COMMENTARY: Columnist should use more humanist ideals


On April 16, Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, took the first major leap in the direction of establishing an authoritarian dictatorship. The change was brought about as a result of a historic referendum that, having been passed with a “majority of public support,” will eliminate the position of prime minister and put almost complete power in the hands of the executive branch. The vote has been criticized by governments and human rights organizations across the globe as having possibly been rigged in Erdogan’s favor. This article will not focus on such accusations. Instead, I would like to respond to an opinion article posted in the April 20 issue of The Daily Targum. The piece, which was part of Meryem Uzumcu’s bi-weekly column, elaborates on the aforementioned subject and reaches some bizarre, ahistorical conclusions.

In an effort to avoid pedantry, I will fix my attention on the overall thesis of the article: that instead of criticizing Erdogan’s regime, the international community should instead gaze into a mirror at its own imperfections. “One needs to take a position that is critical of this international sympathy and media platform,” she writes. She asserts that the best way to support “the Turkish opposition to Erdogan,” is to remain silent, and, to put it colloquially, mind its own business.

The cognitive dissonance at hand is astounding — by acknowledging that there exists an “international community,” and thereby asserting that it should “(revert) its gaze,” she creates a contradiction. All international human rights violations fall under an international jurisdiction and therefore deserve the attention thereof. Uzumcu seems to not grasp the gravity of the two words “international” and “community.”

She attempts to support her argument by stating her belief that “the platform has widened a Turkish public’s visibility without generating a political outcome.” This is not true, as many world leaders, former Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members have all threatened that passing the referendum solidifying Erdogan’s authoritarian regime might result in Turkey losing their NATO membership: a threat that holds significant geopolitical consequences for Erdogan.

There is a more salient cliché lurking just beneath the opaque, muddy waters of Uzumcu’s extreme isolationism. Despite the fact that no such interventionist measures have even been so much as entertained by any international heads of state, the main assumption here is that the only explanation for international condemnation is that it serves as a precursor of military intervention. This neglects the fact that the past several years of international foreign policy has been characterized by its use of international condemnation in place of intervention. To see the repercussions of this, one need not look further than Syria.

The paramount problem I have with Uzumcu’s pejoration of the term “intervention” is some of the most important decisions of the 20th or 21st centuries. Whether one looks at Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo or East Timor, one cannot deny that had it not been for intervention, millions of people, nationalities and ethnicities would have been erased. The era of political and economic globalization is upon us and has been for decades. We are beyond the point of no return.

She concludes her article with the following groundless observation: “Here’s how to support the Turkish opposition to Erdogan: Don’t.” Capitulation to authoritarians and dictators does nothing to strengthen a country’s opposition, whereas internationalism — whether it arrives in the form of public condemnation or some species of intervention is — and has historically been shown to be, a powerful force for preserving human rights and global stability.

But perhaps the most obscene argument comes in the form of what can be described as nothing less than a complete repudiation of humanism in favor of a fickle and dangerous game of identity politics. In a concern addressed to “the international community at large,” or, more specifically, to “those who desire to show their solidarity with a repressed Turkish opposition to (Erdogan),” she espouses her belief that “the people that will be affected by the results of the referendum live in Turkey. I, as a Turkish-American, will not be affected.” Au contraire.

The entire concept of human rights asserts the fact that we are not and should not be divided into different “tribes,” into different nationalities, ethnicities, religions and to do so is a tactic often utilized by authoritarians themselves. Instead, we are all one species, all one family sharing a short period of time on this rock in outer space. An injustice against one is an injustice against all, and it is our obligation not necessarily to right every wrong, but to at the very least acknowledge when a wrong has been committed. This is not just an ideal worth the ink it is printed with, it is a philosophy based on preserving the unalienable rights of mankind, and is worth the countless lives that have been lost fighting so that someday the life of, say, an Afghan woman who is murdered by her family in the name of “honor” will have as much gravity as the life of any human being anywhere in the world. Such is an idea worth laying down one’s life for.

Daniel Marrone is a School of Arts and Sciences incoming first-year. 


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Daniel Marrone

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