To Comment or Not to Comment, That is the Question

I recently 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. I rarely comment on the rhetoric. I moved to Turkey to keep control of my blood pressure, not to see it go 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 his 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? It should do. This is the everyday practice of many expats in Turkey (or Spain or Portugal or any other destination of choice for north 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 they’re not up to scratch. Who 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 We have tax numbers and the 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 all Turks. We cannot vote, of course, but does this mean that we can’t hold a view on the political process? After all, wherever we live, what the Government does affects us too.

I think we need a more balanced approach. It’s immature and insecure to suggest 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. There are taboo subjects best avoided by everyone of course, Turks and foreign residents alike. Now that’s another story.

12 thoughts on “To Comment or Not to Comment, That is the Question

  1. Lacking the right to vote, I understand that we have to take care in how to criticize my foster country, but I think we are well within our right to say what we want and argue the good and the bad. Especially those of us paying taxes, owning property and contributing to the well oiled Turkish machine. Many people welcome an educated political conversation and without being able to joust a little with taxi drivers and friends, most conversations would be absolutely boring and lead no where. Not able to talk about politics is like not being able to talk about the weather.


  2. I agree with what you have said. I think it is all too easy for people to say “you moved to Turkey, you have to accept the way it is”. When I moved to Turkey, I came because I was bewitched by the place, and still am. But I have a brain and opinions and if I think something is wrong, I feel I have a right to express that. BUT I do feel the expats that spend the whole time whingeing, ought to go back to the UK, because THEY are downright tiresome.


  3. you leave us hanging without your views. that’s not like you. so what have you concluded….

    mine – everyone is entitled to an opinion but whether I agree or not is my prerogative.


  4. Really? So those of us that have fully integrated in our “foster” countries, pay taxes, rates, and bills, purchase commodoties, socialise, live eat and breathe (and even vote!) there must be mute bystanders? Interesting….


  5. I think we do have a right to criticise however only if we follow the countries history and what is being projected here as the possible out come of the future for Turkey. Sometimes having a little information is dangerous, my husband used to be a journalist here and I am always hearing what is happening, he has recently started writing again…… It worries me how out spoken he is but he goes ahead where most would fear to tread. Anyway what I wanted to say is I believe we all have a right to voice our point of view it has to be the only way to keep matters healthy and alive. By the way I don’t believe the UK is a particularly free country either.


  6. Thanks for all the insightful comments. The general consensus seems to be that we do/should have the right to express an opinion as long as it’s balanced, well-informed and sensitive to the feelings of our hosts. I wholeheartedly agree and I hope this came across in my article in


  7. There’s all the difference in the world between discussion (2 or more in a civilised debate) and orientalism (why don’t they do it like us). I’ve found that pointing out that I however much I love this country and its people, I can’t properly understand it or them unless I can raise questions freely on every subject seems to lower barriers and open minds and hearts. With this simple approach I’ve had some amazing and stimulating conversations in some interesting places with very interesting people who have not been phased even on the most sensitive issues.


  8. Remaining in our country of birth is really just as much a choice as adopting a new one. And we should have the same right (even responsibility) to question questionable goings on in our chosen home. But as others point out, this is quite a different beast to expecting your chosen home (new or old) to swallow your opinions whole.


  9. Judging by the amount of comments on this subject it seems that people will always speak up and give their opinions. For me personally it gives me hope as I think it is far healthier than staying silent either by force or other reasons and as Yvone above pointed out sometimes it takes courage by some writers and Alan Fenn points out the interesting and imformative chance meetings that can be made. There will always be people that either bury their heads in the sand or as in some blogs antagonise through ignorance,even more reason to speak out intelligently and with respect ,in my opinion ,you just never know who may read and learn something useful .


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