American professor says United States behind failed military coup in Turkey

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Good work, prof!

Yes he did! Professor James Petras, according to his bio on Amazon, “is a Bartle Professor (Emeritus) of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York. He is the author of 64 books published in 29 languages, and over 560 articles in professional journals, including the American Sociological Review, British Journal of Sociology, Social Research, Journal of Contemporary Asia, and Journal of Peasant Studies. He has published over 2000 articles in media such as The New York Times, the Guardian, the Nation, Christian Science Monitor, Foreign Policy, New Left Review, and a winner of the American Sociological Association Lifetime Achievement Award.”

Wow! That’s impressive! You’d have to take a guy like that seriously. I was directed the other day to an article he’s had published here, there and everywhere, entitled “Erdoğan’s Turkey Seven Deadly Sins”.

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So who’s lurking behind Fethullah Gülen?

Well, as I’m sure you know, the learned professor is referring to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In fact, Prof. Petras doesn’t have a good word to say about Mr Erdoğan, and his incriminating statements about the United States are buried deep in the 1,389-word paper – but there they are:

“Fethullah Gülen, who was conveniently self-exiled in the US and under the protection of the US intelligence apparatus.

“A Gülenists-led military coup was launched in July 2016, with the tacit support of the US military stationed in Turkey.

“The Gülenists coup was authored and led by its supremo Fethullah Gülen, ensconced in his ‘secret’ private estate in the United States. Clearly the US was implicated in the coup and they rejected Erdoğan’s demands to extradite him.

“Erdoğan backed the brief government of Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood after its electoral victory in 2012 following the ‘Arab Spring’ uprising in Egypt of 2011. This led to a bloody US-backed military coup led by General Abdel Sisi in July 2013 — a lesson not lost on Erdoğan.”

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A book I heartily recommend. Check out the subtitle

Well, Professor Petras doesn’t include any references or sources – unusual for an academic – so we have to take his word for those assertions, as for all the others in his “paper”.  And by the way, the US denied any involvement in the Egypt coup – or even that it was a coup at all! Nevertheless, I’m led to believe Petras is, himself, a reputable source, so we must assume he has evidence to back up his accusations.

I’m hoping, in the interests of fair play, natural justice and journalistic integrity, that Professor Petras will publish a paper providing a little more detail on the United States government’s involvement in these attacks on the elected governments of allies and sovereign states. Many people in Turkey would like to read it.

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Thieves Falling Out? What’s going on with Qatar?

media liesWhy do I follow the mainstream news media? It’s simple. I know they are trying to con me. I know they are telling half-truths, and hiding important information from me. Reading between the lines, however, gives me important clues as to what questions I should be asking to find the answers I really need to know.

So . . . This week I learn that Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are cutting ties with oil rich neighbour and former friend Qatar over “alleged support for terrorism”. Well, good for them, you might think. Great to see high profile Muslim countries taking initiative to stamp out this curse currently plaguing the world.

But wait up. Who exactly are the “terrorists” those dastardly Qataris are “allegedly” supporting? The terrible Taliban? ISIS/Daesh? Al Qaeda? Boko Haram? Apparently not. In fact it’s far more likely those groups are funded by Saudis. The object of Qatari affections seems to be the Muslim Brotherhood. Well, ok. They’re just as bad, aren’t they? With a name like that, they’d have to be terrorists. Certainly movers and shakers in the USA and Israel think so: the Clarion Project, the Gatestone Institute, and Israeli Stand With Us express strong opinions on the subject. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates summed up their case with a simple, if inelegant sound byte: “It seems to me, by and large, if it looks like a duck and it walks like a duck, maybe it’s a duck.”

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. . . or Muslims!

On the other hand, the people at Brookings say no, and there seems to be debate on the matter within Trump’s administration. Back in March, the Big DT was on the verge of issuing an executive order adding the Brotherhood to Washington’s official list of terrorist organisations – but decided to postpone the decision. Apparently cooler heads in his team were arguing that affixing the “terrorist” label would unnecessarily upset some of America’s allies in the region. Clearly, however, other “allies” are strongly in favour, especially the Saud family, the UAE (Dubai etc) and Egypt. So who’s right?

According to a BBC backgrounder, the movement (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun in Arabic) was founded in 1928, and “initially aimed simply to spread Islamic morals and good works, but soon became involved in politics, particularly the fight to rid Egypt of British colonial control and cleanse it of all Western influence.” It’s founder, Hassan al-Banna, did create “a paramilitary wing, the Special Apparatus, whose operatives joined the fight against British rule and engaged in a campaign of bombings and assassinations.” Sounds nasty, but you have to remember that, in those days, Britain was fighting a losing global war to hold on to its rapidly shrinking empire. Their plan to wipe Turkey of the map had been foiled by Kemal Atatürk; and MK Ghandi led India and Pakistan to independence in 1947. In 1956, after President Abdul Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal, the Brits, French and Israelis actually invaded Egypt – but were ordered out by US President Eisenhower.

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That was in 1956

You might think the Muslim Brothers had some cause for indulging in a little active resistance. Not everyone is as patient and peaceful as Mahatma Ghandi. When Hosni Mubarak stood down as President of Egypt in 2011 as a result of “Arab Spring” protests and the (probably reluctant) urging of US President Obama, he had held the position for 29 years, winning “elections” where 70-80% of his citizens didn’t bother to cast a vote. The Muslim Brotherhood had been banned from putting up candidates, but in the first genuinely democratic election in June 2012 they won a comfortable majority. Mohammed Morsi became Egypt’s first democratically elected (and non-military) president. He lasted just over a year. In July 2013 he was ousted by Egypt’s armed forces and his place taken by military commander-in-chief, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Subsequently, the United States and its Western allies have been twisting their tongues into breathtaking contortions to avoid calling the military coup a military coup.

Did the US government’s henchmen have a hand in Morsi’s ousting? Of course they cover their tracks, but we do know that the US had supported Mubarak’s dictatorship, despite his abysmal human rights record. US funding made Egypt’s military the world’s 10th largest, and Egypt reversed its earlier implacable hostility to Israel. It was unlikely that Morsi would have been quite so accommodating to US Middle East policy. US aid was cut off but resumed as soon as Egypt returned to military dictatorship. Go figure, as my North American friends are fond of saying.

Obamas Arab mates

Barack Obama with his Arab mates

Well, Qatar’s tiny population (2.2 million) has the world’s highest per capita GDP, its capital, Doha, is the location for TV broadcaster Al-Jazeera, and the country was selected by FIFA to host the 2022 football World Cup tournament. It’s not exactly a paragon of democratic freedom, but that doesn’t seem to be a major stumbling block to finding favour with US administrations. It does seem that their crime, in the eyes of their neighbours, is lending support to those Muslim Brothers.

Now don’t you think it’s interesting that just after President Donald Trump returns home from a successful visit to his country’s friends in the Middle East, a gang of those friends suddenly decide to pick on a neighbour that has been causing difficulties for the Trump administration? DT wants to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation but some of his advisors are blocking him. Is it possible he suggested to King Salman and the rest of his Arab buddies that now might be a good time to put the screws on Qatar to fall into line?

