Leading the fight for freedom – in Turkey and elsewhere

15 July

You’d have to love your president!

Saturday, 15 July, was the first anniversary of a failed attempt by some officers in the Turkish armed forces to overthrow the country’s democratically elected AK Party government. The government has planned a week of meetings and other activities to commemorate the courage of Turkish folk who stood up against tanks and automatic weapons to ensure that the attempted coup was unsuccessful. Before the perpetrators backed down, 250 citizens had lost their lives and an unknown number had been injured.

US and EU governments have been generous in their affirmations of support for Turkey’s struggle against forces working to bring down its government. – somewhat quicker than they were this time last year, when they seemed to delay their reaction until it was clear to all that the coup had failed. That’s not surprising, I guess. When Egypt’s first and only democratically elected government led by Muhammed Morsi was overthrown by army intervention in 2013, Western governments hardly paused for breath before announcing business as usual with the new regime. It seems we can work with military dictators – it’s leaders who have to answer to the will of their own people we’re uncomfortable with.

Chas I

Last successful military coup in Britain – 1649

So those Western leaders are expressing support for Turkey – but read on and you’ll find thinly veiled threats following close behind. Turkey’s government should be careful not to use the failed coup as an excuse to trample on the freedom of innocent citizens exercising their democratic right to dissent. Sounds fair enough – but the reality of highly trained and well-armed troops rising up to overthrow their lawful government is not something the United Kingdom or the United States have had to deal with since the 1640s and the 1860s respectively. Memory fades.

Let’s think about how these things happen. Above all, you need a significant chunk of the country’s people to be unhappy. No general, no matter how ambitious he may be for political power, is going to risk his all unless he feels he has a good chance of pulling it off – which means he has to believe there is substantial sympathy and support for his action. What does that mean in a country of 78 million people? Even 1% means 780,000 people! Last week the leader of an opposition party addressed a crowd estimated at two million to protest about the state of justice in Turkey. My guess is a good number of them wouldn’t have been sad to see President Erdoğan ousted by a military coup. Well, they were allowed to assemble, and Mr Kılıçdaroğlu was allowed to vehemently criticise the government. Nevertheless, there is still a state of emergency in force in Turkey, and many thousands of suspects have been rounded up to answer accusations of involvement in the attempted coup. What would you expect? The vast majority of citizens are going about their normal lawful daily business, and a good number of them are bitching and complaining about the government. That’s their democratic right. What do you have to do to get arrested, that’s my question.

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Turkish PM Menderes – hanged by military junta, 1961

Then let’s imagine that the coup had been successful. Lawfully constituted governments in Turkey were overthrown by military intervention on four occasions in the second half of the 20th century. In 1960 the Prime Minister of ten years, Adnan Menderes, was hanged, along with two of his ministers, by the insurgent officers. Menderes was subsequently forgiven, exonerated and had his reputation restored – small consolation for his family, I imagine. After the first three coups there was a period of terror where political dissenters were rounded up, tortured, executed, “disappeared” or driven into exile. Military intervention in the democratic process is no light matter – and almost invariably leads to bloodshed and violent suppression of opposition. At the very least, Mr Erdoğan and his government would have found themselves imprisoned, and a lengthy period of sustained oppression would have been necessary to silence his millions of loyal supporters.

The simple fact is this: if you rise up against your lawful government in any country, and try to overthrow them by force of arms, you had better succeed. If you don’t, you’ll be lucky to escape with your life. Even if you weren’t among the actual rebels, if you are suspected of lending behind-the-scenes support or encouragement, you are likely to be called to account.

Sisi

Egypt’s Sisi – military dictator? No?

Why then are Western political spokespersons and media sources so critical now of the “lack of freedom and democracy” in Turkey? They seem to have been happy enough to accept Egyptian General Sisi’s violent suppression of opposition since the coup he led in 2013. A less publicised feature of most military coups in developing countries is the support, moral and actual, provided by forces beyond their borders who see economic benefits in a regime change. Turkey’s President Erdoğan is consistent in his denunciation of US-based Turkish religious leader Fethullah Gülen, whose tentacles extend into every corner of Turkey’s establishment. At the same time, Mr Erdoğan also maintains that behind Gülen more sinister forces are at work. US spokespersons deny their government had any part in the attempted coup – but they steadfastly refuse Turkey’s requests to extradite Gülen so that he can answer the charges against him. Perhaps they do have a genuine concern for the poor man’s democratic rights – but they also have a long-standing record of backing regime changes where elected leaders don’t seem to be supporting American “interests”.

Military allianceTwo recent articles caught my eye giving credence to the theory that Washington could have played a part in last July’s insurrection. The first appeared on the Foreign Policy website, bearing the headline Turkey’s Post-Coup Purge and Erdogan’s Private Army”. The article is an absurd mishmash of lies, distortions and internal contradictions that might seem convincing to a foreign reader – but to anyone who knows Turkey, is clearly working to a hidden agenda.

The writer, Leela Jacinto, nails her colours to the mast in her opening paragraph, expressing regret that Turkey’s military — the once mighty pillar of a secular, Muslim-majority state with the second-largest standing force in NATO — has lost its Kemalist oomph.” Surely any true democrat would applaud the relegation of generals to their proper role as defenders of the state from outside threats. The “secular Kemalist” label is used to lend a veneer of legitimacy to their previous overthrowing of elected governments, ensuring that a small US-friendly elite continued to hold the reins of power. It is widely accepted that the CIA had a hand in all four successful coups in Turkey in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997.

Last year’s coup having failed, of course its supporters, overt and covert, are keen to imply that it wasn’t a “real” coup – that either it was staged from start to finish, or at least allowed to proceed and fail by President Erdoğan to cement his hold on power. Well, maybe George W Bush did orchestrate events of 9/11/2001 in the USA, and Maggie Thatcher certainly led her nation to war with Argentina for that reason – but I do not believe President Erdoğan is so evil. The evidence doesn’t stack up.

Jacinto contends that the Gülen organisation initially supported Erdoğan’s AK Party but the alliance fell apart when Gülenists exposed AK Party “corruption”. If it’s true, why would they do that to their ally? More likely is the scenario that Erdoğan used them to break the power of the army, but was subsequently unwilling to share power with an unelected shadowy cartel. The Gülenists got angry and decided to get rid of him – possibly/probably aligning themselves with the CIA, enemy of their new enemy.

Common enemyThen there is Turkey’s “lovefest” with Russia. What’s that about, “lovefest”? Implying some kind of drug-crazed, bacchanalian, neo-hippy debauchery. Better to focus on America’s “HATEfest” with Russia, Communists, Muslims, Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, or any other group or country that doesn’t kowtow to their programme of world domination.

Jumping from one illusory accusation to another, Jacinto raises a bogey by the name of Doğu Perinçek to justify her suggestion of unholy alliances against the West taking place at “deep state” level involving the AK Party government, communists and ultra-nationalists. Somehow she manages to work in Armenian holocaust denialism and the heroine of the world’s oppressed and downtrodden masses, Amal Clooney. Well, Perinçek is an interesting character, having been incarcerated on several occasions by military regimes in the past for leftist activities. He does seem recently to have reincarnated as a kind of nationalist/socialist – but he continues to operate, as he always has, on the fringe of Turkish political circles, and his miniscule polling in the last general election suggests that he poses no threat to the United States empire, or anyone else.

