A few days ago, just at the time when social media was at its busiest, access to Twitter in Turkey was abruptly severed. As everyone was trying to figure out what had happened, a statement appeared on the official website of the prime minister’s press office: The measure had been taken because “Twitter authorities had ignored rulings on the subject of eradicating certain links obtained from the courts by citizens of the Republic of Turkey.” This was, of course, quite a shock to the Turkish people, which includes 15 million Twitter users sending out 20 Tweets per second who are unfamiliar with such prohibitions.
They recovered quickly from the shock, and it took less than a few minutes to regain access to Twitter through various means. The whole world was talking about it on social media. The phrase “social media banned in Turkey” rang in our ears.
So what was the reason for this ban on social media in Turkey, which has lived freely under democracy for the last 90 years?
Turkey is one of the countries in the Eurasian region that makes full use of Twitter. However, unlike other countries, Twitter has no legal office or representative in Turkey. Therefore, complaints about Twitter on matters such as defamation or the hacking of pages and court rulings from Turkey are sent directly to Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco. The problem is that none of the court rulings were acted on quickly by Twitter’s headquarters.
It is, of course, important for people to not only freely express themselves and their ideas via Twitter, but also to be protected against threats and insults. Defamation is not freedom of speech; defamation is one of the most unpleasant interventions against democracy and one of the worst possible methods that can be employed. People who refuse to respond to insults in kind must, of course, seek redress through the law, and that path must be kept open.
When it comes to Twitter that path was not open, and that was a mistake. Even so, prohibition was not the way to deal with the situation.
Prohibitions always make people uneasy. Prohibitions mean interfering with the liberty bestowed by Allah. They promote fear and anger. People are happy and comfortable so long as they are free. Societies in which people can speak their minds, offer criticism, and in which all ideas can be discussed, will grow. Such societies grow psychologically strong and easily reject mistaken ideas.
Freedom is the best indicator of a strong society. Of course, this ban in Turkey does not resemble the restrictions in China, in either the ideological or practical sense. President Gül himself tweeted that the “banning of social media cannot be approved,” and statements by various government ministers indicate that any ban will most likely be short-lived. Then again, this is not a step that can be approved of for a Turkey seeking to become ever more democratic.
Let me add that this hasty measure has spurred Twitter’s executives into action, and court decisions in Turkey are being evaluated. The reason why the company took so long is a whole different debate, however.
The world talked about this matter in Turkey this week. However, we must not overlook another issue: Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forces in Syria have captured the village of Karakozak and raised their flag. That particular village is home to the tomb of Suleyman Shah, and that tomb has been regarded as Turkish territory since an agreement in 1921. It is protected by Turkish troops. Foreign Minister Davutoğlu said last week that “this is our only territory outside our borders,” and added: “We will regard any attack on it as grounds for war.”
This significant move was followed by a terror attack on two security officials within Turkey’s borders. Three foreigners who entered Turkey through our open border with Syria during the Nowruz festivities were caught and revealed to be members of ISIS. The terrorist action inside Turkey was followed by an ISIS ultimatum demanding Turkish troops leave the tomb within three days.
Those three days will be up by the time you read this. The way that ISIS has made such an affront toward Turkey, which is a NATO member and has NATO’s second-largest army, stems from the fact that ISIS is backed by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. It is a fact that has long been known and monitored by Turkey that ISIS acts in concert with the Damascus regime.
Let us remember, the Turkish Armed Forces have thus far responded almost instantly to every bullet from Al-Qaeda or ISIS that has crossed our border “in error.” This is no laughing matter for Turkey, currently under threat of aerial attack. Turkey has long been ready for such a move. My hope is that ISIS will see that this is the wrong way to go, without suffering too many losses. Let it not forget that it faces a NATO country with a professional army.