Whatever the failings of their foreign and domestic programmes, putting the screws on other sovereign states to fall into line is something United States governments are especially good at. We’ve seen what happened in Egypt. We are witnessing (again) what happens to South American nations (Brazil, Venezuela) that think serving their own people takes priority over the interests of US corporations. For all the talk about bringing American-style democracy to the world, we have seen that US administrations are far more comfortable dealing with military dictators than with elected leaders who may have to listen to what their own people are saying.

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Enlisting recruits for Al Qaeda in Yemen

And whatever may have been said in private, President Trump was only too happy to trumpet his success in clinching a deal to sell $110 billion worth of military hardware to the Saudi rulers. In case you were wondering what the Saudis are doing with all those tanks, artillery and helicopter gunships, Time Magazine tells us that it is mostly being used to slaughter people in neighbouring Yemen, one of the world’s poorest countries, currently racked by poverty, starvation and a cholera epidemic. As if the Saudis can’t do enough damage by themselves, the US military has been making its own contribution to peace in the Middle East with commando raids and drone strikes. Tell, me please, who are those poor Yemenis threatening?

Meanwhile Turkey is struggling to persuade its own so-called Western allies to support its struggle against terrorism. Military personnel known to have been involved in the unsuccessful July 15 military coup attempt have taken refuge in EU countries, notably Greece and Germany – and those NATO friends are refusing to hand them over. Fethullah Gülen, believed by Turkey’s government to have been a key figure in efforts to overthrow them, is safely ensconced in his Pennsylvania retreat, while the US government spurns all requests to extradite him. The Pentagon, in open defiance of Ankara’s wishes, is unabashedly supplying military hardware to Kurdish separatist groups in Syria closely allied with the internationally recognised terrorist PKK.

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Supporting autocrats in the Middle East

I read an interesting book review the other day. ‘Sectarianization: Mapping the New Politics of the Middle East’ is a collection of academic articles apparently arguing against Barack Obama’s simplistic assessment of Middle East strife that it is “rooted in conflicts that date back millennia”. So far, so good. The Ottoman dynasty ruled a multicultural, polyglot empire embracing Muslims, Jews and mutually antagonistic Christian sects for six centuries without major sectarian conflict.

Unfortunately, it seems the writers have lurched from one flawed interpretation to another. The reviewer summarises the book’s theme thus: “Behind the current turmoil lies a toxic brew of authoritarianism, kleptocracy, developmental stagnation, state repression, geopolitical rivalry and class dynamics. . . Many of the contributors,” we are told, “make the key point that lethal sectarianism and politicized identities are often manipulated by authoritarian regimes in pursuit of political gain.”

Well, it is undoubtedly true that Hosni Mubarak, for example, made good use of his 29 years as dictator of Egypt to enrich himself and his family. The academics in “Secularization” might have noted, however, that courts in Switzerland and the United States have resisted all attempts by Egyptian authorities to repatriate the tens of millions of dollars stashed by Mubarak in their banks.

The articles seem to attribute the rise of the phenomenon purely and simply to power-hungry “autocrats” in the region stoking internecine hatred for their own purposes. One writer even blames the current lawless chaos in Iraq on neighbours Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, who allegedly sabotaged Washington’s genuine attempts to create “a stable and democratic Iraq”.

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The Big DT with his Israeli mates

Well, I guess we saw in Afghanistan just how genuine was the American desire to bring stability and democracy. After using the Taliban to evict the Russian military from Afghanistan, the United States walked away and left the locals to sort out the mess by themselves – and we’ve seen the result of that. When it suited the White House, they supported Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran. Iran itself had experienced its Islamic revolution as a result of 27 years of US-supported dictatorship by the puppet Shah, installed after a CIA-sponsored coup in 1952. The Saudi royal family gained and retain their power by working with, first the British, and subsequently the United States. Much of the current conflict in the Middle East stems from the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948 by the United Nations aka the United States, which has subsequently supported that government’s expansionist aggression against all objections by the international community.

Is this current business with Qatar just another example of local thieves falling out? I don’t think so.

WTF? – Some thoughts on money, banking and global slavery

swiss-bankingHats off to the Swiss! I never thought I’d see the day when an initiative to reform money and banking originated in in that little haven for the world’s mega-rich to stash their ill-gotten gains! Just goes to show how much things have changed/are changing!

I hope and pray promoters of the move can get the message across to enough of their fellow citizens before the referendum is held – and I imagine they will have plenty of opposition. The Swiss have this nifty system whereby, if a petition carrying enough signatures is presented to their parliament on any issue, it automatically triggers a national referendum.

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Working for sovereign money

The Vollgeld Initiative did just that – and the government is now committed to asking their people whether they want to remove from private bankers the right to create money. Well, you can bet those bankers won’t let that happen without a hell of a fight! If our experience in New Zealand with the referendum on electoral reform is any indicator (and I’m sure it is), the forces of established finance and capitalism will focus all their considerable might on retaining their inalienable right to rip off their fellow earthlings to feed their own greed.

No date has as yet been set for the referendum – and no doubt large sacks of Swiss francs will be expended by interested parties on mounting a huge propaganda campaign to persuade Swiss voters that supporting the Vollgeld Initiative will herald in the end of the world as we know it. Others might argue that would not be altogether a bad thing!

Up until the 1980s we had a political party in New Zealand committed to doing exactly what those Vollgeld people want to do. The Social Credit movement won twenty-one per cent of votes cast in our 1981 General Election, but was denied fair representation in parliament by the ludicrously undemocratic electoral system operating in those days. Nevertheless, shocked out of their complacency by the strength of public support, the forces of reaction combined to deprive Social Crediters of even their minimal parliamentary representation and effectively wiped out the party as a voice for change.

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NZ today – Paradise lost

According to Knight Frank Research, New Zealand now has “the world’s most frenetic property market”, with houses in Auckland selling for an average of $NZ 1 million. Young New Zealanders starting out in life are naturally unhappy they can’t afford to buy a house – something that previous generations took for granted. They are blaming, with some justification, foreign (and local) “investors” for driving up prices. But check this out: an article in the NZ Herald finance section noted, more or less as an aside, that “banks are having to borrow more money on the international market to fund their lending because of a slow-down in retail deposit growth.” So, can someone please explain why banks in New Zealand have to borrow US dollars (I suppose) from abroad and convert them into NZ dollars to lend to people in their own country?

Point One: Banks do not lend the money deposited in accounts to other borrowers. They actually create new money for lending by means of the fractional reserve system (see below).

Point Two: I understand that, if I want to import goods from abroad into New Zealand, I will probably have to use some internationally accepted currency – or work out some kind of bilateral agreement (see below). I totally fail to see, however, why I should have to borrow foreign currency from an offshore bank, and convert it into NZ dollars for spending on something, such as a house, that already exists in my country.

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Good as gold?

The United States government is currently holding in custody an Iranian gentleman with Turkish citizenship, Reza Zarrab, on charges of money laundering. The charges relate to transactions that came to light in December 2013. It seems that Zarrab was facilitating a deal involving the Iranian and Turkish governments, a major Turkish bank, and a large amount of gold, with the aim of circumventing a United States trade embargo on Iran.

Well, certainly it’s not a nice thing to go behind your friend’s back and make deals to his detriment – but let’s look at the background. The United States slapped trade sanctions on Iran in 1979 after an Islamic revolution ousted the Shah, a US puppet who had ruled the country since a CIA-sponsored coup overthrew the democratically elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953. The revolution came after 26 years of misrule during which the rights of most Iranians were subordinated to the interests of the United States oil lobby and a local elite. The Ayatollah Khomeini came to power, 52 American diplomats were taken hostage and held for 444 days, President Jimmy Carter’s reputation was irreparably tarnished, and anyone who wanted to remain friends with America was obliged to cut ties with Iran.

