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Islam and Politics ( 8 Apr 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Hate Speech Provokes Violence in Turkey



By Lale Kemal

April 06, 2015

A talkative taxi driver who I come across on and off because I frequently use the same taxi company was telling me lately that his son of around 30, who has graduated from a police academy, has not yet been given a job by the National Police Department even though he passed his exams and is qualified to become a state employee as a police officer.

Who knows -- this young guy might have been a victim of the nepotism at work more than ever under the current government.

As he was driving me home, the same taxi driver continued his conversation about the weather in Ankara, which has seen snow on a day in April, saying that it was also very snowy this year in New York and that his wife was just back from there, where she was visiting their daughter. Then I asked him why his son, idle at the moment, was not visiting her to widen his worldview while improving his English, if he does not speak the language. He responded by saying that his son likes neither Americans nor Israelis, so refuses to travel to the US. In response I told him that this is a very bizarre mindset and that good and bad people exist everywhere. In order not to provoke him I did not tell him what I told myself at that moment: How will the son of this taxi driver act neutrally if he finally gets a job as a police officer with a mindset of hating certain nationalities and countries? But this is what many Turks are; they can become very racist and would not see any problem using discriminative or insulting words against other Turks, the majority of whom are Sunni Muslims, or Turkish Kurds, Alevis, Christian minorities or other nationalities.

This hate-speech phenomenon in Turkey results in divisions within society, while creating cycles of violence and retaliation. People from every walk of life -- either occupying senior positions within the state apparatus or elected governments, politicians, academics, journalists or ordinary citizens -- will see no problem in using insulting and discriminatory words against the others, sometimes labelling them traitors.

During the many years of military tutelage in Turkey, state employees -- including the military as well as the governments and other politicians -- would frequently resort to hate speech and saw no problem in profiling citizens while subjecting them to smear campaigns, using the judiciary or the police to silence dissent.

Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink's murder in 2007 was the result of hatred sown within the public. The killing of Father Andrea Santoro in the Black Sea city of Trabzon and of those Turks and a German citizen at the Zirve Publishing House in Malatya were crimes committed as a result of hatred disseminated within the society.

Yet we have been witnessing for a long period of time a policy similar to that of the system of military tutelage -- now in decline -- being pursued by the current Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, in particular since it parted ways with democracy.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his government's increased suppression of dissent coupled with hate speech have played a significant role in the increase of violence in society. A recent incident among many can be cited as an example of the grave results of hate speech. A group of unidentified assailants this past Saturday night opened fire on and threw stones at a bus carrying Fenerbahçe players to the Trabzon airport after a match with Çaykur Rizespor, who they defeated.

Hüseyin Aygün, a deputy from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), blamed the bus attack on what he described as a fascist environment created by Erdoğan and based on repression, hatred and discrimination among people. Increased violence against women by their husbands or by their relatives is not a coincidence, either. The more the government uses rhetoric downgrading women's role in society, the more violent acts against women take place.

Similarly, the police have frequently resorted to excessive use of force against protesters and their violent acts have gone unpunished. Given that the highly controversial domestic security law was approved late last week by President Erdoğan after its adoption in Parliament in late March by the AKP majority, concerns have heightened that state-sponsored violence will reach an unprecedented level. This is because the law stipulates increased police powers -- such as increased use of deadly force -- without the appropriate safeguards, increased powers for provincial governors and deputy governors to direct police investigations while bypassing judicial authority and stiffer penalties for protesters.

An army of anonymous trolls supportive of Erdoğan and the ruling AKP that uses Twitter as a means to insult the opposition as well as making it a target for the public is another matter of concern in society.

In the meantime, legislation was recently adopted in Parliament against hate crimes. The big question mark is whether ahead of the June general election, the government -- seeking to come to power for the fourth time -- will itself respect the legislation criminalizing hate crimes when a vigorous response to such crimes becomes necessary. I have serious doubts about it, taking into consideration the fact that the domestic security law has the potential to further increase violence and insults by both the police and governors was put into force despite serious opposition to it.