Traitors, Trolls & Kittens

A busy week, mercifully over; with the local elections put to bed for another 4 years. No more ceaseless noise of election vans or wall to wall TV coverage of sound-bites, spin, threats and promises.

Despite the corruption crisis that has embroiled him and his party since December, the Prime Minister actually increased his party’s share of the vote and further entrenched his 12-year rule. But it wasn’t relief Mr Erdogan had on his mind it was revenge.

“We are going to go into the caves of those traitors,” he told the cheering crowds. “Some might try to run away tomorrow but they are going to pay for what they have done.”

His words were directed towards his enemies – chief among them his arch-rival Fethullah Gulen, a moderate Islamic cleric whom Erdogan blames for a widening graft probe and bribery scandal embroiling the premier and his entourage.

Although there will always be those, who disagree (usually people from an older generation) few of us can deny that the internet age has brought many good things. Instantaneous research plus communication through emails and services like Skype, on-line shopping and of course social media have all shaped much of our lives these past few years. However, this new age has come at a price: Viruses, spyware, identity theft, phishing and trolls are a selection of the problems that have arisen from the dark side of the internet. The first four of these things have shaped our habits and made us all a little more cautious and less trusting in order to not fall victim. However, the last phenomenon – trolls is something I had personally not even thought about until recently.


The word troll is taken from Norse folklore, where it represented a monster like creature that lived in the woods, mountains and the darker places – a bit like the bogeyman – and was traditionally blamed for unexplained events, or random vandalism for no other reason than to be mischievous and disruptive. Our modern day troll lives a similar life, although he (it is more often than not a male) probably can’t remember the last time he visited a wood or the mountains and the only dark place he usually occupies is his mothers basement or wherever his computer is set up. From here he may quietly ingratiate himself into a chatroom or a forum, with the ultimate intention of causing disruption, deliberate misinformation or to illicit an angry response from as many people as possible.

Another way he operates is to set himself up with someone else’s name and do his level best to cause the person, usually a celebrity, as much embarrassment as possible or even try and get them into trouble through misinformation or the crude use of ‘evidence’ in the form of photo-shopped pictures or the distortion or montage of something said or done on camera. This is what the troll feeds on, this is why he does what he does. Because in a world where he is probably quite solitary and a failure in relationships away from his computer, the anger directed towards him or the chaos he sows is often the closest thing he is ever going to get to unpaid-for sexual fulfilment.

Some friends – yes unlike most trolls I do have friends – tell me that in my case the troll’s attention is a form of flattery, an affirmation that he wants to be something he is unlikely ever to be, a fairly normal person. While other friends have warned me not to engage, not to even let the troll know you have noticed them at all because by doing so, you deny him the oxygen he needs to exist. However, while I fully intend to adopt this tactic for the future, I am discussing him here more as a sad curiosity rather than as someone, who genuinely disturbs me. Indeed, as he reads this, as I have no doubt he is out there, hidden amongst my readers, I expect the attention he has been given now has him in raptures of delight, perhaps even now clutching that disappointingly small piece of his anatomy that few women will ever see, unless flashed from a raincoat. So be gone foul troll – and try living your own life for a change instead of trying to live it through someone else.

Finally, I have to report that even my poor cat Kitten has not escaped the attention of a troll this week. However, unlike me she is beside herself with anger at the moment after the picture below appeared on the cover of Paris Match under the banner “Winter Fur or Fat?”
Fur or Fat?
Although she has had her run ins with the paparazzi in the past, she totally denies that she has ever been to the street in Bodrum shown in the photo. So instead of gutter journalism she is now convinced that someone else is deliberately trying to discredit her ahead of Kim Kardashian’s up and coming New York wedding, where Kitten was recently honoured to be asked to be one of the bridesmaids.

“I have my suspicions about who might have done this, said a tearful Kitten late on Thursday night, but I am not going to let some scabby little troll, make me suspect everyone and anyone, as is their intention. I am just going to continue getting ready for this wedding so I can be there for Kimikins on her big day.”
At her request I have added the picture above, which although admittedly taken a couple of years ago, I can vouch is definitely her. So in the end I suppose it is ultimately up to you, dear reader to decide for yourself, where the truth may ultimately lie on this occasion?


Turkish Elections and my opin… Recipe for Humus

A few years ago, shortly after moving to Turkey, I suddenly noticed that most bus shelters, lamp posts and seemingly every available billboard in Istanbul was plastered with the pale and sullen faces of men (all men), who conveyed a sense that they may never have smiled in their entire lives. Indeed, when I first noticed these posters and hand-bills I almost took them to be either wanted posters, or, like I described in last November’s post on Sri Lanka, notices of someone’s recent death – so pale and pasty were these straight to camera posses; but they were all men seeking election or re-election in up and coming polls.

