The Islamist

There is nothing wrong if one is a (political) soldier of Islam. It is just awfully dishonest if one is a soldier of Islam but claims he is not.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s love affair with the democratically elected, pro-Shariah and terrorist Hamas is not new. Israeli offensive on Gaza has just unmasked the depths of this love affair. Mr Erdoğan’s rhetoric and governance about the Gaza affair deserve careful thinking and perhaps a few questions.

In a speech on Iran’s nuclear ambitions a few months earlier, Mr Erdoğan signaled his government’s disinclination to follow the United States lead, saying: "Countries that oppose Iran’s nuclear weapons should not have nuclear weapons themselves." Despite the plural (countries) the addressee in that remark was apparently Israel, not the United States as many people speculated. Now, let’s simulate.

Iran is Turkey’s neighbor. Tehran’s claims that it has no ambitions to possess nuclear weapons is tantamount to Mr Erdoğan’s claims that he is not an Islamist. Turkey perceives Iran as a security threat, according to an official national security threat document which carries Mr Erdogan’s signature.

The same threat paper considers Greece, another neighbor but westward instead of east, as a security threat too, but not as "high priority" as Iran. Assume Greece, which Turkey considers less of a security threat than Iran, overtly or covertly, decided to go for nuclear weapons. Would Mr Erdoğan defend a nuclear Greece and say that "countries that oppose Greece’s nuclear weapons should not have nuclear weapons themselves?" We can fairly guess the answer. Another question: Why would Mr Erdoğan support Muslim Iran’s ambitions for nuclear weapons but oppose Orthodox Greece’s ambitions for nuclear weapons as the document he signed says Iran is a bigger security threat to Turkey?

Brussels. That’s where Mr Erdoğan went to lecture European Union leaders on the virtues of democracy and of Hamas. He blamed the deaths in Gaza on the "West that does not respect Hamas." Reformulate the phrase: If the West respected Hamas innocent civilians would not have died in Gaza. Convincing?

Rockets. Oh, how do we know they are fired by Hamas, Mr Erdoğan asked, there are many other groups in the Gaza Strip that may be firing rockets. No, he was not joking!

Improvised explosive devices and bombs and attacks on Turkish soldiers by the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK? Oh, how do we know they are operated by the PKK? There are many Kurdish groups in the Southeast and in northern Iraq.

Democracy? Numbers? Would Mr Erdoğan care to ask the people of the southeast whether they would wish to have autonomy for a Kurdish region? A referendum perhaps? Would that not be at least as democratic as the Palestinian elections?

During the Israeli assault Mr Erdoğan said, in quite broken Turkish, that "he approaches the Gaza issue with a Muslim’s approach." Good. He may approach any issue with anyone’s/any faith’s approach. But why does he loudly suspect that the "EU may be approaching the Turkish membership with a Christian’s approach?" What’s wrong with that? Is it perfectly all right when he approaches politics with a Muslim’s approach but not so perfectly all right when Christians approach politics with a Christian’s approach? But there is more. During the Israeli offensive Mr Erdoğan’s government issued a directive to schools calling for a minute’s silence for Palestinians killed in Gaza. Students aged six to 18 in over 45,000 Turkish schools stood to silence for solidarity with the Palestinian victims. Good.

One wonders, though, why did the humanity-sensitive Ministry of Education not issue a directive calling for a minute’s silence when in 2004 Muslim Chechen terrorists massacred hundreds of Russian schoolchildren in Beslan. Could it be because in Beslan the victims were not Muslim but the murderers were?

Let’s keep on simulating. We know that Mr Erdoğan approaches Gaza with a Muslim’s approach. Should, then, the Orthodox Christians, or all Christians for that matter, approach the Armenian genocide dispute with "an Orthodox’s or a Christian’s approach?" Should Christian governments issue directives to their Christian schools calling for a minute’s silence on every April 24, with or without the term "genocide?"

If one day they do so, would Mr Erdoğan empathize? Would he "understand" if, say, Russian students stood to silence "in memory of the tragic events of 1915 to 1919?" For sure, there must have been far more Armenian children who lost their lives in that period than in Gaza at any time. Mr Erdoğan’s contradictions will never end. He is "the Islamist" who pretends he is not.
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Folly is a Turkish delight!

Naturally, the Turks have confused minds as Turkey and the United States have in recent years metamorphosed from strategic partnership to troubled partnership and now to model partnership. America may be the single country Turks (politically) dislike the most, but the American president is for them the most trusted world leader. Confusing? Mind you, you are only beginning to get confused. After Barack Obama, the two most trusted leaders are Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Vladimir Putin, with the combined confidence vote for the Iranian and the Russian slightly surpassing that of the American.

We have a cabinet minister for the European Union who thinks that France has no place in European politics, past or present. But that should be too normal in a country where the democratically-elected party has a criminal record for unconstitutional activity, and its leader has publicly announced that the police are the guardians of our "democratic regime" (although he later added other institutions to his list of guardians).

But what’s all that compared to President Abdullah Gül’s red-carpet welcome in recent months to Turkey’s last coup leader, Kenan Evren, while "independent" prosecutors have been witch-hunting men aging 60-85 for plotting a coup that never happened. One theory maintained that the rise of the Islamist elite to political and economic supremacy would prune radical Islam both in Turkey and its vicinity. With a quick look around the south we can easily see how successful the "Turkish experience" has been.

At home, however, "the experiment" has transformed the masses into a bizarre mix of ethnic and religious conservatism, with a clear majority of Turks, according to one recent study, refusing to have atheist, Jewish, Christian and American neighbors. More alarmingly, a Los Angeles Times article (Turks increasingly turn to Islamic extremism, June 28, 2009) reported that Al Qaeda's reliance on Arabs was altering as recruits from Turkey and Turkic-speaking areas of Central Asia were forming a recent wave of trainees.

But Turkey is a great power and its influence is "felt everywhere in the region," according to Ahmet Davutoğlu, the former and current foreign minister. Judging from recent regional affairs, however, is that not a little bit of self-aggrandizing? On the contrary, Minister Davutoğlu thinks, "we are being too modest." Are we? Let’s recall.

Just when Mssrs Gül, Erdoğan and Davutoğlu were rubbing their hands in anticipation of a prize-winning Turkish mediation for a historic Israeli-Syrian peace, the Jewish state launched a military offensive in Gaza, and that had been long planned. Now after Mr Erdoğan’s Davos tirade the Israelis naturally have no confidence in any Turkish mediation, in any peace mission. In the meantime, Mr Erdoğan’s bubble-like popularity in the Arab world after he reminded President Shimon Peres that "the Jews knew too well how to kill" tends to fade away just like every other fantasy play gets obscured by realities.

Another Turkish ambition for the position of messenger was with Iran, and that too has failed after Mr Ahmadinejad plainly said that Iran could talk to any country without the need of any facilitator/mediator i.e, Turkey.

But Mr Erdoğan does it all the time. What did he say when he retreated from his loud veto for Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s appointment as NATO’s secretary general? That he had removed his objections on condition that (a) Turkey would get the position of the deputy secretary general of the alliance, and (b) Denmark would ban the pro-PKK broadcaster Roj TV. Unsurprisingly, none of these presumed conditions has been fulfilled.

Sadly, empirical evidence suggests that there is something catastrophic about any Turkish initiative for any part of the world. After Gaza, we saw death walking about the streets of Tehran.

Before Gaza, we saw it walking about Georgia, just after powerful men in Ankara planned to exert "Turkish soft power" into the Caucasus. After the Russo-Georgian war of 2007, Mr Erdoğan proposed a Caucasus stability pact since when the region has never been stable.

Most recently, only days after Mr Gül paid a visit to Urumqi, home of ethnic Uighur Turks in China, this city turned into a bloodbath with hundreds dead and now the ethnic mob is overrunning the city in what appears to be a second Ğ and possibly worse Ğ Tiananmen. Only days ago, Mr Gül had advised the Uighurs to integrate with the (Han) Chinese.

It would be wise if stockbrokers watched out for Ankara’s future efforts for peace elsewhere in the world and took positions accordingly, with the risk of unrest a serious possibility in any sane political assessments.

Ah, we should not forget that another Turkish attempt for "regional political engineering" in foreign lands, this time in neighboring Bulgaria, has yielded similar results, with the nationalists rising to power although Mr Erdoğan’s government reportedly moved to block the outcome. A smart trader could have guessed that result and invested on a nationalist victory merely by looking at Ankara.

No doubt, folly is a Turkish delightÉ
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Engagement, marriage, or PACS?

The French got possibly the worst news since June 18, 1815 from a Turkish minister and, ironically, on the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo and, even more tragically, at a British venue! French efforts to shape European politics have failed throughout history, the Minister for the EU, Egemen Bağış, told an audience of dignitaries at the British Embassy in Ankara, while looking a senior French diplomat in the eye (hurriyet.com.tr, June 19, 2009). Nor will they succeed today. Mr. Bağış went on to remind the French of their great misfortunes. Since that day, according to sources close to the ElysŽe Palace, a repentant Nicolas Sarkozy has been having terrible nightmares and starting his mornings with a strong Turkish coffee to come round. There was a reason why Hurriyet’s related story covered the ’breaking news’ in the most ’a la Turca’ way: Last warning to France! Poor FrenchÉ They must have been devastatedÉ

Quite naturally, I could have suspected the ’Bağış effect’ on the French rush for ’Saison de la Turquie’ if it was not former presidents Jacques Chirac and Ahmet Necdet Sezer who had constructed the idea. Such was the political set-up when ’Turkey season’ proudly opened in France. In the months ahead there will be over 400 events in 77 French cities, featuring a Turkey that is not necessarily the EU-candidate Turkey but the one Turks think would have the best chances to appeal to a suspicious French audience.

The names of prominent Turks, from arts and music to architecture, who will take part in the ’let’s-impress-the-French-project’ reminded me of a recent exchange with a visiting Ph.D. student of political science from Voltaire’s lands, someone who surely has a bitter sense of humor.

After a lengthy conservation on an unusually chilly Ankara afternoon, she finished her ’French wine made by a Turkish company,’ thanked me and said: "I guess I’ve seen enough of Turkey. Now I must go and see Turkey." I smiled back and asked: "What will be your destination after Turkey?" "Well," she said, "I am intending to go to Turkey." Days after, in a message she wrote that she was traveling from Turkey to Turkey, and it would be impossible for her to visit all 1001 Turkeys in one shot. "Unfortunately, I haven’t got 1001 nights to travel from one Turkey to another."

