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Today, I Am Closer To The Secularists

[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News] I don’t know whether it is noticeable from overseas, but Turkey has been shaken since last Tuesday night with the arrest of Hanevi Avcı, a well-known police chief. Almost every news channel has aired shows discussing what this means, and the papers are full of confusing stories and heated comments. As for me, I am a little more cautious than most other commentators, for two reasons: First, I really don’t know much about the internal tensions in the police, which the controversy is mostly about. Secondly, I want to refrain from accusing anybody, including Avcı himself, unfairly. So, let me just tell you the story briefly and try to think out loud. A respectable past First, Avcı is a man with a very respectable past. As a successful cop in police intelligence, he became a public figure in the late 90s when he first revealed the mafia-type connections in his organization. His even bigger act of courage was to stand against the generals of the “post-modern coup” in 1998 by exposing some dirty facts about the military on TV. He paid the price by being prosecuted for “revealing state secrets,” and was briefly imprisoned. When the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, came to power in late 2002, they appointed Avcı, who had been demoted during the coup years, as the head of the police department on organized crimes. He continued his successful career there and later in other posts, keeping his respectability as a mildly conservative, reasonably nationalist and highly honest man. But just two months ago, Avcı came out with a book that suddenly turned some of his former friends into foes and former foes into friends. Strangely titled “Haliç’te Yaşayan Simonlar: Dün Devlet Bugün Cemaat” (“Simons” of Haliç: Yesterday State, Today Religious Congregation), the book became an overnight hit, selling more than half a million copies in just a few weeks. The word “Simon” here is a codename for a former outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, terrorist who supported the execution of his own sister in cold blood “for the benefit of the cause.” Avcı, who interrogated Simon, had seen a dangerous mix of extreme idealism and extreme blindness there: The man was doing something terribly evil, but supposedly for noble reasons. This “idealistic wickedness,” Avcı concluded, emerges in tight-knit ideological or religious groups, and it is all too dangerous. In the first part of this 600-page book, Avcı explained how the very Turkish state has turned some of its civil servants into “Simons” by making them use all means necessary against the enemies of the state. He heavily criticized the authoritarian mindset in Ankara that persecuted peaceful dissidents, pushing them to become “terrorists.” He said, in other words, what most liberals have been saying all along. But it was really the second part of the book, which began after page 400, that had a deep impact. Here, Avcı was arguing that some of the methods used by the state in the past were now being used by members of “the community” in the police against those whom they saw as threats. And the “community” here was a reference to none other than the religious movement led by popular Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen. Let me take a moment here to say this: I have been a friend of the Fethullah Gülen movement, for I believe that their work such as schools, NGOs and interfaith dialogue is very good not just for Turkey but the whole world. In Turkey, there are people who hate the movement for the very same things, for they simply hate anything that is religious. I have defended the Gülen Movement, or other religious groups with peaceful teachings, against the theophobia of these people, and I will continue to do so. Set Avcı free Yet what Avcı speaks about is a different matter. He criticized only the “pro-Gülen cadre in the police,” which he saw as the main force behind the controversial Ergenekon case. He argued that these particular policemen, who gradually came to key positions, initiated a witch-hunt against those whom they suspected to be Ergenekon supporters, including some of Avcı’s best friends. He also argued that the same policemen tailored some of the evidence in the Ergenekon case, simply to set them up. I don’t know whether Avcı is right or wrong in these accusations. Yet, although I feel that his personal grievance with the “pro-Gülen cadre” might have comprised his own objectivity, I can’t dismiss his claims right away. What alarmed me more was his unexpected arrest. The alleged reason is that he is connected with a marginal Marxist-Leninist terror group, supposedly through a girlfriend, a bizarre story that convinced neither me, nor most of the people I know. Many rather now believe that Avcı’s arrest only makes his claims stronger. I will keep an eye on this story and try to understand it better. Meanwhile, it is clear that Avcı should be released, as should some other people in the Ergenekon case who have been in custody for almost two years now. Let them be tried, but not punished before being sentenced. Alas, we have had enough McCarthyism in this country against religious people. Now we should not let things turn the other way around. I, for my part, will not.
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