Balancing fee speech and censorship

Twitter suspends 300,000 accounts tied to terrorism in 2017

“Twitter, under pressure from governments around the world to combat online extremism, said that improving automation tools are helping block accounts that promote terrorism and violence.

Twitter-Ban“In the first half of the year, Twitter said it suspended nearly 300,000 accounts globally linked to terrorism. Of those, roughly 95 per cent were identified by the company’s spam-fighting automation tools. Meanwhile, the social network said government data requests continued to increase, and that it provided authorities with data on roughly 3,900 accounts from January to June.

“Twitter, along with Facebook and YouTube, are instead building automation tools that quickly spot troublesome content. Facebook has roughly 7,500 people who screen for troublesome videos and posts.

“It’s also funded groups that produce anti-extremism content that’s circulated on the social network.

“American authorities made 2,111 requests from Twitter from January to June, the most of the 83 countries tracked by the company.

“Twitter supplied information on users in 77 per cent of the inquiries. Japan made 1,384 requests and the UK issued 606 requests. Turkish authorities continued a trend of aggressively policing Twitter, making 554 requests for account data and issuing court orders to remove 715 pieces of content. Other governments made only 38 total content-removal requests.”

Seems the word “aggressive” only applies to Turkey. Wonder what those other governments are doing with the information supplied by Twitter?

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Remembering and revising history – Smash that statue!

It seems to have become a worldwide phenomenon recently, almost an epidemic – statue-smashing. It used to be just Islamic fundamentalists – the Taliban in Afghanistan, for example – but suddenly everyone seems to be doing it, and I have to tell you, I’m confused.

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Diogenes the Cynic

Of course, religious fanatics are still at it. In Turkey there’s been a spate of attacks on statues of Atatürk, the revered founder of the Republic. And in Sinop on the Black Sea coast, members of a local conservative religious foundation have taken exception to the effigy of an ancient Greek philosopher that stands on the outskirts of town, demanding its removal.

Well it’s easy to dismiss religious fundamentalists as cranks and nutcases, but clearly there are political motives at work too. We’ve been following with interest events in the USA, where violence erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia over some controversial statuary, and the trouble has apparently spread further afield. Hundreds of protestors gathered at the campus of North Carolina University insisting that a statue of a Confederate soldier be torn down. Adding fuel to the fire, a prominent businessman, politician and diplomat, Ray Mabus, called such images “monuments to treason” and insisted that they “must be removed now and forever”.

Meanwhile, a news item from Australia informed me that “there is fury” over a statue of Captain Cook in Sydney’s Hyde Park. In this case, it’s not so much the figurine itself raising hackles, but the inscription on the pedestal claiming that the 18th century British explorer “discovered this territory”. Spokespersons for the indigenous aboriginal community are pointing out that the country wasn’t actually in need of discovering since there had been people living there for 60,000 years or so.

Carrot

Carrot adventures

So who’s right, and who’s at fault? Clearly human beings love making graven images – have done since time immemorial – to remember a famous person, to commemorate an event, to show off their wealth or prestige, to worship in place of an invisible deity . . . Most of the time they sit discreetly on their plinths quietly collecting verdigris and bird droppings. Some people think having an enormous model of a carrot (yes, a carrot!) in the New Zealand town of Ohakune is a great idea. Others think it’s pretty stupid, but no one seems to get overcome with blind destructive hatred. Same goes for the giant lobster in Kingston, South Australia. Some local authority in Paris, France, had a 12-metre, 18-tonne bronze thumb erected in their neighbourhood, and I haven’t heard of any complaints. Akşehir in Turkey, birthplace of Nasrddin Hodja, contains several sculptures of the legendary folk philosopher, of which citizens are rather proud.

On the other hand, America’s one-time allies in Afghanistan, the Taliban, attracted much international ire when, a few years ago, they dynamited several large statues of Buddha at the ancient site of Bamiyan. It seems the heresies implicit in the Buddhas overrode any historical value they may have had – at least in the opinion of the dynamiters.

