soldiers my men;
Feet to the Rising and Setting may run,
They always beat on the same small stone.

Willam Butler Yeats (1865-1939)


I read the news today, oh boy. Here’s what Reuters said:
“Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan has applied to Turkey’s constitutional court on Friday to challenge the alleged violation of his and his family’s rights by social media, a senior official in his office told Reuters.”

Isn’t it grand, this so-called rule of law. The prime minister is correct in his action. Long ago his family’s rights were well-established as were his. When the fox owns the chicken coop every day the menu-du-jour is chicken. We and the world know the quality of those who rule this sad country.

But who’s to argue? Not the sheep…if they whimper, they’re next. And besides, they’re well-bribed with food and coal and things magical from the bountiful Ankara sky. They have indeed learned to deeply love their Big Brother. They repay with their pathetic ballots. So, who? Perhaps young people who, like all young people everywhere, thought they had a future? Sorry. Enough of them have died and been maimed. Maimed by the prime minister who now frets about his and his family’s rights. Hah! So surely it will be the political opposition who once thought they had a patriotic responsibility, even a cause? No cause. No thought. No brains. No nothing. The military? The ones with the soundest, strongest emotional and ethical legacy? Nope. Folded up like a cheap suit. Hardly a whimper. Generals now bow their heads to thieving politicians. Cowardly submissive stuff like that makes one wonder if they ever received an education (and at taxpayer expense). Atatürk? Huh? Please, we must not speak aloud of such things. So who’s left to argue? Media? Ha! Sold-out. Universities? Ha! Ha! Expounding on pet obscurities, historical quirks, dead poets and deader laws and what once was and now will never be. There is no time left for history and literature and law and medicine and philosophy and too many more words. Speaking of which, what about writers? Well, who reads? The world is too much with all of us, and we are all too late.

So who will care? Care enough to act, to really act? To stand up and say that this is enough. That the people will no longer be governed by a corrupt political process. Nor by numbskull, repetitive political opposition parties nor by America’s CIA gangsters? Is that too much to ask?

It seems so. Time grows short. Another crooked election is coming, this one presidential. One way or another the same small people will throw the same big stones at us. Ah Turkey, the saddest country with the saddest people with the saddest stories. Always beating on, always being beaten. Ah, dear Turkey, Atatürk’s children deserved so much more. So did Atatürk.

James (Cem) Ryan
19 April 2014


“A slave is one who waits for someone to come and free him.”

Ezra Pound (1885-1972)




This is the most original take on Turkey’s social media problem – and how to solve it.

Aslihan Agaoglu
Last updated: March 30, 2014

This is the most original take on Turkey’s social media problem – and how to solve it.

Banner Icon RESISTANBUL Turkish writer Aslihan Agaoglu offers a theory that, well, is a bit different than most others out there. We think she might be right – read for yourself.

First it was Twitter, then YouTube and from the looks of it, Facebook is next. Social media is being banned in Turkey and I am not even going to argue why this is a problem. It’s one of those things: so obvious, it’s almost offensive to explain. Freedom of expression, censorship, autocracy… You have heard the debate a thousand times and can mumble it backwards in your sleep.

What I do want to talk about is one of the implications of this on-going censorship towards social media and what to do about it. After the Taksim Gezi protests of last summer, starting in Istanbul and spreading across the country like marbles on ice, one thing became painfully clear: the polarisation in Turkey. Those who want PM Erdogan to stay exactly where he is and those who wish he could vanish into thin air. There are various subcategories to this severe and alarming polarisation but I will not be entertaining the “name calling” game that is particularly popular in Turkey nowadays. Instead, I’ll ask this question: Can any good come from a nation that has no tendency or willingness to empathise with one another?

First it was Twitter, then YouTube and from the looks of it, Facebook is next.The first rule of dialogue is to listen, plain and simple. If both parties get together and talk all at once, without taking a breath to hear what the response is from the other side, then it is called a monologue. A dialogue, on the other hand, is a bridge. It requires some crucial set of skills such as patience, open-mindedness and willingness to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, also known as empathy. Without it, what we call dialogue is an enormous waste of our time. It changes nothing, it doesn’t move us towards a solution, in fact, it can even make things worse by creating more confusion and frustration, causing us to lose hope.

From what I have been observing since last summer, our chances of dialogue between these poles that keep moving further away from each other, is getting more and more slim by the day. Whatever the reasons may be, it is not the difference of opinions that baffle me, it’s the fact that there is so little willingness towards empathy. It’s as if we purposefully don’t want to understand one another. We don’t want to start a dialogue, we just want to be right. Perhaps it is only natural to want to win an argument (especially when it comes to politics, who doesn’t?) but it should not be natural to simply not want to understand the other person.

