Honesty in debate & critical thinking: Erdogan says ‘freedom and democracy have no value in Turkey’

“The most perfidious way of harming a cause consists of defending it deliberately with faulty arguments.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

This is a headline that is making the rounds on media and social media:

President Erdogan says freedom and democracy have ‘no value’ in Turkey”.

Followed by text that quotes Erdogan to have said “Democracy, freedom and the rule of law…For us, these words have absolutely no value any longer.”.

I’m not a supporter of Erdogan. I vehemently oppose him. I could even go as far as to say I despise him. But if there’s one thing I despise more, that’s misinformation based propaganda. Lying, or bending the truth to further ones own cause — whether it’s intentionally or ‘accidentally’ (i.e. through laziness, lack of research or critical analysis). Because in the long run I believe it won’t work. It will only create polarization. The resolve of the core factions in ones own group might grow stronger because of misinformation based propaganda, but it will simultaneously strengthen the resolve of their opponents, because they will see through the lies and deceit. But perhaps more damaging, everyone else who can see through the lies will also learn to not trust the propagandists — and their cause will suffer. The amount of hate and mistrust will increase, and any form of resolution will become increasingly more distant. Even more damaging, is that these propagandists aren’t just a handful of evil scheming hell-bent puppet-masters, who we can all point at and accuse of being dishonest. It’s all of us. Every single one of us.

Independent, RT, and many more ran these stories and headlines, as did many on twitter. They all seem to stem from DPA’s story and translation, which is probably the core anti-Erdogan propagandist in this case, reverting to pretty disgusting tricks of deceit which I mention below. The other folks on general and social media and are either intentionally spreading the minsinformation based propaganda, or falling victim to the propaganda machine and spreading it like wildfire without any fact checking, research or critical thinking; assuming (or hoping) it to be true, because it aligns with their general views.


So for the sake of honesty and ethics — and to demonstrate the perils of copy/paste journalism — this is what Erdogan really said (emphasis is mine, the section that relates to the quote):

Fransa’da geçtiğimiz kasım ayında terör eylemleri oldu. Fransa’da güvenlik güçleri herhangi bir yargı kararı olmaksızın terör örgütüyle ilişkili olduğunu değerlendirdikleri herkesin evini, işyerini arama hakkına sahip. Kimse de dönüp Fransa’ya, ‘Ya demokratik bir ülkede olağanüstü hal uygulaması mı olur? Ayıp ediyorsun’ demiyor. Ama aynı çevreler her gün terör eylemlerine muhatap olan bize ‘Terör örgütüne karşı operasyon yapmayın’ telkininde bulunuyor. Bize bu telkinde bulunanların, terör örgütüne dönüp de ‘Türkiye’ye saldırmayın, masumları öldürmeyin’ dediklerini duymadık. Fransa için hak olan terörle mücadele yöntemleri bize gelince niye demokrasi, özgürlük, hukuk devleti duvarına tosluyor? Bunun adı ikiyüzlülüktür. Açık söylüyorum, bizim için artık bu ifadelerin zerre kadar kıymeti yoktur. Terörle mücadelede yanımızda olan dostumuzdur, karşımızda olan da düşmanımızdır bunun bilinmesi lazım.

Direct translation:

In France last November there were acts of terror. In France the security forces have the right to search the homes or workplaces of anyone they suspect were linked to terrorism, without any court orders. No groups turn to France and says ‘In a democratic country why would you declare a state of emergency? That’s out of order’. But those same groups turn to us, while we are victims of acts of terror every day, and warn us ‘Don’t do operations against terrorist organizations’. We haven’t heard these same groups turn to the terrorist organizations and say ‘Don’t attack Turkey, don’t kill innocent people’. The rights that France is allowed in combating terror are denied to us in the name of freedom and constitutional rights. This is called hypocrisy (literally: being two-faced). I’ll speak openly, these kinds of statements have no value for us. In our fight against terror those who are by our side are our allies, those who are against us are our enemies, this should be known.

I think it’s pretty clear that by “these kinds of statements have no value for usErdogan is not referring to “freedom and democracy” as proposed by the articles, but to the “warnings made by the two faced hypocrites. [1]

Yet this is how much it was spread on media and twitter.

The core propaganda media resorted to a pretty appalling trick of editing a quote to make it mean something totally different. And the rest of the media / social media soaked it up and spread it like wildfire without any fact checking or critical thinking, assuming or hoping for it to be true, because it aligned with their general views.


The purpose of this text isn't to talk about the politics of this particular situation, and it’s definitely not to defend Erdogan. Like I mentioned I'm adamantly against him and his government. I am quite petrified by the developments and his recent announcements — not to mention his reign over the past two decades. I also don’t think I'm under any false impressions of any kind regarding democracy in Turkey. Obviously I wish for the conflicts to stop, with peace and full rights once and for all to all people in the Kurdish regions — as well as the greater middle-east, linked to the current conflicts, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine etc. Some of the actions Erdogan is taking do undermine freedom and democracy (though worth pointing out France, UK & US have behaved very similarly in similar situations, which is the exact hypocrisy that Erdogan was pointing out actually).

However, that should not give us the right to distort the truth and spread misinformation, no matter how much of a despot Erdogan is. The truth should be enough evidence,without having to resort to games of deceit.

Because when people spread this kind of misinformation, it damages their credibility. When people spread these lies about what Erdogan said — whether intentionally trying to deceive, or just through laziness or lack of research or critical thinking — I personally lose a little bit of respect for them. I start to doubt their integrity and commitment to unbiased reporting and honest debate. When those same people spread other news or mention other ‘facts’ in the future, I’m inclined to doubt them more, having already seen examples of their distorting truth for their own cause. It’s always good to be skeptical, especially of what you read online. But when you see certain people consistently reverting to misinformation, the value of their opinions will quickly sink to negligible.

I picked this particular story regarding Erdogan to talk about this because it is such an unambiguous distortion of truth, hopefully leaving no room for disagreements regarding the actual truth (what was actually said) vs the distortions (what is claimed to have been said). And especially because I generally oppose Erdogan, but I think it’s very important to be able to pick out holes in an argument, even if that (flawed) argument would support your overall personal opinion. I wonder what percentage of Erdogan haters are able to agree with this?

Arguably the biggest problems we face are either caused by, or at least fuelled by, deceit and lies. If we participate in that game we are not helping, even if we think it’s aiding our own cause. We are fuelling the fire of hate. When we lie, or distort the truth, our integrity becomes damaged, everything else we say becomes void of value, even if they were true. Nobody believes a liar… even when they’re telling the truth.

(I wrote briefly about defending truth in emotionally charged situations, even if it goes against causes we support).


NB, I appreciate the difficulty (as a pundit) in fact-checking a story like this. Since hundreds of sites are running the exact same quote due to copy/paste journalism, it creates a false sense of security.

[1] Interestingly this is a common problem in Natural Language Processing, quite similar to a Winograd Schema, e.g. “The Trophy wouldn’t fit in the suitcase because it is too small (or large).” What is too small (or large), the suitcase or the trophy? It’s not the grammar/structure of the sentence that provides the answer, but the context, the meanings and common sense reasoning.