Mr Oktar and the Internet
The notorious Turkish creationist Harun Yahya is sending free copies of his book, The Atlas of Creation, an anti-evolution manifesto, to people all over the world and no longer shrinks from having Turkish courts block websites nationwide. Kai Strittmatter in Istanbul has the details
Adnan Oktar likes to wear white silk suits and believes that the end of the world is nigh. But before the final curtain falls, he would like to set a few things straight. This is why he writes books using the pen name Harun Yahya; over 200 have been published to date.
The message he is trying to get across is straightforward: "If there was such a thing as evolution, it would have been mentioned in the Koran." According to Oktar, Darwinism is the devil's spawn and to blame for a number of things including Communism, Freemasonry, and terrorism. Oktar, a Turkish citizen, considers himself to be the vanguard of Muslim creationism. God, he says, created us; not evolution.
Muzzling his critics
He is quite happy to have his critics on the Internet gagged by Turkish courts, which have no shortage of practice at censorship. Within a single week, not one, but two well-known websites were blocked by the duo Oktar & the Turkish legal system. The first was that of Richard Dawkins, British biologist and author of the bestseller The God Delusion, and the second that of Egitim Sen, the Turkish union of teachers.
While Dawkins, an atheist missionary, has proudly posted a banner on his website announcing that his site is "Banned in Turkey!", Turkish Internet users are frustrated by the outcome of cases such as this. Even sites as globally popular as Youtube or Geocities have been blocked for Turkish users for months now.
Sometimes, a public prosecutor blocks a site because of a perceived insult to Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic; sometimes another considers that a site has demonstrated too much sympathy for the Kurdish cause. Turkish law is the problem, as it curtails freedom of speech, yet affords judges generous powers. Any local court can impose a nationwide ban on any website.
"It goes without saying that it is frustrating for us," says Ebru Capa, editor in chief of the website run by the news channel NTV. "The laws are too woolly. They don't work."
No-one knows better than Adnan Oktar, who has gathered a circle of (generally affluent) disciples about himself, that there is always a judge who is willing to block sites in this way.
"The Turkish version of Scientology"
Oktar got the courts to block not only the website of Edip Yüksel, a reformist Muslim who lives in America and who refers to Oktar's group as "the Turkish version of Scientology", but also that of the popular blogger service Wordpress, leaving thousands of Turks unable to reach their own blogs.
In the case of Richard Dawkins, Oktar's disciples tried to prevent Dawkin's book The God Delusion from ever being published in Turkey. They did not succeed; the book is a bestseller here too. They only recently posted a court success against Dawkins because the latter wrote on his website that Oktar's Atlas of Creation, which the Turkish author has sent to schools and journalists around Europe, is a manifesto against evolution.
Dawkins also used the term "breathtaking inanity" to describe the book. For its part, the Turkish union of teachers strongly criticised the book, which has also been sent to all Turkish schools.
"We always defend freedom of opinion," said Seda Aral, Oktar's spokesperson, to the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung. "But these websites have insulted us in a number of ways. They went too far."
© Süddeutsche Zeitung / Qantara.de 2008
Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan