Political Self-Sabotage in Turkey

Of all the global leaders that have made a name for themselves for being controversial, president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan definitely stands out.

Seen both as a hero who navigated the country out of long-running economic misery and a rightist ever pushing Islamist reforms and endangering Ataturk’s secular legacies, Erdogan appears to ideally fit the definition of someone who knows how to stay in headlines.

The fact that he can be argued to have a few accomplishments to his credit makes his ‘feather-ruffling’ rhetoric all the more piquing. From his ascension to the seat of Prime Minister in early 2000s, he has presided over periods of high economic growth and has led the country through a sharp rise in the financial well-being of citizens.

During his long rule, Turkey’s power and standing has improved among not just among its middle eastern-neighbors, but also at global level. But the way he has practiced politics has put him at odds with many. He’s known to issue some of the most polarizing statements of any head of state – among which are those that, as perceived by his critics, are brazen attempts to dilute Turkey’s secular character, excessive criticism of west, particularly of what he calls their prejudice against Turkey, women’s societal role, gender equality, and even social media.

We’ll now look at some of the most ‘storm-stirring’ comments he has made over the years. Regarding Islamization of politics, a subject that has come to serve as a lightning rod of criticism for most, he remarked, “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers…” About women, “You cannot put women and men on an equal footing. It is against nature. They were created differently. Their nature is different. She should not laugh loudly in front of all the world and should preserve her decency at all times.”

And, “Our religion has defined a position for women (in society): motherhood. “ Even social media couldn’t escape his salvo. “The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society.”

These remarks, along with many others, have put major dents in Erdogan’s political reputation at home and come to strain his relations with the west. Voters, who once held faith in Erdogan ability to take their country forward, are now increasingly questioning his ability to lead.

It is indeed a sad set of affairs for the president, something for which only his politically self-sabotaging tendencies can be blamed. The example of Erdogan thus demonstrates how indiscretion can rob a leader of his popularity, despite having a portfolio of achievements under his belt.

How Reliable is Social Media?

In my early years at secondary school, one of the first things I remember being taught about in History was the reliability of evidence. We were told of the difference between primary and secondary sources, and how we should analyse the content of such sources before making a judgment on their ramifications on the topic at hand. Unfortunately, scrutiny of information in today’s world only seems to be something that journalists and academics are interested in.

Whenever a major news story breaks out, we are quick to share articles and images related to the subject through social media. Take this image of Lionel Messi holding a t-shirt that says Free Palestine. Whenever a new act of Israeli aggression occurs and people remember the plight of Palestinians, this image spreads like wildfire across Facebook and Twitter. However, this image has clearly been Photoshopped and the original can be seen here. The t-shirt he can be seen holding has the logo for Rosario’s bid to host the 2019 Pan American Games, which is Messi’s hometown. Interestingly, the Argentine Olympic Committee didn’t even end up putting Rosario forward for the bid, opting for La Punta instead, illustrating that having the world’s greatest footballer on your side doesn’t always lead to victory.

Another story that was publicised last year was that Cristiano Ronaldo had donated €1.5 million to Palestinian children in Gaza. It first appeared on Russia Today’s website, citing Real Madrid’s Arabic news website as a source and from there it was published on a number of blogs. It didn’t appear on any credible news outlet, nor did Real Madrid acknowledge the donation, so it is quite likely that this was a hoax too. The Real Madrid Foundation does do work in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and Ronaldo did donate money towards Palestinian causes in 2011, albeit a significantly smaller amount, but it’s strange why someone would make up such a story.

Freddie Kanoute is one footballer that has always been outspoken in support of Palestine and even lifted his football shirt after scoring a goal to reveal a t-shirt in support of Interpal. Last November, he published a statement on his website expressing solidarity with the people of Gaza, which was signed by a number of prominent footballers. The statement that appears on there has been edited since it first appeared, with a few of the footballers disappearing, such as Dider Drogba and Yohan Cabaye, after denying that they had signed such a statement. Eden Hazard’s name can still be seen there, despite his agent saying that Hazard never speaks out about political issues.

This problem is not just confined to the topic of Palestine. When Rohingya Muslims were being persecuted in Burma, a number of images appeared on social media sites relating to the issue. However, Faraz Ahmed of The Express Tribune did a little digging to find that many of these images were used completely out of context. Just last month, after the Hazara genocide in Pakistan, this picture was shared on Facebook and Twitter, showing a father in a grave clutching his dead child, however the image was actually from a Turkish television show called Ali Memati.

Even more worrying than the people who share these stories on social media without verifying them is that there are other people out there who started the spread of these stories and images in full knowledge that they are either false or used out of context. Issues relating to Palestine, Burma and Pakistan don’t need celebrity endorsement or powerful imagery to draw people’s attention to them. Within these countries and many others around the world, people are suffering and dying, and this itself should be a strong enough reason for us to take an interest in the issue at hand.

But above all, we should realise that social media is not a replacement for news media, and just because your friend has posted a photo or story relating to a hot topic, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it comes from a true source. We are all equipped with the intellectual tools to analyse these stories for their credibility, and sometimes all it takes is a bit of Googling to determine whether something is authentic.