Turkish diaspora see Erdoğan as ‘healer’ of frustrations

Extracts from an interview with Professor Ayhan Kaya

From the start I have challenged the rise of “civilizational” discourse, which originates from the “clash of civilizations” paradigm introduced by Samuel Huntington, based on the idea that Muslims and Christians cannot live together simply because they are from two different civilizations. Civilization cannot simply be reduced to religions, it is much more of a material process related to urbanization, industrialization, etc.

1*0Fe6fTDdKidxPXKCNrljtgLook at what happened in Palestine. Israel killed more than 60 Palestinians and this shows there is no global justice. One of the reasons why there is more radicalization among Muslim-origin youths towards Islamism is the belief that there is no global justice.

Right-wing populist parties are instrumentalizing the fear of refugees and fear of Islam for their own use. In our interviews in six countries with supporters of right-wing populist parties, we saw that they are not actually too hostile to refugees. Rather, they are hostile to settled migrants.

In our research in different European countries we saw what Erdoğan signifies for many members of the Turkish-origin public. He is seen as the person who can heal the sources of their problems. What many see in the image of Erdoğan is a strong personality who can challenge European leaders.

We don’t really see much radicalization among Turkish-origin youths in terms of jihadism. We see that more among members of the North African diaspora. I think one of the reasons for this is the Ottoman past. The Ottomans were never colonized, which gives them a difference in terms of their identification compared to North Africans. 

The misperception about Islamophobes in Europe is contributing to the rise of anti-Westernism among Turkish politicians, some of whom have started to suggest there is a “war between the crescent and the cross.” This is completely wrong; the war is between the rich and the poor, the center and the periphery.

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Remembering and revising history – Smash that statue!

It seems to have become a worldwide phenomenon recently, almost an epidemic – statue-smashing. It used to be just Islamic fundamentalists – the Taliban in Afghanistan, for example – but suddenly everyone seems to be doing it, and I have to tell you, I’m confused.

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Diogenes the Cynic

Of course, religious fanatics are still at it. In Turkey there’s been a spate of attacks on statues of Atatürk, the revered founder of the Republic. And in Sinop on the Black Sea coast, members of a local conservative religious foundation have taken exception to the effigy of an ancient Greek philosopher that stands on the outskirts of town, demanding its removal.

Well it’s easy to dismiss religious fundamentalists as cranks and nutcases, but clearly there are political motives at work too. We’ve been following with interest events in the USA, where violence erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia over some controversial statuary, and the trouble has apparently spread further afield. Hundreds of protestors gathered at the campus of North Carolina University insisting that a statue of a Confederate soldier be torn down. Adding fuel to the fire, a prominent businessman, politician and diplomat, Ray Mabus, called such images “monuments to treason” and insisted that they “must be removed now and forever”.

Meanwhile, a news item from Australia informed me that “there is fury” over a statue of Captain Cook in Sydney’s Hyde Park. In this case, it’s not so much the figurine itself raising hackles, but the inscription on the pedestal claiming that the 18th century British explorer “discovered this territory”. Spokespersons for the indigenous aboriginal community are pointing out that the country wasn’t actually in need of discovering since there had been people living there for 60,000 years or so.

Carrot

Carrot adventures

So who’s right, and who’s at fault? Clearly human beings love making graven images – have done since time immemorial – to remember a famous person, to commemorate an event, to show off their wealth or prestige, to worship in place of an invisible deity . . . Most of the time they sit discreetly on their plinths quietly collecting verdigris and bird droppings. Some people think having an enormous model of a carrot (yes, a carrot!) in the New Zealand town of Ohakune is a great idea. Others think it’s pretty stupid, but no one seems to get overcome with blind destructive hatred. Same goes for the giant lobster in Kingston, South Australia. Some local authority in Paris, France, had a 12-metre, 18-tonne bronze thumb erected in their neighbourhood, and I haven’t heard of any complaints. Akşehir in Turkey, birthplace of Nasrddin Hodja, contains several sculptures of the legendary folk philosopher, of which citizens are rather proud.

On the other hand, America’s one-time allies in Afghanistan, the Taliban, attracted much international ire when, a few years ago, they dynamited several large statues of Buddha at the ancient site of Bamiyan. It seems the heresies implicit in the Buddhas overrode any historical value they may have had – at least in the opinion of the dynamiters.

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One of the Buddhas – before the dynamiting

This, then, seems to be the nub of the problem. Carrots, lobsters and thumbs are relatively neutral when it comes to arousing emotional response, either positive or negative. Representations of religion, politics (and sex), however, stir strong feelings. In the years after the Roman Empire officially adopted Christianity, zealots of the new faith journeyed around the temples of earlier ages chiselling off female breasts and male appendages from carvings they considered immoral.