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One of the Buddhas – before the dynamiting

This, then, seems to be the nub of the problem. Carrots, lobsters and thumbs are relatively neutral when it comes to arousing emotional response, either positive or negative. Representations of religion, politics (and sex), however, stir strong feelings. In the years after the Roman Empire officially adopted Christianity, zealots of the new faith journeyed around the temples of earlier ages chiselling off female breasts and male appendages from carvings they considered immoral.

We in the post-modern world like to think of ourselves as more enlightened, but many of us have sympathy for the indigenous peoples of Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere, who may not have felt the same way about colonial invaders using superior technological might to steal their land and birthright. So what to do about Captain Cook? Remove the statue? Edit the inscription? Is this, as one politician asserted, “Stalinist revision”, or belated sensitive recognition that the ancestors of the aboriginal inhabitants have a valid point?

What about that statue in the Black Sea town? Diogenes the Cynic is believed to have been born there in the early 5th century BCE when it was an Ionian colony, Sinope. Cynical he may have been, but the poor man can hardly be blamed for the tragic events that unfolded a century ago after the Greek military invasion of Anatolia. Feelings still run high in some circles, on both sides of the Aegean, but I suspect current objections to Diogenes represent a small minority of opinion. Attitudes to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, however, are a far more controversial issue in Turkey. For decades a small elite backed by a powerful military controlled the country, fostering a cult-like adoration of the national hero to suppress religious and political opposition to their rule. I read an interesting article the other day in a Turkish newspaper entitled, “Let’s just stop abusing Atatürk.” The writer, Nazlan Ertan, was finding fault with the pseudo-faithful, who decorate their car rear windows with his signature, prefix their Facebook accounts with the initials TC, and claim to know how the great man would vote in elections and referenda if he were around today. And she has a point.

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Robert E Lee in Charlottesville

All of which brings me to the most recent controversy over symbolic statuary – the one currently raging in the United States over the question of whether representations of Confederate heroes or their cause should be permitted in public places. Personally, I don’t care one way of the other, but it seems to me that the issue has become a focus for the lovers and haters of President Donald Trump to vent their hyperactive spleens. And the man does seem to have polarised opinion in the USA in a way that few of his predecessors were able to do. What is clear is that there is still some feeling in Southern states of the old Confederacy that their cause was just, and they were unfairly treated. It seems also certain that the victors, as is generally the case, wrote the history books with their version of the story. Was slavery the only, or even the main issue over which the Civil war was fought? Were those soldiers of the Union really fighting for the rights of black Americans to be treated equally? I have read suggestions that Abe Lincoln himself wasn’t 100% certain about that. Were their opponents in the Confederate army all slave-owners or believers in the system?

More and more of American history is being shown up as mythology and politically motivated censorship. Books such as James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me, Oliver Stone’s The Untold History of the United States (and its associated TV documentary series) and Stephen Kinzer’s Overthrow, are highlighting serious cracks in the foundations of the American ideal. Maybe we should just pull down all the statues everywhere until we sort the whole business out.

Grenfell fire: Protests, anger as death toll rises

A spokesperson for the European Parliament has expressed strong support for a Turkish opposition politician embarking on a march demanding justice. Let’s see what the European parliament has to say about the unspeakable crime committed in London.

Al Jazeera: Scores of people attending a rally on Friday for victims of a tower block fire tragedy in London stormed a local town hall as the death toll rose to at least 30. The angry protesters barged their way through an automatic door at Kensington and Chelsea town hall and sought to gain entry to an upper floor. Police barred their way and scuffles broke out.

protest-“We want justice!” “Shame on you!” and “Killers!” the protesters shouted, with some holding up pictures of those still unaccounted for and now feared dead.

Earlier, Commander Stuart Cundy said police would examine whether criminal offences had been committed although they said there was nothing to suggest the massive blaze at the 24-storey Grenfell Tower in West London was started deliberately.

“We know that at least 30 people have died as a result of this fire,” Cundy said. “Sadly, it is expected that the total will rise and it is not expected that any survivors will be found.”

“When you have a fire that takes hold like that, that is literally an inferno. You get a lot of fragmentation of bodies, charring of bones and sometimes all that’s left is ash,” said Peter Vanezis, a professor of forensic medical sciences at Queen Mary University in London. He said the temperature of the blaze at Grenfell Tower was comparable to a cremation.