Turkey and Iran are next-door neighbours. They are Muslim countries and their people have a history of close ties going back millennia. They are natural trading partners, and both have goods and services the other needs and wants. Turkey complied with the US’s trade embargo for decades, at considerable cost to its own economic well-being. It’s not always easy, however, for America’s allies to know what they have to do to keep Uncle Sam happy, since his government has a record of switching allegiances and stabbing former allies in the back to suit the short-term interests of its financial backers.

Increasingly, sovereign governments are looking at ways of implementing bilateral deals with trading partners to avoid having to use American dollars and comply with self-seeking American restrictions. Russia, China, and now Turkey all seem to be looking into this very sensible strategy.

Nevertheless, they have to be careful. It may look like common sense, but the present world financial order was set up for a reason – and it wasn’t just to facilitate international trade, and certainly not to improve the lot of the common man and woman in every corner of the globe. The international financiers who control most of what goes on in the world have ways of enforcing compliance with their will, or at least of punishing governments that fail to comply.

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Migrant workers in Saudi Arabia. Spot the Arab

The United States government propped up financially and militarily the despotic 29-year regime of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. When an Arab Spring uprising forced Mubarak’s removal, and Egypt’s first democratic election chose a Muslim to replace him (as you might expect an overwhelmingly Islamic country to do), the mavens of global finance withdrew their support, precipitating an economic crash that led to Mohammed Morsi’s ousting and the reinstatement of a military junta.

Venezuela, possessor of the world’s second-largest oil reserves, is currently experiencing a disastrous economic crisis largely as a result of plunging oil prices. Global oil prices are at their lowest levels for fifteen years, primarily because of the US transforming itself from an importer to an exporter of crude oil. Why would they risk the enormous long-term environmental damage of the oil fracking process? The US has a long history of interfering to ensure the failure and collapse of socialist governments in Central and South America. US-friendly Saudi Arabia can see out a period of low oil prices. Most of their labour force are indentured workers from impoverished Asian nations – unlike Venezuela, whose government has been trying for years to improve the lot of its own poorest citizens.

Turkey’s currency has taken a hammering in recent months on international “money markets”, losing more than 25% of its value since September. My theory is foreign interests opposed to Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdoğan supported local factions in their coup attempt on 15 July. Frustrated by its failure, the attack has turned to a slower but possibly surer method – attacking the nation’s currency to create economic hardship and strengthen local opposition to the AK Party government. For his part, Mr Erdoğan has encouraged citizens to show faith the Turkish Lira and sell off any stockpiles they may have of Yankee dollars.

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F*** the government and the country – buy dollars!

Interestingly, soon after the presidential appeal, a large advertising hoarding appeared in a major thoroughfare near us, urging people to do the opposite, to buy foreign currency! I did my civic duty and complained to the metropolitan council – and the ten-metre billboard has now been removed.

But to return to the Swiss banking reform movement. The people behind the Vollgeld Initiative have set up a website providing answers to crucial questions. Here’s a brief summary:

What is sovereign money?

Most people believe that the money they have in their bank accounts is real money i.e. real Swiss Francs (or pounds Sterling etc). This is wrong! Money in a bank account is only a liability of the bank to the account holder, i.e. a promise the bank makes to provide money, but it is not itself legal tender. 

What would change with the Swiss Sovereign Money Initiative?

The way the money system works today doesn’t comply with the intention of the Swiss Constitution (Article 99: “The Money and Currency System is a matter of the State”). 

What are the fundamental advantages of sovereign money?

Sovereign money in a bank account is completely safe because it is central bank money. It does not disappear when a bank goes bankrupt. Finance bubbles will be avoided because the banks won’t be able to create money any more. The state will be freed from being a hostage, because the banks won’t need to be rescued with taxpayers’ money to keep the whole money-transaction system afloat i.e. the “too big to fail” problem disappears. The financial industry will go back to serving the real economy and society. The money and banking systems will no longer be shrouded in complexity, but will be transparent and understandable.”

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I admit it – It was me!

A recent article in The Economist, while predictably coming out against the proposed monetary reform, nevertheless does provide a delightfully simple analogy to illustrate how the present system works:

“Children are sometimes reassured that new siblings arrive via friendly storks. The reality is messier. Money creation is much the same. The ‘stork’ in this case is the central bank; many think it transfers money to private banks, which act as intermediaries, pushing the money around the economy. In reality, most money is created by private banks. They generate deposits every time they make a loan, a process central banks can influence but not control. That alarms some, who worry that banks use this power heedlessly, thereby stoking disruptive booms and busts.

Campaigners in many rich countries want to strip private banks of the power to create money. In Switzerland members of the “Vollgeld Initiative” presented the government with enough signatures in December to trigger a national referendum on the subject. Bank deposits, they point out, make up some 87% of the readily available money in Switzerland, vastly exceeding notes and coins. Since money creation is the main fuel of both inflation and growth, they argue, it should not be in private hands, let alone entrusted to institutions that are prone to binge and purge.”

Simple enough, huh? If I were you, I’d cut and paste those two paragraphs into my next blog post so that all my readers could learn the truth.

YouTube’s back in Turkey!