Just like every other major PR project, ’Turkey season’ will selectively feature the ’modern face of Turkey’ hoping to win French hearts and minds. With a little bit of luck, a few French may be seen in awe, watching the Turkish wonders on display with words of pleasure: "Mais c’est fantastique!" or, "Oh, les Turcs sont plus EuropŽens que les Français!" But most others will smile at the Turkish goodies and wonder why the Turks did not exhibit cultural produce that are more Turkish, like, for example, Turkish musicians on the top of charts instead of a great talent with a few copies sold and simply no recognition by the average TurkÉ

How about social/demographic statistics? That, for example, a third of Turkish girls marry between the ages of 16 and 19? That most Turks would not like to have atheist, Jewish, Christian or American neighbors? That Turkey is being run by a rising elite of Islamists, and the Turks are becoming increasingly conservative by all scientific criteria? Facts and figuresÉ Yes, Turkey is a democracy, with a population of 72 millionÉ and run by a government that was found guilty by the country’s supreme court for systematic anti-secular activityÉ

Or, that the country’s most powerful political movement is in fact remotely controlled by a Muslim clericÉ And the Turkish prime minister happens to be a former imam with a political career spent in Islamic militancyÉ The same man who had brilliantly diagnosed the Paris riots four years earlier: "I told (the French) before," Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. "The headscarf ban has triggered these riots." With the same ban still in effect, why do the (mostly Muslim) French not riot any longer?

There has been a lot of matrimonial reference to the Turkish bid to join the EU, like engagement and marriage. As one French friend reminded, however, a more proper matrimonial analogy could be PACS, or ’pacte civile de solidaritŽ,’ a form of civil union between two adults (same-sex or opposite-sex) for organizing their joint life. This civil bond brings rights and responsibilities, but less so than marriage.

a legal standpoint, a PACS is a ’contract’ drawn up between the two individuals, which is stamped and registered by the clerk of the court. In some areas, couples signing a PACS have the option of undergoing a formal ceremony at the City Hall identical to that of civil marriage. Individuals who have registered a PACS are still considered "single" with regard to family status for some purposes, while they are increasingly considered in the same way as married couples for other purposes.

Looks very suitable, does it not? You are married but you are not. You are a couple with legal obligations and responsibilities, but not under those of a marriage contract. Yes, PACS could be an option unless of course by the time it’s time for both Europe and Turkey to decide another ’good Muslim’ Turkish leader does not insist on an Islamic marriage with up to four wives: The EU for one, and then there is the Muslim world, the Middle East which will partly overlap with the previous one, and the former Ottoman lands tooÉ Oh, that will surely be a marriage made in heaven!
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Friends, allies and ’model partners’

"Friends go to lunch together," a Washington neo-con said resentfully a few years ago. "And allies go to war together." The man was still bitter, more than two years after the fact, about the Turkish Parliament’s refusal to allow for a northern American front against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in March 2003. With the same men in power in Ankara, but different people in charge in Washington, the new question is what do "model partners" do? Do they go to lunch? To war? To either, as applicable? Do they exchange pleasantries when necessary? Do they lobby/mediate/take solid action to safeguard each other’s interests? Or do they only pretend to do so?

This week, as we celebrate the birth of "American freedom" at parades decorated with stars and stripes, barbeques and other merry events, Americans, foreigners with American citizenship and many non-Americans still dreaming of the world’s shiniest passport will refresh their admiration for the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave. Here, in these lands, Turks will probably continue their love-hate relationship with America.

According to recent research, Turks, the holders of some of the world’s most powerful anti-American sentiments, chose U.S. President Barack Obama as the world’s most reliable leader. Forty-five percent of Turks said they have some or a lot of confidence in Obama, according to WorldPublicOpinion.org. But there was more that the study revealed.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ranked second in the confidence survey, with 33 percent, and was followed by Russian President Vladimir Putin (15 percent) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (13 percent). In other words, 45 percent of Turks view Obama with some degree of confidence while another 48 percent most trust the U.S. president’s two most serious rivals, Ahmadinejad and Putin. Ironically, Merkel, who pursues a policy with no sympathy for Turkish dreams of eventual EU membership, appears to be the most trustworthy European leader in Turks’ eyes.

America has always been a difficult subject for all Turks; whether black, white or whitewashed. Send an army of pollsters into the streets to ask Turks whether they like or dislike America and you will probably get 90 percent saying "dislike." But ask the same Turks if they would agree to live in America and you will get 95 percent saying Ğ shyly Ğ "yes, please." Ask them if Turkey should side with Iran in the event of an American-Iranian conflict, and you might get more than 90 percent expressing pro-Iranian sentiments. But ask if they would agree to live in Iran, and you may well get more than 99 percent saying, "no, thanks."

Recently, an important American visitor dealing with policy-making at the State Department was in Ankara, and asked a gathering of Turkish guests a question that disproportionately escaped their attention: Imagine, the American visitor said, America is nowhere in the picture, absolutely nowhere, it just does not exist. What, in that case, would the Turks think was the best way to deal with Iran and its nuclear ambitions? A good question, with a lot of realism in it, as evinced by its "ceteris paribus" structure. Sadly, most of the comments at the dinner table were not answers to the question asked. With the Persian Tiananmen over now, we can rethink that question. Without America anywhere in the picture, the Turks would probably have mixed feelings. Without America, Iran would probably lose its appeal to most (anti-American) Turks and the level of presumed Turkish support would fade away. Also, without America, Iran would gain the identity of a "Shiite state" rather than a "Muslim nation" trying to deal with an evil empire with its modest resources. Ah, that traditional Turkish favoritism for the weak against the strongÉ On the other hand, most Turks would not seriously care about any Iranian threat, nuclear or otherwise.

What about Turkish officials? What was Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s unnecessarily premature comment on the deadly rift in Iran? Let us recall: "ÉWe believe that the problems in Iran will be solved via its inner mechanisms with the best possible resultÉ We truly hope that the dynamic and well-attended political election will not be overshadowed by the recent developments." Was that favoring the status quo in Iran? A slip of the tongue from a minister still training on the job? Or both?

But Davutoğlu predicted the Iranian drama well. Yes, the problems in Iran have been solved "via its inner mechanisms." We may even call the death toll the "best possible result," as it might have been much worse.

The American diplomat’s question in Ankara was well placed to construct useful analyses. In reality, the "let’s-assume-America-is-nowhere-in-the-picture" approach may fall into a political nowhere.

In the present Turkish foreign-policy calculus, there are visible traces of faith, faith-based dogmas, political dogmas inspired by faith and political dogmas inspired by faith-based dogmas. To make things more complex, all of that is in a complicated interaction with similar traces of similar inputs on the part of public opinion, i.e., the voters. Sometimes the official thinking feeds the public thinking, sometimes the opposite and sometimes both, at variable magnitudes. The big question remains to be answered: What, for instance, in the case of Iran, do model partners do? Going to lunch to gossip and discuss politics could be a realistic option.
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I reveal Tayyip Erdoğan’s numbered Swiss account!

I have a feeling that our editor in chief, David Judson, will be mad at me for not sharing this scoop with the newspaper and instead revealing it in this column. Well... I have gained access to a document that shows two international companies, both with multibillion-dollar Turkish contracts in their portfolios, deposited unexplained funds into a numbered Swiss account that Swiss financial authorities have verified belongs to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The first document, endorsed by the bank’s executive board, verifies wire transfers into the account, one coming from a multinational energy giant, and another from a weapons manufacturer - both names withheld.

The second one verifies that the numbered account, totaling $655.76 million as of April 9, 2009, belongs to Erdoğan.

As a matter of journalistic ethics, I shall certainly avoid revealing my sources or how I have gained access to these documents, should any prosecutor dare to take legal action against the prime minister. I must admit, though, that there is one problem: The documents in my possession are photocopies forwarded from one PC to another. So, I advise Mr. Judson not to become angry with me, or I might produce documents proving his links to the armed wing of the Ergenekon gang.

Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ was telling the truth when he said that an asymmetrical psychological war was being waged against the military. The fact that none of us could realistically vouch for the democratic credentials of each and every single member of the Turkish Armed Forces does not change the fact that political Islamists - not too well disguised as "liberal democrats" - have long been trying to systematically fight the military establishment, through means reminiscent of spy novels. In fact, this is a war of intelligence and public relations, and the asymmetrical warriors naturally have the upper hand over their symmetrical enemies.

As a matter of fact, one principal casualty each time there is an asymmetrical war is the judiciary, which gets dangerously politicized. The grand coalition of Islamists - i.e., the neo-Islamists, post-modern Islamists, liberals, neo-liberals and opportunists disguised as democrats - looks so precisely "guided on target" that it may even prefer to sink the entire ship that sails under the name Turkey in order to destroy the whole chamber of the helmsman.

How undemocratic can you behave in order to bolster democracy? Can you torture and shoot the enemies of democracy? Hang them en masse in public squares, all in the name of democracy? Only recently, Erdoğan angrily addressed the main opposition leader Deniz Baykal, saying, "If you cannot prove your allegations [against my party], you are despicable!" He was right.

But who will be the despicable one if civilian prosecutors fail to verify the authenticity of the famous "coup document" that appears to be a photocopy, with its original not existing anywhere? Are "the despicable" only those who allege some foul play by the government but cannot verify it?

The prime minister has the habit of viewing the judiciary through an entirely ideological pair of spectacles. For example, he has claimed that Baykal’s Republican People’s Party, or CHP, has defrauded its accounts, saying, "This was verified by a ruling from the Constitutional Court." If - and naturally so - an irreversible verdict from the supreme court should suffice for a "public verdict," then we would end up in the weird situation where Turkey’s ruling party has behaved unconstitutionally, as its various activities to undermine secularism in favor of political Islam also carry a seal of approval from the same court.

Last week, the prime minister was typical Erdoğan again. He pledged immediate (legal) action should anyone get hold of the original "coup document." Why did he take legal action against "coup-plotters" when the original document did not exist anywhere? As always, the motto is "all is halal [permissible] as long as it suits our political agenda..."

Unfortunately, Erdoğan’s self-declared "liberal" supporters are no exception. Take, for example, prominent columnist, Hadi Uluengin, the liberal voice of daily Hürriyet and someone of whom I am quite fond. This is how he justified the storms around the photocopied document in his June 24, 2009, column, "Who’s wearing out whom?":

"Éwhether the plan to ’finish off the AKP and Fethullah Gülen’ is authentic or forgery... it would be purely legitimate if Turkey’s democrats, who have had to endure four coups, four coup attempts and several other [undemocratic actions by the military] in less than half a century got agitated by this document. They are endlessly right [about their retort]..."

Uluengin is right about the history of undemocratic military practices in our country. But his reasoning - that even if the document were false, democrats would have every right to attack the military - is a little bit excessive.

By the same logic, someone can always forge documents verifying corruption by the ruling Islamist elite, get them photocopied and distribute them to Erdoğan’s opponents - and since Turkey’s recent history is full of corrupt practices, it would be purely legitimate for our democrats to get agitated even though we could not authenticate these bogus papers.

