To Comment or Not to Comment, That is the Question

[pullquote align=”left”]I followed a heated debate on the Turkish Living Forum in response to an article in the Guardian called “Turkey is Not a Free Country”. The predicable salvos from unbending minds ensued. -I think this, you think that, and never the twain shall meet. It’s a futile exercise in grand standing and the usual stuff of forums.[/pullquote] I rarely comment on the rhetoric. I moved to Turkey to keep control of my blood pressure, not to see it spiral into orbit. However, one particularly rigid point of view really got me thinking. One of the combatants declared with absolute righteousness that foreigners who live in Turkey do not have the right to criticise their foster land. “Is this right?” I wondered. The more I thought about it the less clear-cut my own view became.

To some extent, I found myself in agreement with the statement. Whinging is a peculiarly British national pastime. It must be frustrating and irritating for Turks to endure the endless whining of the bar room bores. After all, if you choose to live in a different country, you need to accept that it’s different. We, Brits, are the first to complain when immigrants to the UK refuse to learn the language or make no attempt to integrate. Sound familiar? This is the everyday practice of many expats in Turkey (or Spain or Portugal or any other destination of choice for northern Europeans wishing to live out their dotage in the sun). Too few venture out of their whitewashed ghettos to sample the real Turkish delight. Frankly, I’m surprised that our hosts are as tolerant as they are.

There is another side to the argument, of course. Turkey has actively encouraged foreigners to invest and settle here. With this comes a responsibility to give non-nationals a voice about the issues that matter most to them. It won’t wash to say “Thanks awfully for the cash, but put up and shut up.: We are supposed to be living in a democracy. All the money Liam and I spend goes into the local economy. As consumers of goods and services, we have the right to complain when those good or services are not up to scratch. Whoever pays the piper calls the tune, I say. At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to work. We do the right thing and pay our dues to the Government to be bone fide residents (no regular visa and bacon runs to Kos, Greece for us). We have tax numbers, and our income from our capital is taxed at source, all adding to State coffers. Given the size of the black economy, this can’t always be said of Turks. We, expats, cannot vote, of course, but does this mean that we can’t hold a view on the political process? After all, wherever we live, the government affects us too.

I think we need a more balanced approach to national criticism. It’s immature and insecure to claim that foreigners cannot express a contrary opinion, even a mildly critical one, but we foreigners have a responsibility to ensure that what we say is reasonable and culturally sensitive. After all, we can always get out of the kitchen if we can’t stand the heat 

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  • As a Turkish citizen, and an expat myself, I completely agree that there needs to be a more balanced approach to national criticsm. I found myself in the Netherlands, in the middle of a political debate when the right wing got a voice in the government and said they do not want foreigners (but they really mean Muslim (Turkish, Moroccan, etc) immigrants). In this case I might be lucky enough to criticize it, with many others, but I also have to face the fact that where I live is not perfect and people can indeed tell me “if you don’t like it, go”. But as far as Turkey goes, I’d say we still have a long way to understand and deal with national criticism. 

    -ŞirinPS Where do you live in Turkey?

    • I live in Bodrum, on the Aegean coast. You’re right of course, as I wrote if we don’t like the heat we can out of the kitchen but that would be a shame.

  • Linda A. Janssen

    Well said. Responsibility goes both ways. We teach our children not to whine but rather to come up with a constructive approach, and the same can be said of participating in political dialogue.