Well, I’m not a big YouTube user – to my shame I have never actually uploaded any video content – but I did miss it while it was unavailable. It had happened once before, some years ago, and a younger, more technologically savvy colleague gave me directions to a site that was able to bypass the blockage. As one might have expected, the government was on to that this time around, so the bypass no longer worked. Still, I’m guessing the younger generation in Turkey weren’t unduly disturbed by the ban, except as a matter of democratic principle.
Anyway, I’m delighted to see YouTube up and running again. It’s a marvellous resource, and a further indication of how the Internet and social media have changed our lives in ways that we could scarcely have imagined in that distant 20th century.
The blocking of YouTube (and, I understand, Twitter, though to my greater shame, I haven’t got into that at all) did, however, get me thinking about larger issues to do with social media, the Internet and the big question of censorship.
Much was made in Western news media of the role played by social media in events collectively referred to as The Arab Spring that began in Tunisia in December 2010 and spread rapidly to Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and other Islamic states. The anarchy of the Internet was credited with empowering a switched-on younger generation to achieve greater political awareness and organize themselves in numbers sufficient to overthrow despotic regimes.
Sad to say, a return to military rule in Egypt and the disastrous ongoing civil war in Syria have taken the gloss somewhat off that brave new vernal world of ‘liberty’ and ‘equality’ – and as for ‘brotherhood’, that seems to have become a dirty word rendering further analysis unnecessary. Those much-vaunted social media, it seems, have their limitations when it comes to producing meaningful long-term political change.
Nevertheless, it’s disturbing when governments use their powers to censor our activities. We have come to depend on the Internet and social media so much in our daily lives that it’s hard to imagine a time when people lived in relative contentment without them. It was natural for people in Turkey to feel angry when their government blocked access to YouTube and Twitter. Some are also complaining that the same government is taking measures to control the sale and consumption of alcohol in public places, and to limit the display of naked female flesh on roadside advertising.
Now I have to tell you, I have mixed feelings about these issues. I confess I enjoy the occasional tipple of fermented and even spirituous liquors for relaxation and social purposes. I can appreciate the sight of a well-turned ankle as much as the next red-blooded male. On the other hand, I am well aware that my own homeland, New Zealand, and our near neighbor, Australia, not renowned either of them for alcoholic moderation, impose quite tight restrictions on the sale and consumption of such beverages. As an example, in Melbourne a couple of years ago, I went to Federation Square with my daughter and her partner to watch Australian Open tennis on the giant screen. One would expect a typical Aussie to enjoy a frosty VB or Fosters on such an occasion – but eagle-eyed private security boys were circulating to ensure that they did not.
I can also say that, despite the importance given to eye-catching advertising in subways and other public places in Auckland, Sydney, London and New York, I don’t recall seeing large-size posters of fetching young lasses clad in skimpy underwear or bikinis, of the kind that are commonplace on the streets of Istanbul. Not sure if there’s a law against it – it just doesn’t seem to be the done thing.
Which brings me to the question of censorship – and I have to tell you, I’m against it, as a matter of principle, as, I suspect, are most modern, broad-minded, right-thinking adults in Western societies. At the same time, I can understand why some people feel there should be some control over the dissemination of child pornography, and material depicting actual physical abuse. I have some sympathy for the argument that says children under a certain age should not be exposed to visual material deemed to be ‘adult’ in nature. Google and YouTube actually include such restrictions as part of company policy.
So we have a paradoxical situation here: a conflict between theory and practice which is not easy to resolve. If we accept that some measure of censorship is socially desirable, the question shifts to one of where we will draw the line – and who will have authority to draw it. Again, few of us have confidence in the willingness of private enterprise to regulate its own activities, so in the end, most of us would reluctantly accept that governments have a necessary role to play.
But now, of course, we have given a dangerous power to politicians who, as we suspect, are not always driven by an altruistic concern for the welfare of their people. In the end, those of us fortunate enough to live in democracies have the power of the ballot box where we can call elected governments to account. Between elections, we have the responsibility of participating in the democratic process by joining pressure groups, working for social change though NGOs, even taking to the streets in protest.
I have written elsewhere on the complex nature of democracy. Most writers on the subject agree that there is a continuum from one extreme of absolute slavery to the other of absolute individual freedom – and most countries lie somewhere on the line between. In fact there may even be several components of democracy, such as press freedom, representative electoral systems, separation of church and state, limitations on corporate power, for example, and countries may be ahead in some while lagging behind in others.
The United States and Europe, for example, place, as far as I am aware, no restrictions on the use of social media such as Twitter and YouTube, and some of their political leaders have been outspoken in their criticism of the Turkish Government for doing so.
On the other hand, they seem to see no contradiction between their position on this matter, and what some might see as a greater danger – their willingness to persecute individuals who use the power of the Internet to question the activities of governments and corporations. I’m thinking here of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange – still, as far as I know, holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, threatened with deportation if he emerges; Edward Snowden, epic whistleblower stripped of his US passport and similarly unable to leave Russia; Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning, sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking information many of us think we had a right, even a need, to know. I wouldn’t put New Zealand’s very own Kim Dotcom in the same league as those guys, but nevertheless, I appreciate the light he is shining on the shenanigans of politicians downunder.
What is important, in my opinion, is the responsibility we all have to speak out against corruption and injustice wherever we see it, although doing so will not necessarily win us friends and public acclaim. Our voice of protest, however, will possess greater credibility if we nail our colours to the mast, rather than maintain a safe electronic distance via social media on the Internet. For me, the greatest figures of history are those who were willing to sacrifice personal comfort, even life itself, to achieve a greater social goal:
Not everyone will thank you
for wanting to change the world
Mahatma Gandhi in India, whose 32-year struggle brought no personal wealth, ending in his own assassination – but resulted in independence for his people.
Jesus of Nazareth, who challenged the establishment of his time in unacceptable ways, knowing that they would kill him for it in a most unpleasant way.
Even Turkey’s own Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Despite widespread public adulation, he assuredly faced opposition from vested interests in his own lifetime – and denied himself the important Turkish dreams of family and dynastic succession for the greater goal of building a nation.
And to be fair, that’s why I don’t rank Mr ‘Megaupload’ Dotcom with that other triumvirate of Internet heroes. I’m not convinced there is quite the same spirit of self-sacrifice underlying his actions.

Well, YouTube is back, and I’m happy. I would, however, make a plea to armchair political activists wishing to bring down the Turkish Government. By all means express your views, but at the same time show a little consideration for your fellow citizens who enjoy using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for less controversial purposes.

International Hypocrisy – What about Egypt or your own backyard, Mr Gauck?