Is this how Turkey is going to become a more democratic place?
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How do white-washed Turks serve their anti-Americanism?

I was sitting at my desk, lost in thoughts over the usual chorus of "pleasantries" that filled my inbox in reply to some recent lines on Fethullah Gülen Hocaefendi, and, occasionally shaking my head over the extremely rich vulgar language these "readers’ letters" contained. At moments like that I always tend to lament over the bitter - but fortunately temporary - absence of my polite sparring partner Mustafa Akyol whose articles I miss dearly (Akyol has announced that he will resume his column in October). I went through more and more letters and was surprisingly frozen at one letter that did not contain even a single word of insult. I smiled, re-read the lines, and thought that that reader must be Akyol’s alter ego. In fact, this article’s title belongs to that reader who had written with possibly the world’s cutest pseudonym, Aleda Elsu, and introduced herself as "a PhD candidate at an American university."

Ms. Elsu is apparently Turkish, but she proudly carries an American passport. She was referring to my column on June 10 titled "Enjoy ’Turkish Borat’ as your enlightened voter," and narrating a most bizarre story she had experienced. Elsu had recently been at a nice restaurant in İzmir with a group of college-educated Turks.

A "rather cranky" woman who she had the misfortune of sitting across from did not shake Elsu’s hand when they were introduced, did not reply when Elsu told her "bless you" when she sneezed, and did not say a word to Elsu despite her few desperate attempts to engage her in a conversation. After the "cranky woman" left, Elsu learned from another friend that the "cranky woman" had been rude to her "because Elsu was American."

I must apologize for having to shorten Elsu’s letter, but this is her assessment of that weird encounter:

"I cannot help but smile and also ponder whether xenophobia in Turkey can only be attributed to the non-white Turks, i.e. Recep Ivedik (the new hilly-billy character of Turkish cinema) and the cruel characters of the Valley of the Wolves movie?

"Émy sad answer to Mr. Bekdil’s question was that white Turks can be as xenophobic as the others, indeed, I had to self-correct, and maybe they were the ’white-washed’ Turks who could not yet become white enough..?

"In this specific case we had a college-educated woman of mid-30s, who was wearing (American) jeans and shoes, driving a German car, singing Greek tunes and was also deeply anti-American.

"ÉHere in the heart of İzmir, at a restaurant in the late evening hours, of all the college-educated women and men, I was snubbed and had a hand hanging over in the air, because I (was) considered an American citizen. This was a woman who also failed to enjoy the tunes of ciftetelli simply because she had considered it the music of the lower classes.

Powerful arguments

"Reading Mr. Bekdil’s lines I guess I should count my blessings. What if I were seated across from a fan of Recep Ivedik or one of the main characters of Valley of the Wolves, would they leave my hand hanging and with no responses to my good blessings as wellÉ In the meantime, we should consider the fact that to be xenophobic, putatively, one does not need to be a part of the uneducated, unwashed masses, just like to be a xeno one does not even have to be a foreigner..." Interesting story...

And very powerful arguments. No doubt, Elsu is right to think that xenophobia cannot be exclusively attributed to one particular class of Turks.

But I am sure, being a PhD candidate at an American university, Elsu should be aware of various research that xenophobic behavior/thinking tends to augment amongst Turks favoring religious and ethnic conservatism.

If Elsu had visited her former homeland in January, for example, I would strongly advise her against the idea of walking around mosques after Friday prayers and waving to pious Turks her all too bright American passport. She might not have escaped with a hand hanging in the air. I would not advise her to sit across from a fan of Recep Ivedik or one of the characters of Valley of the Wolves either. Most probably her hand would not have hung in the air. I am sure such characters would treat her nicely too, due to the "traditional Turkish hospitability for the foreigner, especially when the guest is female." Yet, I would not recommend such encounters, which usually end up at police stations and, later, in courtrooms.

As for the "cranky woman’s" despise of the ciftetelli tunes, I must say I was a little bit disappointed.

I always thought in the "dreamland" that goes by the name America they taught people to respect other people’s tastes and preferences. Certainly there must be millions of Americans who do not like "cowboy music," or millions of Germans who do not fancy Bavarian yodel songs. We must not love everything that belongs to our native culture.

I would wish all the best to Elsu in her PhD studies but also recommend her to do more on social studies. Her presumed correlation between "dislike of a culture/country and consumption of foreign commodities, including cultural," is at best a highly dubious theory with no empirical or scientific support. She basically argues that someone who wears American jeans and shoes, drives a German car and loves Greek tunes cannot/should not be anti-American.

I would rather think Elsu was a little too fragile about her new country. To put it in a question, I would ask, does anyone who wears French outfits, drives an American car and loves Italian tunes have to be sympathetic to the French? Does a Brit who uses a Turkish-made washing machine at home not have the liberty to be anti-Turkish?

Life is certainly far more complicated than that. For instance, we even have a Muslim preacher who spent most of his career cursing the crusaders, Christian invaders, Zionism and defended Koranic teachings, and who eventually took refuge in the lands of the "Great Satan" - and at a time when his new homeland invaded a Muslim country, a situation in which the Koran explicitly says all Muslims should fight the non-Muslim invader. It just happens ...
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Moses is Moses, Jesus is Jesus...

We were delighted with the colorful presence of 700 Turkish-speaking kids from all around the world at a recent gathering in Turkey. They won both hearts and minds in a country full of people who would be thrilled if a tourist called at them "Merhaba!" The usual answer would be, "Ne kadar güzel Türkçe konuşuyorsunuz / Your Turkish is so very good." The children came from literally all corners of the world to compete in singing, poetry-reading and prose competition at the Turkish Language Olympics, an exciting event sadly not covered by Eurosport. But Reuters nicely covered the touching event, with a heartfelt lead paragraph, "I want to see your hands," little Bangaina Jose from Mozambique shouts in confident Turkish to an auditorium of piously-dressed Turks clapping along to her song routine (Turkish language fest shows preacher’s global reach, June 7, 2009). I thought that a more proper lead could have read: "I want to see your fists against the Ergenekon murderers," little Bangaina Jose from Mozambique shouts...

Reuters’ euphemism for the global network of fine schools operated by the Fethullah Gülen movement ends with a defensive quote from Özcan Keleş, head of the "Gülen-inspired" Dialogue Society in London. "If you have a secret agenda to overthrow the secular Turkish state, why open a school in Madagascar?" It would have been absurd if a news story began with a quote from a merry event involving little children and ends with another that talks about secret agendas and overthrowing a state. But we call it reality when the principal figure behind all the fanfare is Mr. Gülen, whose supporters from remote corners of the world condemned this columnist for calling him the ’Muslim Pope’ last week.

Ironically, the Gulenists became offended although I had only mentioned a ’Muslim Pope’ not necessarily Mr. Gülen. I wondered what might have made them think the Muslim Pope was in fact Mr. Gülen, since in Islam we do not have the equivalent of archbishops and cardinals, let alone a pope. BizarreÉ Yet that much confusion should be normal for the world’s most religious non-religious network.

But I learned my lesson. I shall call Mr. Gülen what his followers do: Fethullah Gülen Hocaefendi, or The Grand/Esteemed Imam/Hodja Fethullah Gülen, hoping that the world’s possibly most powerful group of missionaries would not object to an acronym, FGH, hereafter. According to Reuters, the Gülen-inspired groups that teach Turkish to non-Turkish children say they do not teach Turkish to spread Islam.

Since the teachers are just incidentally "pious" people, and dishonesty is a sin in Islam, I would think they must be telling the truth. I guess we must begin to suspect that these schools are part of an ultra-nationalist organization, since they vigorously teach Turkish but do not aim to spread Islam. Ah, yes, Ergenekon! There is further evidence of ultra-nationalistic motives. Alp Aslandogan, chairman of the Houston-based Gülen Institute recently admitted: "Our goal is to put every Turk in contact with our movement."

Hmm... Every Turk... in contact with our movement... These are very suspicious remarks and I tend to increasingly believe the Gulenists, since they do not operate on religious motives, must be championing a pan-Turkish mission.

And, did Mr. Keles from the Dialogue Society not say, why would anyone open a school in Madagascar in order to overthrow a secular state? True, the reasoning looks poor in this regard. It’s not much different than a general saying: "Why would we hire a bunch of ailing men aged 60-85 to overthrow the Islamist government when we have the tanks and artillery and hundreds of thousands of soldiers for that?"

FGH’s supporters have no intention of de-secularizing Turkey and not a single officer at the barracks intends to overthrow the government. FGH’s powerful network should at once infiltrate Wikipedia and convince its editors to take out that problematic entry, taqiyya, which the popular online dictionary defines as, "concealing or disguising one's beliefs, convictions, ideas, feelings, opinions, and/or strategies at a time of imminent danger, whether now or later in time, to save oneself from physical and/or mental injury. A one-word translation would be dissimulation." FGH’s impressive propaganda machine works on the principle of spreading the message, "Hey, Franks! We are friends," decorated with a broad smile on the face and a waving hand. All the same propaganda, weary of years’ of work and of going against principles of mechanics, is giving signals of a breakdown these days.

Sadly, FGH’s missionaries are decreasingly convincing in the ’western markets’ in which they wish to sell their product, and the divergences with one-time tactical allies, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, may grow deeper in the near future since their ’friends in Ankara’ are getting frustrated by the calculus of alliance. "You stir up tensions, get away with it, and we are held accountable for all your dirty work." Hopefully FGH, who is in poor health, does not change strategy and abruptly put his mission into sixth gear from a safer second in order to see a few worldly accomplishments before - God forbid -- his health deteriorates.

FGH and his followers may always rely on their western friends. But in exactly the same way they won their hearts they may lose them in the same pragmatism: Moses is Moses, Jesus is Jesus and business is businessÉ
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Coups, good coups and bad coups

It is one of the bad tricks of this profession: When there is a "bombshell" with an unknown fate, we are often dragged into the queue of commentators not necessarily because the bombshell is mature enough to comment on, but precisely because it is a bombshell and not commenting on it would be tantamount to "missing the agenda." The latest allegations of a coup attempt within the ranks of the armed forces, based on a document whose authenticity was still a mystery by the time this column was written, is a powerful example. By all unbiased criteria the "coup attempt" is naturally something to comment on, although it would be too premature to do so, given the ambiguity of the prime evidence. 

It is nice, however, to see that both sides of the grand Turkish divide, Islamists and secularists, seem at least to agree on something: If some nut case officers rolled up his sleeves to draft a white paper Ğ that looks more like the homework of an eighth-grade student than a classified military document Ğ to oust a legitimate government, they should face trial right away. That’s fair and unanimously agreed upon.

