Women's March against pass laws and the 1976 Soweto Uprising to more recent cases: Andries Tatane who died during service delivery protests in Ficksburg, and the notorious Marikana. 6000 protests were officially recorded during 2004, and about 1000 protests were illegally banned. This meant that at least 15 protests were taking place each day in South Africa at this time, leading to South Africa being dubbed "protest capital of the world." Life goes on. The same government stays in power. While people seethe over President Zuma’s Nkandla, we never pick on his religion, Christianity. It seems reductive then that this past week’s events in Turkey - rioting, looting, vandalism and violent police action should all direct the media to grumbles against ‘Islamism’ in Turkey.South Africa and resistance are synonymous. From major events like the 1956
Turkey represents a positive dynamic: democratic and religious, plus an economic success story. Only two non-Western countries have taken to this type of empowerment: China’s notoriously authoritarian model, and Turkey’s more democratic one. It therefore seems incongruous that Erdogan critics are so riled over these protests, going so far as to create parallels between Taksim and Tahrir Square. The rush to equate a despot (Mubarak) and a lawfully elected leader (Erdogan), even if he has grown increasingly patronising and domineering, is unwarranted and injudicious.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an swept into power in 2002, and won an unprecedented re-election in 2007. Their win attracted attention worldwide due to the party’s association with practicing Muslims throughout Turkey, a nation where despite a past as a caliphate, a minority secular elite backed by a brutal army had determined politics and policies for decades. The AK Party, during its 11 years as Turkey's leading power, has done much to transform Turkey into a more democratic nation, tackling ages of military tutelage, minority rights, the Kurdish problem that has claimed approximately 40,000 lives and pushed Turkey forth as a regional power that was relatively unscathed by the global financial crisis.
Was it only trees; a bridge; a mosque being built; decisions on public decorum in urban spaces like no kissing on public transportation; legislation on limiting alcohol sales that caused such widespread protests? Thousands reportedly participated, from Gezi Park in Taksim Square to sixty-seven cities all over Turkey from Ankara and Izmir, to Adana and Hatay. What followed was heavy handedness by the Istanbul police. On Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arnic apologised for "excessive violence" against protesters.
It would seem media coverage of the protests has been misleading and dismissively reductive blaming alcohol laws as Erdogan’s ‘authoritarianism’ and ‘Islamisation’. Some have gone as far as accusing Erdogan of using chemical weapons against his own people. Some protesters are reportedly harassing women in hijab, others dressing up in niqaab and staging photographs as if they were counter-protesting in support of police brutality against protesters and then posting these in secular Facebook groups, fueling the flames of potential civil conflict.
Legitimate concerns are imprisonments of journalists in Turkey and unwarranted bulwarks against freedom of speech. In 2008, Professor Atilla Yayla was both given a 15 month prison sentence for referring to Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, as “this man” and accusing Kemalism of being backward -- under Law No. 5816, which protects the memory of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Other examples (among many) are of of slain journalist Hrant Dink, who a case was filed against under Article 301 of the TCK for insulting Turkishness. Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, also accused of denigrating Turkishness was charged under the same article, as well as popular author Elif Safak.
It is important in all of this to separate Muslim (leadership) bashing from real activists. Turkey is not new to the "secular" and "sacred" divide. Legitimate environmental protests (trees, park, bridge) are just that, and citizens have a right to protest. Erdogan plans to build a 1,275-metre suspension bridge, with an expected price tag of six billion dollars across the Bosphorus, linking the European and Asian sides of Istanbul. Opponents to the plan say the bridge will destroy some of the only remaining green areas in the city and have condemned the government’s lack of consultation with local community groups. He has also pushed for building a shipping canal across the Bosphorus, and in May, the government signed a contract to develop a third airport in Istanbul, with a capacity of 150 million passengers. Impoverished residents of Istanbul have also been pushed out to make way for real estate developers and luxury housing projects.
True, police reaction was unwarranted, but also accounted for via public apologies by those in office. After all that has happened over the past week (as in a democratic country), Erdogan has made concessions, and the Mayor of Istanbul has stated that he is open to reconsidering plans. Interestingly, all those detained on charges for inciting violence via Twitter have since been released, and it was eleven foreign nationals who were detained on accusations that they were helping provoke the Gezi Park protests. Similarly, representatives of a variety of labour and trade unions have displayed a fairly reserved approach concerning the Gezi Park unrest, hovering between supporting democratic rights and warning against those with “bad intentions.”
“We regrettably see that demonstrations are attempted to be drawn to different courses by marginal groups, the developments provide the ground to serve those with bad intentions toward our country. Our sincere citizens must be sensitive about this and should not allow criminal actions such as burning, and destroying to overshadow rights and freedoms.”
Finally, Emrah Yildiz, writing for Jadaliyyah, makes a valid point (paraphrased) related to media umbrage towards the Turkish protests, and for that matter protests all over the Muslim world:
Instead of naming the participants, “secularists” think of them as “areligious” in that their demands stand prior to the question of religion and politics. Participants in Turkey gained an opportunity to learn from and teach each other how to negotiate political stances and social worlds in the face of the alignment dubbed as “resistance” in Turkey. It now gives us (the rest of the world) the opportunity to rethink our politics of naming unstable assemblages of resistance [“Taksim is Tahrir” “Turkish Spring”] and to better understand the alignments of dissent that set the stage for them to emerge.
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