To be fair, international media didn’t seem to pay much attention to it. Even the German press seemed to have more important things on its collective mind – which may be understandable given that the role of President is largely ceremonial there, as it is in Turkey.
German President speaking at METU –
a diplomatic faux-pas?
Nevertheless, the visit of German Federal President Joachim Gauck generated some heat in our local media. Normally you would expect such a visit to focus largely on PR activities and photo ops. You’d dine with your Turkish counterpart, open a bi-national university (which, to be fair, he did), utter warm fuzzy words in public about long-standing friendship and hopes for positive cooperation in the future – and save any criticism for meetings behind closed doors.
But no. Apparently Mr Gauck had his agenda mapped out (as you would expect) before touching down in Ankara. English language news outlets in Germany say that, ‘according to the German president’s office the rule of law and fundamental rights will be at the heart of the four-day trip . . . Gauck intends to talk about freedom of the press and freedom of expression.’
Well, given that Germany and France are the two main opponents of Turkey’s admission to the European Union, it’s probably to be expected that the German President would raise those issues. And so he did. In a joint press conference with Turkey’s President Abdullah Gül on April 28, Gauck posed questions about the Turkish government’s intervention in the judicial process and the blocking of access to Twitter and YouTube. Not surprisingly, he didn’t receive anything resembling an explanatory answer. Gül’s response was to mention attacks by ultra-nationalist groups on Turkish residents in Germany, to imply that all countries have issues with democracy, and to suggest that the important thing was for governments to address these issues in a positive way.
That might have been the end of the matter, except that the German President subsequently made a speech at Ankara’s Middle East Technical University, scene of ongoing anti-government protests over the past year. In what some might see as an unnecessarily inflammatory address, Glauck spoke of ‘voices of disappointment, bitterness and outrage at a style of leadership which many see as a risk to democracy.’ He went on to say that ‘he was shocked by the government’s attempts to stamp out street protests and clamp down on the media.’ I don’t know what word Mr Gauck used in German (I assume he was speaking German), but one English language Turkish daily reported that he had said ‘these developments terrify me.’
Turkey’s Prime Minister was characteristically less tactful than his presidential colleague. He was quoted as saying that Mr Gauck should probably keep his opinions on such matters to himself, and that he took a dim view of outsiders interfering in his country’s domestic affairs. In typically abrasive fashion, Mr Erdoğan implied that the former Lutheran pastor was perhaps more accustomed to preaching, and could be having trouble adjusting to his new role as a statesman. You might indeed wonder how US politicians would have viewed the matter if a visiting dignitary from Turkey had made a speech expressing solidarity with ‘Occupy Wall St’ protesters in Zuccotti Park, or how UK parliamentarians would have reacted had Mr Gül sided with rioters in London in late 2011. It’s just not the done thing, as my Grandma Jessie used to say.
Mr Erdoğan went on to question the commitment of Western leaders to democracy when they seemed to be maintaining a determined silence over actions of the military government in Egypt, and I have to say, I’m curious about that too.
News media and politicians in the West were ecstatic when, towards the end of 2010, apparently spontaneous popular movements broke out across the Arab world leading to the overthrow of several manifestly dictatorial regimes. Eighteen days of mass protests in Egypt led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak after a 29-year rule under state of emergency regulations. In what was generally accepted as a democratic election, Mohammed Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party emerged victorious and he became the new president. Morsi, however, only managed one year in office before being deposed by military intervention in June 2013.
Since then, repression of Morsi’s supporters has become increasingly harsh. The so-called Muslim Brotherhood has been declared a terrorist organization, and, in two separate trials, more than 1,200 alleged members have been sentenced to death.
Families of condemned protesters weep in Egypt
In recent weeks, residents of Istanbul have seen US warships steaming through the Bosporus Straits on their way to rattle sabres in the Black Sea in response to the Russian government’s activities in Ukraine. In contrast, the US government and its European allies have been twisting their vocal chords in gymnastic contortions trying to call the military coup in Egypt anything but what it actually was – and maintained a commendably non-interventionist position as the regime killed 1,400 protesting citizens and now condemns a similar number to death with barely a nod in the direction of judicial process.
The CIA website informs me that Egypt has an estimated population of 86,895,099, of whom 90% are Muslims. The country’s ‘constitution’, however, forbids religious involvement in politics – and this seems to be the main justification for the military crackdown. At the same time, Germany lays claim to the democratic high ground while having a President who is a former Lutheran minister, despite nearly 40% of their people not being Christian. I’m not even going to mention the ‘United’ Kingdom of Great Britain, whose Head of State is also head of the state religion – because they’re Christian and so it’s ok. As for born-again George Dubya and his Roman Catholic convert poodle Tony Blah . . .
What the CIA website does not say (but Wikipedia does) is that Egypt has one of the largest armed forces in the world. It has a major arms industry manufacturing equipment under licence from the USA, France and Britain. It has its own spy satellite and the largest navy in Africa, the Middle East and the Arab World. Most of this has been financed by aid from the United States of America, which has reputedly contributed on average $2 billion per year since 1979.
Egypt was one of the early opponents of the new state of Israel when it was founded in 1948. Egypt’s government and people were bitterly opposed to the establishment of Israel, and fought several unsuccessful wars against it. Since 1979, however, successive Egyptian governments, probably against the wishes of most of their people, have adopted a more peaceful stance, established diplomatic relations and even performed a mediating role in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Any connection with the provision of that American aid, I wonder?
Most of that period passed under the rule of President Mubarak who came to power in 1981 after the assassination of Anwar Sadat. Mubarak was apparently wounded in the hand during the assassination, though none of my sources made it clear that the wound was sustained in self-sacrificing defence of his president. Sadat’s nephew Talaat spent a year in prison for suggesting that his uncle’s killing had been the result of an international conspiracy involving the United States, Israel and the Egyptian military. Mubarak was ‘elected’ and ‘re-elected’ four times by ‘referendum’, in three of which there was no alternative candidate.
In spite of widespread poverty and serious wealth disparities, and major concerns expressed by Amnesty International and other human rights groups about political censorship, police brutality, arbitrary detention, torture and restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly, Egypt’s GDP increased significantly during the Mubarak years. Apart from the military aid, it seems that the US and its European allies made other financial contributions as well. Gratitude for Egypt’s participation in Bush the Father’s 1991 Gulf War apparently took the form of major assistance, reputed to have been around $500,000 per soldier provided. In addition, it is said that America, the Arab States of the Persian Gulf, and Europe, forgave Egypt around $14 billion of debt.
What happened after Mubarak resigned, and Mohammed Morsi was elected in the first democratic elections since . . .  ever? The economy suffered a major reverse, ‘popular’ unrest manifested itself in political demonstrations, and the army stepped in to ‘restore order’. The subsequent unrest has been portrayed as Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism, and viciously suppressed. I would like to be persuaded that I am being overly cynical here, but I have a bad feeling our Western leaders are less interested in the spread of democracy than they would have us believe.
German police dealing with Blockupy demonstrators
in Stuttgart
I freely confess I am annoyed about the continued inaccessibility of You Tube in Turkey – and I feel government taxes on petrol and alcohol could be a little less swingeing. At the same time, I have to say I am not unhappy to see a political leader of a major European state taken to task for hypocrisy. If you’re going to dish it out, you’d better be prepared to take it. Joachim Gauck’s freedom-fighting credentials apparently trace back to younger days in East Germany before reunification. Two points need to be made here. The first is that no reasonable comparison can be made between the Soviet era German Democratic Republic and the modern Republic of Turkey. Does Mr Gauck imagine he would have been allowed to deliver such an address on a radicalised university campus in such a state? The second is that police in Germany have shown themselves in recent years just as capable as their Turkish counterparts of suppressing the right to assembly with water cannons, gas and physical violence.
Signs of Germany’s unsavoury history of racist violence still lurk not far beneath the surface. Anti-Turk and anti-Islamic violence, right-wing demonstrations against immigrant communities, and aspiring politicians using nationalist rhetoric to advance their careers seem a recurring feature of the political landscape. One such politician is Thilo Sarrazin, a former banker with well-publicised negative views on Muslim communities in Germany. Our Joachim Gauck is apparently on record as having expressed admiration for Herr Sarrazin’s outspoken opinions. Both gentlemen espouse free-market views on finance and economics, and had little sympathy for German supporters of the ‘Occupy’ movement two years ago.
 
On another related issue, I was somewhat amused to see that PM Erdoğan is asking the United States to extradite ex-patriate Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen to answer charges of conspiring to bring down the government. I have no idea whether those charges have any foundation or not, but I’m as close to stone-cold certain as I can be that we will not be seeing Mr Gülen in Turkey any time soon. The US is very keen to get hold of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden for very similar reasons, and they are not at all happy that the governments of Ecuador and Russia are obstructing them – but I can’t see them sending the Pennsylvania Hodja back to Turkey. The New Zealand government would have been only to happy to hand over Kim Dotcom to US legal processes, but the guy is rich enough and smart enough to have kept himself out of harm’s way so far. Interestingly, two of those three are not even US citizens – which doesn’t seem to worry the Americans much in their pursuit of ‘justice’.

