The Snitch State

Prime Minister Erdogan has raised hackles again with a recent speech in which he denounced male and female university students living cheek to jowl (and implying proximity of other body parts) in university dormitories. He followed up by denouncing unmarried men and women shacking up together off-campus as well. Disgusting. The laws should be changed to no longer allow this, he continued. What “this” is remains ill-defined and seems to preclude massive intrusions into citizens’ personal lives. Will it make Turkey a state effectively operating on the basis of religious law, which injects community norms into the most intimate spheres, rather than a country governed by law rooted in individual rights that protects the personal sphere? Judging by the uproar, many seem to think so.

What bothers me mightily is the reason trotted out for this and other similar government pronouncements: “We have received complaints about….” I wrote about this increasing symbiosis between neighborly snitching and government surveillance and control here recently. This is another example (complaints about men and women in the dorms; therefore the government must act to restrict).  According to the news, about 150 apart hotels in the Karakoy, Galata and Beyoglu areas were closed down by the municipalities, their furnishings (and tourist inhabitants’ belongings) thrown into the street. Why? Complaints have been received… Unrelated men and women staying in rooms together, rooms rented by the day, even by the hour, who knows what goes on in there. And then there are the complaints by hotels about the competition. Apart hotels in Istanbul have a capacity of 20,000 and, the standard hotels say, do not fulfill the requirements for safety etc that they must comply with. Some are unlicensed (the licenses are hard to get, according to the news article).

This is the problem with policy made on the basis of snitching: motives vary and may be self-serving, unjust and plain dirty. But if the snitching fits the government’s purpose, then it can claim “The citizens want…”. A law and order state, however, places systematic safeguards between the desires of some citizens and the rights of others. AKP has always claimed to run a ‘law and order’ state, but seems to have dropped orderly law for order based on opinion, rather than rights. Law is made handmaiden to this partisan order.

14 Responses to “The Snitch State”

  1. Indeed it seems darker times are coming–are you sure you believe that anybody is really snitching? That this is not just some made up excuse to justify the latest policy? Pinar Öğünç published an article in today’s Radikal about a student whose apartment was visited by police based on a ‘complaint’. Only the neighbors and landlord (an AKP) supporter were utterly baffled and angered by the very idea of someone complaining. NO documents were shown at all. http://www.radikal.com.tr/yazarlar/pinar_ogunc/sikayet_baskinlari_basladi-1159890

  2. Good point, Jeff. The “milli irade” imagined as the spying neighbor. A nasty interpretation of the public will, imaginary or not.

  3. http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/police-raid-house-of-university-student-in–istanbul.aspx?PageID=238&NID=57635&NewsCatID=341

  4. We do know some people badger the police in incessant snitching. I won’t link the full files but we found out just what they received in complaints when one of their their web sites was hacked in 2012. Bianet has a selection at the end: http://www.bianet.org/bianet/bianet/136504-redhack-emniyet-ten-bildiriyor
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    To be able to tell whether there’s an actual crackdown of sorts, we need to see reliable statistics from previous years. I know people do call the cops on their neighbors (first hand knowledge, both here and the US) for noise etc. complaints and student apartments (youth, sudden freedom from parental control) tend to draw most of these. Two new factors now sit on top of this: (1) the PM’s speeches encourage people to contact the police (2) the press is now looking for stories of police involvement in neighbor matters and will probably get contacted by folks who run into trouble. I have no doubt that we’ll be told things are just horrible by one side of the press and the other side will either ignore the news or complain about ‘biased reporting.’

  5. Bulent, your words would have us believe the PM encouraged people to contact the police with ordinary nuisance complaints, like people didn’t know to do that. The PM is indeed encouraging people to act on their basest prejudices alone, and signaling that the laws and regulations shall be remade to accommodate if need be . They are a sordid bunch whether there is an other side to ignore it or not.
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    Istanbulgibbs, the AKP-supporting landlord was indeed baffled and angered. But in my reading of his words, the emphasis was on such a complaint involved his lessee and therefore “him,” a special being who –I suppose everyone must know– should be trusted to properly guard public morals beyond main doors into other adult people’s dwellings.

