The test of a leader’s commitment to democracy is not in peaceful and agreeable times but in times of dissent and disagreement. And Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has failed the test.
It’s easy to be democratic when no one asks for rights to dissent, to express their culture, to practice a different religion, to protest against government policies that they find unfair. It’s easy to be democratic if constituents obey, either mindlessly or for fear of retribution.
But that’s not a true democracy. Democracy is a messy business, based on the idea that multiplicity is good, and that in the great marketplace of ideas, the best ideas win. It is the ideal that no one owns power for their own self-interest, but that power is to be used for the good of constituents in the best possible fit.
It’s the idea that with discussion and debate, complaint and critique, the body politic waxes and wanes, tries this and that, but overall improves the lot of the many.
Determining what is good for one’s constituents never has and never will come from one person sitting in a position of power without an understanding of the experiences, hardships and desires of those people.
And controlling the flow of information by seizing all of the media, the educational institutions and the branches of government only makes this democratic goal impossible.
Democracy requires a lot of things, and among them is a free, open and ethical media establishment able to relentlessly check propaganda.
It requires the people’s ability to hear and consider complaints and possible solutions for those complaints, and ideas for better policies.
This is one way that people – not tyrants – can come to understand which ideas, policies and representatives they prefer.
Erdogan has failed this test and many more. He has brutally suppressed people who have protested against his policies. He has purged every branch of government of any opposition, large and small, alongside several mass media outlets and the educational academies.
Human rights groups believe he has tortured and killed those who supported the failed coup. He has openly rejected the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights and openly advocated for the return of the death penalty.
Astute observers should not be surprised. Turkey has never lived up to its myth. Built upon the blood, bones, and property of its past and present minorities, it has buried those facts and most of the evidence alongside their mass graves.
Some suspect that Erdogan’s true desires are to supplant Ataturk, founder of the Turkish republic and president of Turkey (1923 –38), who both modernized and “Turkified” the country after the 1915 mass annihilation of Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks, and finalized the elimination of the remaining Armenians.
The question remains what New Zealand’s relationship should be with a virtual dictatorship that simply masks its brutality? Can we justify normal relations with a leader who continues his country’s long history of human rights violations on its own people?
New Zealand has historically been extraordinarily courageous about standing against what it believed was morally and ethically wrong, even when that stand was in opposition to a country much bigger and more powerful.
Perhaps it’s time for our leaders to once more take a stand against human rights abusers, and in particular Turkey, given its long history and Erdogan’s most recent acts.
This post was also published by The Spinoff.
In a new Washington Spectator essay, Scott Ritter makes a compelling argument in support of Donald Trump’s vision of a reconfigured NATO. Ritter contends "NATO is not organized, equipped, or motivated to confront the new enemies the candidates have identified, especially those threats that might require a regional or global response to terrorism,” and that "in her search for new enemies for NATO, [Hillary Clinton] has reinforced a decades-long failure by the United States and NATO to responsibly and realistically address Russian concerns and Russian ambitions." Trump has said “NATO needs to change its focus and stop terrorism.” According to Ritter, "Trump’s willingness to engage with Russia, rather than endorse the policies of isolation and containment favored by Hillary Clinton, represents the sole path identified by either candidate out of the morass of failed or ineffectual policy that has defined America’s post-Cold War NATO experience.”
Reporters operating in war zones stand in stark contrast to bloviators who dominate the media landscape. In her new book, Reporting from the Danger Zone, Maria Armoudian takes a close look at journalists who risk their lives to tell stories that would otherwise remain untold. Maria is lending her support to Project Danger Zone, a nonprofit training program that trains journalists to work in hazardous situations, and provides security services for news organizations.