Tag: Istanbul

Teenagers: Facebook is only 13, Twitter just 11

Monday, 13 May, 2019

The Istanbul-born writer and academic Zeynep Tufecki has made a name for herself with her analysis of Big Tech and her understanding of its impacts. Last year she wrote in the New York Times that, “YouTube may be one of the most powerful radicalizing instruments of the 21st century.” Now, she’s taken to the pages of Wired to declare, “IT’S THE (DEMOCRACY-POISONING) GOLDEN AGE OF FREE SPEECH.” In her conclusion, she compares the current state of the major social media platforms with the early days of the automobile industry:

“We don’t have to be resigned to the status quo. Facebook is only 13 years old, Twitter 11, and even Google is but 19. At this moment in the evolution of the auto industry, there were still no seat belts, airbags, emission controls, or mandatory crumple zones. The rules and incentive structures underlying how attention and surveillance work on the internet need to change. But in fairness to Facebook and Google and Twitter, while there’s a lot they could do better, the public outcry demanding that they fix all these problems is fundamentally mistaken. There are few solutions to the problems of digital discourse that don’t involve huge trade-offs — and those are not choices for Mark Zuckerberg alone to make. These are deeply political decisions. In the 20th century, the US passed laws that outlawed lead in paint and gasoline, that defined how much privacy a landlord needs to give his tenants, and that determined how much a phone company can surveil its customers. We can decide how we want to handle digital surveillance, attention-channeling, harassment, data collection, and algorithmic decision­making.”

Zeynep Tufecki is a faculty associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, and in 2017 Yale University Press published her Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest. The book is available to download as a PDF (1.70MB) for free from Twitterandteargas.org.


Blood and violence in Turkey

Saturday, 16 July, 2016 0 Comments

Snow Orhan Pamuk’s brilliant novel Snow is recommended reading for those trying to understand the forces at work in Turkey these days. Early in the book, the central character, Ka, is sitting in the New Life Pastry Shop in the east Anatolian city of Kars when an Islamic extremist kills the director of The Education Institute, who had barred headscarf-wearing girls from attending class. Because the victim was carrying a concealed tape-recorder, Ka is later able to get the transcript of the fatal conversation from his widow. In this excerpt, the killer pours forth his murderous ideology:

“Headscarves protect women from harassment, rape and degradation. It’s the headscarf that gives women respect and a comfortable place in society. We’ve heard this from so many women who’ve chosen later in life to cover themselves. Women like the old belly-dancer Melahat Sandra. The veil saves women from the animal instincts of men in the street. It saves them from the ordeal of entering beauty contests to compete with other women. They don’t have to live like sex objects, they don’t have to wear make-up all the day. As professor Marvin King has already noted, if the celebrated film star Elizabeth Taylor had spent the last twenty years covered, she would not have had to worry about being fat. She would not have ended up in a mental hospital. She might have known some happiness.”

Upon hearing this nonsense, the director of the Education Institute bursts out laughing. Pamuk describes the end of the transcript thus:

“Calm down my child. Stop. Sit down. Think it over one more time. Don’t pull that trigger. Stop.”
(The sound of a gunshot. The sound of a chair pushed out.)
“Don’t my son!”
(Two more gunshots. Silence. A groan. The sound of a television. One more gunshot. Silence.)

Talking of Turkey and fanaticism, of blood and violence, From Russia, with Love, the fifth 007 novel to feature the British Secret Service agent James Bond, might not be where one expects to find insights relating to last night’s coup, but it’s full of surprises. Ian Fleming wrote the book in 1956 at his Goldeneye estate in Jamaica, and the story was inspired by the author’s visit to Turkey on behalf of The Sunday Times to report on an Interpol conference. Fleming returned to London via the Orient Express, but found the experience drab, partly because the restaurant car was closed. Bond observes:

“From the first, Istanbul had given him the impression of a town where, with the night, horror creeps out of the stones. It seemed to him a town the centuries had so drenched in blood and violence that, when daylight went out, the ghosts of its dead were its only population.” — Ian Fleming, From Russia, With Love


The plight of the Assyrians and the Yezidi

Monday, 1 December, 2014 0 Comments

“We cannot resign ourselves to a Middle East without Christians, who have professed the name of Jesus there for two thousand years. Many of our brothers and sisters are being persecuted and have been forced violently from their homes. It even seems that the value of human life has been lost, that the human person no longer matters and may be sacrificed to other interests. And, tragically, all this is met by the indifference of many.”