UK Telegraph: The confirmed death toll has risen to 30 but is expected to soar significantly, police have said, as anger mounts over a litany of failings that led to the disaster.

Missing people

As yet unaccounted for . . .

After a string of politicians have been heckled by angry locals demanding answers, more than 2,700 people are said to be attending a Westminster rally on Friday night to demand “justice” – raising fears that tensions could boil over.

The Royal Borough of Chelsea and Kensington Council has refused requests to release a list of known residents in Glenfell Tower.

UK Telegraph: Man jailed for sharing photo of dead Grenfell Tower fire victim on Facebook

A man who posted pictures on Facebook of the body of someone believed to have leapt to his death from the Grenfell Tower fire has been jailed for three months.

Omega Mwaikambo, 43, posted one video and two pictures of the body bag with the man inside and then later five pictures of the victim’s face and body after opening it to look inside.

He pleaded guilty at Westminster Magistrates Court to two counts of sending by a public communications network an offending, indecent or obscene matter.

And from a less mainstream source:

In a Channel 4 News interview with Jon Snow on Thursday, singer Lily Allen, who lives in the area, accused the media and the government of downplaying the death toll, which was 17 at the time.

“Seventeen [people]? I’m hearing frm people that the figure is closer to 150 and many of those are children.,” Allen added, saying she’d been given this information off-the-record from emergency services at the scene.

Tower block fire in London

Are you telling me 12 people [or 17] are dead?

A woman speaking to the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire said on Thursday afternoon: “More than 50 children are dead and it’s not confirmed because their parents are missing . . . look at that building. Are you telling me 12 people are dead?”

Journalist Rozan Ahmed says that for the past 24 hours she has been contacting hospitals for information about the missing people from the Glenfell Tower blaze. She claims the authorities are not providing adequate information about missing people.

In an Instagram post, Ahmed said: “How are 17 dead when hundreds are yet to be accounted for? Where are they? My auntie and her 2 children are nowhere to be found. Every hospital has been scoured and not one was able to provide a LIST of patients from #Grenfell? Why?”

Wheels within Wheels – Israel’s relationship with the Saudi Arabs

The following items are sourced from Al Jazeera:

After Saudi Arabia and other GCC nations cut ties with Qatar, a series of surreal decisions were taken against it

These are two of them:

TerroristsTo stem the flow of negative reactions Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain took steps to curb their citizens from expressing opinions that opposed their policies.

The UAE Attorney General Hamad Saif al-Shamsi announced that any objections to the UAE’s strict measures against the government of Qatar or expression of sympathy with Qatar would be a crime punishable by a prison sentence of 3-15 years and a fine of no less than $136,000 (500,000AED), whether on a social media platform or via any written or spoken medium.

Hotel residents in Saudi Arabia can no longer watch Al Jazeera channels, after the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage warned against airing Al Jazeera inside any hotel or tourist establishment.

The commission stressed that all channels belonging to the Al Jazeera Media Network are to be removed from the list of satellite stations in “all hotel rooms and touristic facilities and furnished residential units … including the TV lists kept within”, in order to avoid punishments that included fines up to $27,000 (100,000 Saudi riyals) and a cancellation of the hotel’s licence.

The Qatar-Gulf crisis has given Israel an opportunity to normalise its presence in the region, analysts say

The current Qatar-Gulf crisis has offered Israel a golden opportunity to normalise its presence in the region, undermine the Palestinian cause and deliver a diplomatic blow to the Islamic Resistance movement, Hamas, analysts say.

Israel arabUnder the pretext of fighting “terrorism”, the anti-Hamas, anti-political Islam coalition seems to be emerging with the Saudi-led bloc and Israel at its heart, they added.

Researcher and expert on Israeli affairs, Antoine Shalhat, believes that Israel’s rapid adoption of the Saudi position confirms that the two countries share Israel’s vision on regional developments and the Palestinian cause.

