GUVERCIN: Kanter’s standing up to Erdogan is laudable


Opinions Column: The Bigger Picture

On Jan. 17, NBA basketball player Enes Kanter was unable to join his fellow New York Knicks teammates on the court in London — not due to injury or illness, but out of fear for his life.

Kanter has been a highly outspoken critic of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his regime, even writing “#DictatorErdogan” under his Instagram and Twitter posts, and calling him the “Hitler of our century.”

After a failed coup attempt in Turkey in 2016, the Erdogan administration began a witch hunt that, to this day, targets innocent scholars, journalists, government officials, teachers, doctors, men, women and even children by removing them from their homes, jobs, schools, practices and families and putting them into prison. The reason? Their affiliation with the Gulen Movement, which is aligned with the Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan believes is the primary orchestrator behind the coup attempt which cost thousands of people their lives. 

Turkey is the country with the most detained journalists in the world, with 73 of them behind bars, according to World Atlas. There are hundreds of accounts of Turkish citizens being detained simply due to expressing their criticism of the Erdogan regime, which is now a crime punishable by up to four years in prison. For a country that claims to uphold democracy and justice, using innocent people as scapegoats, twisting the law to fit political agendas and taking away freedom of expression and press are harbingers of a corrupt and dictatorial regime. 

As a supporter of the Gulen Movement and an immigrant who has an appreciation for the legal system in America, Kanter has chosen to use his platform as a means to raise awareness about this administration, for which he receives “hundreds and hundreds” of death threats and backlash from Erdogan supporters. He describes Erdogan, “That dude is maniac. Think about it. I mean, America ... you've got freedom of whatever you want to say … But it's not like that in Turkey. You cannot criticize or you cannot even say nothing bad about the dude, Erdogan. Just, like, say he's a bad guy and you're in a prison ..."

“Turkey has put in an extradition request and requested an Interpol red notice for the arrest of NBA star Enes Kanter,” according to Anadolu, a Turkish state news agency, and reported by CNN. He even had his Turkish passport revoked in 2017, leaving him in a legally stateless status. In order to be extradited, Kanter would have had to commit a crime in the U.S., to which he tweeted, “Turkish Government can NOT present any single piece of evidence of my wrongdoing. I don’t even have a parking ticket in the US (True).”

In a CNN interview, Kanter explained that the reason why he could not join his teammates against the Washington Wizards in London was not because of a visa issue, as former NBA player and Erdogan supporter Hedo Turkoglu asserted, by tweeting a photo of his travel document that would enable him to legally go to London. This was to deny any claims of a visa issue and a “smear campaign” and emphasize that he literally feared that there would be an assassination attempt if he was to leave America’s borders. 

When asked about his absence, he replied, “Sadly, I’m not going because of that freaking lunatic, the Turkish president … It’s pretty sad that all the stuff affects my career and basketball because I want to be out there and help my team win. But just because of the one lunatic guy, one maniac, one dictator, I can’t even go out there and do my job.” He further insinuated his fear with statements like, “They have a lot of spies there … I could get killed there easily,” and “The operations are very famous (for) hunting down people who are speaking out against the government.”

On numerous occasions he has expressed that he does not feel safe outside of the United States, and in light of his statement that he gets “three or four death threats every week," he is justified in his fear for his safety. While supporting his team from afar, Kanter has also utilized the opportunity to spread awareness and communicate with leaders like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in recognizing the free-speech erosion in Turkey. He commented, “People don’t understand, I play in the NBA and I have a very big platform so I’m using this big platform to be the voice of people who don’t have a voice.” Kanter’s fellow teammates and fans have expressed their unwavering support, for which Kanter has expressed gratitude for on his social media. 

Dilara Guvercin is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore double majoring in philosophy and psychology. Her column, "The Bigger Picture," runs on alternate Friday's.

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