So spoke Pope Francis I and Patriarch Bartholomew I in Istanbul yesterday.

Born in Syria and living in Los Angeles, Sargon Saadi made The Last Plight to combat the world’s indifference to the suffering of the Assyrian and Yezidi people living under the barbaric rule of ISIS. We cannot resign ourselves to a Middle East without Christians.


The power of Twitter

Friday, 21 March, 2014 0 Comments

Background: France has a $1.7 billion deal to build a compact aircraft carrier for the Kremlin.

Foreground: Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, admits that while Paris cannot imagine delivering arms to Russia, there is the harsh reality of employment. With his tweet, he reassures Putin that he can humiliate Western Europe as much as he likes.

Background: Hours after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to “wipe out Twitter” following a stream of tweets alleging corruption in his inner circle, Turkey blocked access to the social news site.

Foreground: Claire Berlinski is an American novelist, travel writer and freelance journalist. She read Modern History at Balliol College, Oxford, and she lives in Istanbul amid a menagerie of adopted stray animals.


Snow is melting in Turkey

Monday, 3 June, 2013 0 Comments

It’s hard to put a finger on the individual spark that lit the fuse in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, but the air was filled with a number of combustibles: Secularists point to the recent barrage of restrictions on alcohol; intellectuals highlight the number of journalists in jail (there are more reporters in prison in Turkey than in any other country in the world); activists complain about the country’s draconian anti-terror laws, and environmentalists are enraged by mega urban-development projects that involve the nihilistic destruction of nature. All in all, people have tired of Prime Minister Erdogan’s authoritarianism and they want him to know how they feel about creeping Islamism.

Snow Orhan Pamuk, the winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature, brilliantly captured the tensions at the heart of Turkish society in Snow. Early in the novel, the central character Ka is sitting in the New Life Pastry Shop in the east Anatolian city of Kars when an Islamist murders the director of The Education Institute, who had barred headscarf-wearing girls from attending class. Because the director was carrying a concealed tape-recorder, Ka is later able to get the transcript of the fatal conversation from his widow. In this excerpt, the killer pours out his mad idealism:

“Headscarves protect women from harassment, rape and degradation. It’s the headscarf that gives women respect and a comfortable place in society. We’ve heard this from so many women who’ve chosen later in life to cover themselves. Women like the old belly-dancer Melahat Sandra. The veil saves women from the animal instincts of men in the street. It saves them from the ordeal of entering beauty contests to compete with other women. They don’t have to live like sex objects, they don’t have to wear make-up all the day. As professor Marvin King has already noted, if the celebrated film star Elizabeth Taylor had spent the last twenty years covered, she would not have had to worry about being fat. She would not have ended up in a mental hospital. She might have known some happiness.”

Upon hearing this absurdity, the director of the Education Institute bursts out laughing. Pamuk describes the end of the transcript:

“Calm down my child. Stop. Sit down. Think it over one more time. Don’t pull that trigger. Stop.”
(The sound of a gunshot. The sound of a chair pushed out.)
“Don’t my son!”
(Two more gunshots. Silence. A groan. The sound of a television. One more gunshot. Silence.)

No fiction writer in recent years has come near Orhan Pamuk in his depiction of the spiritual fragility of the Islamic world and its rage against the “godless West”.


The persecution of Fazil Say

Saturday, 9 June, 2012

The internationally acclaimed Turkish classical pianist Fazil Say is to stand trial on charges of insulting Muslim religious values in comments posted on Twitter. If convicted, he could face a minimum of 18 months in prison. Say quoted a verse by the 11th-century Persian poet Omar Khayyam that ridiculed the hypocrisy of people who pretend […]

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