Shalhat told Al Jazeera that Israel is hoping to make political gains from the Gulf crisis and the blockade on Qatar by weakening Hamas and undermining its influence in the Gaza Strip, and demonising it in the Arab world under the pretext of “terrorism”.

He added that the Saudi attack on Hamas and its portrayal of the movement as a “terrorist organisation” serves the Israeli agenda and is consistent with Israel’s goal to eliminate the Palestinian cause.

US legislation threatening Qatar for Hamas support is tied to donations from UAE, Saudi, and Israel lobbyists

US legislation threatening to sanction Qatar for its support of “Palestinian terror” was sponsored by 10 legislators who received more than $1m over the last 18 months from lobbyists and groups linked to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. 

For Trita Parsi, author and founder of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a nonprofit that aims to strengthen the voice of US citizens of Iranian descent, the similarities between the US-allied Arab nations’ “terror list” and HR 2712 show growing cooperation between Gulf Arab states and Israel.

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Defending democracy

“The coordination between hawkish pro-Israel groups and UAE and Saudi Arabia has been going on for quite some time,” Parsi told Al Jazeera. What is new, he continued, is pro-Israel groups such as the Foundation for Defense of Democracies “coming out with pro-Saudi [articles] and lobbying for them on Capitol Hill”.

Israel’s influence on US policymakers is clear. HR 2712’s sponsors received donations totalling $1,009,796 from pro-Israel individuals and groups for the 2016 election cycle alone, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, an independent research group tracking money in US politics and its effect on elections and public policy, and then compiled by Al Jazeera. 

“They’re not traditional pro-Saudi legislators. They’re in the pro-Likud camp,” Parsi said, referring to the party of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The bill has bipartisan sponsorship. Five of the legislators come from the House Committee on Foreign Relations (HCFR), including sponsor Brian Mast, a first-term Republican congressman from Florida, and Ed Royce and Eliot Engel, the ranking Republican and Democrat of the HCFR, respectively.

Royce received $242,143 from pro-Israel sources for the 2016 election cycle, $190,150 went to Engel. Mast, who volunteered with the Israeli military after he finished serving in the US Army, received $90,178.

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And incidentally:

King Faisal

King Faisal, son of King Ibn Saud, fought in the military campaigns in the 1920s and ’30s that helped forge modern Saudi Arabia. He later served as Saudi ambassador to the United Nations and in 1953 was made premier upon the ascension of his older brother, Saud. In 1964, King Saud was pressured to abdicate, and Faisal became the absolute ruler of Saudi Arabia. As king, he sought to modernize his nation, and lent financial and moral support to anti-Israeli efforts in the Middle East. In 1975, Faisal was assassinated for reasons that remain obscure, and his son, Crown Prince Khalid, ascended to the throne.

Source: History.com

Interestingly, Faisal’s assassin was one of the family, subsequently declared insane and executed (in the normal humane Saudi fashion, by decapitation).

 

France joins USA in Hypocrisy Champions League

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Turkey or France? – Circle the correct answer

I’m happy to see Amnesty International picking on the French government for a change, as their new president seeks to extend his country’s State of Emergency for a SIXTH term since December 2015.

I found a report in our English language daily, Hürriyet Daily News but a quick Google search failed to turn up coverage in any mainstream Western media. They much prefer attacking Turkey, and accusing its democratically elected President of being a dictator.

Disproportionate restrictions on demonstrations under the State of Emergency in France reveals that hundreds of unjustified measures restricting freedom of movement and the right to peaceful assembly have been issued under the guise of countering terrorism.

“Emergency laws intended to protect the French people from the threat of terrorism are instead being used to restrict their rights to protest peacefully,” said Marco Perolini, Amnesty International’s researcher on France.

“Under the cover of the state of emergency, rights to protest have been stripped away with hundreds of activists, environmentalists, and labour rights campaigners unjustifiably banned from participating in protests.”

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Well, neither girl is wearing a red dress – but still . . .

Following the horrific Paris attacks on 13 November 2015, France’s state of emergency, introduced a day later, has been renewed five times normalizing a range of intrusive measures. These include powers to ban demonstrations on vague grounds and prevent individuals attending protests. Last week, President Macron indicated that he will ask parliament to extend it for a sixth time.

