ISTANBUL - Four heavily made-up, peroxide blondes are sitting on a talk show set. In broken German, they’re trying to prove that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is wrong.
It’s a particularly bizarre bit of religious propaganda – but since 2011 creationist theories have been packaged this way for Western viewers and broadcast by the Turkish satellite television station A9 TV in Turkish but also English, French, German, Russian and Azerbaijani.
The ladies sit in front of walls covered with flashy wallpaper and paintings of Turkish port cities and read their “conversation” from the teleprompter. Thus, moderator Merve – pink lipstick, black and yellow eye shadow – may explain for example that "we all know that there are people who say that every living thing on this earth, in the universe, the stars, mountains, trees, fish, insects, birds, just happen to be here by chance." Her colleagues then kick in with monologues about “deceitful Darwinists” whose lies inshallah (“God willing”) shall be revealed for what they are.
Now it’s Merve’s turn again: "And when we think about it even more carefully then inshallah we understand that – without the nucleus of a cell – protein can’t be created." This has Didem reading: "Everybody who gives the matter sensible and conscientious thought without letting themselves be influenced by preconceived opinions will immediately recognize that humans and other living things cannot have come about by mere random coincidence."
By way of proof she offers a Koranic verse: "He is Allah the Creator, the Maker, the Fashioner; His are the most excellent names; whatever is in the heavens and the earth declares His glory; and He is the Mighty, the Wise." Now Gülsah – very blonde, very long hair, estimated cup size D – chimes in: "Darwinists also began to understand that the theory of evolution is a gigantic fraud." The sequence takes 40 minutes.
This is one of eight "Conversations about the Creation" that tries using sex appeal to sell fundamentalism – an Islamic version of a favorite tack of American Christian creationists. In the U.S., their followers add up to 46% of the population, and they put concepts like this out there: "The creation world view says dinosaurs have always lived with man and there might still be a few alive today" – this from born-again Christian Kent Hovind currently serving time for tax and other offenses.
The person behind A9 TV and its texts and theories is Adnan Oktar who was born in Ankara, Turkey in 1956. Along with his television broadcasts he has also published numerous books using the pseudonym Harun Yahya. One of his Turkish language videos with simultaneous translation into English shows him at work. He sits in a modern-looking studio and after a woman moderator has introduced him as “beautiful Master and Sultan” and referred to his appearance – salt and pepper beard, striking eyebrows and grey-green eyes – as “amazing,” and sings a religious song.
Then comes a half-hour monologue in which he demonizes Darwinism and prophesizes that the end of time is nigh. In between he flirts with women in the studio and reads fan mail: "Master, we love you like crazy. Since we’ve started loving you, our lives have taken on great meaning." The blonde moderators nod and smile. Sometimes he talks about the CIA, sometimes the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and sometimes about why one should pray. Oktar is almost always the only one doing the talking.
The charismatic man’s books sell successfully in the whole Islamic world. Oktar once wrote that Jews and Nazis collaborated successfully to conquer Palestine, but he has since distanced himself from that statement. Instead he has conversations with rabbis about the coming of the Messiah, and claims that the Koran describes high tech like robots, computers and the transmission of images. He regularly makes remarks that appear to link himself and the redeemer of Islam, the Mahdi. He claims that – like the Mahdi – he is descended from the Prophet Mohammed.
Oktar’s greatest work is his book “Atlas of Creation” that weighs 6 kilograms (over 13 pounds) and juxtaposes pictures of fossils with what the author claims are their living equivalents by way of proving that evolution never took place.
Drawing from Christian sources
German intelligence services have monitored Oktar in the past. A security report from 2003 says that Oktar "is characterized by his anti-secular, anti-enlightenment attitude. One of his goals is uncovering the alleged common denominators of "Zionism" and "Freemasonry" that supposedly seek to take over the world." His written work draws “heavily on existing writings by American Christian fundamentalists known as creationists."
According to security sources, the evaluation still holds and Oktar’s "approach aims to polarize people into a world of believers and disbelievers. According to him salvation can only come if humanity converts to Islam."
Media and Islam expert Asiem El Difraoui, from the Gerda Henkel Foundation, doesn’t think Oktar is dangerous but rather "has high entertainment value and shows the diversity of voices within Islam. But it might be better of the ladies talked about hair dye and Botox, rather than how protein is made. That for sure wouldn’t reach the ears of radicals like the Salafists."
Ghaffar Hussain, who runs a British anti-extremism think-tank, doesn’t take Oktar seriously either even though Oktar is well known by Muslims the world over. "He’s a con man. He wants to make money and he hoodwinks people. He and his people don’t have a clue about even the basics of the theory of evolution – they don’t understand what it is they are trying to discredit. All in all he’s a joke. Just a very famous and rich joke.”
This view is shared by editors of the Turkish-language daily paper Hürriyet. They say that Oktar became known through his writing in the 1990s in Turkey. Members of the upper classes in Istanbul were particularly taken with him at first, but he has since become a laughing stock and in 2008 faced charges of fraud and blackmail.
Wild rumors abound about how female members of his sect are kept obedient with threats that sex tapes will be released if they don’t stay in line. And Oktar was condemned to three years in prison for founding an illegal association for the purposes of self-enrichment, but this was reversed in 2010 on appeal. It was after this that he founded A9 TV.
Derek Bok, former president of Harvard University, once said: "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance." Adnan Oktar’s followers should take this to heart. The guru himself however appears to prefer Winston Churchill’s advice: "Never laugh at the stupidity of others, it’s your chance." A chance to make himself very rich. Is he dangerous? Probably not.
Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.
"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.
Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.
But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.
The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."
Criticism of any 'royal project'
The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.
Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.
In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release
Freedom of speech at stake
"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."
The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.
The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.
Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.
Shift to social media
While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.
The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.
Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".
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