Would there be, however, an equally peaceful compromise if the document proved to be fake? Would, for example, the Islamists condemn the attempt for such a silly act of psychological warfare in their all-too democratic guises? How democratic would it be to engineer an illegal plot in order to undermine the military? These are hypothetical questions, but we must be prepared to find "democratic answers" should the latest "coup affair" end up in an embarrassing way for one particular side of the divide. But again, it’s just too premature to guess, given the thick cloud of obscurity over the mysterious coup plan.

We all hate coups. Or do we? So far in the land of Crescent and Star we have had two conventional coups (1960 and 1980), one near-coup that came in the form of a powerful ultimatum (1971), one post-modern coup (1997), and one soft e-coup (2007). We have no idea, if proved authentic, how the latest one would be named. Naughty officers’ coup, since the top military command is probably unaware of the plan? Ergenekon 2.0? The name will probably be totally irrelevant. In the real world of modern politics, coups are simply divided into two categories: good coups and bad coups.

What did the Cradle of Democracy most recently say about democratic culture? Let’s go back to Cairo for a moment and listen to President Barack Obama: "É We will welcome all elected, peaceful governments Ğ provided they govern with respect for all their people. É There are those who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. É You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion. É Elections alone do not make true democracy. É"

The same speech would have had an entirely different political connotation had it been made in Ankara instead of in Cairo. In a way, it portrays several practical features of "Turkish democracy" in the year 2009. But when made in Cairo, the addressees looked more like Iran and Hamas, or if it were made in Kiev, heads might have turned to Moscow. All the same, since democratic values and rights are indivisible we can safely conclude that every democratically elected autocrat could find some wisdom in Mr. Obama’s Democracy 101 for himself.

In realpolitik terms, the coup of 1960 was a "good coup." So was the coup of 1980. The near-coup of 1971 was harmless, and so was the post-modern coup of 1997. Just like the Saudi kingdom is a "good" kingdom where even the word democracy could bring bad fortune to anyone who may dare mention it. So are the emirates, where true democracy as described by President Obama is at best an unknown commodity. These examples can be endlessly multiplied. But the bitter truth is that hypocrisy often euphemistically takes different names such as realpolitik, or facts of life or any sentence that may start with ’’yes butÉ’ or with ’’it dependsÉ’’

I recall former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan’s famous and accurate prophecy about an Islamic revolution in Turkey. "It will happen one day. É We just don’t know if it will be bloody or not." Mr. Erbakan, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s chief political mentor throughout most of the younger Islamist’s political career, made a good guess, and fortunately about his second option rather than the first Ğ not necessarily because the Muslim revolutionaries are peaceful men but more because the "with blood" option was not practically feasible.

Sitting at a cafŽ on a cool Ankara afternoon, I was watching every passerby on the street, trying to read their minds about the coup news and to calculate the possible scenarios behind the latest mystery. At that moment I saw an e-mail message falling into my inbox, as a reader had wished to comment on my previous column (A feminism where 1 man = 2 women, June 17, 2009).

Perhaps that reader should forgive me for reading his comments in an entirely different context. Amazingly, what he wrote about "Muslim feminism" explains all that hypocrisy around coups and democracies and every other good and evil we are programmed to accept as we are told:

"Though not a believer or follower, I trust in Marx's insight that what finally counts [are] interests.

Not necessarily those of class, admittedly. It may be gender, or hunger.

So I'm not shocked that ’display’ has a [dominant] role. A constant issue in our satires is display-democrats, display-liberals, display-communists, display-Christians, display-consumers Ğ you name it. It goes with feminists as well, so why not with [display] Muslims? [Display] secularists? It's a constant feature of Yiddish humor. It's a feature of life itself. Believe me, even animals are opportunists. Ask your cat. So these things change with parameters for opportunity. A state of law sets different interests than one of clans, as regards display-obedience, for instance (Many thanks, H.P.G.)."
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A feminism where 1 man = 2 women

According to recent research that this column quoted twice last week, 62 percent of Turks think that religion (i.e. Islam) is the “most important thing” in their lives, while only 13 percent cite democracy.

That is “pious” Turkey, but “pious” not necessarily in the sense of dedication to Islam’s essential teachings, but rather to various norms of display and attitude such as how one dresses or covers herself, dietary restrictions and other commandments regarding non-spiritual practice.

I have become quite used to “pious” twisting and corrupting of Koranic verses for political purposes, but at a recent event I saw that the power of “political spin” among the pious knows no limits.

The occasion: Honoring a visiting professor who has gained international fame for his studies on Islam, democracy and secularism.

The venue: A Western embassy in Ankara.

The date: A hot noon last week.

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No to right wing parties in Europe, says the Turkish right

"Nazis came out of the elections in Europe!" That was the headline in an Islamic newspaper in the wake of center- and right-wing parties making visible gains in the European Parliament in last week’s election. Ironically, it was the same newspaper whose Islamist clientele had held out the infamous placard that read "Now I understand Hitler!" in several public rallies to protest the State of Israel. In further irony, it is the same state to whose president Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reminded in Davos that "when it comes to killing you know it too well." 

We can always find more ironies in such scenes of first class absurdity. Was it not Mr Erdoğan himself who always advocated "the will of the nation?" Yes, the election results were the will of European nations, just like July 22, 2007 was that of the Turks. Now a bitter Mr Erdoğan says the EU must honor its pledges for an eventual Turkish membership. Causing shy smiles in European capitals Mr Erdoğan argues that Turkey is fit for accession.

Singing a similar tune, Murat Mercan, chairman of parliament’s foreign relations committee and a senior figure in Mr Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has said that "the tendency in Europe toward the extreme right is worrisome." Why should the European nations’ will be worrisome, in the first place; and since when have the French UMP, the German CDU or the British Conservatives been cataloged as "extreme right?"

And who is complaining about extreme right? Let’s seeÉ According to a survey by Istanbul’s Bahcesehir University, 81 percent of Turks believe that the EU’s goal is to spread Christianity. Research has also found that 52 percent of Turks would not wish to have Christian neighbors; and religion (Islam) is the most important thing for 62 percent of Turks Ğ while only 13 percent cited democracy as their sine qua non. Furthermore, 76 percent of Turks believe that the EU intends to divide their country. All that points to the trouble twins: religious and ethnic xenophobia.



Xenophobic Turks accusing Europe

And that’s exactly where the picture becomes complete black humor: Xenophobic Turks accusing Europeans of xenophobia! That, of course, does not mean that Europe is genuinely and wholly about the values it stands for. But at least we can empirically tell that democracy should be more important for the average European than religion.

According to the same survey, 57 percent of Turks still favor Turkish accession to the EU. Here the picture, ostensibly, gets a bit more complicated (ostensibly, because in reality it does not).

So we can conclude that a majority of Turks wish to join a club they believe aims to spread a religion they do not wish to Ğ physically Ğ co-habit with, a club which aims to divide their country. Do the Turks have a fetish for sleeping with snakes? They probably don’t.

The explanation is the anticipation of fat-salaried jobs and free travel and other potential benefits related to welfare suddenly pouring in after membership.

What are the other "alluring" features of "Turkey in the year 2009" that Mr Erdogan thinks make our country fit for membership? For example, the Global Peace Index puts Turkey 115th in a list of 144 countries. The EU member state that comes nearest to Turkey is Bulgaria which ranks 57th.

Any more Turkish jewels? Yes. The European Court of Human Rights has for the first time ruled against a state for failing to protect someone from domestic violence Ğ the ruling has said that Turkey denied a woman her "right to life" by failing to protect her murder by her son in law.

But the case of journalist Nedim Şener is darker than any black humor. Mr Şener wrote a book revealing with substantial evidence how the giant Turkish state apparatus toyed with events that eventually led to the murder of Turkish Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. You might think Mr Şener’s book has been banned.

Here is a little bit more than that. The prosecutors are demanding a prison sentence of 20 years for the murderer, Ogün Samast, and 28 years for Mr Şener for writing a book that tells about the "darker side of the moon." Well, neither Nikolas Sarkozy nor Angela Merkel should worry. With another decade of political engineering under Islamist rule the Europeans will not have to think about a future Turkish membership with probably 90 percent of "neo-Ottoman Turks" favoring jihad against continental Europe.

No to right-wing parties in Europe, says the Turkish right
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Enjoy ’Turkish Borat’ as your ’enlightened’ voter

Until this year the most successful production of the Turkish film industry was the 2006 release "Valley of the Wolves," which, experts and viewers agreed, was an excoriating condemnation of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a film that obviously tapped into rising anti-Americanism in Turkey at the time. In the same year, according to a PEW research, Turks with a favorable view of the United States was a mere 9 percent, the lowest among the 40 or so countries surveyed. This year the box office rankings changed, and "Valley of the Wolves" was defeated by Recep Ivedik, the story of a kind of "Turkish Borat." Millions of Turks rushed to theaters to watch the caricature of a loud-mouthed taxi-driver whose lewd and uncouth behavior has had them guffawing. According to The Guardian, Recep Ivedik is "rude, crude and prone to furious outbursts and threats of physical violence." Nevertheless, this character’s widespread appeal has made the film Turkey’s biggest movie success story.

The Guardian has commented, "Some [Turks] see him as emblematic of the socially conservative forces now breaking into Turkey’s previously undisturbed and refined secular middle classes."

There must be a reason why, of all choices available to the Turkish audience, those two products have become Turkey’s most stunning box office sensations. Why, for example, does another film that features the post-WWII tragedies of a non-Muslim family in Istanbul fail to lure a fraction of what any one of the "Valley of the Wolves" or Recep Ivedik achieved within a couple of weeks?

It is not surprising that a nation’s collective film choice reflects its behavioral patterns and predominant worldview. In 2006, Turks chose "Valley of the Wolves" and, having watched the film, returned home relieved for having ’expressed’ their feelings of anti-Americanism. Most viewed the film as if in real life a bunch of shadowy nationalist Turks had crippled the evil American empire. The film simply had their feelings surfaced.

In 2009, the Turks chose Recep Ivedik to enjoy the caricature of the man who in fact is the very man inside most of them. They laughed at and despised the totally unrefined Recep Ivedik without thinking there are millions of Recep Ivediks inside and/or around themselves. In a way, Recep Ivedik is merely a grotesque characterization of the average Turkish voter. A recent scientific study tells us nothing different. The research by Professor Yılmaz Esmer - who hold degrees from Yale and Stanford universities - has revealed, among others, that 75 percent of Turks would not like atheist neighbors; 72 percent neighbors who drink alcohol; 67 percent neighbors outside the wedlock; 64 percent Jewish neighbors; 52 percent Christian neighbors; and 43 percent American neighbors. We do not know how many of them would not like neighbors like Recep Ivedik, but I would guess the percentage would be a fraction of any of the above.