The state of emergency allows prefects to ban any gathering as a precautionary measure on very broad and undefined grounds of ‘threat to public order’. These powers to restrict the right to freedom of peaceful assembly have frequently been used disproportionately.

Between November 2015 and 5 May 2017, authorities used emergency powers to issue 155 decrees prohibiting public assemblies, in addition to banning dozens of protests using ordinary French law. They also imposed 639 measures preventing specific individuals participating in public assemblies. Of these, 574 were targeted at those protesting against proposed labour law reforms. Moreover, according to media reports, authorities imposed dozens of similar measures to prevent people from participating in protests after the second round of the presidential elections on 7 May.

Why should Turkey be first?

we-dont-live-in-a-democracy-we-live-in-a-hypocrisy-quote-1What would you say to an online news outlet founded by an Arab-American entrepreneur based in Washington DC who also happened to be president and chairman of an investment company set up to help companies secure reconstruction contracts in Iraq? What if the guy had close ties to the Bush family and both Bush administrations? If he was, in fact, a friend and business partner of former president George W. Bush’s brother Neil, and a “major contributor” to the presidential campaigns of both George Bushes, father and son? Would alarm bells ring if you knew he had been involved in the founding of Syria’s ruling (minority) Ba’ath Party, and was a strong supporter of beleaguered dictator, Bashar Assad? If his biography boasted that he had “over thirty years of experience managing investments in oil and gas, telecommunications, high technology, media, manufacturing and real estate”?

Would it colour your assessment if you learned that major contributors to the website included former top-level people in the US State Department and the CIA? That it is an “invaluable” source of information for The Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, The New York Times and The Economist?

That’s a sample of what I turned up when I went searching for background on the Al-Monitor website and its founder, Jamal Daniel. Check him out for yourself: Counterpunch, Mediabiasfactcheck, Tabletmag.com

Well, pardon my cynicism, but when I read an article on that site taking Turkey’s government to task for its failure to address the issue of climate change, I wanted to laugh out loud! A big noise in the fossil fuel industry, major financial backer of GH (The American way of life is not up for negotiations”) Bush, funding criticism of a developing country for its “misguided energy policies”?

energy-sources-german-2016-1The article compared Turkey’s electricity generation unfavourably with that of Germany which, allegedly, produces far more power from solar energy under its its cold, cloudy skies. Well, I took a look at figures for electricity generation in Germany. The latest I could find were for 2016. If my arithmetic is correct, the Germans are producing 52.7% from fossil fuel sources, and a further 13.1% from nuclear plants. Admittedly they claim 29% is based on renewable sources, but that includes hydro.

Turkey, for comparison, according to the latest figures, produces over 40% from renewable sources, and 58% from coal and natural gas. Well, it’s not ideal, for sure, but I don’t see anything for the Germans to be particularly self-righteous about. And in fact Turkey’s government is actively encouraging the development of wind and solar electricity generation. Click the links if you’re interested (sorry if you can’t read Turkish):

Wind energy    Solar energy

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And still they’re poisoning the planet!

And what about the United States? Again, I couldn’t find the latest figures, but in 2014 the principal sources of US electricity were: coal (39%), natural gas (27%), nuclear (19%), Hydro (6%), and other renewables (7%). Do the maths. 66% fossil fuels and 19% nuclear. No wonder the developing world is not interested in listening to the pious pontificating of American “environmentalists”. Physician, heal thyself! And have a go at China if you are sincere in your desire to clean up Planet Earth!

Another article that appeared on the same Al-Monitor site launched intoTurkey’s skyrocketing welfare spending”. The writer quoted figures showing that “welfare assistance to the poor” had increased from 1.3 billion Turkish Liras in 2002 to 33.7 billion TL by 2016 – the period in which the country has been governed by RT Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party. The essence of the argument seemed to be that the government’s social welfare programme had become “a major instrument to lure and control voters”.

