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Ergenekon Reloaded: A Leap of McCarthyism

[Originally published in the Hürriyet Daily News, with readers' comments] It is philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, it is said, to whom we owe the term "a leap of faith." By this, we mean subjective beliefs people add on top of facts to arrive at religious or philosophical conclusions. And, if you ask me, it is not a problem at all to have a leap of faith – unless you impose it on others. That's why it is necessary to keep public discussions centered on facts rather than everybody's personal "leaps." I might be sounding too philosophical, but I actually want to talk about a very current topic: the recent arrest of two journalists as a part of Turkey's controversial Ergenekon probe. I have been a defender of that probe, for I saw many facts behind it. But I also think that the case has just taken a worrying leap into a much more speculative phase. It might, I fear, have just taken a leap of McCarthyism. Unfolding suspicion Here is why. The Ergenekon probe began some five years ago, when many grenades (i.e., facts) were found in an Istanbul home. As the police dug it up, the links led them to some retired officers who were ready to "save the country" from the incumbent Justice and Development Party, or AKP, by all means necessary, including false flag attacks on secular targets. As the probe continued, facts multiplied, as guns, bombs and rocket launchers were unearthed from secret locations. The civilian allies of these coup-craving officers were also factual, for their covert meetings with the would-be junta were documented. The political scene was also very telling, for, as journalist İsmet Berkan explains in his new book, there was a clear "whatever-happens-happens-just-get-the-AKP-out-of-office-coalition." (It might be worthwhile to note that Berkan is not a "pro-AKP Islamist;” he is rather as secular as one can be, and is the former editor-in-chief of liberal daily Radikal.) Yet that whole effort failed. The AKP, surprisingly and exceptionally, survived. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gave his full political support to the Ergenekon probe to find out all those who conspired to overthrow his government. So far, so good – to me, at least. But as the Ergenekon probe unfolded, the prosecutors, who were apparently enthusiastic about their job, continued to find new suspects for the investigation, whose "connections" with the more established suspects looked questionable. (They could just be like-minded buddies, but not necessarily co-coup-plotters.) That's when I began to speak about the possible "excesses" of the case. The more worrying chapter for me opened with "Ergenekon's media branch," as the prosecutors and their defenders in the media defined it. The website Oda TV, which was raided a month ago, was obviously a creepy ultra-nationalist propaganda outlet, but how could we be certain that its editors were a part of the "Ergenekon terror network?" And did they really need to be tried under arrest? The more worrying case was the arrest of Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık last Sunday, who did not even share the ideology of Ergenekon. They rather wrote books against Ergenekon! So, what was the deal? The transcript of the hours-long interrogation that these journalists went through in the prosecutor's office, and which was somehow "leaked" to the media, show the prosecutor's logic: Apparently, a document was found in the Oda TV computers titled, "National Media 2010." It outlined a "propaganda plan" for, among other things, showing the Ergenekon probe as a show trial made up by the AKP and Islamic communities, and thus "de-legitimizing the probe." And, reportedly, the same document mentioned the names of Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık as journalist whose works can be used for that purpose – although these two deny the connection. Remarkable logic In other words, here is how the prosecutor's logic works: Ergenekon is a terrorist organization. Oda TV, which makes propaganda on behalf of Ergenekon, is also a terrorist organization. And those journalists who seem to cooperate with Oda TV are also terror suspects. Faced with media reaction, the prosecutor also released a statement saying that there is some other "serious evidence" to arrest Şener and Şık – but evidence that "can not be disclosed at this time." So, just sit down, shut up, and wait. To me, all this sounds unacceptable. First, there is something called "the benefit of the doubt," yet Şener and Şık seem to have not benefited from that at all. Unless it is evidenced that they wrote their books with a general telling them, "this is your part in our coup, son," or something as clear as that, they can't be rightly accused of being a member of a junta. Secondly, and most importantly, why in the world have they been put in jail? They could just be questioned by the prosecutor and then let go, as their case could – and probably will – go on for years. Finally, let me add that I see none of this as a conspiracy by the AKP government or a particular Islamic community to "silence opposition," as is claimed these days. (The AKP really does not need to silence opposition to win elections.) I rather believe that the prosecutors, the police, and all other authorities involved are quite honest and sincere in their over-suspicious way of seeing Ergenekon everywhere. But, alas, so was Senator Joseph McCarthy, in the way he saw Communist subversion everywhere.
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