Turkey part of global wave of bigotry from far-right - Elif Şafak

Artists and writers should stand together against far-right populist leaders’ increasing denigration and censorship of art and literature in the name of conservative values, Turkish novelist Elif Şafak said in an op-ed on Sunday for The Guardian. 

The confiscation this month of a comic book in Brazil, thanks in part to an evangelical organisation led by a billionaire pastor who has said prostitutes and gays are possessed by witches, reminded Şafak of her homeland. 

“As a novelist from Turkey, to me this kind of incendiary rhetoric is eerily familiar. In the name of protecting minors, art and literature are censored, controlled and denigrated by the rising populist right,” she said, pointing to hysteria in Turkey in recent months targeting fiction writers, including herself, who deal with child abuse and sexual harassment.  

“What might seem like sporadic, disconnected incidents here and there are in truth manifestations of a similar mindset, a growing wave of bigotry,” said Şafak.

Turkey has seen an alarming increase in gender-based violence and child brides in the past decade, according to Şafak. In 2017, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government approved a law that allows local imams to perform and register marriages, despite activists’ warnings that it would increase forced marriages for underage girls. 

Nearly 50 women in Turkey were murdered in August, including the high-profile case of Emine Bulut. Yet Turkish Islamists have launched a campaign against the Istanbul convention to prevent violence against women, saying it empowers LGBTI groups and aims to destroy the family. 

“Instead of opening shelters for abused women and children and changing patriarchal laws and protecting the victims, the authorities have been investigating fiction writers,” said Şafak. “The suppression of the rights and stories of sexual minorities is an inseparable component of the government’s policy of ‘promoting traditional family values’.”

She points out that evangelical American pastors often sound like Islamist preachers in the Middle East, as they are basically spreading the same messages with different words. Pride parades in Istanbul and other Turkish cities were barred again this year, with Turkey’s top religious official saying the Pride march “goes against creation”. 

Şafak cited similar campaigns in Brazil, Russia, Poland, Hungary and the United States. 

“Top-down censorship and the control of art and literature are inseparable components of (far-right populist) hatred and discrimination against sexual minorities, as well as against immigrants and intellectuals, said Şafak. “Artists and writers cannot afford not to know what is happening to colleagues in other parts of the world. We cannot afford to be silent.”