The same research also found that 86 percent of Turks believe the United States intends to divide Turkey, whereas 76 percent think the European Union has the same intentions. When asked of the most important single thing in their lives, 62 percent said religion (Islam) while 16 percent cited secularism and only 13 percent mentioned democracy. That’s a fair snapshot of Turkey’s socio-cultural picture as the country stands in 2009.

Ironically, on the same day those findings were made public I heard a listener commenting on NTV Radio. The big angry Turk first strongly claimed that xenophobia never existed in Turkey, only to argue seconds later that the research was a plot by the Western powers that aimed to divide Turkey. I did not know whether to laugh or feel sad.

As columnist Cüneyt Ülsever recently wrote, "[It’s bizarre]... that Turkey’s best Western ally is the same country 86 percent of Turks believe aims to divide their country, and that Turks want to join the club 76 percent of which think has the same wicked goal." Yes, Turks have confused minds, and that’s hardly a surprise. Neither the xenophobic nor the study’s conservative findings should surprise anyone who can read figures. In local elections about two months ago, four religiously and ethnically conservative parties (Justice and Development Party, Nationalist Movement Party, Felicity Party and Grand Unity Party) won a combined 62.4 percent of the vote, and that excludes those of splinter center-right parties.

Is it not funny that the Turks often complain of xenophobia against their kinship in Europe? Maybe we should ask that gentleman with the name Recep Ivedik, and he’ll tell us what he thinks about Europeans. The man is a fiction character? All right, just ask any conservative Turk instead. Great Turkish author Oğuz Atay (1934-1977) wrote in his diaries as early as 1970: "... we fake and there are even moments the West accepts us (like a rare football victory). And that childish pride of ours! We get offended when we are not appreciated. ...We are like the street kid among well-groomed children. ..."
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Wet drinks for dry people

As we sit in a bar in the heart of London, my friend complains to me that "all this theoretical work, my dear, is really futile. Look at the war Turkey had been pulled into with the Kurdistan workers’ Party, or PKK, since 1983, what good has academia done to prevent the death of innocent civilians or young soldiers?" Knowing he would not be convinced by any words anytime soon and partly agreeing with him, I took a sip from my prosecco and watched his pain over the struggles of the land he - at a distance - and I belonged to. Listening to my friend, as painful as it is, made me reconsider each spring the similar scenarios being replayed in our lands... as the mountain snow melts and the valley flowers bloom, we start hearing the news of another wave of terrorist attacks with worrying numbers of casualties or damage. We also hear the talk of amnesty, captured or killed PKK men, abandoned villages, money changing hands with the sale of hip new small conventional weapons on the market, and the usual debates on whether increased liberties and economic opportunities will curtail further atrocities.

Each looking out his own window sees a different picture, my friend comments, of a martyr, or a terrorist; but one constant figure in each scene, I add, is that some mother’s son lies dead or amputated in a corner. Knowing that the main goal, as seen in every window, is to minimize, if not to prevent, another mother to witness the loss of her child, I contemplate whether the divisions between academia and policy makers is something of a shibboleth.

Policy makers often view theoretical abstractions and recently popular formal models with many mathematical equations as irrelevant to the day-to-day activities of the complex world of politics. Theories struggle to offer tools for handling real life situations, but most assumptions are seen as too "unrealistic" and conclusions as too "parsimonious" to apply in confidence. The gap between theory and practice remains troublesome, to say the least. However, as Lenin once said, "without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movements," without a theory behind it - however specifically or generally constructed - there can be no movement in politics.

The fight against terrorism for any country inevitably falls into murky waters: it is domestic politics for sure, but it also involves foreign actors. Different ministries’ - as well as different countries’ - communication, if not cooperation, is required for a successful war on terrorism. This, as all will probably accept, is a difficult, if not impossible, chore to sustain. Fighting against a state, the non-state actors gain the upper hand by having to deal with less red tape, more direct communications and a quicker set up for proposed actions.

Yet despite all cease-fires and different tracks of talks between official and unofficial figures of two or more parties involved in the turmoil, one fraction of the non-state actor might act to spoil an entire peace process. Long years of conflict in other parts of the world indicates that for some extremist factions "peace", or the "lack of struggle" means death - death of their mission, death of their raison d’etre. To prevent "the death," unfortunately, some groups may be tempted to further deadly ordeals. Hence the vicious cycle of violence.

There are no easy roads to curtail terrorist activities as deeply rooted as that of the PKK, with years of experience and regional as well as international support under their belt. That said, old and simple rules could still provide some guidelines to the issue. One is timing. That is for peace to come, time has to be ripe to open up the channels of communication, and that applies to both sides of the conflict. Both sides have to be convinced that the benefit of "talking" would be higher than that of fighting, or of "talking while fighting."

Next, who will be talking to whom? Here, the rule of thumb is to "divide and co-opt." We are talking about an organization which has endured almost three decades: no doubt the PKK has a structure that includes a political and a military wing - in this case the Democratic Society Party, or DTP, as the political wing, and the PKK as the military wing. "Talks" with the political wing through various channels must be kept open, and, ideally, the DTP should be able to recognize its role as a catalyst in the game of moral persuasion that the PKK should lay down arms for everyone’s interest.

It might not be possible to expect the DTP to exert full control over all PKK factions, but it would be all too well if this party maintained a better dialogue box with the state and ensured spillover benefits for its constituencies. The "carrots and sticks" as I would tell my friend should be utilized on time and in a balanced manner. The DTP surely cares deeply about the popular support it enjoys within the population they claim to represent. Any counterterrorism activity coordinated with the DTP should underline the fact that this party’s popular support will increase if only they fully cooperated with the state.

Last is the "audience cost," i.e., the more vocal the promises are the higher the stakes of re-nagging on one’s promise because the cost will be disturbingly high. It is understandable that the government must act in a swift yet cautious manner since this is a precarious issue for every household in this country. It is equally precarious for the DTP simple because if this ethnic Kurdish political grouping failed to control the military wing it might mean another political wing may emerge within the previous setup and the DTP’s credibility may come under scrutiny, if not disappears all together. Also, counter-terror responses should from now strive in coordination with other attempts, not to radicalize the Kurdish population so the support for extremist fractions can be lowered.

These were the thoughts running through my mind, as my friend took another sip from his drink and said: "Just like the prohibition era in America when people were forced to brew their own drinks and enter into the speakeasies with a password, we need peace, a peaceful setup in our relations."

I looked at his face and thought yes, we have all needs, food for the hungry, wet drinks for thirsty people...
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Our judiciary is independent and I am a ballerina

A quick amount of research on the Internet will turn up hundreds of entries in which government bigwigs make the following clichŽ Ğ yet sensible Ğ statement when asked to comment on the Ergenekon investigation: "It would be wrong to comment on a court case in progress. Our judiciary is independent, and we must trust our judges." But do the government bigwigs themselves trust our independent judiciary? Sometimes.

When a senior judge recently ruled that President Abdullah Gül must stand trial for allegedly embezzling millions of dollars of public money that had gone into the vaults of his former political party, but then disappeared, the usual chorus of pro-government columnists came to his aid.

That was when the otherwise nice "let’s-trust-our-judges" rhetoric instantly disappeared, only to be replaced with allegations that the judge’s ruling was based on political (read: secular) motivations. Even Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan commented, "Unfortunately, sometimes the judges can make political verdicts."

So, the practical jurisprudence is clear: When a court rules against the ruling Islamists, it is politically motivated and we all can bash our judges. But when a court case targets the Islamists’ opponents, we should not comment and should trust our judges. The ruling elite may be good Muslims who never touch a drop of alcohol or let a piece of female hair be seen by men, but they should read about more essential Koranic teachings on subjects like justice, the equality of all and how big a sin it would be to treat us, the mere mortals, unfairly.

Has anyone ever seen a pro-Justice and Development Party, or AKP, columnist or a member of this party’s high and mighty suspect political bias in the court rulings that should otherwise be quite embarrassing for a country knocking on the European Union’s door for accession?

Has, for example, anyone in the powerful Islamic alliance of government and the media establishments ever complained of political bias because an Istanbul prosecutor asked for a court ban on three books due to obscenity, including Guillaume Apollinaire’s "The Exploits of a Young Don Juan?" Although the Turkish Penal Code explicitly says that works of art and literature cannot be tried for obscenity, an expert report from an Istanbul university (ironically, one that boasts of teaching "commerce") found all three books obscene.

In a separate case, the government has given the go-ahead to the "independent" judiciary to prosecute Sezgin Tanrıkulu, the chairman of the Diyarbakir Bar Association. Tanrıkulu faces a prison sentence of one to three years for distributing diaries "in both the Turkish and Kurdish languages."

Is there any political bias here? No. That decision falls into the "let’s-trust-our-judges" category.

An even more interesting courtroom battle also falls into the same category. Most Turks were shocked when the now infamous Islamist columnist Hüseyin Üzmez, 76, was arrested and brought to court for sexually harassing a 14-year-old girl, but Üzmez’s comrades rushed to his aid with theories linking the case to a secularist plot.

The Islamist "intellectual" became the man in the news and once a stadium full of football fans chanted "not-so-nice" slogans against him.

The "Üzmez affair" naturally became the theme of a popular television program hosted by four women known for their secular worldview: an actress, a former model, a famous novelist and a prominent journalist. After the broadcast, another Islamist columnist, Abdurrahman Dilipak (and, by the way, note that Dilipak means "clean tongue" in Turkish), thought he had to rush to Mr. Islamist-pedophile’s aid. This was what he wrote in his column about the four women:

"Éare these [ladies] not porn people? ... [They speak] as if they don’t belong to the ’Lolita’ bunchÉ who make group sex and get into incestuous relationsÉ"

What do you normally do if you are a person with fame and someone writes that you belong to a "Lolita" bunch (whatever that is) and accuses you of being incestuous, working in the porn industry and engaging in group sex?

The four women appealed to a court, demanding an apology and a correction in Dilipak’s column. The court turned down the request. They appealed to another court, and got another rejection.

As a last resort, the four women appealed to the Justice Ministry, only to get a third "sorry, but no."

Now they are on their way to the European Court of Human Rights, or ECHR, and the verdict is fairly predictable Ğ unless, of course, the ECHR this time listens to Erdoğan’s words from a few years earlier and seeks advice from the Ulema, or Islamic scholars.

We can safely predict the unpredictably terrible consequences if, for example, I wrote in this column the same lines about anyone from the AKP’s power circle. No, I am not going to volunteer for that little socio-political experiment.

