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Meltem Arikan – a women's rights and Internet freedom activist and an Anonymiss

Meltem Arikan is a multi-talented person. Being a woman and a Turk make her ideas and opinions on the state of our societies all the more interesting – and for some, controversial – as they raise issues that are often considered taboo (yes, including here in the West). Meltem is also an Anonymiss and Internet freedom activist. Her ideas on this topic are far-reaching and open  minds to new horizons and challenges.

Although this interview took place not face to face or over the phone but through e-mail correspondence, I took great pleasure formulating questions preparing the interview – and a greater one reading the answers – firsthand of course ;-)

Many thanks to her for her time and kindness!   – interview by Mehdi 08-07-2011

Meltem, can you tell us about yourself, as a woman, a writer, an activist and a business woman?

Meltem ArikanAfter my mother passed away when I was very young, I continuously asked, questioned and revolted during my childhood and teenage years. The answers given to my questions didn’t fully satisfy me, so I began to read the classics from the age of six.  I finished all the holy books before I graduated from primary school. The same rebelliousness continued after I finished my education. As I gradually gained experience, both in my career and personal life, a new issue was added to my previous questions: “What does it mean to be a Woman?”  My questioning led me to write and to be an activist. I wrote seven novels, two plays and one research book on women’s lives. During this writing and searching process I came to understand that the issue of “being a woman” is not only a problem of my country, so I decided to approach the issue from a universal point of view.

I refuse to live in a world of fear based on rules and concepts imposed by male dominant systems. That’s why I write and will continue to do so. Also, in my business life I chose to be a woman. During this struggle, I never act like men.  I never use my sexuality and never compromise my womanhood. In the process, I became a board member of one of the most distinguished electrical and automation systems contractor company in Turkey.

I know that there is a male chauvinist prejudice that women cannot work together as a team. As I wished to disprove this prejudice, I founded an architectural consultancy firm with five women partners. Since then we have succeeded with a variety of projects on a global basis. Once again, the process of building the firm proved my view that women are capable on anything (http://www.eempcm.com/en/index.php).

How are all these personalities cohabiting within the current Turkish political, social and religious context? Which is the easiest, and which is the hardest to live up to everyday?

If you have asked me five years ago, I would have given you a different answer. Unfortunately, nothing is easy for me Arikan's booknowadays. What I have lived as a “banned and contentious woman writer,” especially after my fourth book was censored, was actually demotivating. Although my censored book was later released and later granted an award, and although one of the most respected publishers in Turkey is currently reprinting all my works, and although I began to write a new book, I can honestly say that this conflict with male domination is hurtful. 

As a secular woman, I feel my living space is gradually tightening day by day. An Islamic life style is rapidly winning converts in my country. Concepts like democracy and freedom are demolished. The tension between the advocates of the Islamic life style and people who think like me is increasing every day. As a woman, the most pathetic issue for me is that more and more women are leaning toward a mentality in which they regard themselves as slaves. History does not speak of women who gained freedom from under veils. Currently, in my country, women believe they gain freedom by veiling themselves. It is impossible for me to understand such a way of thinking. I am afraid that what is happening in my country is the surrender of freightened women to further male domination.  I do not agree to live for a promised heaven. Instead, I am struggling to create a world order in which men and women co-exist in love.

Can you tell us what the “Anonymiss” movement (that you belong to) is, and what is its relationship to the group Anonymous?

Anonymiss is a movement created by women from Anonymous. Anonymiss does not resemble any of the currently existing women’s movements in the world.  It is not a prototype movement. There are not only women in Anonymiss, but also male Anons (“Anons” designates members of Anonymous), who want to help women’s freedom by challenging the male dominant system. Additionally, the Anonymiss movement supports freedom of information flow and opposes censorship.

There cannot be a revolution created only by men without the freedom of women. Freeing from the analog world order by rescuing us from the hierarchial order of male dominant systems and creating new social organizations can only be done with the involvement of women. 

The hierarchial, ideological and religious compacts of the previous century can only be invalidated with the contribution of women in the digital world and new social, political and economical organizations formed with the participation of women. The existence of men without the existence of women is impossible.

The group Anonymiss says “Enough” to all traditions of the analog world and its male dominant system. It also says “Enough” to men following the customs of the analog world. Anonymisses say “Enough” pretending we live our sexuality.  We demand to be satisfied as one person, both body and mind. Anonymiss says “Enough” to all coded and prejudicial definitions of women’s identity written by men in the analog world. Women demand their identities be defined not as men would have it, but in line with our own Womanhood.  They say “Enough” to all versions of women and child abuse.

To say it briefly, Anonymiss participates in the causes of Anonymous, but they do so with the added element of gaining respect for their Womanhood.

You seem obsessed with silence, as in silent complicity. What are in your opinion the greatest barriers that we need to overcome (as individuals, and as societies) to break this silence?

