there’s an african proverb that says, “if you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a closed room with a mosquito.” while the idea is surely wise, it raises a variety of questions: how long will that mosquito will live? does it have much of a chance to see the following day? when those in power disrespect the rule of law, when they make law applicable only to their interests, how are dissenting citizens likely to have a different fate than that mosquito?
i mention this depressing idea as a way to better understand the plight of journalists now imprisoned in turkey. according to committee to protect journalists (cpj) “at least 81 journalists are imprisoned in turkey, all of them facing anti-state charges.” almost all of them are accused of being terrorists and traitors.
what’s happening now has no analog to any previous era in this country, yet people are making historical comparisons all the time. there’s been public conversation about changing the constitution for more than a decade, but until december the ruling party hadn’t presented an actual draft proposal to turn the debate from theoretical to concrete. now they seem to be in a big hurry to make the new constitution the law of the land.
in essence, the proposal consolidates all power with the president, and makes him legally immune from being held accountable for his actions. it does away with the prime minister, but allows the president to appoint as many as vice presidents as he sees fit — and those people don’t necessarily have to run in parliamentary elections. the president also would be free to appoint anyone from outside, and would have the authority to shutter all state institutions and restructure the government. there would be 50 additional parliamentarians, bringing the total to 600. and presidential and parliamentary elections would be held on the same day every five years.
during parliamentary debate on jan. 9, justice minister bekir bozdag argued, “what we are doing is returning back to the Ataturk constitution.” after all the years of treating the era of the one-party system, which existed during the republic’s founding years, as a whipping boy, it certainly does not surprise anyone.
this is the period — not limited to turkey, but all around the world — of populist politics. no one cares about the truth or reality, as long they can sell what they say to the public. add the constant rhetoric pitting one side against another, spiced with hate and anger, and the dialogue becomes only systematic reaction. academy award-winning actress meryl streep, in her golden globes speech, eloquently highlighted the dynamics of what makes both a democracy and a human being decent.
“disrespect invites disrespect,” she said. “violence incites violence. when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.” and then she used her power to draw attention to the work of the cpj and journalists around the world to hold those in power accountable.
her speech made us all excited here in turkey. it is extremely comforting to know that regardless of the immense pressures faced by those in the profession of seeking the truth, there are still those who wield a different kind of power, to demand the best journalism as the way to defend a civilized world.
but the risk of being an individual and speaking one’s mind is increasingly becoming an act of courage. fact and fiction seem to be getting more and more mixed up — or disregarded — and here in turkey, it seems to be affecting whether or not people even care to know or understand what the proposed constitutional change is about.
talking about reform is always good, but it does little when almost half the population believes this constitutional change is a bad thing — an instrument to sacrifice the will of the people to the power of one man, with no law to hold him accountable. for a man who made it his hallmark to sue those who speak against him, does it seem likely that there will still be mosquitos around keeping people awake for long?