When I asked why no-one ever smiled in political photos I was given many different reasons but they all boiled down to one thing – Trust: “How can you trust a man with a grin on his face; only someone intending to cheat you would do such a thing; you must never trust a man to be serious about his job if is face is not serious. When I wondered out loud about the policies and reputation of the particular political party each face represented I was ridiculed for my naivety. “It doesn’t matter what they promise, they rarely deliver and because one party is very much like the rest, self serving and tainted by corruption, many people simply vote on looks alone. Flabbergasted I pressed for an explanation and was told that a younger voter may want someone who looks like they could be a solid friend or perhaps someone who resembles their grandfather. While older voters, especially women seemed to gravitate towards someone who looked like they would make a good son-in-law. “Anyway,” I was finally told, “it really doesn’t matter who wins because the Army will always have the final say in Turkey.”

A couple of years later, during the General Election of 2002 the political landscape of spin and counter spin seemed to make some parties consider a change from the stern expressions because suddenly we were assaulted by a few grinning faces, but faces of men clearly not accustomed to raising a smile at will, grinning for political posters or during TV appearances. A few almost managed it but many looked like grimaces of pain, and in one particular case – Mesut Yilmaz, a former prime minister, but then a party leader- who came across as almost quite sinister in his contortions between Cheshire cat grin and stand-up comedian’s smirk.

Anyway, as history now shows – almost all of these other parties, smiling or otherwise, were blown away by the Islamic leaning AK Party at that election, with only the CHP gathering enough votes to get over the 10% threshold so they could take up their seats in parliament. So that brief summer of smiling politicians, was consigned to the dustbin of failed gimmicks and so, with few exceptions the dour look came roaring back with a vengeance at the very next poll.

It is hard to imagine that twelve years have gone by since that first AKP victory. Just as it is hard to remember a time when the people of Turkey have been so polarized in their views of their government. The teeth of the Army were eventually pulled a couple of years ago after mass trials, which resulted in many top ranks being sentenced to anything up to life in prison. So the spectre of the military coup, which had hung over Turkish politics since the 1960’s seems to have been exorcised. However, this did not please everyone as many secularists had always viewed the Army as some kind of insurance policy against, what they believed was the barely hidden Islamic agenda of this government, a charge which has dogged Prime Minister Recep Tyyip Erdogan’s party since their first election victory back in 2002. Indeed the secularists now suggest that once Erdogan was emboldened by his party’s third election victory, he adopted a more remote and autocratic style of leadership in order to push through many policies that were at odds with secular thinking. So, with the benefit of hindsight it was perhaps inevitable that this would put him on a collision course for a confrontation he wasn’t expecting, when riots suddenly erupted in Istanbul’s Gezi Park last June and pushed Turkey, and his leadership style under the worlds spotlight for an uncomfortable few weeks.

In the wake of Gezi Park so many Turkish journalists were arrested and imprisoned (some for life) or, under government pressure fired from their jobs, that a kind of doxophobia (fear of expressing an opinion) now blankets much of the media here. So as a writer and humble blogger I must confess that I am not totally immune to this peculiar affliction and do not feel I could safely express an opinion on anything contentious going on in today’s climate of pre-election hysteria. So I will simply list what has happened in Turkey in just the nine months since Gezi Park:
• The concept of Thought-Crime hit the statue books last Autumn, allowing police and the secret services to arrest or detain you indefinitely if they believe you are even Thinking of attending a demonstration.
• Any future attempts by the Judiciary to bring a legal case against government members or any department must now actually be approved by… the government.
• Turkey now stands as a country with more writers and journalists in prison than Iran, China and North Korea put together.
• A new information law now allows the government unrestricted access to any citizens private information including internet traffic and the contents of private phone calls and emails.
• The government now has the right to ban any website or service provider they wish – to protect national interests. Hence the much discussed Twitter and YouTube ban this past week, which followed months of allegations and video and phone recordings being aired on social media, which purportedly showed government corruption, some of which apparently targeted the Prime Minister and his inner circle.
• The dismissal or mass posting of hundreds of judges and police officers, who were supposedly involved in the investigation of alleged corruption, following the arrest of the sons of two government ministers and a number of others last December.

In conclusion, the political landscape has changed dramatically in the past decade, and never has a mid-term election carried so much weight, or been regarded by so many as a judgement on just one person. Many people now regard todays vote as the most important in decades, while others have described it as a crossroads or a tipping point, a day Turks elects to take one of two very different roads into the future. However, the only certainty we have at this moment, whether the Prime Ministers party does well or badly, is that few sane people are willing to predict exactly what might actually happen beyond todays’ vote.

For those of you who have asked for my opinion, many even getting through to me on Twitter, I am sorry but my, hopefully temporary attack of doxophobia prevents me from giving it freely. However, if you are still a little hungry please accept my secret humus recipe below as some conciliation.

Secret Humus, You Will Need:
500 grams pre-soaked chickpeas or a standard can full.
1 large lemon
About 75g Tahini or (my secret ingredient)100g of crushed plain Helva
One clove of crushed garlic clove
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus a drop more for serving
A generous pinch of salt and pepper. taste
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons water
Dash of paprika or Bul-pepper for serving

Mix it all evenly together with a blender but do not make it too smooth as texture is everything in Humus. Spoon it into a bowl before drizzling a small amount of olive oil on top followed by a dash of paprika. For best results chill for a few hours to let the flavours meld together – enjoy!