Jacinto’s final shot is the assertion that President Erdoğan has a private army, a paramilitary “Praetorian Guard” that not only faced down the soldiers last July, but is working behind the scenes to foster some kind of global Islamic order aimed at bringing down the West.

Who is this woman? Who is pulling her strings?

The other article that caught my eye appeared in Time Magazine: Turkey’s ‘Iron Lady’ Meral Aksener Is Getting Ready to Challenge Erdogan. Like Doğu Perinçek, Ms Akşener is known in Turkey, but tends to lurk these days at the fringes of the political sphere. Like Nobel prize-winner Orhan Pamuk, she likes to present herself as one who has courageously stood against the corrupt power of a dictatorial state. In fact, her brief spell as Minister for Internal Affairs occurred during the unlikely and short-lived coalition of discredited “secular Kemalist” Tansu Çiller and Islamic firebrand Necmettin Erbakan. Journalist Jared Malsin portrays Akşener as a scary synthesis of Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton and Marie le Pen. Try selling that to the Turkish electorate, Jared!

puppet govtIt does, however, strike me that something sinister could be going on here. Malsin acknowledges that one of the main problems with the current political scene in Turkey is the lack of a credible leader to oppose the charismatic Erdoğan. HDP leader, Selahattin Demirtaş provided a brief spark of hope before committing political suicide by throwing in his lot with the Kurdish separatists. Nationalist MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli seems to have decided that his best chance of achieving office is by working with the government; and Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, still hankering for the one-party state where Atatürk’s own party held sway, has lost so many elections the Guinness people are thinking of opening a category for him in their 2018 edition.

Clearly, then, if the movers and shakers of world capitalism are going to have another try at overthrowing Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, they’re going to need a figurehead to put in his place. Far-fetched theory? I don’t think so.

Hate USAVenezuela’s long-term president Hugo Chavez was one of Washington’s most hated world leaders. A vocal socialist, Chavez utilised his country’s enormous oil resources to initiate domestic programmes aimed at a more equitable distribution of wealth. He lent support to Cuba and other Central and South American nations struggling to escape US hegemony, and committed probably the ultimate unpardonable sin: befriending Iran. In 2002 a CIA-sponsored military coup actually ousted Chavez, but the result was overturned by a huge outpouring of popular support for the President. When Chavez died in 2013, his protégé Nicholas Maduro took over his role. Now, in spite of having the world’s second-largest proven oil reserves, Venezuela’s economy is shattered – as a result of plummeting oil prices. Why did oil prices plummet? Because the United States, the world’s largest consumer, moved from being a buyer to a seller. How did they do that? They began to exploit previously uneconomic reserves using the expensive and environmentally disastrous fracking technique. Why would they do that? Surely not to destroy Venezuela’s economy, get rid of President Maduro and install a US-friendly right wing dictator . . . would they? Can they really be that evil?

http://www.trtworld.com/magazine/how-the-us-right-demonised-a-venezuelan-leader-384234

http://www.news.com.au/finance/economy/world-economy/venezuela-crisis-2017-protesters-demand-political-economic-reform/news-story/b52e0a2985930d072cde86527bf2b50c

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Wheels within wheels – Some thoughts on espionage, money-laundering and Christian missionaries

Turkey’s President Erdoğan has just returned from a visit to Washington where he and President Trump apparently “agreed to disagree” over the issue of American support for Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria.

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Brett McGurk, U.S. special envoy to the coalition against ISIL speaking with PKK militants currently being sought by Turkey through Interpol

Spokespersons for the US State department have openly admitted supporting and supplying weapons to the YPG, which Ankara claims has close links with the separatist Kurdish terrorist organisation, PKK. Jonathan Cohen, deputy assistant secretary for European and Asian Affairs (high level stuff!) is quoted as saying The relationship between the United States and the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) is a temporary, transactional and tactical one. We are in this common [fight] to defeat a terrorist organization in Iraq and Syria. We have the YPG because they were the only force on the ground ready to act in the short term. We have not promised the YPG anything.”

  • Main US tactic: Delegate an underling (in this case, a “deputy assistant secretary”) to tell the big lies. Then later you can deny responsibility.
  • Second tactic: A “temporary, transactional and tactical” relationship. Remember how the US had a similar relationship with the Taliban in Afghanistan to get rid of Russia? If the Kurdish separatists trust the US government, they’ll be in for a sad shock in future. In the mean time, the US is seriously upsetting a loyal ally (Turkey).
  • First big lie: “The YPG were the only force on the ground etc”. Turkey’s government has offered full cooperation to the US in combatting ISIS/ISIL/Daesh.
  • Second big lie: “We have not promised the YPG anything.” If you believe that, you’ll believe anything! The US government has been cooperating with and assisting Kurdish groups for years – for example enlisting them to help get rid of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Of course they are offering support for an independent Kurdistan.

So, Mr Erdoğan came back from Washington pretty disappointed. He did, however, more than hold his own in the handshaking competition:

What about Mr Trump? Apparently he asked Turkey’s government to “immediately release” the jailed American pastor Andrew Brunson. Brunson was arrested in December last year on a charge of “being part of a terrorist organisation.” He allegedly has connections to the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ), and used his missionary activities to incite Kurdish separatist activities.

Assange

Human rights – for who?

The US government would also dearly like to get their hands on Julian Assange and Edward Snowden – key players in the Wikileaks revelations that caused serious embarrassment over American actions in Iraq and elsewhere. The governments of Ecuador and Russia are kindly looking after those two gentlemen who fear that their democratic rights may count for little if the US government gets hold of them. In fact, that is pretty much confirmed by the latest news on Assange. It seems Swedish authorities have dropped their rape case against him – but the Brits say they will still arrest him as soon as he steps out of the Ecuadorean Embassy. Acting in their established role as America’s lapdog, they will probably then hand him over to the Yanks, who still want him. So now we understand the real situation, if we didn’t before.

Turkey’s government, for its part, wants the US to extradite ex-pat Muslim imam, Fethullah Gülen, who they say was a key figure in the 15 July coup attempt last year. They have also been asking the Greek government to hand over eight Turkish soldiers who took refuge in Greece after the failure of the coup. Now it seems Angela Merkel’s government is getting involved, granting political asylum to two Turkish generals known to have been active in the coup attempt, as well as several hundred Turkish military personnel.

Adding to the confusion, two Turkish citizens are currently on trial in the United States on charges of money laundering and conspiring to violate US trade sanctions against Iran. Wealthy businessman, Reza Zarrab, who is also a citizen of Iran, and Mehmet Hakan Atilla, assistant general manager of Turkey’s Halkbank are in custody in New York. Interestingly, they are being defended by American lawyers, one of whom is former mayor of New York City, Rudolph Giuliani, whose firm also represents the US banks implicated in the case. In another twist, the judge has implied that the Turkish government is paying legal expenses for the two – though why that should concern him, I don’t understand – and anyway, the lawyers have stated that the two guys are paying their own costs.

Needless to say, President Erdoğan has added his voice to the discussion, asking that his two citizens be returned to Turkey. Amidst all the uproar, no one seems to be asking why the US imposed sanctions on Iran in the first place, and why Turkey should continue to suffer economically after loyally supporting America’s wishes in the matter for nearly forty years!