Most of the women and men are silent because they fear leaving their comfort zone within  the patriarchal system. Those who prefer to be silent, whether consciously or unconsciously, are complicit.  Without destroying patriarchy neither women nor men will be free. In order to experience freedom, both men and women must overcome their fear created by patriarchy. Nowadays patriarchy is very weak, like a paper tiger.  It can be destroyed just by spreading the facts of its corruption.

Wikileaks, by leaking the cables, is recording the truth, which in turn encouraged the people of North Africa and the Middle East to overcome their fear. On the other hand, the people of Western countries should also carefully read these cable leaks in order to understand that there is no difference between the people of North Africa, those from the Middle East, and themselves. Without regarding religions and ideologies, the system governing all societies is the same, and its name is patriarchy. The West must face this reality too.

How is whistleblowing perceived in Turkey (within politics, corporations, or simply society and family)? What about Wikileaks, how is it perceived?

Turkey was the second country to be mentioned in the leaks; unfortunately the documents were not brought to the agenda because of the self-censoring press, which does not want to criticize the government. On the day the leaks were published, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan defined the documents as gossip against Turkey, and his viewpoint was given more credence than the documents. And yet, unfortunately, the Turkish press, which is largely under the control of the government, was afraid to bring Julian Assange to the agenda.

Is there an equivalent of Wikileaks in Turkey? How can someone blow the whistle and still remain anonymous, since journalists are strongly persecuted by the government?

When Wikileaks cables related to Turkey were published in newspapers, the government denied they were true. The government and the press, most of which is under the control of government, ignored the Wikileaks documents. Whistleblowing is very hard in Turkey because of censorship and laws against Freedom of the Press and Free Speech.

Do you think that encouraging whistleblowing would help fight corruption and abuse (including children’s)?

Yes, Wikileaks is a start, but it is not sufficient. Only when men and women understand the value of Wikileaks will social change happen.

You have probably closely followed the (still ongoing) case against Julian Assange in Sweden.  Assange said that Sweden is the Saudi-Arabia of feminism, and he is supported by Swedish feminists like Helene Bergman (http://rixstep.com/2/1/20110301,00.shtml). As a feminist yourself, do you think that feminism went too far in Sweden?

Equality cannot be protected by the judicial system without demolishing the male dominant hierarchical system. As a matter of fact, the Swedish social democrats, due to the demand by feminists, have replaced the equality concept within the judicial system, but ultimately this couldn’t create equality.

For women to be women there need to be men and for men to be men there need to be women. If men and women cannot live their sexuality in a natural way, they are  condemned to live artificially. The laws in Sweden transformed women’s natural sex into a commitment.

I am opposed to the idea of women being men. I think whatever women do in the business world they should do as women, not in a manly way. According to my belief, men and women should be aware of the differences they have, and they should preserve these differences for a more enjoyable and richer world. 

As you probably already know, governments worldwide use the emotional issue of child pornography on the Internet to justify Internet censorship. As an activist who everyday strongly fights child abuse, do you think that it can be fought efficiently using Internet censorship? What is the Turkish experience in this area? Has child abuse diminished in Turkey as a result of implementing censorship?
The Internet should be free and accessible to everyone.  Censoring the Internet to prevent child porn is like confining them to their homes to protect them from rape. Child porn, child prostitutes and sex tourism are results created by the male dominant system. Will these problems be solved only by imposing a ban on the Internet without questioning how and why thesy developed? As the source of all these problems is our male dominant system, the only and primary solution is to demolish the male dominant system.

In Turkey, like in all developed and developing countries, child abuse and incest begin within the family. As in all countries, there are child prostitutes (boys or girls) in Turkey. The bans imposed on the Internet by the government in no way decreased the rate of child abuse in Turkey nor in any other part of the world. Is it possible for the male dominant system to solve the problems it generates when the system itself is making the laws? It is not realistic to expect a male dominated mentality, which allows twelve-years-old girls to marry and have children, to impose bans in order to avoid child porn.

How does it feel to live in a country where Internet censorship is the rule?

Censorship imposed on the Internet and the social media since April will become widespread from August 22nd onwards. All censorship throughout history has been imposed by male dominant systems by manufacturing justifications to limit or destroy freedoms. Censorship designed to protect children and avoid disturbance of family order cannot reach its goal. It only limits or demolishes the freedom of individuals. My book Enough, Don’t Hurt My Flesh was banned with the claim of “attempting to disturb the Turkish family order”. In the book, sexual traumas and incest that women experienced throughout their childhood and the impact of these traumas on their later experiences are described. The book also underlined how these effects are passed from one generation to the next, and explained that it is possible to recover from them. The mentality of Internet censors is the same mentality that accused me of disturbing the family order.

Was there any social and political opposition against Internet censorship before it was implemented? Did the government and parliament ignore it? What went wrong?

