Vanessa Redgrave sees the Light

Not too long ago the mainstream media in western countries hailed Recep Tayyip Erdogan , prime minister of Turkey, as an Islamic moderate , the model leader of a Muslin democratic state. He was lauded as responsible for the substantial Turkish economic development which had taken place under his rule. It was thought that Erdogan's Turkey would be considered an acceptable candidate for membership in the European Union after 26 years of rejection.

The image of Erdogan as the benign leader of a state with genuine democratic principles was, however, shattered by his brutality and sanction of the disproportionate use of force by the Turkish police in dealing with the peaceful unarmed protestors in Taksim Square and Gezi Park on May 28, 2013 in Istanbul. Against the demonstrators who were protesting the building of a shopping mall and a mosque in the Park, the police had used tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets. Erdogan is now widely recognized as an authoritarian ruler. He is also recognized as undermining the essentially secular nature of the Turkish regime as founded by Kemal Ataturk because he has been encouraging instituting into government Islamic concepts that are contrary to democratic ideals.

For some time it has been evident, if not reported by the mainstream media in Europe and the United States, that the Turkish media was being punished for its published criticism of the regime. The editors of various publications were threatened or pressured to modify their views. Yavuz Baydar, journalist and newspaper ombudsman, the individual who is concerned with editorial independence and ethics, at the paper Sabah whose ownership is close to Erdogan, is a prominent example of one who was punished for his independence. He was fired for trying to present accurate and objective news of events because they showed the Erdogan regime in a bad light. Censorship in Turkey has stifled or replaced independent commentary.

When the peaceful protests in Istanbul occurred, official government spokespersons demonized the international media and declared their representatives guilty of conspiring to encourage the protestors. Erdogan described the protestors as tramps, looters, and hooligans, even alleging that they were foreign-led terrorists. The prime minister's new chief advisor, Yigit Bulut, believed people around the world were working to kill Erdogan by "telekinetic attack." He blamed unnamed "conspiracy by dark forces "for fomenting the Istanbul demonstrations. By an ironic plot twist we now know who these dark forces are.

On July 24, 2013 the Times of London published an open letter, a full-page advertisement, signed by 30 well-known people. The contents of the letter was doubly ironic because some of the signatories are well known for their relentless criticism of the State of Israel, and sympathy for the Palestinian cause. It was highly unusual for these anti-Israeli critics to comment negatively on a Muslim nation. This time, however, the letter addressed to Mr. Erdogan, in surprisingly firm language, was "to most vigorously condemn the heavy-handed clamp down of your police forces on the peaceful protestors" in Istanbul and in other major cities of Turkey. These actions had left five people dead, 11 blinded due to indiscriminate use of pepper gas, and over 8000 who were injured.

The signatories included actors Vanessa Redgrave, Sean Penn, Ben Kingsley, and Susan Sarendon, writers, Tom Stoppard and Julian Fellowes (author of Gosford Park), artists, scientists, and scholars. They also included Fazil Say, the Turkish virtuoso pianist, and Andrew Mongo, born in Istanbul, who is the biographer of Ataturk.

They criticized Erdogan for relying on "untold brutal force" against the demonstrators and then holding a meeting in Istanbul "reminiscent of the Nuremberg (Nazi) Rally with total disregard for the five dead whose only crime was to oppose your dictatorial rules." They pointed out the sad fate of journalists "languishing in your prisons." This number they said is larger than the combined number of journalists in prison in China and Iran.

Indeed, a recent report on Imprisoned Journalists in Turkey, issued by the Turkish opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), concluded that Turkey is a country where the greatest number of infringements in the world against freedom of the press takes place. The report holds that Turkey, despite its Constitution which calls for a free press, has become "the largest prison" for journalists in the world. During the September 1980 coup, thirty-one journalists were arrested. In 2013, 71 media professionals and four media workers were in prison. In addition, dozens of Turkish journalists have been fired for covering the anti-government protests.

The letter signed by the 30 ends with a strong bite. It not only comments on the fact that Erdogan refutes all criticism leveled at him. It also reminded Erdogan that since 1949 Turkey has been a member of the Council of Europe. It therefore contended, alluding to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, that his orders which led to deaths of five innocent youths, might "well constitute a case to answer in Strasbourg (the location of the Court)."

The Turkish response to the 30 celebrities was as expected. Vanessa Redgrave will probably not take lightly Erdogan's opinion that the signers were "types who hire out their ideas." He has threatened to take legal action against The London Times which was morally weak by "renting out its own pages for money;" those who supported it -- be careful Sean Penn -- had "rented out their thoughts." Erdogan's associates accused the signatories of "insolence," and called on God to reform them. They were accused of remaining silent in the face of the human drama unfolding in Syria and Egypt while "comparing the rallies of a democratically elected party to Hitler's rallies."

Whatever their articulation or silence concerning other Middle Eastern political affairs, the signatories of the letter have put paid to the reputation of Erdogan in the international arena. The record of his brutality, disregard for democratic principles, and fantasies about his problems being caused by international conspiracies, a changing list of CNN, BBC, Reuters, Lufthansa, and of course the Jewish conspiracy is clear. As a result of Erdogan's behavior, Turkey is unlikely in the near future to become a member of the EU. Germany has long opposed Turkish entry and now has suggested postponing negotiations on the issue until the fall of 2013. Meanwhile, no one now can take seriously his accusation on July 26, 2013 that the European Union uses double standards in condemning him unfairly while not condemning the violent crackdown in Egypt against the supporters of his friend Mohamed Morsi. Nor can anyone, including Vanessa Redgrave, take seriously his fulminations about the actions of another country in the Middle East being a "crime against humanity" in its very existence.