Getting back to the business of Andrew Brunson. Apparently he was/is involved with an organisation calling itself the Izmir Resurrection Church. According to their website: İzmir is the third largest city in Turkey and also the Biblical Smyrna. It has more churches than any city except İstanbul and unity between them has the potential to reap a great harvest. Now, for the towns and villages of Izmir!

There’s no greater testimony than a radiant Turkish believer, passionate to reach out.”

Related to the IRC is an outfit entitled The Bible Correspondence Course running an operation they call The 1881 Project. “Turkey,” they say, “is home to 75 million people who are both strongly nationalistic as well as loyal to their Islamic identity. But the truth of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice remains virtually unknown in what Operation World calls ‘the most unevangelised country in the world’.”

bible

Do Muslims really need to hear that?

“Since 1 July 2011, the Bible Correspondence Course is running an exciting 18 month initiative to challenge all of Turkey’s 81 provinces to consider the claims of Christ. Working together with local believers and churches from all over the world, we believe it is time to declare to every province in Turkey that a Savior has been born to them – a Son has been given to them. In more than a third of Turkey’s 81 provinces there is no meeting of believers and many have no known believer whatsoever.”

A Canadian mate of Brunson’s, David Byle, has also been involved in an ongoing legal battle with Turkish authorities who suspect him of being a threat to national security. This gentleman has been sounding off to another interesting organisation working under the name of World Watch Monitor. These people apparently have taken upon themselves the responsibility of reporting “the story of Christians around the world under pressure for their faith.” They love to cite the UN Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees among other things, “freedom of religion.”

Well, Turkish law does indeed permit freedom of religious belief, and does not forbid missionary activity. It is, however, a predominantly Muslim country. Although, unlike other Muslim states, it allows its Muslim citizens freedom to change their religion, its authorities are obliged to recognise that some devout citizens may not take a favourable view of public proselytising by tub-thumping Christians.

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Believe what you like, but keep it to yourself!

Furthermore, Christian missionaries in the past have given Muslim Turks some cause to be suspicious of their activities. Generally speaking, it is rare for a Muslim to convert to Christianity. Islam recognises that Jesus Christ was a prophet of God, and accepts Christians as “People of the Book” – but insists that Muhammed was the last prophet, bringing God’s final message. So why should they switch to what is, in their view, a more backward religion?

Consequently, Christian missionaries, mostly American, operating in Anatolia during the 19th century, tended to work among the Armenian community – who were already Christians. Ottoman authorities believed that they had an ulterior purpose: that they were trying to stir up discontent and incite rebellion against the Ottoman government. When such rebellions were forcefully put down, the same missionaries were conveniently on hand to report Ottoman atrocities against their Christian subjects, providing a pretext for Western governments to intervene on behalf of their “co-religionists”.

Which brings us to important questions about freedom and democracy:

  • Does the United States government have the right to force other countries to suffer social and economic hardships to support their foreign policies?
  • Does the United States Government have the right to demand the handing over to its own judicial system the citizens of other sovereign nations?
  • Are the authorities in Turkey required to forget what happened on July 15, 2016, forgive its citizens who tried to overthrow the democratically elected government by force of arms, and act as though nothing out of the ordinary happened?
  • Do foreign governments have the right to question the legal process in Turkey and give asylum to Turkish citizens who may have committed criminal acts of treason?
  • Does the right to freedom of religion imply the right to make a protracted public nuisance of yourself, requiring local authorities to protect you from the righteous anger of their own offended citizens?

I have my answers to these important questions. What about you?

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And one more question: Why does Youtube keep taking down videos of Trump and Erdoğan shaking hands? Fortunately people (probably Turkish fans of their President) keep re-posting them, but I have to keep updating my links!

CIA’s clandestine meeting in Istanbul on coup night

And the US ambassador in Ankara was “deeply hurt” at suggestions of US involvement. 

CIA’s clandestine meeting in Istanbul on coup night As more evidence surfaces daily, it will be evident that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was playing a huge role behind the July 15 c…

Source: CIA’s clandestine meeting in Istanbul on coup night

The U.S. and NATO Need Turkey

The following opinion piece appeared in Time online today:

‘To cast Turkey loose now would forfeit our influence in the region and end a decades-long alliance’

Halil I. Danismaz

The bloody coup attempt that left more than 200 people dead and nearly upended Turkey’s democratic institutions has shaken the country to its core.

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Standing tall for democracy in Turkey

I saw that dark moment—arguably the darkest in the country’s sad history of military dictatorships—unfold first-hand. I was on a plane to Istanbul when the coup plotters shut down the airport, then landed in the middle of the attack and stayed there for several weeks to witness the chaotic aftermath. There was a feeling of a nation under siege, being attacked from all sides.

Turkey has been battered by terrorism. Its most urgent need now is to defend itself and its democracy.

But the West’s response threatens to complicate how the U.S. and its NATO allies work with a country on the front lines of the global fight against ISIS. To cast Turkey loose now would forfeit our influence in the region and end a decades-long alliance. It could also drive Turkey into the arms of Russia—the wolf scratching at its door, which would like nothing more than to distance Turkey from the West.

This week’s visit by Vice President Joe Biden, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit since the violent coup attempt last month, is a chance to repair the fractured relationship.

The U.S. has much at stake: Our allies and interests in Europe are under assault as never before. Syria and Iraq have ceased to exist as functioning states. ISIS is on the march from Libya to Afghanistan. And Iranian and Russian influence is steadily expanding.

Turkey stands as a bulwark against these rising threats. Located just 60 miles from the Syrian border, the Incirlirlik air base in southern Turkey—the crucial staging ground for American-led strikes against ISIS—allows our best A-10s, F-15s and drones to take the fight to ISIS in Syria and Iraq that were previously out of our reach.

It is also the anchor of NATO’s southeastern flank and home to its second-largest army. Western officials should heed NATO’s own words: “Turkey takes full part in the Alliance’s consensus-based decisions as we confront the biggest security challenges in a generation. Turkey’s NATO membership is not in question…NATO counts on the continued contributions of Turkey and Turkey can count on the solidarity and support of NATO.”

U.S. President Obama shakes hands with Turkey's PM Erdogan in Seoul

Love them or hate them, you have to accept the people’s choice – and that cuts both ways.

The change must begin by taming the rhetoric on both sides. The chaos I saw in Ankara has fomented a rising tide of anti-Americanism egged on by some Turkish officials and party-controlled press. Asserting that the U.S. played a role in the coup must stop immediately.

At the same time, U.S. officials and commentators should acknowledge that Turkey’s most urgent need now is to defend the very fabric of its civil society. Like him or not, President Erdogan is the legitimately and democratically-elected choice of the Turkish people, a claim bolstered by the recent support he has seen from the main secular opposition parties. He has earned the right to speak on their behalf and that right should be respected.

A formal mechanism will help us reach a mutually acceptable solution to the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) problem. FETO is a danger to the stability in the region that the U.S. and NATO seek. A similar threat to democracy that created the kind of carnage would produce an outcry of outrage if it happened any other NATO member state. There have been united calls for the extradition of FETO’s leader, Fethullah Gulen, who is currently residing in the U.S. This is a reasonable request based on the widespread belief in Turkey—both the people and the main opposition parties—that FETO played a central role in the execution of the failed coup.

