The political awakening to freedom of Anis Kanter

A center back for the Boston Celtics, Enes Kanter Freedom has played in the NBA for a decade, but his off-court actions have attracted him the most attention. Born in Switzerland and raised in Turkey, he is an outspoken opponent of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and supporter of Turkish scholar Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan claims was behind the failed 2016 coup against him. In 2017, the Turkish Freedom passport was revoked; He continued his criticism of Erdogan, referring to him as “the Hitler of our century.” The following year, his father, an academic in Turkey, was convicted of terrorism and imprisoned; He was released last year.

Recently, Freedom spoke out about the genocide in western China, in which members of the Muslim Uyghur minority were placed in concentration camps. He has also attacked other NBA stars for remaining silent on the issue, and recently tweeted about LeBron James, “Money over Morals for the ‘King’.” Sad and disgusting how these athletes pretend to care about social justice. They really “shut up and pass the ball ‘when Big Boss says it.'” Freedom’s comments drew standing ovations at the Celtics games, and a standing ovation from Fox News — whose host Laura Ingraham once said athletes like James should “shut up and dodge.” Last month , suggested that his limited playing time this year was related to his comments on China, Twitter, “Keep restraining me in court, and I will expose you out of court.” Celtics coach Aimee Odoka responded that it had more to do with Freedom’s long defensive struggles.

Last weekend, I spoke on the phone with Freedom, who changed his last name in November, after becoming a US citizen. During our conversation, which has been edited for detail and clarity, we discussed how he got involved in the Uyghur cause, colleagues’ reactions to his candor, and Tucker Carlson and Mike Pompeo’s embrace of him.

How would you describe your political awakening?

I would say that it all started in 2013. There was a corruption scandal going on in Turkey, and President Erdogan and his family were involved. That was the first time I said something. I saw the power of even one tweet. And then I began to pay attention to what was happening more and more – what was happening in the Middle East, the relationship between America and Turkey, even American politics, Turkish politics, Turkish history. Obviously, because of my social media platform, everything I said became a conversation. That is why I wanted to use this platform to spread awareness of all the injustices that are happening in Turkey.

What sparked your interest in the issue of the Uyghurs and the concentration camps in China?

It’s a crazy story, because this summer I was doing basketball camp. All the kids were lined up and I was taking pictures with them one by one. I took a picture with this kid, and his parents called me up in front of everyone and said, “How can you call yourself a human rights activist when your Muslim brothers and sisters are being tortured and raped every day in concentration camps in China?” I was shocked. I turned around and said, “I promise, I’ll get back to you.” I started studying more and more. I started with the Uyghurs and then saw what Tibet was going through, what Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mongolians were going through. You broke my heart. And I’m, like, “It doesn’t matter what it costs. I have to spread awareness of what’s going on.”

What is this for you?

First of all, I was ashamed of myself because for the past 10 years I have only been focusing on Turkey, and there are a lot of human rights violations and injustices happening, not only in Turkey but all over the world. And I really wanted to go deeper. I didn’t want to watch YouTube clips or read some news and make my decision. I actually sat down with some concentration camp survivors and talked to them. They are the ones who told me what they went through. They told me how they were tortured and raped. This is only because they express their religion and express their freedom of expression.

What is the response to China’s human rights violations in Turkey?

I didn’t hear anything from the Turkish side. They remained silent. [The Turkish government spoke out against China’s treatment of Uyghurs in 2019, but has largely remained silent.] And that’s the one thing that breaks my heart because there are so many Muslim countries there, the Muslim leaders are there, and because they care so much about their business and the economy that they go with China. They remain silent, but I promise myself, I must defend the innocent. I will make all the Muslim leaders look like they are trained in leadership because it was disgusting to me to see how they remain silent.

You’ve been urging NBA players to focus on this issue because the National Basketball Association — not just the NBA but shoe companies like Nike — have business in China. What was the reaction of your fellow players? What did you hear and what did they tell you personally?

I remember the first time I talked about these issues, I sat down with almost all of my teammates and had conversations with them because their support was so important to me. The response I received from them gave me a lot of hope and motivation to fight. I remember them saying, “Listen, what you’re doing is right. Keep your strength, and obviously not many people will like what you say, but whatever happens, we stand by you. Just keep telling the truth.” I’ve had the same response from all my teammates. And not just my current teammates – even my former teammates. Actually, not many people know this, but many of them text me privately and give me talking points. So, players obviously want to talk about this. Because of the NBA, because of endorsement deals and Nike, they’re afraid to say something, but I know in their heart they want to say something.

And did this support continue after she criticized LeBron?

In fact, one of my current teammates told me to keep telling the truth, and keep calling these people, because these companies are using these players and making billions of dollars out of them. And these players are not educated enough. They put their signature on this paper and sign huge deals with these companies, but unfortunately, this is a lot like modern day slavery.

You’ve said before that you’re happy to “educate” LeBron, but the problem is that guys who don’t talk about it aren’t educated enough, or they know very well what’s going on but have business interests that just don’t want to talk?

You know, in my heart, I hope they are not educated enough. That’s what I want to think about them, because if you knew what’s going on; If you know what all the innocent people go through in concentration camps; If you know that whenever you buy those shoes or buy your T-shirt or you’re advertising companies there’s a lot of blood, sweat, and oppression on those items, and you’re still part of the problem, you’re a hypocrite and it sucks. So, in my heart, I hope they are not educated enough about the situation.

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