  6. Nihat, you’re right tho the entry was about snitching. Here, somebody taped this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2hMGBAG9Zk
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    As for ‘them’ being a sordid bunch, that’s hardly news to either of us, now, is it?
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    I’m not unhappy that things like young adult sexuality are getting talked about, and people are finding out just how much of the existing framework (and once much-praised additions like centralized state control/funding of health) can turn scary.
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    What concerns me more is the underlying process which causes RTE to feel besieged perhaps for good reason. It is unclear this would have leaked, pushed the PM to own up to it and push it further, and triggered the controversy a few years ago. I don’t understand that part but I’m fairly sure a strife about ‘liberal values’ isn’t it.

  7. Bulent, I can’t say I understand your concern (last paragraph). Some sort of conspiratorial thinking? Not that I expect that from you, but I can’t tolerate high-order analyses anymore; they strike me as futile, useless. First-order, okay. Zeroth-order, better. Meaning, take things at face value, people at their word. A few years ago, perhaps, the guy was an apprentice, now he became the master. You know, like he said… And perhaps, that is not something to go down well with everyone abroad or around him. Tell me why that’s a bad thing, and why I should care about the underlying process. Is it an unnatural, unheard-off kind of process, or something?

  8. Bulent, I can’t say I understand your concern (last paragraph). Some sort of conspiratorial thinking?
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    Of course. Do you see any of the players truly scrutinized for even the simplest decisions to be transparent? It is leaks, reactions, interviews with friendly reporters (even Arinc talked to TRT which is tied to him!) and no real debate in the parliament.
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    Not that I expect that from you, but I can’t tolerate high-order analyses anymore; they strike me as futile, useless.
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    Do expect that from me. This particular controversy started with a Zaman leak from a closed AKP session.
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    Here’s the thing, we did not believe what we were told when we were told everything was fine (but for the Kemalists, coup-lovers blah blah), why believe what we’re told now?
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    A few years ago, perhaps, the guy was an apprentice, now he became the master. You know, like he said…
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    Oh I can give you more explicit stuff: http://t24.com.tr/haber/babuscu-onumuzdeki-10-yil-liberaller-gibi-eski-paydaslarimizin-kabullenecegi-gibi-olmayacak/226892
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    And perhaps, that is not something to go down well with everyone abroad or around him.
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    People abroad are saying is probably not that helpful for our understanding [and unless there's another round of leaks we can't know what they know, remember what Der Spiegel said about the last bunch: "They convey an image of Turkey which is at odds with almost everything the US government has officially said about the country."]
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    The question about those around him is more interesting. We don’t really understand any of that. I mean we can see the Hakan Fidan hit etc. and the rift, but we don’t know what people are planning for the three elections that are coming up.
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    Tell me why that’s a bad thing, and why I should care about the underlying process. Is it an unnatural, unheard-off kind of process, or something?
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    The underlying process is what will decide what happens at least for the next 5 years if it produces something stable. It may break the ongoing PKK peace process or influence its outcome. If it has connections to the missile thing and the Fidan thing, it may influence national security in ways we simply don’t know enough to figure out.
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    The Gezi thing and now the student sex thing is at least not as bloody or as scary as the other stuff. [And, mind you, they made people forget the terror attack on Rayhanli or the Syria issue] Think what was happening in the summer/fall of ’12 (blood was getting shed in the SE, hunger strikes in prisons, talk of death penalty for Ocalan). Or in ’11 (waves of KCK arrests and, AFAIR, police raids in search of PDFs and subsequent arrests etc.). I can go back year-by-year and you won’t like any of them. We understood none of them, really. ’06-’07, before the last presidential election, were also horrible, with murders and a rise in PKK activity and terror. Given this perspective, the ‘culture war’ etc. stuff seems sane and calm. Given that I don’t quite understand how we got here of course I will think about the underlying process and who’s doing what and why.