America’s most powerful and consequential regional ally is threatened as never before, with potentially dire consequences for our shared interests. U.S. policymakers must recommit to the bilateral relationship, not cut and run. Read the whole article

Anti-Turkey Bullswool

My New Zealand diplomatic people in Ankara send me regular updates on how they view the security situation in Turkey. Recently I got this one:

‘We now advise against all tourist and other non-essential travel to Ankara and Istanbul due to the heightened threat of terrorism and the potential for civil unrest (High risk). This is an increase to the risk level for Ankara and Istanbul.’

On 9 April 2016, the US Embassy in Ankara advised US citizens of credible threats to tourist areas, in particular to public squares and docks in Istanbul and Antalya.

Belgium bomb

While in Brussels don’t forget to ride the Metro

So if you had been thinking of a trip to Turkey in the near future, you may now be reconsidering. On the other hand, Auckland’s number one (and only) newspaper, The NZ Herald, published a travel advisory on 23 March entitled ‘Why you need to visit Belgium’. The piece begins:

‘We love Belgium. This week’s terror attacks in Brussels have cast a pall over a beautiful country.

The best thing Kiwi travellers can do? Put Belgium on the list for your next European visit. Here are five reasons to visit the home of Tintin and great chocolate.’

Well, I’m ok with The Herald’s position here. In fact, the best response to terror is to get on with your life and not bow to the fear. I do, however, find the contrasting advice somewhat paradoxical. Especially given the rather limited list of attractions the writer offers to recommend Belgium:

Apparently the food is great, though specifics boil down to chocolate, waffles and hot chips! There’s a comic culture, and it’s not just about Tintin! Beer is plentiful and available in 1,000 varieties. There are lots of markets, and Christmas time is especially lovely. AND THE CLINCHER . . . There are 67 kilometres of coastline! That’s about the same length as Auckland’s Muriwai beach, in the entire country!

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Picturesque Belgian beach

The whole glowing article took 435 words – approximately the number of people you can expect to rub shoulders with per square metre of beach, I’d say, during Belgium’s month-long summer. My guess is, if you don’t have local friends to entertain you, you’ll be lucky to last a week. I’m not going to begin to list the attractions of Turkey. I reckon you could spend 435 days here, and do something memorably different every day.

Sadly, Western news media everyday publish ‘news’ and opinion pieces denigrating Turkey and its government. I have in front of me a page from CNN’s website penned by a Turkish academic and follower of the shadowy ex-pat. Fethullah Gülen. It’s not so long ago that Gülen was arousing much suspicion in his adopted homeland, America, and was the evil bogeyman of Turkey’s secular elite. In the last couple of years, however, there has been an about-face, and the mysterious Muslim cleric seems to have become the darling of anti-government propagandists within the country and abroad. We hear the same criticisms repeated again and again:

President Erdoğan is polarizing Turkish society.

In fact, a noisy minority of Erdoğan-haters has been doing its best to polarize Turkish society since the AK Party was elected to govern in 2002.

The state cracked down brutally on Gezi Park protesters in 2013, and holding public protests has become a life-risking activity.

Political protests in Turkey have always been known for violence. The so-called Gezi Park protests attracted a motley collection of anti-Erdoğanists with nothing in common other than their hatred of him. Some of the protesters may have been well-meaning tree-huggers, but there was the usual hard core of anarchic vandals.

The government is waging a war of terror on peace-loving Kurdish villagers.

The AK Party government made genuine efforts to work out a peace process with its Kurdish minority, including the establishment of Kurdish-language TV channels and the opening of a previously impossible dialogue. The US government, on the other hand, has been supporting and supplying Kurdish militants in Iraq and Syria for years for its own ends, making it more difficult to find a solution in Turkey. The PKK is internationally recognized as a terrorist organization.

Opposition media and members of parliament are harassed by the government and its supporters.

Political opposition to government policies is one thing – libelous personal attacks and deliberate incitement to violence quite another. Freedom has its limits.

Erdoğan has been seeking to change the constitution to create an all- powerful, executive-style presidency.

This is what the United States already has. But anyway, Mr Erdoğan can’t change the constitution by himself. There is a democratic process that must be followed. The USA might benefit from public debate on its own incomprehensible electoral system.

Reporters Without Borders call Turkey “the biggest prison for journalists in the world.”

This is nonsense. Who are these journalists that are in prison? Can we see a list of names?

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Memories of Turkey’s 1980 military coup linger on

The writer of this article, Alp Aslandoğan, says: ‘I was a middle school student in the 1970s during another period of instability, when armed groups thrived and thousands of young people were killed. I’m even more worried for Turkey now.’

I would wonder what a 12-year-old child of a privileged Turkish family really understood of the political chaos that reigned in his country in the 1970s; chaos that began with a military coup in 1960 when the Prime Minister was summarily hanged by the coup-leaders, and continued through the 1990s until the most recent military intervention in 1997. Anyone who says that Turkey is less democratic now is either ignorant of his (or her) own history, or deliberately distorting the facts for some ulterior purpose. ‘Thousands of young people were killed’ then – and it’s worse now?

Then there are the accusations of government corruption. Even if these accusations had been proven, which they haven’t, they would pale into insignificance beside previous governments that twiddled their thumbs while presiding over decades of banana-republic inflation, as they allowed 90% of the country to languish in medieval backwardness.

Anti-cameron

Not everyone loves him either

Like me, you may have been following with interest the current scandal unfolding as a result of the ‘Panama papers’ leaks. One of my foreign colleagues, outspoken critic of Turkey’s AKP government, expressed surprise that Mr Erdoğan and his people had not been mentioned as involved in this ocean of money-laundering and tax evasion. British Prime Minister Cameron, however, has been named, and is facing calls to resign from his own citizens and local media.

NZ protest

New Zealand police dealing with protester

New Zealand, it seems, is one of the countries recommended by lawyers Mossack Fonseca to their mega-rich clients as a reliable place to hide cash. Prime Minister John Key has made no secret of his grand scheme to turn our tiny nation into the Switzerland of the South Pacific. And what exactly does that entail? Mr Key has made a name for himself over the past year for his sponsorship of a project to change NZ’s flag, pushing ahead with referenda despite apparent lack of public support. Just yesterday it emerged that much of the financial backing for Mr Key’s questionable project came from ‘wealthy Chinese donors’ wooed at secret private fund-raising luncheons – which must surely raise speculation as to how much the NZ PM’s political success depends on those same wealthy Chinese donors. Despite his government’s repeated denials, it seems certain that the property boom making Auckland houses amongst the world’s most unaffordable, has been driven by rich Chinese ‘investors’.

Another frequent criticism leveled at Turkey’s government is that they are ‘Islamic-rooted’, whatever that means. So it was with interest that I read on Friday that Democratic presidential hopeful, Bernie Sanders, beloved of the American intellectual Left, has accepted an invitation from Pope Francis to attend a conference in the Vatican just four days before the New York Primary. According to NBC, ‘Since 1972, the winner of the popular vote in every presidential race won the Catholic vote, going by the exit polls. From Nixon in 1972 to Obama in 2012.’ And what has the Catholic Church got to say about a woman’s right to choose? Anyone? Anyone?

