The Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, tucked away in a corner on the second floor of the Intercultural Center, is responsible for fostering better relations between the Muslim world and the West through various lectures and events. The center also lists Ibrahim Kalin, the chief adviser to the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as one of its senior fellows. While his high association in the Turkish government would appear to be an impressive connection for Georgetown, his name also represents a connection to a regime that actively represses academics and journalists in Turkey. Notably, in January, The Guardian reported that the government detained 27 academics for signing a petition denouncing Turkish attacks on Kurdish people. Kalin’s connection to the attack on academia in Turkey is not consistent with Georgetown’s values. A man with such a misunderstanding of the value of freedom of speech and press should not be a figurehead for a Georgetown center about interfaith dialogue.
Over 1,400 people, including philosopher and political activist Noam Chomsky, signed a petition asking Turkey’s government to end its “deliberate massacre and deportation of Kurdish people.” President Erdogan called the document terror propaganda and asked the judiciary to take action on those with signatures on the petition. The police responded by detaining members from the group “Academicians for Peace,” a group comprised of staff and teachers from over 90 Turkish universities. While local media groups reported the release of nearly all members, other international actors have expressed open criticism of the Turkish government. In a written statement from the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass, the diplomat expressed his worries about the Turkish government’s actions towards its own people and stated he was “concerned about this pressure having a chilling effect on legitimate political discourse across Turkish society regarding the sources of and solutions to the ongoing violence.” The prosecutor’s office is still investigating every person who signed the petition and some face disciplinary hearings and the potential for at least seven years in prison. As Erdogan’s chief advisor, Kalin is inextricably linked to the decision that prompted this action.
The United States currently supports the Turkish Kurds, while the Turkish government attacks them with airstrikes. The United States advocates for the Turkish Kurdish fighters to focus on protecting Kurdish areas in Syria from the civil war, while also successfully fighting the Islamic State group. President Erdogan has called on the United States to choose to side with the Turkish Kurds or with the government. Regardless of which side should be supported, the government should not penalize its citizens for signing a petition and speaking against government actions. Such restrictions on free speech do not align with Georgetown’s values and the university must not hold someone involved with an establishment that imposes them in an esteemed position.
Georgetown’s resources should be used to foster its moral values globally. Kalin’s direct connection with and endorsement of attacks on innocent peoples and academics are not consistent with these values and must be condemned by the university.