This lack of willingness to empathise and start a dialogue has been studied by many who are way smarter than I am and it has also been brought to attention by various politicians and journalists, who may or may not be smarter than I am. Obviously it would be erroneous to think there could ever be just one cause for this destructive situation but instead of going over their findings and opinions and give a worn-out summary, I wonder if there could be a subtle factor that is staring us in the face?

Last year Psychologists David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano, at the New School for Social Research in New York, proved that reading literary fiction enhances the ability to detect and understand other people’s emotions, a crucial skill in navigating complex social relationships. They did this by conducting an experiment where 1,000 participants were randomly assigned texts to read, either extracts of popular fiction such as bestseller Danielle Steel’s The Sins of the Mother and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, or more literary texts, such as Orange-winner The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht, Don DeLillo’s “The Runner”, from his collection The Angel Esmeralda, or work by Anton Chekhov. The researchers then used a variety of Theory of Mind techniques to measure how accurately the participants could identify emotions in others. As it turns out, the scores were consistently higher among the fiction readers, than those who read non-fiction texts or those who do not read at all.

So reading literary fiction enables you to empathies with other people, in other words, helps you get a better understanding of those who think, act and believe differently. Brilliant. Now lets look at some statistics from Turkey: According to the numbers provided by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, 30% of Turkish population is illiterate while only 0.01% of the population read regularly. In 2012, 480.257.824 books were published, however, this number includes everything from texts books for classrooms to various kinds of non-fiction. When it comes to literary fiction, only 15.034 books were published. Turkey’s population is almost 75 million, according to official numbers, which gives us this conclusion: when it comes to literary fiction and Turks, it is a broken, dysfunctional, tragic relationship.

We, as human beings, are hardwired for stories. We have been telling them ever since we found ourselves in a dark cave with some red paint and began drawing animals on the walls. It’s one of the first things we expose an infant to and it’s one of the greatest tools man has perfected to make sense of the chaotic world around him. There are many reasons as to why Turks don’t read novels: our literary traditions goes back to oral literature, and with the late arrival of the press, the written word is relatively new for us. The military coups of our more recent history is another factor: books found in houses were used as evidence to arrest, even torture people. Reading was considered to be an extremely dangerous habit and books were items to get rid of, burned or buried. All this and more may have contributed to our collective consciousness and may be preventing us from reading today. But from what I can see, this needs to change. Immediately.

The first rule of dialogue is to listenPsychologists David Comer Kidd, after conducting his study, has stated that, “What great writers do is to turn you into the writer. In literary fiction, the incompleteness of the characters turns your mind to trying to understand the minds of others.” We, as Turks, need this ability now more than ever. It is easy to turn a deaf ear and say that the “other” person is wrong. It is lazy to simply make up our mind and assume anyone who thinks differently than we do is stupid, ignorant or corrupt. It does not help us in any way or move us towards a constructive solution.

This idea of attacking social media as a means to silence anyone who doesn’t happen to share your opinion, the idea that even 140 characters are intolerable, is a clear sign of how desperately we are in need of empathy. Could something as simple as reading more books be a part of the solution? Not tomorrow perhaps, or not next week, but slowly, gradually, page-by-page, literary fiction can carve the path towards a future where it could be possible to say: “I understand you,” to one another. It’s like the famous Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet says,

“To overcome lies in the heart, in the streets, in the books
from the lullabies of the mothers
to the news report that the speaker reads,
understanding, my love, what a great joy it is,
to understand what is gone and what is on the way.”

Aslihan Agaoglu

Aslihan Agaoglu @Asli_Agaoglu
Aslihan Agaoglu was born in İstanbul and worked as a lawyer before she moved to England, where she did her MA in creative writing at the University of Kent. She is currently completing her Ph.D. at the department of Middle Eastern studies, King’s College London.


First they came for the Twitter, and I did not speak out– Because I was not in Turkey

First they came for the Twitter, and I did not speak out– Because I was not in Turkey

Then they came for Facebook in Turkey, and I did not speak out– Because I could still use Facebook.

Then they came tried to stop the demonstration in Turkey, and I did not speak out– Because I was in another country.

Then my government came to silence me–and there was no one left to speak for me as Social Media around the world was already silenced.

