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The Hunt On The 'Terrorist' Book

[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News, with readers' comments] Something very unexpected happened last week. Dozens of policemen visited the offices of daily Radikal, a fine newspaper who is just several floors above the Hürriyet Daily News in the same media plaza. The men in uniform were looking for all the available copies of a book draft with the peculiar title, "İmamın Ordusu” (The Imam’s Army). Its writer, reporter Ahmet Şık, has been in prison since last month for his alleged ties with the alleged terrorist network codenamed "Ergenekon." And his book, allegedly, was prepared with the orders, and the support, of the same terrorist network. So, this is the sad point that the Ergenekon case — something that is serious and crucial — has reached. Four years ago, when it began, it was about assassinations and bombings that aimed at destabilizing the country to open the way for a military coup. Nowadays it is about "propaganda on behalf of the terrorist network," and the arrest of journalists who are suspected to have "taken orders" from the would-be coup makers. Vague accusations From the first day on, of the arrest of journalists Nedim Şener and Şık, I have said that this is unacceptable. For "propaganda on behalf of terrorism" is a very vague accusation which can easily turn into thought policing. Unless it is clearly proven that a journalist has been in active cooperation to help a crime — such as running a headline that will attract more people to a location that will be bombed — people can not be accused for what they have written. Launching a police hunt on what they have written is even worse. What is further worse is that the hunted book, “İmamın Ordusu,” does not even seem to propagate in favor of Ergenekon and its ultra-secularist, ultra-nationalist ideology. What the book does, apparently, is to propagate against the police forces and the prosecutors who have carried out the Ergenekon investigation. The writer, Şık, seems convinced that the Islamic community led by Fethullah Gülen, a Sufi-minded and moderate-toned imam who lives in Pennsylvania, has penetrated the Turkish police and the judiciary and constitute the “real force” behind the Ergenekon probe. The spokesmen for the Gülen community, however, deny the accusations, and note that they would have been utterly unwise to prosecute a book which attacks them, if they had really controlled the police and the prosecutors. (That would only be a stupid move which only gives more strength to Şık’s argument.) The same spokesmen have also noted, quite reasonably, that there are at least a dozen “anti-Gülen” books on the shelves of Turkey’s bookstores. None of the authors who have written these books, which are often very cheap and paranoid tracts, have been prosecuted. So the idea that “anybody who touches Gülen burns” — as Şık said on the day of his arrest — does not seem very convincing. These arguments made sense to me. Besides, I already do not buy into the popular secularist conspiracy that the Gülen movement, like the Communists of Senator McCarthy, have “infiltrated the whole state.” Such sweeping conspiracy theories, which are all too popular in Turkey, are beliefs that cannot be not proved or refuted with empirical data. Thus, I believe, they should be left aside. A state tradition Therefore I am in favor of looking at the Turkish prosecutors and the Turkish police not as the heinous arms of a hidden group, but as actors in themselves. When we do that, we will actually find out that the bizarre raid on “terrorist propaganda” is actually not that bizarre. Turkey’s draconian laws, and the authoritarian legal mentality they represent, are very rigid on this matter. No wonder many Kurdish activists and politicians have been prosecuted for calling Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK, “sayın” — a word that denotes respect. Most of the “journalists in jail” are in prison for similar words of “propaganda support” for the PKK or various Marxist-Leninist terror groups. So, what we need in the wake of the hunt on Şık’s “terrorist” book, and similar acts of the Turkish police and the judiciary, is not trying to figure out which conspiracy theory about these forces are true. What we rather need is to question our laws, and our legal culture and reform them in the light of the principle of free speech. People should be able to bash the police, the judiciary, the government — and the military, of course — freely. The obstacle to that is our common illiberal mentality.
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