We in the post-modern world like to think of ourselves as more enlightened, but many of us have sympathy for the indigenous peoples of Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere, who may not have felt the same way about colonial invaders using superior technological might to steal their land and birthright. So what to do about Captain Cook? Remove the statue? Edit the inscription? Is this, as one politician asserted, “Stalinist revision”, or belated sensitive recognition that the ancestors of the aboriginal inhabitants have a valid point?

What about that statue in the Black Sea town? Diogenes the Cynic is believed to have been born there in the early 5th century BCE when it was an Ionian colony, Sinope. Cynical he may have been, but the poor man can hardly be blamed for the tragic events that unfolded a century ago after the Greek military invasion of Anatolia. Feelings still run high in some circles, on both sides of the Aegean, but I suspect current objections to Diogenes represent a small minority of opinion. Attitudes to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, however, are a far more controversial issue in Turkey. For decades a small elite backed by a powerful military controlled the country, fostering a cult-like adoration of the national hero to suppress religious and political opposition to their rule. I read an interesting article the other day in a Turkish newspaper entitled, “Let’s just stop abusing Atatürk.” The writer, Nazlan Ertan, was finding fault with the pseudo-faithful, who decorate their car rear windows with his signature, prefix their Facebook accounts with the initials TC, and claim to know how the great man would vote in elections and referenda if he were around today. And she has a point.

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Robert E Lee in Charlottesville

All of which brings me to the most recent controversy over symbolic statuary – the one currently raging in the United States over the question of whether representations of Confederate heroes or their cause should be permitted in public places. Personally, I don’t care one way or the other, but it seems to me that the issue has become a focus for the lovers and haters of President Donald Trump to vent their hyperactive spleens. And the man does seem to have polarised opinion in the USA in a way that few of his predecessors were able to do. What is clear is that there is still some feeling in Southern states of the old Confederacy that their cause was just, and they were unfairly treated. It seems also certain that the victors, as is generally the case, wrote the history books with their version of the story. Was slavery the only, or even the main issue over which the Civil war was fought? Were those soldiers of the Union really fighting for the rights of black Americans to be treated equally? I have read suggestions that Abe Lincoln himself wasn’t 100% certain about that. Were their opponents in the Confederate army all slave-owners or believers in the system?

More and more of American history is being shown up as mythology and politically motivated censorship. Books such as James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me, Oliver Stone’s The Untold History of the United States (and its associated TV documentary series) and Stephen Kinzer’s Overthrow, are highlighting serious cracks in the foundations of the American ideal. Maybe we should just pull down all the statues everywhere until we sort the whole business out.

The Mind of a Terrorist – Not that complicated really

First I want to talk about tourism. I’m not a big fan. I did feel sorry for Turkey last year when the Russian government got the pip and told their citizens to stay on local icy beaches for the summer. I know hotels have been closing because governments in Europe (and New Zealand) have been scaring their people off visiting Turkey. Falling visitor numbers impacts on the local economy, and innocent people find themselves out of work.

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Getting away from it all in NZ

On the other hand, everything has a price – and floods of tourists undoubtedly have a negative effect on natural beauties and historical wonders. The ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey’s Aegean region suffers from the trampling feet of millions of visitors. New Zealand’s main attraction for tourists is its clean, green, unspoiled nature. Tourist numbers, however, are multiplying spectacularly, and now it seems, forest trails a tramper might once have trekked in peaceful solitude must now be shared with thousands of others.

So I have mixed feelings on the subject. It does, however, annoy me when I receive yet another email from our Foreign Affairs people at the embassy in Ankara warning me of the terrorism danger in Turkey, and advising me to avoid unnecessary visits to the capital or Istanbul (where I happen to live). I would be interested to know what proportion of visitors to Turkey have been killed or injured in recent years, and to compare it with similar figures for New Zealand.

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Truck driver killed taking selfie on bridge

I read an article recently citing statistics showing that more people died in the last year while taking a “selfie” than were killed by sharks. Just last year two old friends from New Zealand visited us and spent three weeks in the country. In the morning of 28 June we picked up a hire car from Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport – where that afternoon forty people died in a bomb attack. They flew out of the country on 14 July – the day before military officers staged an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow by force the elected government.

What am I trying to say here? There are many ways to die, and most of them are less spectacular than a terrorist bombing. And whether it’s your day to go depends a lot on whether you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. A young woman from Turkey died in New Zealand’s Christchurch earthquake in 2010 – one of 185 people from twenty countries who were certainly in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nevertheless, tourists are flooding to New Zealand, and I never heard that Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was advising citizens to avoid my country. I have read several articles warning about the dangers of taking selfies – but people carry on regardless.

So I guess life will go on in Paris, Manchester and London. Locals will go to work and school, and tourists will still flock to the Louvre, Westminster Abbey and Etihad Stadium (home of Manchester City Football Club). The big problems, in my opinion, are the chattering news media, and governments playing political games.

