August 8, 2014

Are you waiting for gas chambers?

Abdülhamit Bilici

"We will clear Hendek of these people. Not a single member of the 'parallel structure' will be allowed to live in Hendek. It is not possible for them to stay here and continue their lives as if nothing has happened.

"Initially we pushed them out of the dorms and [student] houses. People will not accept the members of this group and organization in their houses. Our prime minister has told us to restrict the activity of Hizmet-affiliated facilities, and we are just fulfilling his request. I will continue to follow in my prime minister's footsteps. If he hits with a sledgehammer, I will hit with an iron hammer. I will continue to hit."

These disgraceful remarks, uttered by Hendek Mayor Ali İnci during the holy month of Ramadan just ahead of Eid al-Fitr, are clear evidence of the outcome of the hate campaign Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan launched in response to the graft and bribery probe that implicated four then-Cabinet ministers on Dec. 17, 2013, forcing them to resign from office. Although he should be reducing the tension ahead of the presidential election, Erdoğan is sticking to the same campaign at full throttle.

The insults Erdoğan hurls at millions of people from all walks of life who are inspired by the views of Islamic-Turkish scholar Fethullah Gülen, and at Gülen himself, are hair-raising: perverts, hashashin, agents, leeches, viruses, terrorists, false prophet, so-called scholar, etc.

If the prime minister attacks a specific social group with no justification, it is not surprising for his party's mayor to say, "It is not possible for them to stay here and continue their lives as if nothing happened." This attitude is reminiscent of the disgraceful boycott against the first Muslims in Mecca, in which non-Muslims were prohibited from marrying with believers, as well as of the Karbala tragedy, in which the Prophet Muhammad's grandson Hussein and his friends were brutally killed in a grab for power.

In modern times, humanity has seen similar incidents. The Nazis, who had popular backing, first demonized Jews and then massacred them en masse. This is one of the terrible consequences of hate-based policies pursued by the state. In our country, religious groups, Kurds, Alevis, nationalists, leftists and non-Muslim minorities have all suffered similar tragedies at the hands of the state or shadowy networks that claimed to act on the behalf of the state. For instance, we know that the incidents of Sept. 6-7, 1955 were the actions of such shadowy networks.

Due to this suffering, denigrating or threatening a specific group or people in connection with their faith, race, gender or age constitutes a hate crime and is an offense under the law. Amendments made to the Turkish Criminal Code (TCK) one year ago increased the sentences for hate crimes.

The European Court of Human Rights' (ECtHR) approach to the matter is quite clear. For the European court, any language that disseminates, fosters or legitimizes hatred falls under the category of hate speech and cannot be granted protection under freedom of expression. Moreover, Erdoğan not only uses this hate speech but also urges others to use it as well. This approach reaches the level of removing the signboards of educational institutions in midnight operations, sending tax inspectors to intimidate businessmen, indulging in discriminatory practices with public services, launching smear campaigns, etc. Furthermore, the prime minister of a country has publicly admitted that he is engaging in a witch hunt for the first time in modern history. However, the use of hate speech by a government leader is almost unprecedented for the ECtHR. Racist Jörg Haider, who was a member of the coalition government in Austria until recently, is an exception. But he had to resign from office because of his views.

The hate speech that Erdoğan has been employing for months and the remarks from the Hendek mayor now indicate that Turkey and the Hizmet movement are facing a serious human rights problem. These hate crimes will be punished by the ECtHR, if not by local courts. What is worrying is that many intellectuals, scholars, celebrities, pro- or anti-government politicians, human rights organizations and sensitive people are just sitting and silently watching this hate speech, which has the potential to lead to irreparable sorrow. Are they waiting for gas chambers to be established or for some houses to be marked with crosses?

Published on Today's Zaman, 08 August 2014, Friday