Sanders and pope

Bernie Sanders – friends in high places

So don’t expect too much from President Sanders, is my advice, even if he does manage to edge out Mrs Clinton for the Democratic nomination – and whichever capitalist ignoramus the Republicans select. Previous darling of the liberal Left, Barack Obama, has had eight years to close Guantanamo Prison as he promised – and those unconvicted inmates are still waiting. On Tuesday, President Obama acknowledged that “civilians were killed that shouldn’t have been” in past U.S. drone strikes, but said the administration is now “very cautious” about striking where women or children are present. Good to hear – especially for those families of civilians killed in previous US drone strikes. Mr Obama went on to say, “In situations of war, you know, we have to take responsibility when we’re not acting appropriately.” As far as I’m aware, however, the United States has not actually declared war on any of those countries whose citizens they are killing with drone strikes. But maybe that’s just a semantic quibble.

Oludeniz_Beach_areal

Not the only beach in Turkey – and five months of summer

Anyway, what I really want to say here is, if you were thinking of a trip to Turkey, don’t be put off by the bad publicity. If you’re American, you or your children are probably more likely to be shot by a disaffected nutcase in a random massacre; or if you’re an Asian in New Zealand, to get mugged on the street by young hooligans. It’s a dangerous world – but Turkey is a beautiful country. There may not be a thousand varieties of beer, but there are a thousand-and-one other things to do.

Understanding Politics in Turkey (2)

Three years or so ago I wrote a post I called ‘Understanding Turkish Politics’. In the interim, I have become a little more politically aware – hence today’s title. On the other hand, I’m not sure I’m much the wiser about what’s really going on. Rather, I am confirmed in the opinion I expressed at the time: there’s a lot going on behind the scenes, and secret agenda are not the sole prerogative of the government.
Last week anti-government street demonstrations got under way again in various cities around Turkey. It was kind of expected. There had been talk of a resumption of protest activity in the autumn. Whether that was because many of the demonstrators were away on summer vacation I can’t say for sure. Whatever the case, the two-month layoff seemed to have thinned the numbers to a hard-core of barricade-builders, stone and Molotov cocktail-hurlers. The football season has resumed too, meaning that fans who swelled the ranks of June protests now have more pressing matters on their minds.
In Istanbul, Thursday was a particularly eventful night with police and protesters in Kadıköy carrying on the now familiar running battles. There seem to have been two reasons for that timing. One was the death of a young man in the southeastern city of Hatay. Some anti-government groups were claiming that 22 year-old Ahmet Atakan died from injuries received at the hands of police during a political demonstration. An autopsy, however, determined that his death was the result of a fall from a great height, and this seemed to be confirmed by a video captured by a reporter on the spot showing the young man falling several stories from a building to the street below.
Well, of course, we can’t be sure that police didn’t push him off that building – though given the current climate in Turkey, it’s hard to understand why they would – and investigations are apparently continuing. What has emerged, however, is that Ahmet and two others who died in the so-called Gezi Park protests were members of the Arab Alawite community in Hatay. Now I’m not denying anyone’s right to protest, having done a bit of it myself in my younger days. It is becoming increasingly clear, though, that green spaces and other issues of urban planning played only a small part in those explosive events back in June.
September 1980. From where to where?
Arabic is one of several native languages spoken in that southeastern corner of Turkey. I don’t know the history of the Alawite community (material for a future post?) but it would seem they are co-religionists of embattled Syrian President Assad. Evidently local tensions have been building up over the past two years as a result of the flow of refugees into Turkey fleeing the violence of the ongoing civil war. The count now exceeds 450,000, four times the number that brought UN Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie on a fact-finding mission two years ago. Not sure what she did with the facts she found, but that’s another issue, I guess. Certainly I’m not going to attempt to analyse all that, but clearly there is more to the business than tree-hugging in an Istanbul park.
Returning to the more recent action in Kadıköy, the other thing that brought protesters together, I gather, was that Thursday 12 September was the anniversary of the military coup that ousted the coalition government of Süleyman Demirel back in 1980. Well, it was a traumatic event in Turkish history, for sure. According to Wikipedia:
  • 650,000 people were placed under arrest.
  • 1,683,000 people were blacklisted.
  • 230,000 people were judged in 210,000 lawsuits.
  • 7,000 people faced the death penalty.
  • 517 persons were sentenced to death.
  • 50 of those given the death penalty were executed (26 political prisoners, 23 criminal offenders and 1 ASALA militant).
  • The files of 259 people, charged with capital offences, were sent to the National Assembly.
  • 71,000 people were judged on account of the articles 141, 142 and 163 in Turkish Penal Code.
  • 98,404 people were judged on charges of being members of a leftist, a rightist, a nationalist, a conservative, etc. organization.
  • 388,000 people were refused a passport.
  • 30,000 people were dismissed from their firms because they were suspects and therefore deemed unemployable.
  • 14,000 people had their citizenship cancelled.
  • 30,000 people went abroad as political refugees.
  • 300 people died in a suspicious manner.
  • 171 people are documented as having died by reason of torture.
  • 937 films were banned because they were found objectionable.
  • 23,677 associations had their activities stopped.
  • 3,854 teachers, 120 lecturers and 47 judges were dismissed.
  • 400 journalists were charged with crimes carrying 4000 years’ imprisonment.
  • Journalists were sentenced to a total of 3315 years and 6 months’ imprisonment.
  • 31 journalists went to jail.
  • 300 journalists were attacked.
  • 3 journalists were shot dead.
  • Newspapers were not published for 300 days.
  • 303 cases were brought against 13 major newspapers.
  • 39 tonnes of newspapers and magazines were destroyed.
  • 299 people lost their lives in prison.
  • 144 people died in a suspicious manner.
  • 14 people died in a hunger strike.
  • While fleeing, 16 people were shot.
  • 95 people were killed in combat.
  • A report of “Natural death” was given for 73 persons.
  • The cause of death of 43 people was announced as “suicide”.

 

The military junta ruled Turkey for three years, writing a new constitution (which is still mostly in effect) and eventually organizing an election contested by ‘approved’ parties. The army kept its grip on the nation’s throat, however, appointing General Kenan Evren as President for a seven-year term. It wasn’t until 1992 that the Republican People’s Party (the current CHP opposition) was permitted to resume political activity.
What I’m not sure about is whether the Thursday night demonstrators were holding Turkey’s current government responsible for those dreadful events of the early 80s, or whether they shared the frustration of some who, unable to achieve their aims through the ballot-box, would have liked to see Prime Minister Erdoğan’s government overthrown by another ‘Night of the Generals’.
The reason for my uncertainty here is that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, against formidable (non-parliamentary) opposition, has been little by little rewriting that 1982 constitution, pulling the teeth of Turkey’s paternalistic military, and making it possible for perpetrators of the above-listed crimes to be brought before the courts to answer for their actions. In my humble opinion as a foreigner, people in this country should be grateful for what the current government has achieved – truth be told, the majority probably are. Certainly, blaming Tayyip Erdoğan and his team for the actions of over-zealous generals back in the 80s seems a tad unfair.
A less political achievement, but nonetheless significant, was the opening, last weekend, of a system of underpasses aimed at turning Taksim Square into a pedestrian-friendly hub for the city. Once the buses and other traffic are redirected, the pedestrian area will cover close to ten hectares. One motorist interviewed said that he hadn’t expected the project to be completed so soon, considering that the Gezi Park protests had slowed down construction. I’m not an architect or a town-planner, but from a purely lay point-of-view, I have to say that Taksim Square has, up till now, been singularly unattractive and pedestrian-unfriendly, so I, for one, will not lament any improvements.
Still, despite the complaints you will hear from Istanbullites, traffic jams are not the sole cause of unhappiness among citizens of Turkey. Here’s a list of grievances I compiled from news media over the weekend:
  • Armenian writer Hrant Dink was shot and killed in January 2007 and some folks are complaining that justice has not been done. The European Court of Human Rights apparently agreed with them, adding fuel to that particular fire.
  • An organisation known as the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK) has called on families to boycott schools as the new year begins to insist on the right to education in their native tongue.
  • Two of the top Istanbul football teams, Beşiktaş and Fenerbahçe, have been banned from participation in UEFA competitions in the current season because of match-fixing. The Turkish Football Association has lost its appeals against the decision but is so far refraining from punitive action of its own.
  • Students at Middle East Technical University have been protesting about the construction of a road through the campus, and have now turned their attention to female students wearing headscarves and claimed to be associated with the Hizmetmovement of Fethullah Gülen.

