This week Turkey and the world were inspired by one man’s silent, six-hour protest performed in Taksim Square. Standing Man was a truly beautiful statement made by choreographer Erdem Gunduz which went viral within hours of his performance. Better yet it has since inspired thousands of others around Turkey and the world like the woman above. I’ve been thinking a lot about why this protest resonated so powerfully, and I got my answer when I visited Taksim square the other day. Politics, especially in Turkey, is dominated by middle-aged, finger-pointing bullies. It’s less and less about the content of the argument, and more about how successfully you can shout down your opponent. This afternoon the Mayor of Ankara denounced a Turkish journalist working for the BBC as a spy and is attempting to conduct a Twitter campaign against her. One TV station composed a fake interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. Closer to my home things took a violent turn on Thursday night when thugs attacked a peaceful meeting, mostly of women and children. Some reports claim that the mob had been whipped up into a frenzy by an elected official who made false allegations about blasphemous actions taken against Muslims. So why are all these people shouting? Probably because if they stopped to think about what they were saying and doing, they’d understood how ridiculous they appeared.
Still Erdem Gunduz silenced them for once. How could you shout down Standing Man? How can you denounce his actions? A counter protest in the following days by six men wearing “standing against standing man” t-shirts just looked feeble. Standing Man’s point was made, without threat, intimidation or disrespect for anyone else’s person, property or identity. He didn’t wave any flags or chant any alienating slogans. He simply stood his ground. Better yet he continues to inspire other people to demonstrate their disapproval in meaningful ways that don’t involve shouting or destroying public property. Unfortunately, the powers that be can’t “stand” to be opposed and show no signs that they will refrain from brutalizing their opponents with excessive police force and petty vendettas. Too bad they can’t learn to be a bit more stoic in the face of peaceful disobedience. Maybe if they did, they’d look a lot less old and tired.