In İstanbul 50,000 citizens joined the protest meetings held on May 15 in 12 cities around Turkey against censorship of Internet. Although participation in these meetings was very high, they did not get much media coverage. The government didn’t want to regard the meetings as a public response. Authorities claimed that these meetings were held by underground organizations. The law imposing a ban on the Internet will become valid on August 22nd. It is said that another big meeting will be held on July 24th in İstanbul.

What would you like to tell our French and international audience regarding their Internet rights and censorship?

Limiting and prohibiting  the Internet and social media is now on the agenda of all the governments in the world. I think that, after China and Iran, one of the first tests is in Turkey. If this test is successful, prohibitions under the guise of preventing cyber terrorism and pornography will certainly become current in all European countries, including France and other developed or underdeveloped countries. International agreements against cyber terrorism will be put into practice in the coming days. What surprises me is that French people and other European citizens still have not appreciated this threat and responded.

The AKP party’s game is ambiguous: it says it is pursuing talks to join the EU (where fundamental democratic rights are sacred, although under heavy threats), and at the same time it strongly muzzles journalists and censors the Internet. This is not coherent. Do you think the EU option is just a lure to coax and sedate the secular opposition?

Yes, you are right. I never believed the AKP government is sincere about making Turkey a member of the EU. Unfortunately, liberals and some bona fide seculars believe the government’s sincerity. However, the elapsed time since they took office proves my point. Both the European Union and the Turkish government have taken advantage of one another, playing a game with their people.

Turkey, against its own interests, signed a customs union agreement in 1995, considering it a first step to membership in the EU. Today, as a result of this, an approximately 90 billion dollar foreign trade deficit has built up, and in Turkey an economic crisis seems to be inevitable quite soon.   

While the trade of products between Turkey and Europe and entry of Europeans to Turkey are free, entry of Turks to Europe is not. When I have to go to Europe for business trips, the behaviour and the questioning to which I am exposed in European embassies violate basic human rights. I think the EU has deceived Turkish citizens by the customs union agreement.  Under the circumstances, in my opinion there is no difference between the EU and the Turkish government.

You seem to believe that the world is moving from analog to more and more digital; do you think this will give back the power to citizens, or the opposite? What will it depend on?

The real transition from the analog world to the digital world will be completed when the patriarchal order is demolished by men and women. I know that this transition will not be easy. I am aware of the fact that the patriarchal system will resist with all of its power. However, it has to be accepted that the governance of the world with patriarchal ways is not possible any more. I don’t assume that the new world order, established after the breakdown of the patriarchal system where women are at least as empowered as men can be explained by conventional political organizations.  Instead of guessing and more talking, I think that now everyone has to struggle to demolish the patriarchal system entirely. 

Do you see signs of this shift to a digital world?

Wikileaks cable leaks. In many North African and Middle East countries political situations were changed and will change more in the near future. It means that the people of those countries have already passed the border of fear.

The themes of your books seem fascinating; however, they seem not to be available in English or French. Why is that? Can we hope they will be anytime soon?

The societies in countries called developed may sometimes be very fanatical. If a new word has to be said, only the people of these countries can say it. If a new concept has to be developed, only the people of these countries can develop it. Therefore, if you are from Turkey or similar  developing countries, unfortunately all your writings are immediately categorized. When you say “women’s rights” without looking at what you wrote, they say that it is an issue that has already been solved. When you say women are alienated from their bodies, instead of trying to understand what you are saying they assume that they know what you have written and have no interest what you actually are saying.

There is no difference between the bodies of women and men living in developing countries and the bodies of women and men living in so-called developed countries. As a result ,basic problems are approximately the same.

If men and women living in developed countries really existed in the sense I mean, then the world in which we live would be different.  Living in the so-called developed countries, people who persistently don’t want to understand the difference between assuming something and realizing it, should purify their prejudices, especially about sexuality. 

If the women of developed countries existed, in the way I see it, today women politicians in those countries would not be more manly than men. 

If the women of developed countries existed, in the way I see it, then the sales of anti-depressant medicines, alcohol and drugs would be reduced.

If the women of developed countries laid claim to their bodies, then bulimia and obesity problems would not be on the top of their agenda.

If the women of developed countries laid claim to their bodies, then the violence used against women would not be one of their most important problems, as in our country.

If the women of developed countries laid claim to their bodies, then they would not use their bodies like paper tissues. To cover one’s body under veils in the name of freedom and to consume a body in the name of freedom are basically the same.  All over the world, it is not possible for men to be men without women being women. For this reason the same problems and pains are continuously being experienced.

Societies in developed countries regard us as “others” with excuses like cultural differences. Those who come from Turkey or similar countries and are accepted in the Western societies are the ones who accept themselves as “others” also.  I neither accept that I am “other” nor say what Western people want to hear from me.

By the way, the English translation of my book Enough, Don’t Hurt My Flesh will be available on the Internet from Foremost Press Publishing this autumn.

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