This is about getting used to things, and things one should not get used to.
There is a free-speech crisis in Turkey now, brought on in part, but not exclusively, by the murders at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris. See an editorial of the Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) for a list of issues.
Much of my sense of the situation comes through Twitter, either directly from comments there, or from articles (such as the P24 editorial) linked to in tweets. A tweet that I retweeted contained the following juxtaposed images:
The Turkish text of the tweet said something like, “Which one was banned in Turkey for causing religious offense?” In a country ruled by a Caliph within the last century, a country whose current President would probably like to be Caliph himself, the Evil Santa image had been published freely: it was part of a campaign against the cultural imperialism that is supposedly represented by Turkish observations of a Christmas-like winter holiday. The holiday is nominally New Year’s Eve; but people then exchange gifts, and they may even decorate trees (usually artificial trees) with lights, or wear Santa-Claus hats. People enjoy such a seasonal holiday, which is lacking in Islam; and yet this enjoyment really bothers some other people. “By the grace of God, we are Muslims” says the text with the right-hand image above; “Christmas is not our holiday; we do not decorate pine trees…”
The left-hand image from Charlie Hebdo of a sorrowful man, supposedly Muhammad but not explicitly so, was published yesterday (Wednesday, January 14, 2015), not by Cumhuriyet newspaper as such, but by two of its columnists in their columns in the paper. The newspaper as such published other material, translated from Charlie Hebdo. Now supposedly Turkish Airlines will no longer give out Cumhuriyet to its passengers. Ayşe and I happened to travel by bus to Ankara yesterday, and as we left Şisli in Istanbul we could see police gearing up, apparently to protect the nearby Cumhuriyet offices from demonstrators. This would seem to be the proper job of the police. In the night though, police had held up distribution of the day’s paper; this really should not be the job of the police or anybody else.
I began this article just to record something that I have said a number of times in conversation about Turkish driving habits. When I first came to Turkey more than 16 years ago, I had to get used to a couple of ridiculous things. One was that the shower head I used was too low, so that I had to stoop down when bathing. Another was that saucepans did not have single long handles, but two symmetrical short handles. I could not pick up a pot with one hand and dish out the contents with another hand. The shower head and the pots seemed needlessly inconvenient; but I got so used to them that I lost any sense of inconvenience at all. The same thing happened in the “bachelor” (efficiency) apartment I used in Hamilton, Ontario, for a year and a half: the “kitchen” sink was really a the bathroom sink, so it did not have a large flat bottom or a high spout for accommodating pots and pans; but I adjusted to the difficulty and forgot that it was a difficulty.
I have adjusted too to the understanding in Turkey that cars have the right of way over pedestrians. If a driver sees you in his way, they will honk to warn you to get out of the way; but they will not slow down. You have to get used to this if you want to survive. If you do stand your ground, the driver will probably stop, or swerve, to avoiding bloodying their car; but it is better not to put the driver to the test. I do not expect ever to forget the injustice of this situation. There is little point in complaining about the situation, though I complain anyway. I try to understand the situation.
Humans take pleasure in freedom, even in the kind of freedom called license. A car seems to give tremendous freedom; but the freedom is compromised if you have to slow down for every idiot who gets in your way. Thus it comes to be understood that the weaker must give way to the stronger. This may happen in universities or prisons anywhere, if the younger have to suffer the bullying of the older. Actually I am not aware of hazing in Turkish universities; perhaps it is a Western thing. On the other hand, some professors may use their students as servants. Having achieved so much for the country of Turkey, the man who is now its president seems not to want to recognize any limitation on his power. He built an incomprehensibly expensive palace on protected land, defying any court to stop him. Apparently he sees himself as Atatürk was seen, as latest in a line of noble Turkish chieftains.
What is corruption? Perhaps it is simply taking more for yourself than the law allows. But there are two laws; or there is law and custom. If it is customary to take what you can, and if it is customary for your family and friends to expect you to share with them what you are able to take, then how can there be anything wrong with this?
And yet I think there is; and plenty of Turkish people will agree.