Human Rights, Democracy and Islam in Turkey and the Middle East

The longer I live in Turkey the more I come to understand the incredible diversity of this allegedly homogeneous country. One of the first statistics a visitor learns is that Turkey’s population is ninety-nine percent Muslim. One of the most quoted sayings of the nation’s founder and first President MK Ataturk is the one that goes: ‘How happy is the one who says I am a Turk!’
One face of Islam in Turkey
The official homogeneity, however, masks on-the-ground reality. A superficial indicator of this is the clothing worn by women in Turkey. The wearing of some kind of headscarf is traditional in this part of the world, and you will meet every variation, from the black burka covering all but the eyes, to the brightly coloured silk Armine fashion accessory complementing designer jeans and stylish make-up. Young ladies in the latter category are quite likely to be seen strolling the streets arm-in-arm with a bare-headed mini-skirted female friend, or publicly embracing a male one (probably without a miniskirt). Those women enveloped in black from head to toe are anathema to the secular fashionistas of Nişantaşı and Baghdad Ave, many of whom nonetheless fast during the holy month of Ramazan.
On a deeper level, it is estimated that ten to twenty percent of Turkey’s population belongs to the Alevi sect, whose brand of Islam stems from the Shi’ites, one of the two main branches of Islam. Origins of the split date from the early days when the Prophet Mohammed died without making it clear who should take over his leadership role. Turkey’s Muslims are predominantly Sunni, but the Alevi group, while maintaining a distinct identity, seems to have little in common with the fundamentalist Shi’ites who hold sway in Iran, or even the Alawi dictatorship of beleaguered Syrian president, Bashar al Assad. Further complicating the matter is the fact that many, though by no means all Alevis are ethnic Kurds, another twenty percent demographic who supported the foundation of the Republic of Turkey, but have resisted cultural and linguistic assimilation.
Apart from these major subsets, the boundaries of the republic contain several other ethnic, linguistic and religious groups: the Laz of the Black Sea region, Arab speakers in the southeast, descendants of Circassian refugees from the Caucasus region. Communities of Armenians and Eastern Orthodox are to be found, their churches and cemeteries occupying prominent sites, especially in Istanbul. Jews remain, still performing rites in the Ladino dialect their ancestors brought from Spain in the 15th century. There is a sprinkling of Catholic and Protestant churches catering, one assumes, to small local congregations, with a little proselytising on the side – and one or two evangelical Christian sects clearly carry out missionary activities.
As a result of the foregoing, there are two conflicting forces at work in modern Turkey. One is the homogenising assimilating process set in motion of necessity by the republican founders back in the 1920s when armed struggle alone would save the land from division, partition and annihilation by the victorious allies after World War One. That struggle could only be initiated by creating a national identity with common roots of history, religion, language and culture, whose owners’ sacred duty was to defend the land on which they stood. Creating and sustaining this identity required a certain amount of myth-making, propaganda and suppression of dissent.
The other force, steadily gaining strength, is one acknowledging the diversity of Turkey’s population, and seeking recognition and equal rights for all citizens. Tension between these two forces has been causing conflict such as the so-called ‘Gezi Park’ protests in the early summer. Perhaps surprisingly, far from indicating a failure of democracy in Turkey, this tension is entirely healthy. The democratisation process implemented by Turkey’s government over the past ten years has been slowly granting acceptance and equality to groups previously marginalised. Ironically, this reforming government is the one accused by some citizens of harbouring an ‘Islamist’ agenda – while the protesters are the conservatives supporting military enforcement of exclusive, so-called secular Kemalist values.
On location in Mardin, SE Turkey
I try to keep a finger on what’s going on in the world of Turkish soap operas. It’s a losing struggle, since there seem to be dozens of them, and they generally run for two years at most. Many of them are obsessed with intrigues in the lives of the rich and famous, showcasing palatial houses in the stratosphere of Istanbul’s top-end residential market. While channel-surfing the other day, however, I did come across one that provided a refreshing alternative to the usual fare. ‘Adını Kalbime Yazdım’, (I’ve Written Your Name in My Heart), moved, in the episode I watched, between that Istanbul world of wealth and privilege, and the southeastern city of Mardin near the Syrian border, where the architecture is distinctly Arabic and many of the locals speak Turkish as a second language. The main man, Ömer, a tribal leader, is evidently making a life for himself in the western metropolis, and is engaged to a fashionable young city girl. His mother, however, back in Mardin, has taken it on herself to promise her number one son to the daughter of a rival clan chief, in an attempt to patch up the blood feud that has been seething for years. Our guy speeds back to his hometown to sort things out, but has clearly lost touch with Mardin realities. Rejecting the local girl after agreement has been reached is an unforgivable affront to the honour of both families. His own brother feels obliged to cleanse the sin in the time-honoured tradition – with a bullet.
Recently there was a conference in the Mediterranean coastal city of Antalya: An International Symposium on Children At Risk and In Need of Protection. A press release announced that one in three new brides in Turkey is under eighteen on her wedding day, and that thirty-five percent of these girls are actually ‘second wives’ – understood locally to mean a girl taken by a man in an unofficial ‘religious’ ceremony when he feels he needs a little more excitement than his first wife is providing.
The point I want to make here is that there is more to Turkey than what is common among the secular elite of Istanbul who move from fashionable Etiler, Nişantaşı or Baghdad Avenue to the ski slopes of Uludağ and the beach resorts of Bodrum and Antalya and back, with trips abroad for variety. Undoubtedly the gnomes of Brussels who oversee the European Union are well aware of this, which perhaps explains their reluctance to see Turkey’s eighty million people gain free access to their civilised Christian club. It is certainly a better reason than their stated objections to the Cyprus problem, abuse of human rights and police violence against citizens.
As suggested above, a major irony of the Middle East these days (and for our purposes here let’s include Turkey by reason of its Muslim identity) is that so-called ‘Islamist’ political parties are often the ones championing human rights, participatory democracy and national sovereignty. ‘Secular’ leaders, in contrast, are more likely to be reactionary, authoritarian and subject to undue influence by foreign powers. This creates difficulties in the minds of ordinary citizens in Western democracies, who are accustomed to associating religion, especially the Muslim religion, with intolerance and backwardness.
Take Iran as an example. Persia has been a land of high civilisation and culture since the dawn of history. This continued until the 18th century when the Great Powers of Europe, especially Britain and Russia, began playing their expansionist games. The games turned to frenzy with the discovery and rise to prominence of oil as the energy to power the 20th century. Anglo-petroleum interests moved in, the Middle East was occupied and divided into ‘spheres of interest’ and ‘mandates’ after the First World War, and a gentleman by the name of Reza Khan emerged from village obscurity and ascended to the throne of Persia with a little help from the Brits. Shah Riza himself apparently offended his erstwhile allies by insisting on Iran’s remaining neutral during the Second World War, and was forced to abdicate in favour of his son, the latter we must assume being more amenable to British Imperial interests. Fifty years passed with exploitation of the country’s oil wealth by foreign interests aided and abetted by the local elite who enriched themselves at the expense of the ordinary Persian.
Finally, locals, in 1951, managed to elect a more sympathetic and effective Prime Minister who promptly nationalised the oil industry and encouraged the departure of Mohammed-Reza Shah. The new dawn didn’t last long, however. The British government, keen to protect its own interests but lacking former imperial might, persuaded the new US President Dwight D Eisenhower to get involved. The ensuing CIA-sponsored coup d’etat ousted PM Mossadeq and reinstated the Shah, who restored the status quo and ruled with an iron fist of oppression for twenty-six years until the Islamic revolution led by the Ayatollah Khomeini overturned the puppet monarchy in 1979. Well, I’m not extolling that gentleman’s virtues or holding modern Iran up as a model of democratic freedom – but you might want to ask, who is responsible?
Similar case studies can be offered in Iraq and Afghanistan. The United States government supported and armed the Afghan Taliban fighters in their struggle against Russian invasion in the 1980s, then left the country to sort itself out after the Soviets had withdrawn. Saddam Hussein too was initially a useful US ally back then when he sent his military against the demon Iran. Unfortunately, the enemy of my enemy may quickly cease to be my friend, and become my enemy too. Sad to say, the US government seems still not to have learned this lesson. Instead of addressing the root causes of frustration and anger among Middle Eastern populations, President Obama’s administration is continuing a policy of unilateral aggression, using its unmanned drones and SEAL commandos to invade the sovereign territory of other states and take out people considered hostile to its interests regardless of collateral casualties and damage to property.
Three examples. In early October, according to an article in Time, the CIA and FBI working with US military forces captured Abu Anas al-Liby, an alleged Al Qaeda leader in Tripoli, Libya. A few weeks later, in apparent retaliation for government complicity, the Libyan Prime Minister was kidnapped at gunpoint by local militia apparently working with ministerial personnel. I was talking to two exchange students from Libya the other day. They were keen to talk and their English was remarkably good. I couldn’t resist asking how things are in their country these days. ‘Much better’, said one. ‘Nowadays everyone has a gun. In the old days it was just the police and the soldiers.’
Around the same time as the action in Tripoli, a contingent of SEALs (what a nice innocuous name for a murderous organisation) entered Somalia and inflicted casualties while failing in their objective of capturing or eliminating a leader of another terrorist group, Al Shabab. Just the other day a US drone strike was reported to have killed a Taliban leader in Pakistan, along with anyone else who happened to be in the vicinity at the time.
Successive US administrations supported the military dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt for 29 years until he was overthrown by popular demand in 2011. His major appeal in the West was support for Israel, not something Egypt had been noted for in the past. Subsequent elections produced a government with Islamic connections (not altogether surprising in a country whose population is ninety percent Muslim). A military coup in July this year ousted the new democratically elected government and is bringing its leader, Mohammed Morsi, to trial. The US government was conspicuous in its refusal to acknowledge the event as a coup, but more recently has been obliged to take punitive economic measures against the military regime in the face of mounting international criticism of police and military brutality.
A new report by Amnesty International has accused the Egyptian regime of persecuting and rejecting refugees from the ongoing civil war in Syria. Of course it is a major problem for any country to deal with flows of penniless displaced persons from a neighbouring state, but these people are Muslims and fellow Arabs. In contrast Turkey, often the target of criticism by the Amnesty International people, has so far allowed around half a million fleeing Syrians to take refuge within its borders and is doing its best to provide for them. Fortunately the government of Turkey has managed so far to keep the country from descending into the sad state of its Arab neighbours. Anti-government protesters these days seem largely content with pressing the emergency stop button on the new rail link joining European and Asian Istanbul that passes through a chunnel beneath the Bosporus.
I wouldn’t, in normal circumstances, look to a blond Hollywood movie starlet for guidance on political matters, but I was interested to see an article about Blake Lively in our local newspaper last weekend. The Turkish journalist had apparently caught up with her in Paris, and they were burbling on about the usual film star stuff – how the poor girl’s biggest problem in life is trying not to eat chocolate so that she won’t lose her figure. Before finishing, however, the interviewer couldn’t resist seeking Ms Lively’s opinion about democracy in Turkey and police abuse of human rights. I don’t know anything about politics, she said, but I really want to go and see Turkey for myself. The young lady went up considerably in my estimation. Perhaps she could invite that sensitive novelist Paul Auster along when she comes.