 

Well, as I remarked above, citizens should have the right to protest when they feel their rights are under threat. On the other hand, as the Governor of Istanbul pointed out, that right may not extend to all-night protests involving Molotov cocktails, ripping up roads to use the paving stones as ammunition, and other wilful destruction of property. It is also perhaps a trifle unfair to expect the accumulated ills of 90 years of republican history (not to mention 500 years of Ottoman rule) to be cured overnight.
The young kid who actually shot Hrant Dink and the guy who put him up to it have both been sentenced to lengthy terms of imprisonment. It may be true that so-called ‘deep state’ Gladio-type operators were behind the killing, but the courts were unable to make a definite connection. It is also true, however, that the courts have been doing their best to bring members of that organisation to justice – and European Union authorities have been expressing their doubts about that case too.
The government of Turkey has opened discussions and proposed ‘democratisation’ packages aimed at addressing the grievances of minority groups, especially Kurds. The Prime Minister has apologised, on behalf of the state, for a massacre of Alevi Kurds that took place after an uprising in 1937, and is proposing to reinstate the name (Dersim) of their province, changed to Tunceli as a corrective measure after those events. None of these measures could have been imagined in the Turkey I came to in the 1990s. As for the ‘right’ to education in one’s mother tongue, it is unlikely that the overstretched education system in Turkey could cope with such a demand, and not at all clear that the majority of Kurds in Turkey want it. There seems to be some question anyway as to whether the KCK has authority to speak on their behalf, especially since its members have suggested the use of force to persuade families to support the boycott.
Of course, no one likes to see trees cut, and university students the world over are known for their political awareness and activism. However, the ODTÜ campus is very extensive, and a good deal of it is covered with forest. I’m a bicycle man myself, but Turkey is a developing country, and cycling as a post-modern lifestyle choice hasn’t really caught on yet. Most people see owning a car, the bigger the better, as a sign that they have made it. So the country needs roads. On the headscarf issue, I have difficulty understanding why some Turkish citizens have such a problem accepting the right of others to dress, within reasonable limits, as they see fit. Besides, it’s a well-known fact that most religious beliefs thrive on persecution. ‘Leave them alone and they’ll get tired of it’ seems to have worked well with Christianity. As for Fethullah Gülen, as far as I am aware, the jury is still out. Despite criticism bordering on hysteria, nobody seems able to explain exactly what the guy has done wrong. Schools opened in his name seem to focus on academic achievement, have no overt religious instruction, and long queues of hopeful customers wait outside the front gate. Most private schools in Turkey would kill for that level of popularity. Maybe that’s part of the problem.
And then there’s football. I read a quote from one club official along the lines of, ‘Well, there was match-fixing in that game, but it didn’t affect the outcome.’ It’s a bit like the argument that says the coup-plotters shouldn’t be punished because they didn’t actually carry out a coup. FIFA has banned those two clubs from Europe for a year, but I think they are also looking to the local association to take some kind of exemplary punitive action. Some hope. A well-known Turkish saying sums up the attitude: ‘Hem suçlu, hem güçlü’, which means, essentially, ‘Even if you’re caught red-handed, brazen it out’.
I know I have been harping on the theme of democracy lately, and I know Turkey is not perfect – but it’s a relative thing. Most of us, Americans, Brits, New Zealanders, Australians, will admit that our own systems do not always produce the greatest good for the greatest number. Despite the presence of droves of artists among the Gezi Park protesters, I can say the art scene in Turkey has improved out of sight since I first came to the country. One measure of this is the cinema industry, where mainstream films are now free to deal with previously forbidden topics such as the 1980 military coup, and Turkish military action against Kurdish insurgents in the east.
Well, this time I’m going to leave the last word to someone else. The following is an article that appeared the other day in the English language newspaper ‘Today’s Zaman’ under the headline ‘A Memory about September 12’:
“The belief that it is a crime to overthrow a democratically elected government by force has been accepted by large segments of society. Turkey’s secular-Kemalist elites have lost their power. They have no faith in elections, as they lose consistently. These days they are trying to discredit the government and render it dysfunctional by creating an atmosphere of widespread violence through street skirmishes. Will they be successful? It is unlikely, but that has been their aim since the Gezi Park protests.
“The constitution drafted in the wake of the Sept. 12 coup is still in force. Parliament has failed to come to an agreement about drafting a new Constitution.
“I was jailed in Diyarbakır at the time and released in 1988. Now, I am a person in middle age. It saddens me to see that Turkey is still being governed by the constitution of the Sept. 12 coup. On every anniversary of the Sept. 12 coup, that sadness returns to haunt me.
“Before the coup, I was a literature teacher at a high school in Diyarbakır. From the books we read, we knew or thought we knew what would happen if fascism arose in this country.
“But the reality depicted in books and the events of real life are never the same. At the time of the military takeover, I had the chance to flee abroad. I was living in a city that was close to the border, and it was a piece of cake for me to cross the border and make for Europe. But I believed that I was innocent. My actions, apart from some participation in civil and democratic work, weren’t reprehensible.
“One day, the school where I was working was raided, and they removed me from class right in front of my students. I was tortured for three months in the interrogation center. Then, I was arrested and jailed in Diyarbakır prison, where I learned that fascism couldn’t be learned from books.” Read more:

Who’s Going to Rule the World? Fethullah Gülen?

For much of my longish life I have been hearing tales, historical, contemporary and fictional, about the latest megalomaniac individual or evil empire determined to rule the world. Traditionally the contenders have based their claims on the possession of some kind of superior weapons technology – but times have changed. We are well into the post-modern era, and most predictions of earlier ages about what the world would be like in the year 1984 or 2000 seem naïve and laughable to us now. It is pretty clear that the task of ruling the world has moved way beyond the power of one individual (if that was ever a realistic possibility). The vast military resources of the one remaining global super-power have proved insufficient to rebuild even minor third world states in the US’s own image. So now we have nothing to worry about, right? We can get on with the job of lighting up our own small corners with iPhone 4s and Galaxy SIIIs without fear of global annihilation.