I am sure such a trial would fall into the "let’s-trust-our-judges" category.
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Me as just another traitor and more Greek than a Greek

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was telling the truth when he bravely said that systematic efforts to force non-Muslim minorities (during and after WWII) out of Turkey constituted an act of fascism. Turkey would have been a better place if today its Greek, Armenian and Jewish populations amounted to hundreds - instead of tens - of thousands. Ironically, one could probably not find in these lands more than a few men who are pure Turks by DNA. This is - to put it mildly - an introvert culture, whether the dominant self-identification motive is religion or ethnicity. It is the same culture that produced and carried generation by generation idioms like, "selling snails in the Muslim neighborhood (to express poor chances of business success)," or "even a gavur won’t do that (to complain of bad behavior; gavur meaning non-Muslim, although it literally means an atheist)," or "am I Greek? (to express unfair treatment by someone else)." Interestingly, in both cases of Islamic or nationalist xenophobia the "otherness" is gauged by display criteria. For example, a Muslim who drinks alcohol or does not wear the Islamic turban can easily be tagged as an "infidel." Similarly, a Turk who condemns the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink can be catalogued as a "traitor." So just as many devout Muslim Turks are "display" Muslims, many Turkish nationalists are "display" nationalists, too.

A few years earlier a friend had come with a private request. The man was the provincial head of what everyone knows as Turkey’s "most nationalist" political party. His son was to be drafted, and he was wondering if I could "talk to a couple of generals and make sure the young man does his military service in Izmir." If that was not possible, could I make sure his son not to be sent to the Southeast? I told him I had done my service in the Southeast and remembered the same man proudly telling a gathering of "nationalist" youth only a few weeks earlier how proud he would be sending his son to "fight the enemies of the Turks (the PKK)."

My mind then went back to the otherwise pretty Aegean town where the local government has the habit of putting the national anthem on play through awfully bad speakers on every corner every Friday and where, as a self-forced tradition, everyone has to stand in respect or risk a fight with the locals. My brother told me he once had to freeze on top of a ladder trying to fix a roof when the anthem began. It was tragic-comic when two years ago the locals had beaten up a man for not respecting the national anthem because he kept on walking. Poor man appeared to be a Bulgarian tourist. I recalled all those sacrosanct display motives of a corrupted version of patriotism when I came across my name in a blog that specializes in the "Turkish defense industry" with the very nationalistic slogan "local defense industry for a fully independent Turkey." A blogger had introduced me as this paper’s defense editor, which is not correct. Thus he commented: "As I have read his articles I cannot decide whether he is Turkish or Greek. The man (myself) takes every pain to bash the Turkish (defense) industry no matter what the industry does (accomplishes). He can instantly get the job of the editor at Greekdefence (presumably a Greek publication)."

That blogger gave a link to a June 2008 article I wrote for the U.K.-based Royal United Services Institute, a think tank engaged in defense and security since it was founded in 1831 by the Duke of Wellington. The article, titled "Why Turkish efforts for ’indigenous development’ are too ambitious," was a critique of "national" weapons programs that are usually neither national nor realistic. Presumably having read that article, two more bloggers commented. According to the first one I was "just another traitor." The second one wrote that I was not only "a stronger royalist than the king, but also more Greek than a Greek."

None of all that is surprising for I have lived long enough in this country to know how manifest behavior can be important in politics. But is it not amazing that in 2009 a "good Muslim" is still the one who abstains alcohol and pork and never lets female hair be seen by others and not the one who abstains cheating, lies, unfairness; and a "nationalist Turk" is the one who freezes in respect for the national anthem, shoots in the air each time the national football team beats a rival squad and who thinks calling someone a "Greek" is an insult and not the one whose son does his military services like everyone else? It is amazing that this country can still amaze.
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Bandwagoning Ñ or ’hakawati’ Ñ in Damascus

In old town Damascus, there are coffee shops similar to those in Dolapdere of Istanbul, where men gather over coffee, cigarettes and nargile/shisha. They do not only socialize but do the usual men’s talk, too, be it football or politics, which in the latter case they embrace or resent their leaders’ choices. One difference between the old Damascus and Dolapdere is the old tradition of story telling, or "hakawati," that is still alive, and one wonders how the most recent tales of Turco-Syrian diplomacy will be reflected in the stories. It is amazing to reminisce that it was only a decade ago that Turkey was contemplating war with Syria over its support for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. These days, both in Damascus and Istanbul, either the men will be asking for "bir kahve daha" Ğ one more coffee Ğ or calling "narah ya walad" Ğ more coal, boy Ğ for their nargiles, but their common concern is probably what the future will hold for their sons and grandsons.

Almost the same days as this column left the floor to two expatriate readers’ views on Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, we extensively read about President Abdullah Gül’s success stories of diplomacy in the Syrian capital. The general Ğ and increasingly unconvincing Ğ idea is based on the premise that in comparison to the Western powers Turkey possesses better skills and historic background to deal with the Middle East. The Turkish government, now with its own "Kissinger" at the helm of official policy-making, hopes that this situation entitles Turkey not only to be the mediator between two conflicting parties in the region, but also to act as liaison to Western interests.

According to President Gül’s account, "Syria is ’our friend and brother,’ and ’Turkey’s gateway to the Middle East’ and, in return, Turkey is ’Syria’s gateway to Europe.’" Gül believes that "whatever is in the best interest of the Turkish and Syrian people we will take it to that level in our relationships." But there are certainly many other angles of this mood of diplomatic romance. One is hope for increased Turkish investment in Syria.

This has long been in the waiting, but there still are no clear plans, although bilateral trade has increased significantly Ğ yet standing at insignificant sums of dollars. Tourism falls into the same category of topics. There is some Turkish investment into Syria’s shy but promising tourist industry, but it may take a long time before anyone can seriously talk about serious business across the border.

The punch line is that there is much rhetoric but not enough evidence to support good wishes.

In the meantime, it is estimated that the PKK has about 3,000-5,000 men of Syrian descent holed up in the mountains of northern Iraq. Could, therefore, Syria cooperate in bringing those men from the mountains to justice in one way or another? As the Kurds are spread over four countries Ğ Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey Ğ any Turkish-Syrian cooperation will affect Iraq and Iran as well. We can also safely guess that Turkish-Syrian talks do cover relations with regard to Iran and Iraq as well Ğ the third country dimension in the Ankara-Damascus axis.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad still applauds the Turkish Parliament’s March 1, 2003, decision not to let the U.S. troops through the Turkish border into Iraq.

A significant part of political science is about decoding what the leaders mean beyond their words.

That is just like the way the hakawati tells one story: We as individual customers of the coffee shop retain different morals and so do the parts of the diplomatic world deduce different outcomes.

One has to understand what lies beyond the words. Does, for example, President al-Assad genuinely appreciate the Turkish decision for not cooperating with the Americans as a premise on "being a good ally with the Arabs" or as "acting in the best way that is fit for the Turkish interests?" When all is said and done, how does all that translate into the Turco-Syrian and even Turco-Syrian-Iranian cooperation against the PKK and other fractions of terrorist atrocities? The precarious question that the Turkish public wonders Ğ as much as the Syrian public might Ğ how will all this sweet talk translate into their real life acts?

This part of the world has always been full of bandwagoning, story-telling or both. Folkloric diplomacy in these lands has very rarely yielded collective benefits.

Will the Turco-Syrian diplomatic journey from the brink of war to hugs, kisses and romance make an exception? We can only hope it will.

But in today’s world where a common use of the Internet is to bet even on whether your next door neighbor will crash his car in the next three weeks, I personally would not put any money on anything combining the words "collective" and "benefit" in this part of the world.
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You’ve got mail, Your Excellency! (II)

Last week, this column was host to an expatriate reader’s widely "optimistic" comments on Turkey’s new (or, rather, newly formalized) foreign policy czar. Today, there is another expatriate guest, with rather more "cautious" comments on Ahmet Davutoğlu as our new foreign minister. So, here are the overseas lines that reminded me of a situation that could possibly be best described as the "old wine in a new bottle." "É I see too much expansion in places unrelated to main Turkish foreign policy goals: Do we really need to be involved in Pakistan-Israel talks while we have issues more urgent in Cyprus and regarding the Turcoman in northern Iraq?

Can the Justice and Development Party [AKP] ever commit properly for full EU membership while the leadership looks more to the East than the West?

"Davutoğlu chose to go to the International Islamic University in Malaysia, which is no longer given accreditation by the Higher Education Council in Turkey. Does the AKP really want to join the EU or is it riding the EU tide to enhance its own [political] interests and goals?

"Zero-problem-with-the-neighbors policy may sound good but it has not delivered many of its expected promises. Do we now have better relations with Azerbaijan? How about our inability to react promptly during the Georgian crisis of last August? Can the zero-problem policy be carried out without the blessings of the United States?

"Strategic depth assumes that Turkey can delve into the depth of knowledge and historic background in the lands where the Ottoman Empire reigned.

However, much has changed since that time, and how much of the empire’s political heritage has been left to the modern day Turkish diplomats? Has the whole premise of the modern day Turkish Republic not been about going against the ’Ottoman backwardness?’ If that is the case, how can we expect these diplomats to delve into a wealth of heritage they lack? What are the goals of peacemaking attempts?

"It is great that Turkey wants to be involved more and more in peace-making.

Yes, ’blessed are the peace-makers’ (Matthew 5:9). But what are the ultimate long- and medium-term goals of these peacemaking attempts?

It is not only the know-how, technocrats being invested but the Turkish Republic also spends quite a good sum of money on back-channeling, so the taxpayer should have a right to ask on what purpose do we spend this money?

"If Turkey is a side in a conflict, how can it hope to be the peacemaker? Can Professor Davutoğlu stand against the temper of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his short-term election of goals in his making of the foreign minister?

Are the payoffs of investing our precious resources in the Middle East and Africa worth for straying away from the EU track?

"Most importantly, if Professor Davutoğlu accepted this post because he was under much pressure from the prime minister Ğ who probably didn’t know whom else to appoint for this task Ğ would being on the forefront not mean a loss of ability to generate behind closed doors, quiet diplomacy where secrecy gives the freedom to generate successful agreements in the international forum? If Mr Davutoğlu is on the forefront, who will be the man behind the scene carrying the flag of ’peacemaking, intermediation’ for Turkey’s newly found roles in the Middle East?

"One should also consider the fact that starting with the attempt to bring peace to these rogue states Turkey has touched the bee hives long detested. Friends are not easy to make and if they are your permanent neighbors, good fences alone might not suffice for good relations. We do not get to choose our neighbors, but we should be able to shape the nature of our relationships.

Professor Davutoğlu has rightly pointed out that there might not have been ’positive’ peace, but the lack of conflict on its own is a major success at this time. É

"Another major criticism of the extrovert Turkish foreign minister: What benefits can neo-Ottomanism deliver? Some have commented that this is not even neo-Ottomanism because its range is wider than the Ottoman territories, i.e. Central Asia, Pakistan, Afghanistan. É Someone might ask why should Turkey not focus on Cyprus but try to deal with the Arabs.