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Sorry, Mr Harkin – It’s not about her

After the Manchester nightclub attack, my hometown daily, The New Zealand Herald, published an opinion piece by one James Harkin, said to be director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism and a reporter on Syria and the rise of Islamic State. Well, the article was originally printed in the UK’s Daily Mail, so that possibly leaves room for doubt about his actual commitment to “investigative journalism”. After serious investigation, Mr Harkin apparently arrived at the insightful conclusion that the bombers were targeting Ariana Grande’s “revealing stage outfits, her stockings, pink bunny ears and unabashed sexual confidence”. From his work in Syria and his studies of the Koran, Harkin has decided that Islamic extremists have no problem with western governments – their target is “Godless Western decadence” and “the values we all live by.” Do they include pink bunny ears, I wonder?

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Creating terrorists

Well, I’m sorry, Mr Harkin, but you’re wrong. If you haven’t learned the term Asymmetric warfare it’s time you did. It is defined as “war between belligerents whose relative military power differs significantly, or whose strategy or tactics differ significantly. This is typically a war between a standing, professional army and an insurgency or resistance movement.” In other words, George W Bush (and Margaret Thatcher before him) conclusively proved to all the world that confronting the military might of a technologically advanced Western power could only ever have one result. The Boers in South Africa, the Irish republicans, and a hundred other aggrieved, embattled but fiercely determined minority groups have shown that, in their desperation, they can inflict terrible damage. I don’t believe those Manchester bombers really wanted to “slaughter innocent little girls clutching pink balloons on a night out with their mothers at a pop concert”. They would prefer to hit the true war criminals who are hiding safely behind impenetrable layers of security. Unable to get at the political leaders, they commit random acts of terror with the aim of persuading ordinary citizens to pressure their own governments to stop the state terror they are inflicting on innocent people in faraway lands.

Which brings me to the question of cowardice. Another article in my beloved NZ Herald rightly took issue with British politicians calling the Manchester attack an act of cowardice. No one who condones the murdering of innocent civilians in distant countries using unmanned drones or mother-f**king MOABs can claim the moral high ground and call anyone else a coward. Where I part company with the writer is when she says, I don’t believe that’s an act of cowardice. It’s an utterly terrifying and fearless act of self-destruction fuelled by a desire to kill as many as possible, and all in the name of spreading this warped, brutal and extremist ideology.”

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Taking on the British Empire, 1865 – What odds would you give?

Rachel the journalist just doesn’t get it. These people are not out to spread an ideology, though they must surely be fearless and desirous of killing as many as possible. They are fearless because they have lost hope. In the 1860s in New Zealand, a kind of religion emerged among Maori people on the East Coast. Known as Pai Marire, or sometimes Hauhauism, it was a mixture of Christian and traditional spiritual beliefs. Atrocities were certainly committed against white settlers by its adherents. When they ran into hopeless battle against government forces, warriors chanted a kind of prayer, Hapa, hapa, paimarire hau, which they believed gave them immunity from bullets.

Did they really believe that? Were they really fearless? Did they really want to eat the eyeballs of their victims, as some reportedly did? I suspect not. They had lost their land; they were losing their culture, their language and their pride. In their own minds, what was there to live for? But they were angry too, and wanted to vent that anger. So they would take as many others with them as possible when they journeyed to the next world.

Maori novelist Witi Ihımaera, in a short story exploring the issue of Maori pride and sense of loss, ended with the words “No wai te he?” “Who is to blame?” The old man in the story didn’t know the answer – but we, if we are honest, certainly do. More MOABs and drone strikes in the Middle East won’t end the terror.

U.S. and Saudi Arabia Sign $110 Billion Arms Deal

Saudi Arabia – A big priority for all US Presidents! America’s true Muslim friends, champions of democracy, women’s rights and LGBIT freedoms!

I’d like to see a list of what the US arms industry is selling the Sauds – and what they are planning to do with all that hardware.

Time Magazine       May 20, 2017

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What you said, Mr King – Allahu akbar!

(RIYADH, Saudi Arabia) — President Donald Trump and Saudi King Salman signed a series of agreements cementing their countries’ military and economic partnerships.

The two leaders signed a joint vision agreement Saturday at the Saudi Royal Court and sealed it with a handshake.

The agreements also include a military sales deal of about $110 billion, effective immediately, plus another $350 billion over the next 10 years.

The two countries also announced a defense cooperation agreement and private sector agreements Saturday that are intended to create tens of thousands of new jobs in the U.S. defense industry.

Trump has been tending to official business on his first day overseas as president.

“The Limits of Westernization” – A book review

We fortunate denizens of the First World may not think about it too much – but there is a dominant culture on Planet Earth. It’s not all about the English language – but that’s a big part of it. It’s not all about the United States of America – but that’s a big part of it too. Clearly science and technology play a major role, as do economics (Wall Street and the Yankee dollar), oil and coffee beans.

