Monday, February 28, 2011

A Liberal Democracy?

Jenny White calls attention to a recent incident in Ankara wherein a group of people advocating for organ donation got in a confrontation with police. From Kamil Pasha:
The governor of Ankara province wanted the stands handing out brochures to be removed from Yüksel Boulevard, one of Ankara’s main thoroughfares. A mass of police in full riot gear arrived to carry out his order and got into a discussion with a young woman at a stand promoting organ donorship. Young people gathered and surrounded her protectively, chanting “No to Fascism.” Watch the film. In seconds the police had moved in violently, as they have done with other protests and public civic actions in recent years, often by students and other young people. You can see them dragging people off (the news account said some were dragged away by the hair), throwing them about like paper dolls, and in the film if you watch carefully, you will see a policeman punching one of the young women hard in the face twice.

What was it that Erdogan said about the praiseworthy youth in Egypt demonstrating for their rights, that Mubarak should heed his people’s wishes?

Over-the-top police violence against men and women has been the norm in Turkey since I first went there in the 1970s. The problem has been police immunity and a continuing culture of disrespect for youth, for women, and for civil rights; a widespread acceptance and even approval of violence as a sign of masculinity and love of nation; and a lack of understanding of the principles of liberal democracy — making a safe space for alternative views and lifestyles. Democracy too often means I got the most votes, so everyone else should fall in line with my ideas and my values. A 2006 survey by Çarkoğlu and Toprak shows that the majority of the population values democracy and civil liberties, but shows little sensitivity toward others’ rights. Democracy is understood as a system that represents the views of the majority, rather than protecting the rights of minorities.
Radikal has posted a video of the incident.

Respect for difference and moving toward a liberal versus majoritarian understanding of democracy is one of, if not the, primary deficits of Turkish politics and one I have written about extensively. Events like the attack on the art galleries in Tophane last September to the beating of an Alevi man who sold alcohol at his store to the 1993 burning of the Madimak Hotel in Sivas (which left 37 people dead, mainly Alevis), and countless, countless others all stem from this basic need to respect difference and the rights of others.

On the government level, such questions are raised by restrictions on alcohol, "immoral broadcasting," the harassment and closure of LGBT groups, etc. Most of these posts are marked with "creeping conservatism," but they might also be labeled as "concerns for liberal democracy." And, conversely, respect for those who choose to drink alcohol should also be met with respect for those who choose not to drink alcohol just as respect for those who wear the headscarf should be met with respect for those who do not wear it. Too often disrespect is the story . . . over and over and over (like a broken record).

For more on the police, who should be first in line to be inculcated to respect the rights of others, see this December 2008 report from Human Rights Watch. See also many of the entries marked "police."

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