Uh-uh, sorry folks. I’ve got bad news. There’s a new battle shaping up, and it’s about the enemies within.

One reason I enjoy living in Turkey is that I don’t feel so much like crying when I read the local news. Back in New Zealand, before heading to work, I used to listen to a morning roundup on the radio of what ‘they’ were doing to my beautiful country. I confess, there was a time back then when the idea of joining some revolutionary band of bomb-throwing anarchists began to have some appeal. Now, however, from a distance of some 17,000 kilometres, I find I can read news of events in the Land of the Long White Cloud with more objectivity, and the tears don’t flow as once they did.

Let me give you an example of the madness, though, from my own field of professional interest. The National (read Tory) Government in New Zealand, in its 2012 budget, announced its intention to save $43 million by putting the lid on teacher recruitment. The inevitable result of this, of course, would be a steady increase in class sizes in schools around the country. Luckily, the government has a select band of tame ‘education experts’ who can be called upon to explain why this won’t be a bad thing. One of these, a Professor John Hattie, has apparently conducted research showing that class sizes are not a major factor in student learning. As far as I can learn, Professor Hattie’s research has not involved any actual time spent teaching actual kids in actual classrooms – he has been an ivory tower academic since 1975. Not sure I would take my car to be repaired by an ‘automotive expert’ with no hands-on experience, regardless of how many years he’d been studying the theory, but that’s just me.
Well, there are experts and consultants, it seems, and you can count on these guys to back each other up. One of the latter, a Dr John Langley, was quoted as saying, “If I had a choice of putting my child into a class with a poor teacher with twenty kids or into a class of thirty kids with a good teacher I’d go for the latter. It’s as simple as that.” Reassuring to know the government has access to people with such incisive problem-solving ability, and New Zealand taxpayers can feel satisfied that Dr John well deserves his no doubt generous consultancy fee.

These days New Zealand has a system of proportional system for electing representatives to its legislative assembly. The system was instituted in 1996 in response to overwhelming public dissatisfaction with the old first-past-the-post, two-party system such as exists in the UK and the US. Unfortunately post-modernism has insinuated its way in here too. The several small parties that manage to win the occasional seat in the legislature are run mostly by fringe lunatic refugees from the far right or left of the two main parties. The main role of these minor participants seems to be putting forward outrageous proposals which the government can proceed to implement in slightly modified form after the initial public anger has died down.


One of the more fanatical of these minor political groupings is a coterie of doctrinaire libertarians known by the acronym ACT, arguing with religious fervour for deregulation, privatisation, flexible labour markets and reduced taxes for the wealthy. And one of the more significant achievements of these neo-liberal economic geniuses has been the move to privatisation of the prison system. A recent editorial in the New Zealand Herald observed that, ‘Something is clearly awry when a Government proclaims the economic benefits of a new prison’.  Nevertheless, Auckland’s oldest prison has already been outsourced to private management, and a newly built facility soon will be. The group to which the NZ Government is entrusting the care and security of its criminals is a multi-national outfit name of Serco – which a Guardian journalist has described as ‘. . . probably the biggest company you’ve never heard of.’  OK, come on, you may say. Leave aside your left-wing socialist prejudices and tell us how they are doing. Well, a recent report on the first eight months of Serco’s management produced the following findings:


‘ . . .  as well as two prisoners being wrongfully released, the British firm had failed to meet 40% of its performance targets and was fined $150,000 after a prisoner escaped.
Targets for random drug testing and prisoner management plans were also not reached.
Annually, Serco can earn up to approximately $3 million in incentive payments, but instead it is having to pay for under-performing.
On top of the $150,000 fine it got after prisoner A. F. escaped, it was fined $25,000 for accidently releasing an inmate early and $50,000 for failing to file progress reports.
Another $25,000 fine is pending for releasing another prisoner early.’

In spite of these criticisms, the government is standing by its decision. Corrections Minister Anne Tolley said ‘ . . . there needs to be some improvement, but she also described it as a “bedding in” period for Serco’.

Well, once you have accepted handing over prisons to the private sector you have pretty much overcome, or chosen to ignore, all the arguments that can be mustered against privatization. So it is hardly surprising to see the free-marketeers turning their attention to schools and teachers. Unfortunately, private sector education has been around for a long time, and has often been associated with elitism, poor teaching, violence, and dubious educational standards. But even supposing they do find a good establishment, the wealthy resent having to fork out high tuition fees in addition to paying taxes, some of which are used to finance state-sector schools. So, our privateers have come up with a system which allows organisations to receive government funding for a school, while at the same time getting a special deal allowing them to avoid much of the normal regulation and overseeing. It’s called the Charter School system.

However, again unfortunately, there seem to be glitches in the system. In 2009, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University in the US, produced a report stating that ‘17% of charter schools reported academic gains that were significantly better than traditional public schools; 46% showed no difference from public schools; and 37% were significantly worse than their traditional public school counterparts’.

Fethullah Gülen

Now, if you have read this far, you may be wondering what all this has to do with my topic, which, you will remember, was ‘Who’s going to rule the world?’ But I assure you, I hadn’t forgotten. I want to redirect your attention to those figures in the CREDO report, and in particular, the 17% of charter schools [reporting] academic gains that were significantly better than traditional public schools. A Turkish colleague of mine recently sent me the link to a ‘60 Minutes’ documentary looking into the connection between some very successful charter schools in Texas, and a certain reclusive expatriate Turkish citizen by the name of Fethullah Gülen.

I watched the documentary with interest, because I have been hearing this gentleman’s name in Turkey for some years, generally spoken in tones of fear and loathing that suggest some kind of hybrid monster cloned from the DNA of L Ron Hubbard, Sun Myung Moon, Attila the Hun and the Ayatollah Khomeini. I was hoping for some conclusive evidence of evil-doing, since I was assured that Americans were now seeing Fethullah Hodja in his true colours. The programme, then, I have to say, turned out to be something of a let-down. The presenter, a long-serving correspondent for CBS with a big reputation as an investigative tele-journalist, visited schools supposedly associated with the Gülen ‘movement’, and tracked the elderly Hodja to his secluded residence in the Poconos, a mountainous region in north-eastern Pennsylvania.


She and her camera crew spoke to school administrators and students. As far as I could see, they learned that:
  • The school administrators are normal-looking, secular and articulate.
  • The students are bright-eyed, bushy-tailed kids who love their school.
  • The schools are among the most highly rated in the country in terms of academic success.
  • There is a waiting list for entry exceeding the total capacity of the schools.
  • There is no religious education taking place, and certainly no observable Islamic character.
  • Curriculum focus is on mathematics and science.


They were unable to interview the Hodja himself since, apparently, he has been ill for some months and rarely appears in public. His representative assured the interviewer that he takes no direct interest in the running of the schools. The most sinister information emerging from the programme was the presenter’s comment that some people in Turkey believe Gülen and his ‘movement’ have a ‘secret agenda’ though the details weren’t made clear – one assumes that’s because otherwise it wouldn’t be secret.

Undoubtedly the activities of the ‘Gülen movement’ are beginning to arouse interest beyond the shores of the Hodja’s native Turkey – however there seems to be some debate about the nature of these activities.