"These are all valid questions and should be properly answered. However, what matters most now is the fact that after years of staying ’unlinked,’ Professor Davutoğlu became the official face, coming under more scrutiny than before.

No one can run foreign policy alone. ’Career diplomats’ and the minister’s visions might not always be in line, and whether Mr. Davutoğlu can benefit from diverse ideas and visions is yet to be seen.

"In the meantime, we all know that the AKP will do its best to process the harmonization of the laws in accordance with its own best interests.

For anyone who can have the patience to study (please note that I do not say read) his book ’Strategic Depth: The International Position of Turkey (almost 600 pages), 2001,’ one of his many valuable publications, it should be clear that this is a man of not only knowledge but also a great vision. So, sure, he is qualified, but is he good enough?"

(Un)surprisingly, none of the two expatriate readers who "visited" this column with interesting comments on "Mr. Turkish Kissinger" did remind us of what he had to say upon an official ceremony in his honor with the Ottoman military band playing the warfare tunes from a few centuries ago.

The Ottoman military band, Mr. Davutoglu said, "is our soul." He may be right. The regular Ottoman tune was "two steps forward, one step backward."
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You’ve got mail, your excellency! (I)

"Foreign ministers are not, as a rule, the principal architects of foreign policy but they are, frequently, the principal foreign policy advisers in relation to the governmental decision process, hence strategically placed for exercising influence over that process." The quote belongs to prominent political scientist George Modelski (The World's Foreign Ministers: A Political Elite, Journal of Conflict Resolution).

Yes, we are all optimistic, or cautiously optimistic, about the "Turkish Kissinger." Part of the optimism comes from the fact that no one can possibly do worse than Ali Babacan. But let’s try not to be unfair to Professor Ahmet Davutoğlu. The new minister of foreign affairs has got a couple of letters from the Turkish diaspora. I shall leave the floor to both letters today and next week, hoping that it might be useful to lend an ear to these partially converging views.

Here we go:

"Since I am a member of the Turkish diaspora, I cannot comment in detail about other ministries but please allow me to make a couple of points with respect to Professor Davutoğlu’s appointment as the new foreign minister.

"It is always a pleasure to have a foreign minister who himself resided out of the country. Davutoğlu brings a great wealth of knowledge with him, and that on its own should be a source of pride for usÉ Has it not always been a source of criticism that our leaders lack proficiency in foreign languages? Or their educational credentials are lacking? Well, here we have found a professor of international relations with exceptionally fine colors, someone who can command more than one foreign language and who has excellent the academic credentials as wellÉ

"Mr Davutoğlu is no longer behind the doors. He is now officially associated with the Justice and Development Party (AKP)É Like anyone else involved in policy-making he has made mistakes and he has been under the spotlight for years now. But there is more than that about him:

"First is the fact that the Turkish foreign ministry for years followed a very ’reactionary’ approach, that is Turkey reacted whenever there was a problem. We saw signs of change under charismatic leaders, such as (Turgut) Özal, but until the last couple of years, we could not call the foreign ministry ’visionary.’ Behind the vague slogan of ’peace at home, peace in the world,’ Turkey played a low-key position in many regions in the hands of career diplomats Ğ whose main concern is to be accredited to posts in 'western' countries, and frequently changing rather insignificant foreign ministers. Survival as a foreign minister under coalition governments in the 1990s was not easy.

"One path Turkey focused on was the ’West’, even though not many people were sure about how to go west, or be a part of the West. One sincere concern of many ’secularists’ Ğ and maybe some career diplomats Ğ was that if the Islamists took over we would lose our Western orientation.

This has been much debated and will be debated in the next decade as well, so acknowledging but not dwelling on the question, one has to ask in the last six years of post-Islamist rule, how has the Turkish foreign ministry changed? I argue that the question of whether Turkey’s orientation towards the West has been altered or not is the wrong way to address the issue. With the West, what is meant is the institutions of the Western civilization, such as NATO and the EU.

Therefore, we can summarize this as relations with the United States and Europe. Our relations with the U.S., with its possible ups and downs, have been at best not drastically mismanaged. The same cannot be said for the EU. For many years the Turkish diaspora held similar hopes for an eventual accession. However, for those of us who know the voting procedure and the institutional structure of the EU, full membership, as it stands today, is not possible. We all would like to keep the audacity to hope alive, plus many believe that with the goal of becoming an EU member, ’harmonization’ of several laws might indeed benefit Turkey in the long-run. I have no qualms in trying to improve laws and the general well-being of Turkey, even if it is behind the veil of misguided hope; however, it is a rather dangerous game to keep attached to ’false hopes’ in the long run.

I believe Professor Davutoğlu and his team see the bottom line that Turkey will most likely not become a full EU member; therefore, we need to re-establish our identity. High expectations lead to major disappointments which can then generate social disillusionment. "This brings us to the reorientation of the foreign ministry towards other regions. Some refer to this as ’rediscovering’ our roots, Muslim identity, or other historic attachments, i.e. neo-Ottomanism.

Professor Davutoğlu has continuously struggled to emphasize that it is not mutually-exclusive, that one can have friends in the West and the East without necessarily being the ’bridge’ countryÉ

"Turkish attempts to broker peace proved to be a more challenging task than ever imagined; it also demonstrated major crevasses in our identity. When it comes to peace-making while making headlines all over the world at Davos, we discovered the fact that we are not Norway at equidistance to the two sides involved. That said, one has to applaud Mr Davutoğlu for his success with ’zero-problem-policy’ with our neighbors, particularly Syria and IranÉ

"We share definitely more than the same prophet and cooperation with our neighbors long forgotten (except in times of support of terrorist activities) can benefit Turkey on multiple levels.

Changing images and generating cooperation with countries we were almost on the brink of war only a decade ago is not easy in this region and we need to understand that even if Turkey does not become the ultimate ’mediator’ between Israel and Syria, even if both countries were to prefer the U.S. rather than Turkey, still for improved relations with Syria and Iran, Davutoğlu deserves kudos from his harshest critics."
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Did I say a land of lunacy? I was too sanguine

When I wrote last week "The rough guide to Turkey: A land of history, sunshine and lunacy" (Daily News, May 1), I did not know I was underestimating the Crescent and Star. Only a few days after that article appeared in this column, what became "international breaking news" informed us about the massacre in a Kurdish village. Did I say lunacy? I did, not realizing the limits it could reach in these lands. Lunacy, in our holy country, may come in the form of bullets shot in the air and ending up in infant bodies after football victories or other merry celebrations.

It may come in the form of traffic brawls ending with five coffins and three life sentences. It once came in the news headline that read, "Motorbike crashes into train, five dead." No, that was not a typo, I checked later; there really were, mysteriously, five people on top of a scooter that had run into the train. Most recently it came in the form of a scuffle between a shop owner, his son and a street vendor over a few liras, ending up with the stabbing death of one, the injury of another and, naturally, with the third man now in jail. The sum of all that is called "culture."

After the killing of 44 people in Mardin’s now infamous Bilge village hit the headlines, everyone had his own explanation. With a little bit of more creative effort, we could have read more amusing hypotheses. I still expect the Ergenekon

prosecutors should find a link between the massacre and the shadowy Kemalist organization they have been investigating. The "liberal Islamists" too have disappointed me with their lack of creativity. As soon as the bad news broke, I instantly prepared myself to read intellectual theories linking the killings to the archaic teachings of Kemalist secularism.

Better late than never. So I am quite prepared to give some ideas. How about proposing a theory arguing that the massacre would never have taken place should the campus ban on the Islamic turban had been removed? Yes, the theory should continue that without the ban the girl Ğ whose marriage to a local man was reportedly among the motives behind the killings Ğ would have studied at a university and, therefore, not have had to marry at this most unfortunate wedding. Hence, no killings.

More conventional Islamists can always find a link between the carnage and insufficient Quranic teaching of those involved in it. We can thus safely conclude that less secular and more Islamic education could have prevented the bloodbath. There may also be theories finding a link between the killings and Turkish nationalism. If someone has not yet found any, I humbly suggest a few:

1. If the Turkish state had given the poor, peaceful Kurds a chance to enjoy their cultural rights, these poor, always peaceful Kurds would not have shot each other. 2. If the Turkish state had not conspired to have Kurds killing Kurds by arming some Kurds, this tragedy would not have happened. 3. The Kurdish suspects are only a pawn in a game in which Turkish nationalists committed the atrocities and put the blame on innocent Kurds. Would sane men kill their relatives and friends?

Unfortunately, the sad truth is hidden in the politically incorrect word "ethno-culture." We are programmed to think that generations progress, evolve and change into something "better" when we see people using the latest models of mobile phones, drive better cars and shop at fancy malls. What we often ignore is the fact that subscribing to objects of modern life can hardly modernize cultures. Too bad, (ethno) cultures are probably the stickiest thing as they always resist change, overtly or covertly.

Another theory: The village guards armed by the state could not kill en mass if their automatic rifles had not been made available to them? Oh, really? The Kurds before the village guard system never massacred each other, never subscribed to honor killings of all sorts, never resorted to violence to sort out financial or family disputes. They never priced their brides by the number of sheep, never raped women or never settled rape with taking a bride from the rapist’s family Ğ a tradition called "berdel," a bride in return for rapeÉ

Poverty as the main reason for the bloodbath? Let’s talk about facts. Bilge is probably not the poorest village on earth. There are probably hundreds of thousands of poorer settlements in the world where such killings would never take place. And both the killers and the victims were probably much wealthier than millions of other Turks and Kurds who cannot even fantasize such brutality.

Then we learned that Mardin’s governor, Hasan Duruer, argued that sending children to same-sex schools could be a remedy. With that proposal Duruer may have secured a promotion by appealing to the ears of his Islamist bosses in Ankara. But he is probably not a deep thinker on sociological problems. A better idea to prevent killings related to women could be burying girl babies six feet under as soon as they are born, or forcefully aborting the baby girl once the gender is known. Having buried our dead we can now avoid the politically incorrect diagnosis and pretend that "such terrible things do happen in the EU zone, too."
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America’s difficult export commodity: democracy

President George W. Bush tried to sell it by a strategy of aggression. Unsurprisingly, he failed. Now there is a new man at the helm who wants to sell the same commodity to far away markets of Arabia, not by force, but by what pundits call the "mellow doctrine." Will it work? It may, but the "return on investment" would certainly not accrue during President Barack Obama’s tenure, not even if he is re-elected for a second term. This is going to be a very long-term investment, worth trying because there is no alternative but may not eventually yield the desired returns.