  9. Bulent, are you saying the current govt is as bad and undesirable as it is, but the mechanisms by which this fact has risen to the fore are the issue? As far as I am concerned, the evil has been transparent enough, and it is running its course as we speak. I celebrate the fact that more and more people are seeing that. I am not concerned the PKK thing may break, or national security may be undermined. The former may break for any number of reasons (and maybe it’d be good if it broke if it were to be based on sunni brotherhood, or other opaque maladies); and, can you say the latter is solid and not undermined already?

  10. Bulent, are you saying the current govt is as bad and undesirable as it is, but the mechanisms by which this fact has risen to the fore are the issue?
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    Yes, what spooks me isn’t what the present gov’t does about the present issues that get coverage. What they do or think is not surprising and rather mild compared to the rather dark things that actually went on here previously. We have three elections coming up, one of which is fundamentally new (a second directly elected power in addition to the parliament) and there’s invisible jostling going on, I suspect. The result of that jostling will be far more decisive and we don’t understand it. Instead we get ‘lookie lookie he wants to interfere with fornication’ etc. which has been true/foreseeable (and impractical) for a long time.
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    I am not concerned the PKK thing may break, or national security may be undermined.
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    This is where we differ. Responding to challenges from street demos with gas (not hails of bullets mind you, as has happened in our past) or wanting prudish regulation of student housing, fall, in my mind, under democratic bickering and minor oppression.
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    We don’t have a limited government with fundamental rights that are seen as untouchable, so democratic control/interference is extensive and it takes an illiberal majoritarian shape. It won’t get fixed overnight if it gets fixed at all. [Remember just how many members of the intelligentsia were making broad denouncements of the higher judiciary not on the basis of their objectionable decisions or the effective principles they were enforcing, but on the basis of their existence as a higher power keeping the elected under check based on any principles? Have you not seen how people online respond to principled notions of rule-of-law, freedom of expression and the actual meaning of advertised US-style secularism? I mean, I didn't subject myself to inane abuse for your benefit, but we both have seen how educated people respond, and how even the visible Americans who deal with this country apparently had no solid notion about the reality. And, BTW, if you're looking abroad or the US for Turkish liberty, I'd like you to know that the US Senate, just within the past few months got told yet again that AKP brought about US-style secularism! Check the hearings.]
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    The PKK issue and national security, however, are fundamental issues that not just the elected government but the state has to deal with. Restrained/liberal democracy or tyranny of pluralities or however it is run, these are tasks for the state and IMHO rightly so. If the fuss were about what the present gov’t is doing about those things, I’d be more inclined to take it seriously. But it isn’t about those things and that it isn’t about those things is revealing. All manner of posturing happens as folks inside AKP take various positions and leak various things about sex etc. [CHP is as ridiculous as ever, with one heavily-advertised member telling headscarved youth that they can make out in parks due to Ataturk!]
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    In the meanwhile, we know the more fundamental/critical issues are also part of some other kind of struggle. Reyhanli blows up and fingerpointing within the state happens. The head of MIT gets repeatedly targeted. The PM himself complains about his office getting bugged and changes his security people. We don’t understand any of this and we’re not spooked but we’re spooked by how the PM views sex, booze, limited government and street protests?
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    I didn’t mean to subject you to paragraph after paragraph of half-baked thoughts and I most certainly don’t wish you to think that I myself understand much either about the principles or about the specifics, but the jumble above — which I fear I’ll make worse&longer if I made a second pass — is roughly what I think — if you were curious about that.