Craig Burrows after Pastor Martin Niemöller



“Hegel observes somewhere that all great incidents and individuals of world history occur, as it were, twice.  He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”

Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1851)

harpogrpucho chico


Oh fabulous farce, the art of the improbable, the exaggerated, the ludicrous, the bizarre, the brazen and often the stupid, the essence of what Turks once called democracy, a word they dare not now pronounce. Still, aren’t we all so lucky to be living in Turkey? Sure we are. Turkey, the land of politicians that plunder while they pray, ludicrously lie without blushing and murder and maim the nation’s youth. Turkey, once brimming with hope, now the land of hopelessness. Still…aren’t we happy, happy, happy? Of course we are. Therefore aren’t we stupid? Of course we…. next question, please.

Forget your troubles! Get happy! Allah, Yahweh and Jesus all love you! Why the other night the commanding general of the world’s largest, best trained and best armed terrorist group was released from jail. He was lucky. Hundreds of his fellow officers, jailed years before him, are still inside. Strange isn’t to have a nation’s army called a terrorist group? Who would dare call it so? The name, their name, is treason. Their names are the names of founders of the ruling religious fascist party. Meet Abdullah Gül, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Bülent Arınç, the three stars of that fast fading, soon to close farce called Ergenekon. And this dynamic trio, this merry band, the Harpo Marx, Groucho Marx and Chico Marx of their shameless Turkish times, they cooked up this entire treacherous deal. Really, these guys are too much, a real riot of laughs. So get this, after the general was released, all three sent him congratulations messages. So funny they are… HA-HA-HA. They couldn’t be any funnier if they had hit him in the face with cream pies. These three comics canned the general for 26 months and then they celebrate his release. HA-HA-HA! Then they sent for the real clown and in comes the major opposition party leader to join in the celebration. HA-HA-HA!  Too much, wouldn’t you agree? Don’t you love farce?

Well, Ergenekon has been legally stinking for years. It’s all based on fabricated evidence and secret, false witnesses. Who wrote this joke? Well start with the CIA and assorted traitorous dopes in Turkey. Who produced it? Harpo, Groucho and Chico, with a supporting cast of sold-out journalists, police, prosecutors and judges. Who’s the evil genius? Every farce needs an evil genius. Why he’s an old friend of Harpo, Groucho, and Chico. His name? Feto. Who’s he? He’s an under-educated imam who peddles a line of religious snake-oil blather that appeals to people who are too busy to read and think. But not too busy to be sneaky, violent and suborn treason. He has a big following in Turkey. He makes loads of money so bankrolling the Ergenekon farce was not even a slight problem. And, of course, to further darken the melodrama enter the CIA. Color me green as in a green card for Feto. Color me green as in an Islamic green tie for Groucho. Color me green as in massive bribes and kickbacks and secret bank accounts in the Alps. So far, so bad. Yes, Uncle Feto has been very good to these destroyers of Turkey. And he has been true to his word. He promised to destroy democracy years ago before he escaped into the welcoming arms of the CIA in America, Pennsylvania to be precise. But now pity poor Feto. His old subversive comrades have turned on him. It seems they need a patsy, like Lee Harvey Oswald was fifty years ago. Why? Well, it seems that Groucho and his bit-player ministers and assorted cronies have been stealing everything. Hoses are everywhere sucking, sucking, sucking. Their houses are collapsing from the zillions of shoeboxes stuffed with dollars and euros and whatever else flies in. So Groucho needs a cover, something to take him from being a pious thief to a savior of the nation. Hmmm….

So what does he do? He blames Feto for the whole disaster. The new game is called Fingering Feto. And that’s why the Turkish Marx brothers, now little angels, are congratulating the general. I wonder if they will send congratulations to all the hundreds of soon-to-be-released prisoners whose lives they have stolen? Do they really think that the Turkish people will believe that they are clean, that they too have been made patsies by the patsy, Feto? Remember, farces are brazen and bizarre.

Groucho says he’s saving the nation from Feto’s horrible assault on privacy and the military and everything else. Groucho is, as usual, lying, since he said he was the lead prosecutor in all these cases. Farces are ludicrous too. And so the leading opposition has made an alliance of sorts with Feto. The result? Voters in the coming election can vote for the treasonous ruling party or the treasonous major opposition party. This is pretty funny isn’t it? HA-HA-HA.

Or is this the stupid part? HA-HA-HA!

James (Cem) Ryan
8 March 2014

Brightening Glance, http://www.brighteningglance.org/


The General Leaves Jail