Turkey has shown the freedoms that we are fortunate to have in Britain

A sign reading in Turkish "Traitors' Cemetery" is seen in front of unmarked graves, built specifically to hold the bodies of coup plotters who died in the failed military coup of July 15, in eastern Istanbul. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
A sign reading in Turkish "Traitors' Cemetery" is seen in front of unmarked graves, built specifically to hold the bodies of coup plotters who died in the failed military coup of July 15, in eastern Istanbul. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)

Over the years we have heard much from republicans and other allied trades about British imperialism, oppression, injustice and so on.

Yet here in Great Britain and Northern Ireland we are still one of the freest societies left in the world.

Dr James Dingley

Dr James Dingley

Few people here probably appreciate just how free they are or how fragile is the maintenance of our liberties.

This came home to me recently when chairing a panel at an international academic conference in Italy a few days ago.

Two of our key note speakers were anthropologists from Turkey and the day before they were due to speak they were ordered home by their government, following the failed coup in Turkey.

Had they not returned they would have lost their passports and become refugees.

As it was both returned home, where they immediately had their passports taken from them, both were placed under investigation and one of them was suspended from his university post.

Neither of them had been involved in any political party or politics nor had they broken any law or been charged with so doing.

Both were simply academics, but being anthropologists appear to have come under suspicion for that reason alone (anthropology is regarded as politically suspect in Turkey, often because it is involved in studying questions of national and religious identity).

To any British academic or ordinary citizen it would appear unbelievable that someone could be suspended from any job for such flimsy reasons, yet it is happening in a fellow Nato country that aspires to join the EU.

It certainly made me stop and reflect on how fortunate we are in Northern Ireland to live in our society.

Northern Ireland has two universities that throughout the ‘Troubles’ operated as free, independent and open institutions even through the worst of the violence.

Not only were no students or staff restricted from attending either university but many of those attending as either students or staff openly supported the terrorists who were ‘wrecking the place’ and committing awful murders and atrocities, often in the name of ‘Irish freedom’.

The freedom to espouse or support violent causes was actually protected here, academics and students were able to argue in support of terrorists and against the rule of law in an open environment that valued free speech and open debate, even when some holders of senior academic posts were strongly suspected of direct involvement in terrorist violence.

Actually, the only real threat to free speech and liberty came not from the government or university authorities but from the terrorists themselves who often tried to close down such freedoms by the violent intimidation of those opposed to their views, inside and outside of the universities, whilst their supporters benefitted from the protections afforded them by the legitimate authorities of the state.

If anyone doubts the true value of the liberties and justice we enjoy here in the UK they should try voicing dissent in Turkey.

• James Dingley is the chairman of the Francis Hutcheson Institute