A gaffe has been famously defined by Michael Kinsley as telling a truth the politician didn’t intend to admit. Maybe that is what happened when former Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin made this infamous speech:
…the work of a terrorist organization doesn’t just take place in the mountains, the plains, the cities, the streets, simply by setting itself up in back streets and callously attacking in the night, it is not solely armed terror. It has another wing. There is psychological terror, scientific terror. There is a back room, feeding terror. In other words, there is propaganda, there is terrorist propaganda. How does this get transmitted, maybe he is drawing a picture and reflecting it on the canvas, in a poem, in a column in the newspaper, in a joke. He cannot stop himself, he targets the soldier, [and] the police officer who are taking part in the fight against terrorism in his work, in his art in order to demoralize them. Those who fight terrorism are subjected to a struggle against them. The back room where terror is hovering about and conducting these activities, and the back room is Istanbul, Izmir, Bursa, Vienna, Germany, London, wherever it is, a rostrum in a university, an association, a civil society organization. I think the fight against the one in the mountains is easy and this back room weed and cress are all mixed up. They all look green. They are mixed up, some are poisonous, some very healthy. Which one is healthy which is poisonous, you only know when you eat it.
Sahin’s speech set off a political firestorm, but the ugly truth is that his words reflect not only the thinking of Turkish authorities, but their actions. Thousands have been arrested and imprisoned in Turkey under anti-terrorism laws, even when no violence is alleged. Scholars, artists, students, and human rights activists have all been swept up under broad and ambiguous laws.
It is time we end this travesty and push for legal reform that will bring Turkish law into line with international standards and give real protection to freedom of expression. It is time to end the criminalization of dissent in Turkey.
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Howard Eissenstat, St. Lawrence University