Burak Bekdil

Folly is a Turkish delight!

10 Temmuz 2009
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?

8 Temmuz 2009
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’

3 Temmuz 2009
"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!

1 Temmuz 2009
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?

27 Haziran 2009
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...

24 Haziran 2009
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

19 Haziran 2009
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

17 Haziran 2009
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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