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.