Global Renewal – Back to the Sixties

I am slowly adjusting to the digital world. It’s not easy for older folks used to thinking of ‘hard copy’ and ‘soft copy’ as referring to the binding of a book. Some of us can remember a time when steam engines still powered railway locomotives and harbour ferries; when music was played back on large, fragile Frisbee-like discs rotating at 78 rpm; when a/m radios were large tasteful pieces of furniture lit up with vacuum tubes, and provided family entertainment before the advent of television!
It seems that Dilek and I may have to move house as our current dwelling is in line for urban renewal (read ‘demolition’). I have been looking glumly at shelves of books, CDs and DVDs that will soon require packing into boxes, and perhaps will not find accommodation in our urbanisationally renewed, and undoubtedly smaller, replacement residence.
US rock band Steppenwolf, 1971
So I decided to be proactive and start with the CD collection. In fact a lot of our music has already been uploaded to the computer, and we have been discovering the convenience of hooking up the iPad to the stereo system. Now I have begun examining those CDs with a more critical eye – the technology is 30 years old! – deciding which ones never get played and which ones may have tracks I didn’t like much anyway.
Well, amongst the sounds of my youth that I had, in later years, upgraded to compact disc format, I came across the ‘Greatest Hits of Steppenwolf’. That band is, apparently, still performing, though with only one of the original members who, according to Wikipedia, will celebrate his 70th birthday next April. The band’s heyday was 1968-1972, and their achievements include 25 million record sales, eight gold albums and twelve Billboard Hot 100 singles.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that evergreen musician John Kay was born Joachim Fritz Krauledat in what was then East Prussia – an outpost of German language and culture now part of Russia. As the Soviet military machine advanced in the final months of World War II, it became evident that Comrade Stalin was planning to swallow East Prussia and Russify it – which he did, with the result that tens of thousands of Germans were killed and more than two million obliged to seek sanctuary in the West.  Young Fritz’s mother was one who fled from her homeland with her baby son, eventually settling in Canada where the lad changed his name to something more acceptably Anglo-Saxon before ending up in California in the hippy-hopeful days of the mid-60s.
We may imagine that North America, especially Canada in those days, was like the Promised Land to people like the Krauledats, the still relatively untarnished Statue of Liberty holding aloft its torch of enlightenment to welcome, in the words of Emma Lazarus, ‘the tired, poor, huddled masses of Europe, yearning to breathe free’.[1]
By the time John Kay arrived in California in 1965, however, the anti-Communist excesses of the Cold War, the struggles of the Human Rights Movement and the ultimately indefensible war in Viet Nam had brought cynicism oozing through cracks in the glossy veneer of the American Dream.
Why am I telling you all this ancient history, you may be asking. The reason is that I had to make a decision about which Steppenwolf songs to load on to my computer, and which to leave on the CD that would go out with the trash. Some songs were as familiar as an old pair of shoes, but one I needed to revisit was ‘Monster’, title track of an album released in 1969. I want to share some of the lyrics with you:
And though the [United States’] past has its share of injustice
Kind was the spirit in many a way
But its protectors and friends have been sleeping
Now it’s a monster and will not obey
The spirit was freedom and justice
And its keepers seemed generous and kind
Its leaders were supposed to serve the country
But now they won’t pay it no mind
Cause the people grew fat and got lazy
Now their vote is a meaningless joke
They babble about law and order
But it’s all just an echo of what they’ve been told
The cities have turned into jungles
And corruption is stranglin’ the land
The police force is watching the people
And the people just can’t understand
We don’t know how to mind our own business
‘Cause the whole world’s got to be just like us
Now we are fighting a war over there
No matter who’s the winner we can’t pay the cost
America, where are you now
Don’t you care about your sons and daughters
Don’t you know we need you now
We can’t fight alone against the monster
Eerie, huh! That was written and sung forty-five years ago. And I read in the latest edition of Time Magazine that the US carried out raids against terrorist targets in Somalia and Libya ten days ago. The article went on to elaborate that ‘the FBI and CIA, with the support of U.S. military forces, captured a long-sought al Qaeda leader, Anas al-Liby, in Tripoli. . . He had a $5 million reward on his head.’ I wonder who got that. Maybe the US Navy SEALs who apparently carried out the operation in Somalia.  ‘U.S. officials have not,’ we read, ‘identified the target of the operation, but one said it “was aimed at capturing a high-value al-Shabab terrorist leader.” The official also said no U.S. personnel were injured or killed. Reports of the results of the raid in Somalia have been mixed, with the U.S. official only saying that the SEALs inflicted some al-Shabab casualties.’. Possibly al Qaeda was starting to lose its shock appeal, so we needed a new mysterious Arabian terrorist group to scare us.
Anyway, it’s heartening to learn that there were no US casualties, and I suppose we must also appreciate that this time at least, real US soldiers actually fronted up to do their nation’s dirty work, rather than taking the guys out with rockets guided by a pilotless drone somewhere up in the stratosphere. Still, you’d have to wonder how the Somalians and the Libyans feel about their police work being outsourced to the FBI, the CIA and US SEALs. I well remember the indignation of my fellow New Zealanders when the French Government took it upon themselves to blow up a Greenpeace ship and assassinate a crew member in Auckland Harbour back in 1985.
But that was New Zealand, and we are one of the international good guys, at least in the eyes of the small fraction of the world’s population who know where we are. Luckily, those are the ones who count, so we enjoy a pretty easy ride in terms of criticism on the world stage. Not so Turkey. The self-appointed custodians of world morality at Amnesty International have issued another report condemning the government of Turkey for ‘gross human rights violations’during the so-called ‘Gezi Park protests’ in June and July. The report places a good deal of emphasis on the peacefulness of the protests, and the Turkish government’s denial of the right to protest peacefully. It also mentions the alleged violent acts committed by protesters’ and dismisses reference to these by Turkish authorities. Another criticism is ‘impunity for police abuse’. The report asserts that ‘although the abusive use of force by police has been widely documented, the likelihood of those responsible being brought to justice remains remote’.
