The harrowing circumstance of Oklahoma Thunder basketball player Enes Kanter hasn’t mustered the response it should, thanks in part to political correctness and international business concerns. This is both telling of our times and speaks to where we are as a society. Enes Kanter’s story is also just the tip of the iceberg of what is going on in Turkey, and yet another red flag for a country that has traded a century of secularism for an Islamic dictatorship.
Enes Kanter, a resident of Turkey and one of the NBA’s many foreign players, is a follower of something called the Hizmat movement, which can be described as an Islamic transnational and social movement and is led by Fethullah Gulen. If that name rings a bell, it is because Fethullah Gulen, who now resides in the United States, has been blamed in absentia as being the ring leader of last year’s failed coup against Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Since becoming president 15 years ago, Erdogan has slowly consolidated power, reduced democracy, and unashamedly used the coup as cover to terrorize those who don’t support him. In Turkey, being in any way remotely linked to the coup or Fethullah Gulen is not a comfortable position to be in. Since the coup more than 100,000 citizens have been detained by the government, and this number doesn’t include thousands of other government officials and intellectuals who have been fired from their jobs and officially harassed because their loyalty to Erdogan is in question.
Kanter has been a vocal critic of Erdogan, even comparing him to Hitler in that Erdogan is trying to get rid of any political opposition. In May of this year Kanter had his passport suspended, ostensibly because of his political views, temporarily stranding him in Romania where he was traveling. Less than a week later the Turkish government issued a warrant for Kanter’s arrest for being a terrorist. In modern Turkey, if you are anti-Erdogan and pro- Fethullah Gulen, your freedom and security isn’t to be taken for granted.
Kanter’s father who lives in Turkey, perhaps fearing for both his and his son’s well-being, turned on his son, publicly disowning him. This was of little help, as Kanter’s father was shortly thereafter dismissed from his university position and later arrested. This prompted Yuksel Alp Aslandogan, a spokesman with ties to Fethullah Gulen, to say the arrest was “clearly intended to punish Enes for his recent appearances on media and criticism of Erdogan government.”
As this melodrama has been unfolding, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been unusually reserved about the situation. Even more puzzling about this lack of support is that under Silver the NBA prides itself in supporting political activism and for standing up for just causes. As fellow players and even the players’ union have backed Enes Kanter, Silver hasn’t been out front on this issue. Silver, if you recall, put the state of North Carolina through the ringer over the transgender public restroom bill, even moving the NBA All-Star game out of Charlotte until the state cried uncle and changed the wording of the bill to the NBA’s liking.
So why have Adam Silver and the NBA gone from loud proud civil rights activists to shrinking violets regarding Enes Kanter? One theory is that the NBA values dollars and international relationships more the human rights. It should be noted as the NBA was pulling out of North Carolina last year it was enthusiastically pulling into China, with all its human rights violations, to play exhibitions games in China with nary a negative word.
The truth of the matter is that garnering revenue from overseas is important to the NBA, where in China alone the NBA nets more than $150 million in revenue annually, prompting the Commissioner to say, “The U.S. represents less than 5 percent of the world’s population, and we have, along with soccer, the most popular sport in the world.” No sense rocking the boat in places like China and Turkey where the NBA does primo business.
Another consideration is that despite the NBA’s activism, it is usually focused on politically correct causes such as North Carolina’s restroom bill and basically anything anti-Trump. For organizations like this, criticizing the leader of a Muslim majority country doesn’t fit their modus operandi.
Memo to Adam Silver: It is easy to be an activist when there are no consequences and the cause is PC, and hard to be an activist where there are business and political risks. When it comes to supporting human rights, Adam Silver and the NBA are proving to be as phony as a $3 bill.