My Apple Desktop Dictionary defines a movement as: ‘a group of people working together to advance their shared political, social, or artistic ideas: the labor movement’, or the cubist movement.
Merriam-Webster Online suggests: ‘a series of organized activities working toward an objective; also: an organized effort to promote or attain an end, eg the civil rights movement’.

Two questions seem to arise here: Does a ‘movement’ require a leader in the sense of a person who takes responsibility for organizing and coordinating its activities? And, is a ‘movement’ good or bad, according to the definition?

Addressing the first question, it seems to me that the key factor in a movement is a concept or philosophy, rather than a ‘leader’ in the normal sense of the word – a concept such as: that labour needs to organize to counteract the power of employers; that human beings deserve equal rights before the law regardless of race; the use of ‘multiple perspective and complex planar faceting for expressive effect’ in a work of art. Participants latch on to an idea formulated by an initiator or trend-setter and the movement takes on a life of its own which may be quite independent of that person. Subsequently leaders may emerge but again, the movement continues or dies out more or less regardless of the existence or activities of those persons. Think of Martin Luther King or Pablo Picasso. As for the second question, in general, movements tend to be, to a greater or lesser extent, revolutionary, in the sense that they are usually a reaction to the prevailing status quo, and their appeal is that they offer some kind of new approach to what is perceived to be an existing problem. I guess they will ultimately be judged according to which side of the fence the judge is sitting on – or alternatively, by their results. ‘Ye shall know them by their fruits’ (Luke: 6, 43) has always seemed to me a good criterion to use in evaluating any group or individual.

So let’s get back to the Gülen Movement. First of all there is an official website. You won’t find the ‘hidden agenda’ of course, because that would, of necessity, be hidden. But you will find a very fascinating and comprehensive source of information about the man, his beliefs and goals. According to the brief bio, he ‘is an authoritative mainstream Turkish Muslim scholar, thinker, author, poet, opinion leader and educational activist who supports interfaith and intercultural dialogue, science, democracy and spirituality and opposes violence and turning religion into a political ideology. Fethullah Gülen promotes cooperation of civilizations toward a peaceful world, as opposed to a clash’. On this website you will find poetry and articles about education, the rights of women, the link between virtue and happiness . . . and other interesting topics too numerous to mention. You will find that Gülen cites as a source of his inspiration the 13th century Sufi mystic Mevlana Jalal al-Din Rumi, renowned for his inclusive philosophy of love and peace. 

Wikipedia will tell you, not surprisingly, that the Gülen Movement is inspired by the teachings of Fethullah Hodja. A key concept is the Turkish word Hizmet, meaning service, which connotes using your talents for the common good without looking for personal reward. On the other hand, Gülen does not discourage followers from making money through business – merely encourages them to use some of their energies to help the less fortunate. 

A recent Time magazine article  wrote about a meeting with members of the Gülen Movement in the eastern Turkish city of Diyarbakır. In an economically disadvantaged region of the country with a large Kurdish population, local businessmen have been raising money for the foundation of elementary schools and public reading rooms. While the article does say that many Turks view the Gulen Movement with suspicion’, on the face of it, you’d have to think that the fruits of its efforts seem quite positive, even laudable.

According to another website called Gülen Inspired Schools’,  there are over a thousand such schools around the world, including 130 in the United States. Independent audits suggest that these schools produce excellent academic results, ranking them among the most successful in their respective countries. Interestingly, administrators deny any control by the Hodja, or a central body associated with him, unlike, say, Catholic Church-run schools. Investigators have found no evidence of religious teaching, Islamic or otherwise. On the contrary, Gülen has been quoted as saying, “Studying physics, mathematics, and chemistry is worshipping God,” and the common thread running through the schools seems to be a curriculum focusing on these modern subjects.

Sounds ok, on the whole, what do you think? Still, I have to confess I found one or two negatives in my searchings. An article in the New York Times in 2006  reported that some of those Texas schools had been allegedly giving construction contracts and making other favourable deals with firms ‘connected to’ the Gülen movement. More seriously, Mr Gülen himself was apparently put on trial in 1999 for ‘attempting to overthrow the government.’ Still, when you consider that the present Prime Minister of Turkey served prison time in those days for a similar offence, you’d have to think that the legal criteria must have been somewhat more stringent than we would expect in the US or New Zealand. In his younger days, the Hodja also apparently fell foul of the military authorities after the 1971 coup in Turkey, being arrested, tried and convicted. Not surprising, then, that he chooses to reside in the USA – although Turkish courts did clear him of all wrong-doing in 2008.

Anyway, ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for your patience in reading so far. I’m not here to be an apologist for Fethullah Gülen or any political or religious ideology. I merely want to outline the philosophies and fruits of two movements, and ask you to consider who you would prefer to see ruling the world.

God or Mammon?

On the one hand, let me present bottom-line accounting, out-of-control free-market capitalism, as championed by Wall Street bankers, multi-national corporations and the so-called mainstream media. Key elements of this ideology are: privatisation of state-owned enterprises, belt-tightening (especially for the middle and lower socio-economic classes), welfare cutbacks, labour-market flexibility and outsourcing of manufacturing to countries with lower wage costs. MBA management courses churn out white-colour clones who can manage any enterprise, without needing to know anything about the activity of the industry they are managing. Governments are hijacked by corporate and financial interests with no personal morality or patriotism whatsoever, whose only belief is in the power of money to buy whatever they want, and a philosophy, if you can call it that, based on a firm sense of personal entitlement to rape the planet of its resources and exploit its people wherever they may be. Reduced taxes for the wealthy are an important tool in economic management. Why should the tax-payer pay for schools, hospitals, post offices, railways, electricity supply, relief for the the unemployed and disadvantaged? The tax-payer’s money is needed to bail out the banks when they have finished milking ma and pa small investors, superannuation funds, poor borrowers – and there’s no one else in the capitalist system to defraud.


On the other hand, let’s postulate a group of people with a personal morality based on religious beliefs, and a philosophy founded on a concept of altruistic service to the community. A group of people who operate without the need for a centralised bureaucratic structure, their operations inspired by a teacher with a vision of a better world and directed by their own confidence in the truth of his message. A group of people who, in spite of their lofty ideals, do not divorce themselves from the real world, but rather work within it, using their knowledge, skills and resources to provide educational opportunities and support to young people in their communities.

In the end, I guess, life choices are never so simple. I don’t imagine you will get the opportunity to cast a vote directly for one or the other. But I like the sound of this:

Along the winding road to The Truth
A hero, all selfishness banished,
The key to the mystery of creation in his heart,
Weaves his way through time to reach his goal.

Moving ever upwards he breathes the air of eternity;
He has met with Khidr: he knows the way.
And to fellow wayfarers he gives the good news of dawn;
A message of hope in a night of choking darkness.

In his hands burns a torch; he spreads light everywhere
And he brightens the Way for all who would follow;
His ascent radiates peace and serenity;
His amber fragrance permeates every atom of creation.

Wherever he treads finds life and becomes green:
The hills and valleys, plains and mountains are all dressed in color:
And on every breeze is borne the perfume of spring;
Blossoms appear, flowers burst into life, trees are quickened.

His mind nurtured ever by eternity,
And everlasting melody flows from his lips:
All he sees is the richly colored tapestry of life to come,
The belief in which is part of his every being.