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Wind turbines in Turkey

Well, leave aside that the writer’s computational skills seem not up to the task of converting raw data to a percentage – and the fact that Al-Monitor locates Turkey unequivocally in the Middle East. It may be that Throughout Turkey’s Republican history, no other government” has channelled so much money into social welfare programmes – but I have to tell you, that cash was sorely needed. Turkey was governed for decades by a socio-economic elite that allowed the majority of the population to languish in underdeveloped ignorance, staging regular military coups every ten years when the democratic process threatened their hold on power.

These days Turkey has a working egalitarian health system that most Americans would envy if they knew about it. The public sector has been upgraded so that personnel are educated and trained, and offices are modern and well equipped. You make appointments on the internet and there is no longer any need to bribe your way through the bureaucratic process. State retirement pensions are regularly increased in line with single-digit inflation, and paid automatically on time.

Such methods, I agree, may not be in line with IMF and World bank guidelines that aim to embroil developing countries in increasing unpayable debt before forcing “belt-tightening” austerity measures on reluctant governments. But hey! Hands up who envies the Greeks their current economic mess.

Turkey’s opposition, we are told, “is at a loss and unable to come up with a counterstrategy other than pledging to give out more, which seems to have had little effect so far. In short, the government’s policy of vote hunting through welfare assistance remains without an alternative in Turkey. As a result, the votes of millions remain hostage to the aid they receive and continue to sway elections.”

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. Take your socialist ideas of helping the poor too far and you may end up like Venezuela – your economy in tatters despite having the world’s second largest proven oil reserves. Uncle Sam’s got his eye on you!

So, it seems, in the eyes of the West, Turkey should be setting an example to the rest of the world:

  • Stop generating electricity until you can do it all using renewable resources. And hydro’s not acceptable if it means using water, or flooding areas that may contain places of historical interest (just about everywhere in Turkey!).
  • Front up and admit to having genocided innocent Armenians – and pay large reparations. Maybe the USA will follow suit and pay up for genociding its indigenous people; and join with the Brits in recompensing descendants of the African slaves who kick-started their industrial development. And the French will atone for killing 1.5 million Algerians.
  • Stop whining about that attempted military coup last July. Forgive and forget! Maybe those people did try to overthrow the democratically elected government using tanks and machine guns – but come on! That’s just freedom of expression, isn’t it? Nothing to hold a grudge over.
  • Stop trying to modernise your country and compete with the giants of the industrial world. Accept your fate as a backward Third World has-been, and be happy.
  • Keep crawling on your knees to the European Union, whose leaders have no intention of ever admitting you to their club. Do everything they tell you to do, and persist in a pathetic, trusting naïveté that one day they’ll let you in.
  • Accept your role as sanctuary for the millions of refugees fleeing from the civil war in Syria. Police your borders so none of them can escape to Western Europe to threaten the comfort of our complacent, privileged lifestyles.

Have I missed anything? If you have any more useful advice to give Turkey’s government, please feel free to set your own house in order first. Then they may start to take you seriously.

Looking out for your Friends – Europe and American style

I could hardly believe it was true when I heard the news – but on reflection I realised the behaviour is totally in character.

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America’s true friends in the Middle East

The United States military Central Command (CENTCOM) announced on Sunday that it was “conducting patrols” along the Syrian side of the Turkey-Syria border. The stated purpose is “’to discourage escalation and violence between two of our most trusted partners in the fight to defeat ISIL’, the statement said . . . all parties in the region should remain focused on defeating the terror group.”

Photographs of the “patrols” published in Turkish media showed tanks flying US flags alongside ground forces belonging to the Kurdish separatist group YPG. The US source refers to “coalition forces”, implying some kind of Western alliance along the lines of George Dubya’s “Coalition of the Willing”, but in this case it’s just Americans and locals – a hotchpotch of anti-Assad rebels referred to by various unintelligible acronyms such as SDF and YPG.

In fact the US’s main “trusted partner” in the “fight” against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh is YPG – a shadowy Kurdish separatist group that Ankara claims is allied with the PKK, a revolutionary Kurdish outfit that regularly carries out terrorist attacks in Turkey, and is recognised internationally as a terrorist organisation. Turkey’s government has for years been asking Washington to establish a no-fly zone along the Syria-Turkey border to assist in the maintenance of security – but the requests have gone unheeded. Recently Turkey has begun taking matters into its own hands by carrying out airstrikes in retaliation for alleged aggression by the Kurdish groups.

