November 13, 2015

Gov’t hate speech against Hizmet condemned

Analysts have criticized the hate speech employed by top government officials and the pro-government media against the faith-based Hizmet movement and other dissidents, while calling for solidarity among those victimized by the smear campaign.

“Hizmet is facing enmity due to its opposition to the government and because of its dissenting stance. This is propaganda aimed at creating a [negative] perception,” Aslı Tunç, a professor of communications at İstanbul Bilgi University, told Today's Zaman following a panel discussion on “Fight against Discriminatory Discourse” at Bilgi.

The government's smear campaign against the Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement, began after two graft probes went public in December 2013.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), but particularly then-Prime Minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is among those implicated in the corruption scandal, described the probes as a coup plot against the government, while accusing the movement of being behind the probes.

Noting that those media outlets that properly report events are being targeted by the government and pro-government media, Tunç added: “The victims should act together against injustice. The bigger picture needs to be seen without making any difference between the Cumhuriyet, Zaman and Hürriyet [dailies].”

The Zaman daily, whose former editor-in-chief is facing charges of being part of a terrorist organization, is close to the Gülen movement, while Cumhuriyet and Hürriyet are among the dailies faced with government pressure.

Ekrem Dumanlı, the former editor-in-chief of the Zaman daily, is accused of establishing and administrating an armed organization based on two op-ed pieces and one article published in Zaman six years ago.

As part of an intensified government campaign cracking down on critical and independent media outlets in Turkey, Hidayet Karaca, the general manager of the Samanyolu TV station, which is also close to the faith-based movement, is currently in prison based on the same charges as Dumanlı.

According to Bülent Bilmez, a professor of history at the same university, what's been going on in Turkey as far as pressure over dissidents is concerned can be described as the disregarding of the weak by the strong.

Following the graft investigations, Erdoğan has on various occasions called Gülen a “false prophet,” a “fake saint” and a “bogus scholar.” He has called the Hizmet movement a “parallel state,” a “gang,” an “illegal organization” and “raving Hashashins” -- referring to a long-forgotten order of assassins.

Noting that the hate speech against dissidents, ranging from Kurds, Alevis, Armenians and sympathizers of the Gülen movement receives approval rather than criticism from the masses, Bilmez told Today's Zaman: “Those who have used hate speech in politics saw it paid in terms of votes [in elections]… Politicians get applause for the hate speech, as they insult [various] groups and people.”

The AK Party has been in power alone since it was first elected at the end of 2002. Fethullah Gülen is a Turkish Islamic scholar who preaches tolerance, peace and inter-faith dialogue. There are millions of people in Turkey and around the world who are inspired by his teachings.

Without providing any tangible evidence, Erdoğan and the pro-government media have accused Gülen of treason, of being the head of a terrorist organization.

Despite the absence of any court decision listing Gülen as a terrorist, Turkey's Interior Ministry recently placed him on a list of the most dangerous and wanted terrorists in a move that has attracted widespread criticism for being politically motivated.

Erdoğan and the pro-government media have also often claimed, since the two corruption probes that went public on Dec. 17 and 25, sympathizers of the movement are nested in bureaucracy and the police force like a “parallel state,” while Gülen has denied any such allegation.

Following Turkey's biggest corruption scandal ever, four then-Cabinet ministers left their posts, while Erdoğan and some of his family members were also claimed to have been involved in corruption.

Following the two corruption probes, the pro-government media has also been part of the defamation campaign against the Gülen movement.

In July of this year, the Sabah daily, which is widely considered to be the mouthpiece of President Erdoğan, claimed that Gülen and his followers were specially trained by the CIA and FBI to overthrow the AK Party government.

Foreign scholars whose work focused on hate speech -- Michal Krzyżanowski and Marloes Van Noorloos -- were the participants of the panel discussion at the university on Tuesday.

In remarks to Today's Zaman, Van Noorloos from Tilburg University of the Netherlands criticized the media outlets that have become part of the smear campaign against the movement. “It is a serious issue that some media outlets serve as a tool as far as hate speech is concerned,” he said. “Media workers cannot aim to promote hate speech.”

Underlining that it is quite worrying if the government is, itself or via its media, using hate speech against dissidents, Van Noorloos said: “In the eyes of the West, there are serious problems regarding the lack of freedom enjoyed by the civil society and the media. The international community should really say stop to this [kind of behavior].”

Krzyżanowski, the head of the Media and Communications Department at Örebro University in Sweden, advised against government pressure over critical media outlets that provide alternative media platforms such as the Internet and social media.

Noting that those who remain in power for so long have a tendency to destabilize civil society, Krzyżanowski said, “The media, but particularly the submissive media, reports based on its interests.”

Gülen has repeatedly denied any involvement in the corruption investigations but Erdoğan, Davutoğlu and some leading government officials have continued to hurl insults at the movement they had formerly praised.

The movement has been subjected to a defamation campaign and has been called the “treacherous gang of Pennsylvania” -- a reference to Gülen who lives in self-exile in Pennsylvania.

Since the graft probes, Erdoğan has -- in an obvious effort to stigmatize the movement while using it as a scapegoat -- said on numerous occasions that the government will enter the lair of the so-called “parallel structure.”

Published on Today's Zaman, 13 November 2015, Friday