  11. Bulent, no worries about subjection to anything. These are voluntary exchanges…
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    It is clear that we hold the opposite view re: what matters more. You posit state-govt distinction. I think, that distinction has become a rather vacant concept over the last, oh, I guess, five-six years.
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    How can you say the fuss isn’t about what the govt is doing about liberal democracy or mob rule? As far as I can tell, it is entirely about what the govt is doing to the former while flirting with the latter. You seem to think, since we haven’t had a well-rooted liberal democratic tradition, and since this won’t get fixed overnight, people shouldn’t even be rattled by the goings-on. Or, those who get rattled are wrong, unimportant, wasting their time, etc. And, they are not perfect to boot! Also, there are more important, stately concerns. I shouldn’t have to say, but I don’t think so.

  12. Nihat,
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    You seem to think, since we haven’t had a well-rooted liberal democratic tradition, and since this won’t get fixed overnight, people shouldn’t even be rattled by the goings-on.
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    No, people should be rattled by the goings on but we do not know what the goings on are. “The government should do something about this” is a common demand here and has a broader scope than it would if we had a notion of limited government shared by many. So it isn’t news that people make this demand, and given the nature of this particular one it isn’t surprising that the PM would agree. I think we can agree on this much.
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    Whether this particular demand about student housing — which, in the form the PM’s pushed to address it, is about student fornication — will be addressed or is being addressed in the way people fear is unclear. What is clear is that a discussion got leaked, AKP scrambled and probably realized just how the leakers usually work (tapes etc.). The PM thus ended up in a situation where he felt he should own up to it in the particular way he did (ie a promise of enforcement of what corresponds to pious instinct) and here we are. I think the way this came about is more important than what the gov’t does about it especially since the government cannot really do much that’s both practical and sustainable.
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    Yeah they can leverage the existing system where you have to tell the government where you live and they can impose stricter licensure. They can and apparently are going to offer more state dorms by renting buildings. While these may be problems, they are not alarming problems. The jostling inside AKP, the way the Zaman paper/crowd are involved are serious problems, though, because they are part of a broader pattern that affects quite a bit more than student sex — such as the ‘stately’ concerns. It is that we need to and don’t understand and if we’ll be rattled we ought to be rattled about that fuzziness.
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    Illiberalism, enthusiastic agreement by the present bunch about the necessity of interfering with pretty much everything w/ pious instincts, the general agreement by all parties that the state should get involved more and track/licence/monitor/fund/tax/ban [tho on different grounds depending on the bunch] are broad and chronic problems here. I’d expect manifestations of those problems to push the views/desires to evolve and perhaps trigger fruitful debates [eg a counter-demand may be about easy access to contraception + STD education in this case, but I have not heard it].
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    Non-transparent pushing&shoving inside AKP as we face three elections and as the state is involved in more important [non-societal] things is a problem of a different nature. A family in a more conservative part of Turkey will not go from saying “I’ll only send my kid to college in a larger town if the state will help keep her chaste” to “she’s an adult, the state should help her with knowledge and protect her from violence but otherwise butt out” overnight. Politicians may or may not address this in ways we like, but this kind of thing has inertia and, despite what people might wish, it will evolve in its own way due to other factors we cannot control. Foreign policy, national security, PKK deals are not like that. What the state does about those directly affects what happens and if the non-transparent struggle is actually about those ‘stately’ things then the nature of the struggle itself needs to be understood rather than its manifestations in unrelated areas.

  13. Bulent,
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    I see your drift, however…
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    Non-transparent pushing&shoving is not only the nature of the beast that is politics, but it ought to be helped a good bit by that the-government-should-do-something-about-this mentality as well. The more pervasive that mentality, the bigger the room for the beast, that is. I find it rather counter-productive to shut down or minimize people’s genuine opposition and reaction to new manifestations of illiberal pathology while worrying about the beast. I have no objections to fussing about the beast without squelching other worthy and valid voices.
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    I also strongly believe that we –as political animals– are not gonna get duped except willingly. So, never concede the principle.

  14. Nihat yeah, there’s much to say tho I’d rather shut up watch/listen. As for worthy and valid voices, yes, the people and politicians are talking about the issues concerning sexuality etc. Here’s a nice exchange: https://twitter.com/burhankuzu/status/401418012613701632

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