Stuffing a man under a bus.

Sitting on the evening shuttle, on the cold, faux-leather seat, I watched a group of visiting students pile into a beautiful modern inter-city bus. The bus driver rounded the side with a student in tow. He opened up the luggage compartment underneath, where the young man piled into the space, securing himself between a stack of cushions and a pile of what looked to be burlap sacks of potatoes. The driver shut the compartment door, secured it and made his way back to the driver’s seat.

There was a time when this would have surprised me. But, rather than thinking the bus driver a lunatic, my thoughts went to the unfortunate young man now trapped under the bus. The roads here aren’t forgiving, and his underside would soon be regretting his new seating arrangement. The floor of the compartments is made of intermittently raised metal grating. I imagine the design keeps spilled liquids from pooling and destroying everyone’s things. But, that poor man’s tush! it would soon be all kinds of bruised.

I think this is a hilarious demonstration of problem solving here in the Republic: rather than risking a ticket it is routine for drivers with overstuffed busses to yell to everyone to crouch down when passing police.

Now, I’ve gotten lots of questions lately about the safety of this part of the world. And, while I may emerge with black lung from all the coal/trash burning that goes on in this city, and while bus drivers may on occasion stuff excess passengers under the bus, Turkey is, on the day to day, a lot safer than most large American cities.  But, given the recent Arab uprisings, and some clear misconceptions that apparently abound, I want to dispel any myths being perpetuated by the typically uninformed American mass-media regarding this part of the planet. Turkey is: 1. Not an Arab country 2. A country that practices free and fair elections 3. Not teetering on the brink of destruction.

There have been recent developments that have tarnished Turkey’s position of “the model nation” in this part of the world. To what do I refer? During the protests in Egypt, many in both the east and west suggested that Egyptians look to the Turkish model for ideas of how to form a functioning democracy that meshes human rights with Islam. And, while I want to again, dispel any misconceptions that Turkey is anything like Egypt or Libya, it is not the perfect portrait that these scholars have been painting.

Most recently, there has been a major crackdown on the freedom of the press. And, while the Turkish concept of freedom of the press varies significantly from that of those in the west, things have certainly taken a turn for the worse. In the investigation of a plot called Ergenekon, the government recently arrested over 80 individuals and then only last week arrested a number of well-respected journalists. These journalists had not been supporting the government’s line regarding Ergenekon: an alleged plot that aimed to orchestrate a military coup that would dislodge the current ruling AK Party.

The AK Party has edged its way into the daily life of the average Turk, but they have such a strong mandate that one can argue that their amendments to laws are actually the will of the people. And, isn’t that the beauty of democracy?

The beauty stops here.

There is currently a war being waged between several journalists and the government. It’s a standoff that has been decades in the making. The newly appointed US Ambassador Ricciardone made statements regarding his surprise at the current administration’s flagrant disregard for press freedom laws, to which the Turkish Interior Minister Beşir Atalay comically responded, “Turkey in terms of press freedom is much more independent a country than America… Turkey is a country where there is more press freedom than other democratic countries.” I’m not sure what Atalay is sniffing, but there is no way that this statement could possibly be understood as true.  He then showed the level of his ignorance by suggesting that Ricciardone should spend some time in a country before making such statements: Ricciardone speaks fluent Turkish having already served two stations in Ankara.

It would be funny if it weren’t so horrifying.

The press has been under a vice, slowly being tightened at intervals. This vice has been wound too tight lately, and journalists are feeling the panic that comes from being crushed to death. And, you can’t blame them: in one of the current court cases, the government recently entered into evidence recordings of phone conversations of a journalist who they had illegally tapped. Nobody in the government seems the least bit upset by the brazen disregard for basic civil liberties.

My question is, what about this is supposed to make the Turkish people proud? Is this the democracy they have earned?

Like the bus driver who decided that he wouldn’t risk getting a ticket for an over stuffed bus, and therefore decided on the far more dangerous option of stuffing a passenger in a place the police would never look, the government, rather than risk it, is plowing down those who they perceive as standing in their way.

Like stuffing a passenger under the bus, this is a far more dangerous option.

For more information:

Something rotten about the state of press freedom in Turkey

AKP attitude to press freedom a tasteless joke

Turkey slammed by international groups over detaining of journalists

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