When Turkey’s government demanded that Columbia University cancel a panel on the rule of law in Turkey because of the inclusion of a panelist associated with the Gülen movement, guess what that august institution did? It caved, canceling the event three days before it was scheduled.
In contrast, when the Middle East Forum received a similar Turkish diktat in September 2017, it handled the situation with a bit more courage and cunning. We invite Columbia President Lee Bollinger (a legal specialist on freedom of speech, incidentally) to take notes:
Hosting a conference for NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly (NATO-PA), MEF also invited a member of the Gülen movement. Less than a week before the event, NATO-PA informed us that no less than the presidential office in Ankara demanded we remove the Gülen associate, Emre Çelik. If we did not, NATO-PA would pull out.
Wishing neither to capitulate to Turkey’s President Erdoğan, nor to have a major investment go up in smoke, we decided to have our cake and eat it too. We removed Çelik from the program, so the event went off as planned.
But we arranged for Çelik to enter the conference through a back-door and invited him on-stage at the final session. When Çelik rose to speak, the Turkish delegation loudly interrupted the proceedings, then led the entire NATO-PA delegation in storming out (video here).
As MEF President Daniel Pipes explained to the exiting delegates: “NATO exists ‘to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization’ of member states. But the Republic of Turkey has betrayed those principles. President Erdoğan’s attempt to stifle free speech at a Middle East Forum event today was despicable. We did not accept it.”
“As Middle East studies departments increasingly censor themselves to align with Middle East dictators, the Forum happily fills the intellectual void,” notes MEF’s director of academic affairs, Winfield Myers. “We examine all angles and provide platforms for a wide-array of voices – unafraid, with no apologies, and not bending before despots.”