Sadly, there is an incompatibility between the commodity America wants to ’export’ and the consumption patterns of the target market. No, this is not a mission impossible; it’s not trying to sell pork in Saudi Arabia. It just looks like mission almost impossible. Or such was the impression I got during the two-day conference this week in Doha, Qatar, where this particular American export commodity and its exportability to Middle Eastern markets were discussed.

Unfortunately, President Obama took over from "point well below zero," not even zero. In Doha, the Americans were a little naively Ğ and as almost always, without a powerful sense of empathy Ğ trying, if not to market the commodity themselves, to have some intellectual impact on the market so as to increase its fitness for export. They were confronted with resentful intellectual "buyers" from the Middle East, who apparently had bad nerves about the idea of democracy being imposed on their nations. Blame it on Bush’s bad legacy, but realistic questions floated in the air, like, "If the U.S. supports democracy and democratic values, why does it intervene in the affairs of democratically elected leaders like Hugo Chavez [of Venezuela] or Evo Morales [of Bolivia]?"

Or like, "Which part of the U.N. charter can democracy be compatible with interference in sovereign nation’s internal affairs?" Or like, "Can there be democracy where there is no economic and social justice?" Or even like, "Was the Israeli military offensive against Gaza fully compatible with the democratic values the Americans hope to export to this part of the world?" Tough questions. But the Americans had a luggage full of nice, polite, theoretically convincing answers, like, "We don’t advocate exporting American values, we advocate exporting universal values." Or like, "What’s wrong with advocating ideas against torture and for fair trial, free speech and gender equality?" These explanations are problematic on many fronts, not only because they seemingly fail to convince even the "liberal/intellectual Arabia," let alone the "ordinary and radical Arabia."

America has a major problem in this grandiose export project. Its talk of defending democracy is too weak to convince even the most pro-American buyers. There is either laughter, or shy smiles; the former when the object is neutral, and the latter when the object is pro-American. For everyone knows America does not care about defending democracy in non-democratic parts of the world: It does so when it fits its interests and just turns around and whistles when it does not.

That double-standard argument comes in addition to America’s own failings terribly highlighted during two terms of Republican rule, like Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, axis-of-evil moral certitude and the schoolyard politics of punishment, to name a few.

What, otherwise, could explain why the Americans are so keen on democracy in Russia, Belarus, Iran, China, but not so keen when it comes to Saudi Arabia, Georgia, Egypt, Jordan and even the host country for the Doha forum? Do the Americans have a problem about the undemocratic practice in this selected list of ’friendly regimes/countries"? Certainly not. If, an Arab participant told me with resentment, the Americans can play the happy-go-lucky with the Arabian kingdoms and emirates, why should they not do so with the Russians and the Chinese? I smiled at his remarks the next day when I was reading "the nation briefs" column in the Qatar Tribune, supposedly the Qatari version of this newspaper. This was the list of headlines in the nation briefs as they appeared on the page:

Emir to visit Saudi Arabia today

Emir receives Darfur panel members

Emir meets Israeli Knesset members

Emir receives letter from Congolese president

Emir receives Oman minister...

The next article went out of line and was headlined "Cypriot president to visit Qatar today." But of course, the news said the Cypriot president would hold talks with Emir...

Do the Americans complain? Oh, no!
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The sick man of no man’s land

A century and a half after the Ottoman state earned the name the "Sick Man of Europe," its successor state shows symptoms of sickness again, but this time it does not even belong to Europe. I read Yasar Büyükanıt’s remarks at a Ğ physical Ğ distance. Listening to speakers at the Middle East conference in Doha, Qatar, my mind was busy thinking what the former chief of the military general staff told an academic gathering back in Ankara: "If state agencies don’t trust each other, that state is problematic. If, I, as a soldier, don’t trust the police intelligence É because the police intelligence is collecting intelligence against me [the military]; É the Justice Ministry doesn’t trust the Interior Ministry; the National Intelligence Organization [or MİT] to police intelligence; and police intelligence to the MİT É then this state is ailing."

Ironically, Büyükanıt’s remarks fell into the public domain at the same moment the panelists and participants at this conference were debating the idea of enhancing democracy in the Middle East, dancing around themes like "the spread of democracy and freedoms is the global trend," "information and democracy are globalizing," and "democracy is a slow and gradual process."

In fact, Büyükanıt did not say anything new or unknown to any Turk. He did not reveal the contents of his historic handshake with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan two years earlier, either. He merely told an ordinary audience the ordinary open secret every ordinary Turk knows is an open secret. That, however, does not mean his diagnosis is too ordinary to take seriously. More than a century after it earned the malady as a tag, the Turkish state is sick again.

But do we not assume we have a flourishing democracy? Two parliamentary and two local elections in less than seven years? The will of the nation? An Islamist government that has managed to cohabit with the ’guardians of secularism’ for more than six years? Flaws, there are many. But is Turkey not an official candidate for full membership in the EU? Have we not reformed our laws? All the answers are positive. Yet we have a sick man around pretending to be an athlete. But what’s wrong in all that favorable set-up, faking as democracy?

Back in Doha, I revisited some of the answers. According to Sir Jeremy Greenstock, director of the Ditchley Foundation in the United Kingdom, "Democracy isn’t just elections, but rather it has to be based on an accumulation of institutional behavior." Too bad that in the last three decades only Turkey has either been ruled by democratically elected autocrats or by autocrats. According to Pascal Boniface, director for the France-based Institute for International and Strategic Relations, "Democracy may be the best system, but unfortunately it does not guarantee peace."

Speaking at the same conference, Jack Rosen, president of the New York-based World Jewish Council, pointed to what Erdoğan, et al., often love to ignore: America’s founding fathers didn’t quite believe in the miraculous virtues of the popular vote. Therefore the American example is about a quest for a balance between democracy and checks on democracy. Democracy does not mean pure popular rule only. Amusingly, when a participant claimed Rosen mentioned Egypt and Jordan as democracies, he instantly corrected: "I didn’t say Egypt and Jordan are democracies. I said there are parliamentary elections in Egypt and Jordan."

The truth is Ğ how many years did we think Turkey was away from the EU when Erdoğan’s pragma-Islamists (part-time pragmatist, part-time Islamists) came to power in 2002? 10-15 years? Yes. How many years is Turkey probably away from the EU after six-and-a-half years of pragma-Islamist rule? 10-15 years, at best. How many years will Turkey possibly be away from the EU after another two terms of pragma-Islamist rule? Most likely, 10-15 years. With a little bit of luck, the next century may even see the Sick Man of the Orient.
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The rough guide to Turkey: A land of history, sunshine and lunacy

Anyone who has lived long enough in the Crescent and Star country can instantly think of a thousand entries that could be listed under the "only in Turkey" heading. Narrowing the scope to politics would surely shorten the list, but would never make it boring. The Turks may not be too good at chess, but they are certainly too well qualified in puzzling others. I, for my part, cannot easily think of another country where the president gives a red-carpet reception to the official leader of the last coup d’etat while the prosecutors arrest dozens on suspicion that they might have been involved in attempts that could have led to a coup that never took place.

I cannot think of another country, either, where the ruling party has been convicted by the country’s top court for having undermined the Constitution. Political verdict? Do the high and mighty in Ankara not keep on telling us that our judiciary is independent? Ah, yes, that was within a totally different context.

Yes, we have "independent" judges hunting down every possible government opponent, but 10 out of 11 members of our Constitutional Court are not independent Ğ yes, the only member of the supreme court who does not have a degree in law is an independent judge because he had ruled against the verdict that declared the ruling party unconstitutional. Yes, that will be all very fair in a land of lunacy. My mind travelled a couple of days back when I sat down to listen to İlker Başbuğ, chief of the military, on Wednesday. On Monday, at the opening of the grandiose Turkish weapons exhibition, IDEF, a Turkish manufacturer had proudly launched the country’s first mine-protected military vehicle. Big speeches were made, hands were shaken, and probably lucrative contracts will follow. Company executives were smiling. So were the generals and civilian defense procurement authorities. Festivities of all kinds to celebrate an armored vehicle, which was niceÉ

Two days later, only hours before Gen. Başbuğ’s speech, news broke that a land mine that was operated by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, had blown up an armored military vehicle, killing nine soldiers. I have already lost count of the soldiers killed in PKK attacks by means of improvised explosive devices. Gen. Başbuğ told Wednesday’s well-attended press meeting that the blown-up vehicle had armor protection as thick as 4.5 centimeters, but, too bad, the bomb was just too powerful. We are all sorry. After having read plenty of "intellectual" comments on Gen. Başbuğ’s lengthy speech, the second this month, I decided to have a look at what "ordinary" Turks had commented on it. I must have read a few hundred readers’ comments on various Web pages flagging mainstream and not-so-mainstream newspapers. I found one particularly frustrated reader addressing the chief of general staff: "Pasha! Can’t you just get 15 centimeters-thick armor if 4.5 centimeters won’t save our soldiers? Enough with condolences and mourning!"

Most readers hailed and praised our heroic army and proposed "only in Turkey" solutions to terror, ranging from curfew and martial law in Diyarbakır to total invasion of northern Iraq and capture of Mosoul and Kirkuk. Threats of "a 1,000 eyes for an eye" and "until the last dribbling of PKK blood" were floating in the virtual air.

One reader recalled Gen. Başbuğ’s repeated advice against pessimism and commented: "There is only one thing worse than pessimism: To become inured to something. We have been hearing this ’don’t-be-pessimistic’ tale for 25 years." One of the most commonly-pronounced words in those hundreds of readers’ comments was the name of a country. No, not the United States. Yes, there was a lot of U.S.-bashing too. But another country’s name appeared more often in a way sadly telling us of what this column once named "the great Turkish hypocrisy." That country’s name is Israel.

The "ordinary Turks" in their columns of comments were urging the Turkish government and the military "to do exactly as Israel does when it is confronted with terrorists." The "commentators" were probably the same people who, in the same columns, must have written in earlier days how "we should get organized to teach the murderer Jews a lesson for their atrocities against innocent Palestinians." Now, there is some collective malady here.

When Israel fights its own war against what it views as terrorists the Turks jump up and shout and protest. They hail their prime minister because he taught "that Jew" a lesson at Davos. They rush to the airport to greet the "hero of Davos." Then a few weeks later they wake up to bad news from their own "war zone" and learn 10 soldiers had been killed by the terrorists. Then their immediate reflex is to make a big chorus of people shouting out to their leaders: "Why can’t you do as the Israelis do?" What does all that tell? That É Turkey is a state of law where the top court has declared the ruling party unconstitutional; where we celebrate super armored vehicles but our soldiers die en masse in mine attacks; where committing a coup can make you a dignitary but opposing the government can put you in jail under charges of coup; where we want to invade northern Iraq but unanimously oppose if some other country invades another; where we hate Israel because it counters terror brutally but expect our country to do the same when we lose our soldiers in terror.

Welcome to the land of lunacy!
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