The good people at Columbia University, NY, are to be congratulated for publishing a series of books, “Studies in International and Global History” examining “the transnational and global processes that have shaped the contemporary world.” Their aim, they say, is to “transcend the usual area boundaries and address questions of how history can help us understand contemporary problems, including poverty, inequality, power, political violence and accountability beyond the nation state.”

9780231182027It’s a worthy aim – and if Perin Gürel’s book “The Limits of Westernization – A Cultural History of America in Turkey” is representative of the series, in my opinion, Columbia Press is on to a good thing. Gürel is Assistant Professor in the Department of American Studies at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, USA, an American citizen of Turkish parentage. She is balancing the demands of family and motherhood with a promising academic career, and dedicates this, her first book, to her daughter, Marjane Honey: “May you always keep your love of learning and sense of humor entangled.” Amen! Marjane’s mother seems to be managing, so there is hope for the little one.

In her acknowledgements, Gürel pays generous tribute to a host of academics, friends and family members who she modestly accepts as co-authors of her book, and pre-empts possible criticism by admitting that this work “impetuously pushes the limits of inter/multidisciplinarity”. For me, that is undoubtedly its main strength.

Counting its introduction and postscript, the book’s 200 pages contain six chapters. The essence of Gürel’s thesis relates to the dilemma faced by countries that do not, by birthright, belong to the First World. As the Chinese, Native Americans and the Maori of New Zealand learned, isolating yourself from the dominant culture is not an option. They won’t let you. If you are lucky and sufficiently determined, you may try to find a balance between embracing “modernity”, and preserving the integrity of your native culture. “The Limits of Westernization” discusses aspects of this dilemma using the modern Republic of Turkey as a case study.

Gürel is an academic, writing primarily for her academic peers. Nevertheless, she has managed, at the same time, to produce a work that is meaningful and accessible to the non-specialist lay reader – a commendable achievement!

In her introduction, Gürel outlines the key problem facing Turkey and other developing countries: the siren attraction of modernity, epitomised in the contemporary world by the United States of America, and the fear that the overpowering dominance of that attraction will subvert and destroy the indigenous culture. The leaders/governments of those developing countries attempt to control and direct the process of modernisation/Westernization – while simultaneously, a wild Westernization beyond their control is inevitably taking place.

Chapter One looks at the historical narrative, examining the declining years of the Ottoman Empire and the birth of the modern Republic of Turkey. Gürel discusses the way “history” has been manipulated, in Turkey and the United States, to assist the creation of a national identity. In particular, she focuses on a woman, Halide Edip Adıvar, who seems to exemplify the ambivalence implicit in the emergence of the new Republic.

Chapter Two comes at the issue from a literary angle, and deals with the evolution of the novel in Turkish as writers tried to make sense of the rapidly changing social milieu. The key theme is that allegory was an important aspect of earlier Ottoman literature which exponents of the new genre continued to employ in their attempts to shed light on the seismic changes taking place around them.

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Temel and Fadime feature in many Turkish jokes

In the third chapter, Gürel leaps into the culturally ambiguous realm of humour. In what is perhaps the most perceptive and, for a Western reader, the most entertaining and eye-opening chapter, she gives an overview of the way humour has played a part in reflecting and moulding Turkish attitudes to foreigners over the centuries.

The final chapter deals with issues of sexual identity, in particular contrasting the modern imported concepts of gay-ness/queer-ness, with more traditional attitudes towards sexuality and gender roles. I have to confess, the generation gap kicked in here. I know this is a crucial issue for Millennials. If I were writing the book I might have wound up with a chapter on economics – but there you are.

Gürel’s postscript picks up the “Clash of Civilisations” idea popularised by Samuel Huntington. That writer referred to Turkey as a “torn country” – a disparaging term suggesting that Turkey was “fickle” and unable to decide if it wanted to be East or West. Gürel makes the point that “Turkey was never formally colonised”, and consequently had more room to manoeuvre in the process of modernisation. Nevertheless, she notes that, as the “War on Terror” has moved to the forefront of Western politics, Turkey has suffered from a wilful ignorance – a growing belief in Western countries that Turkey cannot be understood, therefore it is useless to try. “That way,” as Shakespeare’s Lear observed, “madness lies.” Full marks to Perin Gürel for showing us another road.

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The Limits of Westernization – A Cultural History of America in Turkey

Perin E Gürel

Columbia University Press (May 30, 2017)

279 pages

What’s going on out there?

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Another Queen Elizabeth; another woman Prime Minister; another war coming up?

Will another civil war break out in the (Dis)United States?

http://www.latimes.com/projects/la-ed-our-dishonest-president/

Will (Great) Britain declare war on Spain?

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11831007

The upcoming referendum in Turkey pales into insignificance.