Evidently the US military sees this as running contrary to their own plans for the region. “Patrols” of tanks along the border are clearly intended as a warning to Turkey’s government to toe the party line, ie the United States’ line – despite the fact no one is very clear exactly what that is.

Initially the Turkish government was reluctant to get involved in the “fight against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh” – understandably, given that many people believe that mysterious organisation was created, directly or indirectly, by the ham-fisted US invasion and occupation of Iraq. Turkey accepted the Assad dictatorship in Syria as a necessary evil until the Arab Spring in 2011 gave birth to a resistance movement and a long-running civil war that drove millions of refugees across its border.

Just the other day, Turkey’s President Erdoğan made it clear that his country now fully supports America’s fight against ISIS. He said that together, Turkey, the United States and its coalition partners could destroy ISIL/ISIS/Daesh – but said also that his government is not happy with America allying itself with terrorist groups (meaning the PKK-allied YPG). Turkey’s concern is that the US is promising Kurdish separatists an independent Kurdistan in return for their help, first in defeating Saddam Hussein, and now against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. Given that such a new state would likely lay claim to a large chunk of south east Turkey, we can understand Mr Erdoğan’s unease. And given that the US has repeatedly turned a deaf ear to Turkey’s concerns in the matter, we may also understand why he feels his country has no option but to take action in its own interests.

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Protecting the Money Power

Unfortunately this situation mirrors many that have taken place in this region and others as the United States and the EU play out their self-appointed role as the world’s policemen. Peace in the Middle East is unlikely as long as the US refuses to acknowledge valid Palestinian grievances against Israel. One of the biggest stumbling blocks to Turkey’s acceptance into the EU is the intransigence of Greece and Greek Cyprus, and the refusal to recognise that Turkey had a good reason for its military intervention on the island in 1974. I’m not even going to start talking about the number of times the US has interfered directly in the affairs of its neighbours in Central and South America.

Johannes Hahn, European Commissioner overseeing EU membership bids, suggested on Monday that in the current circumstances, Turkey’s bid to join the EU was dead in the water. Mr Hahn and his friends in Brussels are blaming Turkey for this, despite the fact that they have been holding their loyal NATO ally at arm’s length for 30 years, while admitting more and more former members of the old Soviet bloc, thereby heightening tensions with Russia. Hahn’s current excuse for rejecting Turkey is the old chestnut of human rights. When Turkey was having regular military coups back in the late 20th century, and torture and disappearances of political dissidents were commonplace, that was the big issue. As the country began to leave those days behind, the Cyprus business began to loom as the major obstacle. Now, as Turkey tries to stabilise itself in the wake of an unsuccessful military takeover, civil war and chaos across its eastern borders, a flood of refugees and tourist embargoes stretching its economic resources to the limit, and threats of terrorist attacks in its cities, the human rights business has surfaced again. “There is no version of Turkish democracy,” says Mr Hahn. “There is only democracy.” By which he means, I guess, “Do as we say or suffer the consequences.”

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Turkey is undemocratic – we’re just protecting our democracy

Thanks for your sympathy, guys. Never mind that France is still living under a state of emergency 18 months after a terrorist attack that killed a tiny fraction of the number of people who have died in Turkey. The fact is that, whatever their posturing, Europe needs Turkey more than Turkey needs Europe. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced recently that “the alliance without Turkey would be weak”.  Turkey is getting on with the job of caring for three million Syrian refugees while wealthy European countries are bleating about having to cope with mere hundreds or thousands. EU leaders promised major financial and diplomatic assistance to Turkey in return for Turkey preventing those refugees from continuing their flight into Europe. Precious little assistance has been forthcoming although Turkey has upheld its side of the bargain. “Think,” said Stoltenberg, “if any other NATO country besides Turkey was under the massive terrorist attacks Turkey has faced. Turkey has the right to defend its country and to punish the people who launched the thwarted coup attempt of July 2016.”