I don’t wish to get embroiled in a discussion of these protests yet again. The government has admitted that police handling of the demonstrations was unduly heavy-handed. Contrary to the AI claim, however, action has already been taken against some police officers, and hearings are continuing into others. In my view there is no question of ‘alleged’ violent acts by protesters. I saw and photographed burnt out buses, police vehicles and private cars, obscene graffiti and paving stones torn up to use as ammunition against police officers trying to maintain order.
Political demonstrations in Turkey are rarely peaceful. Ever since I came to the country I have seen violent running battles between anarchist youths and police officers a regular occurrence in Istanbul and elsewhere. The difference with the Gezi protests was that there were well-heeled members of the ‘respectable’ Istanbul middle classes taking part, and they were caught up in events totally new to them.
At my first football match in Turkey I was somewhat surprised to see the pitch surrounded by police armed with automatic weapons. They showed remarkable discipline, I thought, in watching the crowd the whole time, resisting what must have been a strong inclination to sneak a peek at the on-field action. Two weekends ago, a match between two big Istanbul clubs turned into a major riot and was called off as Beşiktaş supporters invaded the pitch, throwing chairs and anything else they could lay their hands on at police and security personnel.
Many of these football ‘fans’ had been involved in the Gezi Park protests (which took place during the summer off-season). One of the slogans of the fanatic Beşiktaşsupporters club known as Çarşı is ‘Çarşı herşeye karşı’ – meaning ‘We are against everything!’ Well, go ahead, say I – but don’t cry if you get a faceful of tear gas or pepper spray. Interestingly, after that football riot, police carried out raids and took a number of people into custody, one of whom was the head honcho of the Çarşı group, Alen Markaryan.  At the risk of sounding prejudiced, that looks very much like an Armenian name to me. I hope he doesn’t have a secret agenda. From time to time solicitous emails arrive from my countrymen in the NZ Embassy in Ankara warning me about the dangers of being in Turkey. One of their pieces of advice is always to give political demonstrations a wide berth – and I do.
One thing that seemed to be missing from Amnesty International’s worthy attack on gross human rights abuses was any mention of what’s been going on recently in Qatar. As you probably know, Qatar is a tiny Arab emirate on the Persian Gulf set to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022. Its citizens showed little inclination to get involved in Arab Spring protests, despite being ruled by an authoritarian hereditary regime, possibly because they have the highest per capita GDP in the world, as a by-product of the country’s vast oil and natural gas reserves. Sadly, the capitato which the oil riches are distributed make up only 15% of Qatar’s two million population.  The rest are foreign nationals, the majority of whom are migrant workers making up 94% of the workforce.
A recent article in the Guardian reported that labourers working on construction projects in Qatar, many of them related to the football World Cup, are housed in sub-human conditions, have their passports confiscated, and are treated pretty much like slaves. The largest single group are Nepalese who have been dying at the rate of one a day from heart attacks and workplace accidents. The heart attacks, it seems, are caused by having to work in the ferocious heat of the Qatari desert where the average daytime temperature high exceeds 50°C (120°F).
Needless to say there is some concern among football-playing nations with more congenial climates that their players may also be candidates for cardiac arrest if the tournament goes ahead in Qatar. So how did a miniscule Arab emirate with a native population of around 250,000 manage to land the largest sporting event in the world, when Turkey, with a well-balanced, dynamic economy, 75 million fanatical football supporters most of whom are gainfully employed in their own country, much of the infrastructure already in place, and a delightfully hospitable climate, has been bidding in vain to host the Olympic games for the past twenty years?
Well, one possibility is bribery. Serious allegations have been made against members of the FIFA Executive Committee, and an investigation is ongoing. It is still possible that a re-vote will be taken and the football World Cup held somewhere else. Another possibility is high-level political interference, given that ‘Qatar has built intimate military ties with the United States, and is now the location of U.S. Central Command’s Forward Headquarters and the Combined Air Operations Center.’[2]The US is also ‘the major equipment supplier for Qatar’s oil and gas industry’, and European and Japanese firms are heavily involved in industrial joint ventures in the country.
Another thing that Turkey is criticised for these days is its foreign policy which, so we are told, is confused and in need of serious reassessment. Undoubtedly the ‘zero problems with neighbours’ strategy suffered in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. Does that mean they shouldn’t try? Who could have foreseen the three-year civil war in Syria, or that a military-led counterrevolution in Egypt would be tolerated by an unholy alliance of Islamic neighbours and Western democracies? Turkey has to live with these neighbours just across the fence and cannot ignore the results of the violence convulsing them. There are now at least half a million refugees from the Syrian conflict in Turkey – and no longer only in camps near the border. Tens of thousands have, in their desperation, made their way to Ankara and Istanbul where they are huddled in city parks fearfully awaiting the onset of winter. The cost to the Turkish taxpayer was recently assessed at $2 billion.
As for Egypt, who actually believes the mealy-mouthed apologists asserting that the military coup was in response to the wishes of the people? The oppressive 29-year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, supported, financed and armed by the United States, was overthrown by a popular revolt with participants risking life and limb for their human rights. Of course a democratically elected alternative would be Islamic to some extent – just as Americans, God bless them, tend to elect Presidents with Christian sympathies. What is ironic is the support given by Muslim extremist, terrorist-supporting Saudi Arabia to Egypt’s anti-Islamic military; and their being on the same side as Israel! What’s the common factor here I wonder?
A musical contemporary of Steppenwolf with a more poetical bent, Don McLean, had a song entitled ‘Vincent’, ostensibly about the painter Van Gogh, but with perhaps a more universal message:
And now I think I know what you tried to say to me
How you suffered for your sanity
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen
They’re not listening still
Perhaps they never will.