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Dateline Istanbul Pt 2. Symbolic Politics And Internet Freedom

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The News Dissector Takes On Internet Censorship in Turkey

By Danny Schechter, Author of The Crime of Our Time

ISTANBUL, TURKEY: Politics increasingly involves the manipulation of symbolic positions designed to create an impression of a tough political stance against Israel and more liberalization at home.

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This is certainly the case here in Turkey where official criticisms of Israel serve the purpose, even when those criticism lack real bite and seem designed to placate domestic and regional public opinion, rather than upset any apple carts or promote real change.

In backing Palestinian proposals for an improved UN status, Turkey looks good in Arab eyes. But the whole gambit is more symbolic than real and is unlikely to make any real difference in ending Israeli occupation or creating a real Palestinian State. Everyone knows that it reflects Palestinian desperation for recognition and progress after 60 years of neither.

This image enhancement may be more of an extension of Turkey's economic offensive in search of new markets and trade deals.

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Paradoxically, it may lead to increase Palestine's isolation, hardening the hard lines of right-wing Israeli politicians and forcing President Obama to veto it largely because of hysterical opposition by a relentless Israeli lobby at home.

  Ditto for Turkey's demand for an apology in the flotilla incident in which Israeli forces killed 9 Turks on the high seas when they were bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza. The Flotilla itself was an exercise in symbolic politics. Note: Turkey is not bringing charges against the Israeli officials responsible for the killings. (This may change somewhat now that a Turkey is seeking support for an application to the International Court of Justice to secure a legal condemnation of Israel's Gaza blockade. The blockade, not the massacre! )

At home, symbolism is skillfully manipulated with the government upholding civilian rule over a military that staged three coups to impose its will in the modern period.

That gives Turkey the patina of a progressive image as a moderate Islamic country where, unlike in Iran, the Mullahs are kept in the background. Religious values are upheld but not in a heavy handed manner.

At the same time, human rights protection is a real disgrace, especially involving the Kurdish community that says that, even as the country appears to become more liberal, it is tightening repressive laws and practices against them and their leaders, even very moderate ones. The leader of the Kurdish opposition, branded a terrorist, is silenced in a Turkish Guantanamo, an Island dungeon like the one that held that other "terrorist," Nelson Mandela.

(This is not say there is no terrorism in Turkey. Several bombs went off in Ankara September 20th.)

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The same can be said for freedom of expression. At least 18 journalists are in prison here, and a pro-government worldview is upheld by a legal framework and large monitoring and surveillance bureaucracy that censors ideas and the internet all in the name, of course, or protecting the public, upholding the rights of children etc.

When speaking at a symposium on Internet freedom I saw a well-documented presentation on the chilling extent of censorship here. Unlike in other countries where repression is accepted, a mass movement has arisen here to challenge the censors and demand an end to a pervasive filtering system imposed by the government. In May, 60,000 Turks marched for Internet freedom, the largest such gathering in the world on this issue that I know about.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Turkey 122 out of 175 in their latest worldwide Press Freedom index. Some 3700 websites have been blocked according to the OSCE, a Europe wide agency.

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News Dissector Danny Schechter is blogger in chief at Mediachannel.Org He is the author of PLUNDER: Investigating Our Economic Calamity (Cosimo Books) available at See

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