freespeech-wuerker-468-x-413My opinion is, leaders of the European Union and the United States want to see the back of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. They resent the fact that, since his AK Party came to power in 2003, they have been obliged to start taking Turkey seriously. They can no longer mock the country for its hyperinflation and regular military coups. They are angry that Turkey is no longer a lapdog following the Western alliance wherever its economic interests lead. Turkey refused to follow George Dubya into Iraq, has openly criticised Israel’s illegal settling of Palestinian territory, and called out the Sisi military coup in Egypt for what it was. They are furious that every criticism they make of Turkey is thrown back in their faces with interest. Armenian genocide? Check out what the French did in Algeria. “We love Turkish people,” they’ll tell you. “It’s just that guy we can’t stand!” Yeah, yeah.

No2EU-do-as-you-are-toldSo there is only “democracy” . . . Western style. But what about countries that look at the West and say, “We don’t want that kind of democracy”? In fact, as we see from recent election results in the USA and France, there are actually plenty of people in those countries who are not sure they want it either. Mr Erdoğan’s government gets a good deal of flak for criticising and even censoring social media. So what do you make of the Home Affairs Select Committee report to the UK Parliament criticising large social media companies? The report accuses them of failing to remove illegal content such as hate speech, terror recruitment videos and sexual images of children when asked to do so. It said the largest firms were “big enough, rich enough and clever enough” to sort the problem out, and that it was “shameful” that they had failed to use the same ingenuity to protect public safety as they had to protect their own income.

A year or so ago, Mr Erdoğan came under considerable fire for his over-sensitivity in response to a poem aired on German television. A “comedian” from that highly civilised country trumpeted several verses of foul-mouthed X-rated doggerel accusing the Turkish president of committing unspeakable acts with sheep and goats. I say “unspeakable”, not because I am unduly sensitive, but because you won’t find any mainstream news media that were prepared to publish an English translation.

The German Public Prosecutor, in throwing out a case against the “comedian/poet”, is quoted as saying, “the context in which it was delivered made clear the claims were “exaggerated and absurd”, and not meant to be taken as serious allegations against Mr Erdogan [and] it was therefore “questionable” whether the poem constituted slander, given its satirical nature, and that the “from the lack of earnestness or any seriously intended connection to the personal dignity of (Mr Erdogan), it was meant to be immediately clear to every listener that it was a joke”.

So what about the shrill cries of protest in the USA over a “comedian” in that country suggesting that Donald Trump engages in fellatio with Russian President Putin? Seems it’s ok to accuse the leader of a key NATO ally of sexual shenanigans with sheep and goats – but if you step on the hypersensitive toes of the ever-lengthening LGBTIQ acronymiacs . . . that may be one step too far into the shaky ground of free speech.

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I’m not a big fan of the dear departed Winston, but . . .

I have to tell you, I’m in two minds about the “free speech” business. It may be that it is acceptable in Germany and the United States to accuse, in the most obscene and biologically precise terms, high-profile public figures of inserting their reproductive organs into the corresponding receptacles of female goats, of taking ovine male organs, or those of other countries’ leaders, into their mouths, and who knows what else. I have to tell the democratically self-righteous citizens of those countries, however, that they may not experience the same freedom everywhere. In Turkey, for example, you need to be careful about dropping a loose word with reference to another man’s mother or sister, if you value your health.

And the other thing that seems to me somewhat ironic – These freedom-of-speechers demand the right to make the most outrageously untrue accusations while expecting that the law of the land will protect them from the righteous anger of those whose honour and integrity they are intent on vilifying. That strikes me as cowardice in the extreme. Say and do what you like – but why should I pay taxes to protect you from the consequences of your “freedom”?

For many years I have been hearing these champions of free speech hiding behind words attributed to the 18th century French philosopher Voltaire: “I don’t agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Interestingly, I now find that the “quotation” was actually invented by Evelyn Beatrice Hall, author of a biography of Voltaire published in 1906, where she asserted that he had uttered the words – a claim she later retracted.

Soooo, it seems no one has a monopoly on the truth – and those who claim it most vociferously may be the ones we most need to distrust.