Skip to main content

Twitter ban is the least of Turkey's woes

By David Frum, CNN Contributor
March 24, 2014 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Frum: Turkey once gave people hope for the future of democracy in Islamic nations
  • He says voters have repeatedly backed prime minister Erdogan's path for Turkey
  • After corruption scandal and criticism, Erdogan sought to shut off Twitter
  • Frum: U.S., allies can no longer count on Turkey as a stable force in a crucial region

Editor's note: David Frum, a CNN contributor, is a contributing editor at The Daily Beast. He is the author of eight books, including a new novel, "Patriots," and a post-election e-book, "Why Romney Lost." Frum was a special assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2002.

(CNN) -- You've probably heard that the Turkish government's attempt to ban Twitter quickly collapsed into farce.

From USA Today:

"More than 2.5 million tweets -- or over 17,000 per minute -- were reportedly posted (from Turkey) in the first 24 hours after the ban, according to several media reports.

David Frum
David Frum

HootSuite, a Vancouver, Canada-based startup that measures and analyzes Twitter marketing campaigns, said in a corporate blog post that its traffic from Turkey tripled in the first day after the ban.

So ... all is good, right?

Not right.

Turkey is a NATO ally, a candidate for membership in the European Union, a front-line state facing Iran, Syria and Russia -- and it is heading seriously in the wrong direction. A lot of people have invested a lot of time and effort denying that unwelcome news. It can be denied no longer.

Turkey's Twitter-banning prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, came to power after a big election win in 2002. Erdogan's party was staunchly Islamic, yet seemingly committed to electoral democracy. Its victory was hailed by many as a hopeful sign for the post-9/11 world.

Europe had Christian Democratic parties; why couldn't Turkey have a Muslim Democratic party? Indeed, Erdogan-style Muslim Democracy seemed a decade ago the striking alternative to radical Islamism, a political alternative that would integrate religion into politics while preserving individual freedom and democratic decision-making.

Erdogan and his Islamic regime lifted restrictions on the wearing of hijab in public buildings. He abolished the daily pledge of allegiance to a secular Turkey required in all Turkish schools since 1933. He downgraded the longstanding Turkish relationship with Israel and mused instead about a "neo-Ottoman" role for Turkey at the head of the Middle East's Muslim nations. He and his party passed restrictions on the sale and promotion of alcohol and boldly disavowed the equality of the sexes.

At the same time, the Erdogan government did initiate important economic liberation of Turkey's traditionally state-led economy. He made concessions to ethnic and religious minorities. It seemed imaginable that Erdogan's reactionary religious message could somehow be fused with modern economics and tolerance. President Barack Obama certainly imagined so: In a 2012 interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria, the President cited Prime Minister Erdogan as one of the five foreign leaders with whom he'd forged his closest "bonds of trust".

Yet from the start, Erdogan's Islamic democracy had a strongly authoritarian whiff to it. Through the Erdogan years, Turkey has led the world in the number of journalists jailed, ahead of both China and Iran. Erdogan's government banned YouTube for two years beginning in 2007, purged and jailed hundreds of politically uncongenial military officers and reshaped both police and the judiciary.

Turkish voters overlooked and forgave these infringements. They elected and twice re-elected Erdogan. Turkey achieved genuine economic progress during his rule. Ordinary Turks believed that their blunt, traditionalist prime minister cherished their interests in a way his more cosmopolitan predecessors did not.

Then came the swirl of corruption rumors, corruption on a massive multi-billion dollar scale. Police fired tear gas and water cannon at people protesting the death of a 15-year-old boy who died in demonstrations against development of Gezi Park in central Istanbul.

Audio was posted to social media that purported to reveal the prime minister in plots with his son to collect and conceal tens of millions of Euros in illegal cash. (Erdogan has claimed that a corruption investigation that entangled four of his former cabinet ministers is a "coup plot" and that some of the recordings are "immorally edited material".)

Erdogan has responded with more censorship and more controls, culminating in the Twitter ban. That ban failed -- yet the underlying problem remains: the country that was once the West's most reliable partner in the Islamic world is not so reliable any more. Turkey defies embargoes to trade with Iran. Turkish foreign policy has sought to build relationships with everyone and anyone except Turkey's traditional Western partners: with Syria, China, Russia, anyone.

With Russia's seizure of Crimea, the once-exotic and once-remote Black Sea region has suddenly emerged as a central global zone of conflict. Time was when the United States and the Western world could count on a steady, responsible and democratizing ally on the south shore of that sea. No more. The Twitter ban has collapsed. All the bad impulses that imposed that Twitter ban remain in place -- and will remain so long as Erdogan remains in office.

The promise of an Islamic version of Christian Democracy has proved a big lie. Instead, the country that was once the most stable, reliable and democratic state in the Islamic world seems now to have cast itself as the region's saddest backward-slider -- with its ever more authoritarian leader playing the role of an Islamic Vladimir Putin, or maybe Eva Peron.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Frum.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2235 GMT (0635 HKT)
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2208 GMT (0608 HKT)
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT