Erdogan Deserves No Praise


Time Magazine is calling on readers to cast their vote for the people they think have changed the world – both for better or worse. Among the selected persons one can find Bashar al-Assad, Pope Francis, Bill Gates, Kim Jong-Un, Edward Snowden, Malala Yousafzai and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

I hesitated at the names of Bashar al-Assad, Kim Jong-Un and Erdogan but because the media portrays al-Assad and Jong-Un as the ruthless and brutal dictators they are and because all head of states with a few exceptions are openly condemning them, I did not fear that a place on TIME’s 100 list would soften and diminish their actions to the average reader. al-Assad and Jong-un were certainly selected for the list because they changed the world for the worse.

But what about Erdogan, the Prime Minister of Turkey? What did he do to be considered among the 100 most influential people in the world and what would the 200-word description of him cover? Would he be praised as a modern leader and role model in the Middle East or would he (finally) be condemned as an authoritarian ruler of the people in Turkey and an oppressor of millions of Kurds?

The TIME 100 list is particularly vague: what does influential mean? How do you measure it? Why does the list mostly include people we hear about every day and not hard-working, non-famous people on the ground?

It says on TIME’s Wikipedia page that “TIME makes it clear that entrants are recognized for changing the world, regardless of the consequences of their actions.” Yet in the 2007 issue of TIME 100 list, the managing editor Richard Stengel wrote that the list was not “a list of the hottest, most popular or most powerful people, but rather the most influential”, saying:

Influence is hard to measure, and what we look for is people whose ideas, whose example, whose talent, whose discoveries transform the world we live in. Influence is less about the hard power of force than the soft power of ideas and example. Yes there are Presidents and dictators who can change the world through fiat, but we’re more interested in innovators like Monty Jones, the Sierra Leone scientist who has developed a strain of rice that can save African agriculture. Or heroes like the great chessmaster Garry Kasparov, who is leading the lonely fight for greater democracy in Russia. Or Academy Award winning actor George Clooney who has Taleveraged his celebrity to bring attention to the tragedy in Darfur.

Erdogan might not have changed the world but he was once not long ago forecast to be the man who would act as a link between the West and the Middle East, making Turkey the role model for the Arab states and an inspiration for the “Arab Spring.” Erdogan must belong the category of president and dictators who can change the world through fiat because he sure is not gracing the people of Turkey with his ideas, his talent or his discoveries, unless discoveries cover the time he found out he was allowed to use holograms of himself at rallies he could not attend in real life.

The problem with TIME’s list is that it does neither state if the selected person has changed the world in a good or a bad way nor is the description written solely by an unbiased observer who can give a nuanced description of the person in question.

Take for example the part about Barack Obama that was written by Hillary Clinton, former Secretary State for the United States (U.S.), when the former was selected as one of the 100 influential people of 2013.

[…] When Barack Obama was first elected, the world saw the realization of the American Dream. Today, they see the leader who delivers – whether it’s ending the war in Iraq, imposing crippling sanctions on Iran or reasserting our role as a Pacific power and building a world with more partners and fewer enemies.

There is not a word about the Obama administration’s deadly actions and immoral passivity both inside and outside the U.S. For example, a number updated in December 2013 shows that there have been 401 drone strikes under Obama compared to the 52 drone strikes under Bush and a report from Pew Research Center published in 2012 show that 74% of the people in Pakistan consider the U.S. an enemy.

Hillary Clinton, a friend and colleague of Barack Obama, is of course not going to paint a realistic picture of Obama and his administration marred by dead children and extensive illegal surveillance of U.S. citizens and head of states in a 200-word piece in Time Magazine.

Or what about the piece featuring Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish preacher and founder of the Gülen movement, who also appeared among the TIME’s 100 influential people of 2013:

Fethullah Gülen is among the world’s most intriguing leaders. From a secluded retreat in Pennsylvania, he preaches a message of tolerance that has won him admirers around the world. Schools founded by Gülen’s followers thrive in an estimated 140 countries. Doctors who respond to his wishes work without pay in disaster-afflicted countries. Gülen, however, is also a man of mystery. His influence in his native Turkey is immense, exercised by graduates of his schools who have reached key posts in the government, judiciary and police. This makes him seem like a shadowy puppeteer, and he is sccorned by almost as many Turks as love him. But as the most potent advocate of moderation in the Muslim world, Gülen is waging an urgently important campaign.

This is the man who during a lecture on September 2, 2013 encouraged his followers to frame Kurdish activists by placing drugs and guns in their homes, saying that “After that, you’ll be able to activate some parts of the system [law enforcement] […] They have already been announced as terrorists.”

Gülen is also one of the protagonists in a political scandal that has led to a corruption scandal and confrontations with Prime Minister Erdogan and I can see why he is considered influential: His followers have established around 800 schools (2008) in Turkey and rest of the world and no one is more susceptible to new ideas or propaganda than children; in Gülen’s case I would lean towards calling it propaganda rather than “a message of tolerance,” as stated in TIME.

I wonder how Erdogan will be described. I wonder if the person writing Erdogan’s 200-word-portrait will mention the Roboskî Massacre in December 2011 and police brutality at rallies and during the Gezi protests. I wonder if he or she will mention “the stone-throwing terrorist children” and the juvenile prisons in Turkey. I wonder if the imprisonment of journalists, lawyers, politicians and activists will be mentioned, the continued oppression of Kurdish rights, the lack of freedom of speech and assembly, the use of torture and sexual violence in prison and the adoption of internet laws that could violate freedom of expression and the right to privacy. There are countless more examples of the dire situation for human rights in Turkey but just like with Obama, it is not likely that they will be highlighted in Time Magazine’s list of influential people.

Does TIME have a duty to report correctly, truthfully or at least with respect to those who suffer under the rule of their “influential people” when selecting and printing praises about them? Putting Erdogan side by side with someone like Malala Yousafzai is troublesome, especially as there is no introduction in the magazine (at least not for the 2013 issue) that explains why someone who is regarded responsible for a massacre on several children is on the same list as a girl who bravely continues to promote education for other children. For people who know of Erdogan and who research the selected 100 people, there is no harm. But for Erdogan’s supporters in Turkey and elsewhere, it can incorrectly be regarded as an honor and a boost. People following statements made by Erdogan and Co. know that they already make twisted comments, speaking of foreign conspiracies and cats disturbing electricity in cities during local elections, preventing people from voting and allowing for election fraud to take place.

How has Erdogan been influential? Being a President or a Prime Minister is in itself an influential job, it is not necessarily the person filling the position. Whatever decision is made in this top job will be influential and will have an impact on the people.

Let the word influential have a meaning. At the end of the day, we all know the influential people is – the people. Not just presidents or prime ministers. They have no influence if not the people give them their influence and allow themselves to be influenced.

Let Erdogan be selected as one of TIME’s 100 most influential people because for every such list there are hundreds of reports, thousands of articles and millions of people who know better and will rally against him, making it known how he only influences them to continue their resistance against him.