Shooting the WordPress
The San Francisco based million-blogger strong blogging platform WordPress was recently informed by the legal representative of Turkish writer Harun Yahya that under orders from a Turkish court “access to WordPress.com has been blocked in Turkey.” The letter listed a number of “defamation” blogs – “all” of which make allegedly “slanderous” remarks against Harun Yahya. This ban is significant for the larger ripple it casts in Turkey’s new Islamist democracy.
Harun Yahya, which is the pen-name of Adnan Oktar, is a sort of spiritual head of a vast Islamic apologist outfit in Turkey, which has reached Islamic publishers in London, Canada and the US. Though Harun Yahya is described as a “charlatan”, he has made inroads with Muslims all the way from Indonesia to America.
His books cover topics including refutations of atheism and Darwinism, romanticism as a weapon of Satan, anti-evolution pseudo-science, affirmation of miracles, and attacks on Freemasonry, Zionists, Buddhists, and terrorism (Darwin’s fault). In 1996, Harun Yahya published a book called Holocaust Lies (also called Holocaust Deception), which claimed that “what is presented as Holocaust is the death of some Jews due to the typhus plague during the war and the famine towards the end of the war caused by the defeat of the German.” Oddly, a few years later, he pinned anti-semitism on “neo-paganism” and “Darwinism” while putting himself forward as a denouncer of anti-semitism. Additionally, Yahya denies writing Holocaust Lies, but that is hard to believe.
Since around 1998, Harun Yahya’s operations have focused emphatically on promoting Islamic creationism. Recently, his operations sent a glossy 770 page book about creationism to European and US scientists. This creationist movement has allied itself with the American creationists. In fact, in 2005, American taxpayers had to pay for a Turkish non-scientist creationist speaker to come and enter the debate on evolution in Kansas. The speaker was allied with the Science Research Foundation in Turkey (Bilim Arastirma Vakfi, or BAV), which is said to be headed by Harun Yahya/Adnan Oktar, and has murky financial history.
Journalist Tony Ortega wrote a revealing piece in a local US newspaper about BAV. It discussed the intimidation that Turkish creationists have mounted against secular Turkish scientists and the defeat of evolution in Turkish schools:
But beginning in 1998, BAV spearheaded an effort to attack Turkish academics who taught Darwinian theory. Professors there say they were harassed and threatened, and some of them were slandered in fliers that labeled them “Maoists” for teaching evolution. In 1999, six of the professors won a civil court case against BAV for defamation and were awarded $4,000 each. But seven years after BAV’s offensive began, says Istanbul University forensics professor Umit Sayin (one of the slandered faculty members), the battle is over.
“There is no fight against the creationists now. They have won the war,” Sayin tells the Pitch from his home in Istanbul. “In 1998, I was able to motivate six members of the Turkish Academy of Sciences to speak out against the creationist movement. Today, it’s impossible to motivate anyone. They’re afraid they’ll be attacked by the radical Islamists and the BAV.”
All of this is the backdrop to Harun Yahya, but it does not explain why the Turkish courts, under pressure from Harun Yahya have suddenly banned WordPress.
Apparently WordPress has been hosting many blogs Harun Yayha attributes to his political enemy, Edsip Yuksel – whom the letter from Yahya’s attorneys to WordPress describes as the head of a “crime organization.” Interestingly, Edsip Yuksel is Harun Yahya/Adnan Oktar’s former mentor (he relates the history of their tumultuous relationship here). Yuksel is another odd fellow, connected with 19.org, which on the basis of a mathematical Biblical Code, and a Quranic code connected with the number 19, seeks a “Copernican revolution” in religion. He recently released a “reformist” translation of the Quran, which a prominent American publisher had picked up initially, but dropped once its eccentricities were discovered.
A fuller picture about the WordPress ban thus starts to emerge. WordPress is caught up in a long-standing political and cultural battle between two competing Muslim groups. The ban, therefore, reveals little about slander, or defamation, and I am uncertain how effective blog-protests will be (though it is an intriguing idea to try to force the hands of Turkish courts).
Rather, the ban should be seen as the first sign of the kind of censorship that an Islamist Turkish government is willing to accept. A Turkish court has shut down blogs because a local court favours one Muslim leader over another. What does tomorrow hold? The Islamist political leadership, which came to power by attacking secularist Turks for their anti-free speech views (Erdogan of the ruling party complained about not having free-speech rights when he recited an Islamic poem) is now enabling silencing of speech itself.
What does this say about the promises that Islamist parties make before actually acquiring power? How does this bode for Islamist democrats in other parts of the Muslim world? What does it reveal about the Islamist promise in general? It will be important, and instructive, to watch what happens with this case going forward. I would hope that the Islamists will recognise the principles of openness and freedom of speech that brought them to power, and get rid of this ban. We have seen too many Muslim dictatorships and monarchies engage in shutting down and arresting bloggers. Muslim democrats promised not to go down that route. Will they uphold that promise?