Turkish WordPress Ban Appears to Be Lifted: Religion, Secularism, Democracy, Web Neutrality, and Infrastructure
Posted by Stephen Lewis on April 23, 2008
I am writing this entry from Istanbul. From early 2007 until quite recently this had not been possible. HakPakSak, together with approximately 1.5 million other sites hosted by WordPress, had been blocked in Turkey, this the result of a weblog-based spat between two Islamic “creationists” (i.e. opponents of Darwin’s theory of evolution) both with links to their fundamentalist Protestant equivalents in the US. A law suit by one of the protagonists against the other led to an order from the district court of an ultra-religious quarter of Istanbul to block from view in Turkey all weblogs site containing the word “wordpress” in their URLs . Unquestioning bureaucratic compliance with the court order followed. (Click here for a somewhat longer past post on the subject).
The lifting of the blocking of sites hosted by WordPress (an unintentional internet analogue of the Cold War practice of “jamming” ideologically unacceptable radio-broadcasts) comes at an odd and stressful moment in the history of modern Turkey. Over the last months, the country teeters on the edge of crisis. A move by Turkey’s democratically-elected (but not necessarily democratic) government to lift a ban on the wearing of head-scarves by Muslim female students at the country’s universities has led to a counter-move from militant secularists on the left, center and right and an appeal to the Turkey’s highest court to mandate the dissolution of the country’s ruling party, the pro-Islamic Ak Party, and the banning of its leading members from participation in politics.
This drama is part of a larger conundrum in which Turkey’s conservative, pro-Islamic, ostensibly pro-European-Union-membership, ruling AK party is opposed by secularists spearheaded by parties (not all of them democratic) dedicated to the legacy of the founder of modern Turkey, Ataturk, and backed by the army and police. The conflict plays itself out in government, society, and the press, as well as in a shadow world of a “deep state” and conspiracies, provocations, and violence that would be the envy of Bush/Cheney/Rice/ex-Rumsfeld and Co. For detailed background and coverage, see this excellent report from the European Stability Institute, whose seemingly penetrating work I would even have even more faith in if they would be more open about the researchers and writers who comprise their team.
That Turkey could, within the framework of its domestic legal system and governmental institutions, quickly and easily block 1.5 million sites is even more disturbing than the current US conflict over the right of internet service providers to give “fast lane” priority to selected content and slow-down or block other traffic based on self-determined criteria. (For a short summary of the recent US Comcast affair and the debate over “web neutrality” see this recent article on CNET.)
In this week’s Linux Journal, senior editor Doc Searls turns to the question of the internet (and operating systems) as infrastructure. Within the context of this question, one of the issues I will try to address over the next weeks is whether and to what degree arbitrary, transitory clusters of capital and/or power — nation states as well as companies — should be allowed to deny access to or pull-the-plug on aspects of infrastructure, the internet included, that are not of their creation and that transcend their boundaries, especially as the conduct of business, intellectual activities, science, public debate and public affairs become more web-dependent.
More to follow…