Andrew Finkel is as earnest and insightful a journalist as one might wish. He has lived in Turkey for many years and knows Turkey very well. Andrew Finkel knows what’s what. He’s also, by the way, a generous, kind and companionable person who has been very good to me, a near stranger, introducing me to people and answering my sometimes last-minute questions. He always seemed to keep his equanimity and perspective, not easy to do in a country as aggressively polarized as Turkey is these days. For several years, he has written for Today’s Zaman. He explains his rationale for doing so in the attached essay. His view was similar to mine — that the newspaper, even though it was supported by the Islamic Gülen Foundation, was trying to do good journalism and had respect for opposing views. I too wrote an article for Today’s Zaman early in 2008 and I used to quote the paper a lot on this blog, to the dismay of my anti-Gulen readers. I did that, as I explained, because I thought TZ had respectable journalists working for it and did good reporting. I stopped referring in this blog to Today’s Zaman during last year’s Green Revolution in Iran because despite everything that we could see was going on in Iran’s streets, TZ used only official Iranian government news media accounts for its coverage. That, I thought, was so outrageously partisan and just plain wrong (both morally and factually) that it destroyed my respect for the newspaper.
To get back to Andy Finkel. Today, he tried to publish his usual column in Today’s Zaman — it is critical of the recent intensive and broad police searches of writers’ and journalists’ homes and offices to track down copies of a recent book, Imamın Ordusu (The Imam’s Army) by Ahmet Şık, that apparently asserts that the Fethullah Gülen movement has infiltrated Turkey’s security forces. The book has not been published (although the content is available on the web under another title here) and authorities have jailed the writer and wish to destroy all copies. Finkel argues:
…I have already expressed my concern that the fight against anti-democratic forces in Turkey has resorted to self-defeating anti-democratic methods. This in turn has led to a polarization in Turkey. If your side loses power then the natural fear is that they will use your methods against you. In case this sounds like I am speaking in riddles, I am referring to the aggressive prosecution of people who write books. These may be bad books, they may be books which are written with ulterior motives, they may be books which contain assertions which are not true. But at the end of the day, they are books – and there are libel courts – not criminal courts – designed to protect individuals from malicious falsehood. In short, writing a book offensive to the Gülen community is not a crime..
It’s probably that last sentence that lost Finkel his job at Today’s Zaman, which did not print this essay. Instead it was published by the Hurriyet Daily News. You can read his whole essay here. Meaningful reform means finally dropping the trappings of a police state where thought is a crime and knowledge is rationed and controlled. You cannot have freedom of religion without freedom of speech or thought.