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Novelist Elif Shafak on Turkey's War on Free Speech


In The Guardian, acclaimed Turkish novelist Elif Shafak – author of the bestsellers The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi and The Bastard of Istanbul, among many other books – relates the grim circumstances faced by writers and intellectuals in Turkey today. She notes that many academics have been blacklisted and jailed, and mentions that she herself has been the target of violent threats. Crucially, she also observes that “the rhetoric of anti-intellectualism goes hand in hand with anti-feminism.” Check out an excerpt from the piece below.

Since the attempted coup of 2016, 29 publishing houses have been closed by decree, and 135,000 books have been banned from public libraries, including those by Louis Althusser and Nâzim Hikmet, Turkey’s greatest poet. A prosecutor has accused Baruch Spinoza and Albert Camus of being members of a terrorist organisation. Much has been said about the anti-liberal nature of authoritarian populism, but relatively little about two other features concomitant with its rise: anti-intellectualism and anti-feminism. Authoritarian populism likes to divide society into two camps: the pure people versus the corrupt elite. Writers, poets, journalists and scholars are often associated with the latter group. In the populist imagination, being elite has nothing to do with economic power or social status. It is about values. In this way, a university assistant who cannot afford a house in the city and has to commute for hours every day but happens to have progressive ideas can be labelled “elite”, while a hedge fund manager will be called “a man of the people” if he sponsors populist nationalistic movements.

Image of Elif Shafak via The Guardian.