Turkish diaspora see Erdoğan as ‘healer’ of frustrations

Extracts from an interview with Professor Ayhan Kaya

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the whole article

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Islam in Albania

Albania is a very interesting nation, and, like Turkey, one that has tended to get a bad press in the media of wealthier countries. I was lucky enough to visit and be shown around by locals in 2010, and I haven’t forgotten the friendly people, the warm hospitality, the spectacular nature and the surprisingly (for me) modern lifestyle in the three cities I had a brief look at.

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Tirana sits on the slopes of Mt Dajtı

I have met two young Albanians in Turkey, both of them impressively multilingual, broad-minded, outward-looking citizens of the world. I asked one of them, Dritan, for his thoughts on the practice of Islam in his homeland – and I’d like to share his response:

Guest post

Muslim Albanians have always tended to be more liberal and relaxed in following Islam. Generally speaking, Albanians tend to emphasize more their ethnicity; something they take more seriously than their religion. 

Muslims in Albania are mostly either Sunni (Hanafi) or Sufi (Bektashi). Bektashism is viewed as a different type of Islam – some say a branch of Shia Islam, some say Sufi, some say a unique brand of Albanian Sufism. 

Most Albanian Muslims are quite secular in their outlook. They are not fundamentalist in religion, usually being more nationalist than religious. Albanians are predominantly Muslim (60%) but with a Christian (Catholic and Orthodox) presence as well, although religion was never a dividing factor for Albanians.

Bektashis seem to be more patriarchal and loyal to their Sheikhs. Even in their Tekke (meeting place) drinking alcohol is common, something which is prohibited in Islam.

In short, Islam in Albania is more cultural than religious, although Albanians in Kosovo and Macedonia are slightly different. The Ottoman Empire conquered the Balkans and occupied it for half a millennium. They managed to convert most Albanians to Islam, though all the other nations in the area remained Christian. The reason for this remains unclear. What is agreed is that the conversion primarily occurred late in the period of Ottoman rule: Catholic Albanians mostly converted in the 17th century, and Orthodox Albanians mostly followed in the following century.

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Mosaic mural in Skanderbeg Square, Tirana

An important characteristic of Albanians is that they are the only nation in the Balkans who managed to have a national identity transcending religion, which means that the term “Albanian” covers all Albanians of Muslim, Orthodox or Catholic faiths.

This is not the case in other countries in the region, and differs from the traditional citizenship system in the Ottoman Empire. Officially in the empire there was not a system based on ethnicity as was the case in almost all of Europe. Instead, religion was the determining factor for identity (ethnic separation is forbidden by Islam) For example, the term “Turkish” was not used. All Muslims of the empire, independent of their ethnicity or native language, were classified according to their religion. The term “Turk” was not commonly used, but even if it was, it was synonymous with Muslim.

The same applied for Christians. All followers of the Greek Orthodox Church, irrespective of whether they were Greek, Armenian, Bulgarian, Slavic or even Turkish, were classified officially as “Greeks”.

From this tradition, the national identities of modern Balkan states developed in parallel with their religious identities.

Muslim Bulgarians were not called (or accepted as) Bulgarians, but Pomaks. Muslim Slavs were not called Serbians (which only referred to Orthodox Slavs), but only Muslims (and later Bosniacs). Muslim Greeks were not called (or accepted as) Greeks, and these in massive numbers were exported to Turkey after the population exchange between the two states in the 1920s.

During and after the Balkan Wars, all Muslims of the region, irrespective of their ethnic identities, were seen as targets, and most of these were killed or forced to immigrate to Turkey. Out of millions of immigrants to Turkey, a small minority spoke Turkish. The remaining Muslim populations in the Balkans are very small in number.

Albania managed to transfer from a religious identity into a national identity, which no other nation in the region was able to do. Only Tito’s Yugoslavia managed to keep such an identity for some time, by calling people of the same ethnic background Yugoslavians instead of Serbian, Croatian or Bosniac, in accordance with their religions. But this ended with the fall of Yugoslavia and the tragic ethnic disasters that followed.

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Statue of Scanderbeg beside the Albanian flag

The conversion process in Albania lasted for hundreds of years. After the death of Scanderbeg, charismatic leader of Albanian resistance, Albanian lands came totally under Ottoman rule. Probably at first, in some parts of the country, force was used to convert people to Islam.

Another major reason for conversion to Islam was a way of saving their ethnicity, since they were surrounded by Slavs. Many orthodox Albanians in present-day Macedonia, Greece or Serbia lost their ethnic identity while Albanian Muslims didn’t. Nowadays there are many cases of people identifying themselves as Albanians even though they don’t speak their mother tongue.

Another reason for conversion was the advantages offered to Muslims under Ottoman rule, such as: tax exemptions, and better opportunities for a military or political career. According to historic sources there were about 48 Albanian Grand Viziers during the years of the Empire.

Before the arrival of the Turks, a tiny percentage of Albanians did embrace Islam through traders bringing in the religion. There are a few mosques that exist in Albanian lands that have a plaque on them declaring that they are NOT Ottoman-era mosques but rather from an era that preceded them. Furthermore, it is true the Turks singled out Albanians more than other nationalities because of their ruggedness and warrior-like culture and honour as well as the loyalty that is heavily ingrained in their culture. 

However, those are not the only reasons for their becoming Muslim. Many little boys kidnapped by the Ottomans were forced to become Muslim after they were stolen from their families. They were raised to become soldiers then sent back to fight their own people, or sent out to conquer other countries as well. Although the exact reason is not known for the majority becoming Muslim, we can guess at a few perhaps. The main one may have to do with being in harmony with the powers-that-be and adopting their way of life so that they might prosper with land, titles of nobility, and be accepted.

By the late 18th century, the Balkans were at a crossroads. The menacing Slavs, of course, were in ascendancy, first under Austria-Hungary, and much later, under “Yugoslavia”. The Albanians were reluctant to join them, a wise decision, given late 20th century struggles between Bosnians, Serbs and Croats.

To the south lay the Orthodox Greeks who would free themselves from the Turks at the beginning of the 19th century, with whom the “Albanians” could not make common cause. (The Greeks were pushing north, threatening to encroach on Albanian territory). Given the 18th century rise of both Russia and Austria-Hungary, even the Slavs that remained under Turkish rule (e.g. Bulgarians) could look forward to eventual “liberation.”

The Albanians decided that their best bet was to remain with the Ottoman Empire. Having come to this conclusion as a group, it made sense for many of them to convert to Islam to reduce their taxes, and to enjoy other privileges available to practitioners of the dominant faith.

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Boundaries of “Ethnic” Albania. Q: What do Albanians call “Albania”?

This paid off in the 1870’s when the Albanians formed the Albanian Defense League (this is a translation) against its Christian neighbours, with the initial approval of the Turks. Early in the 20th century, the Turks withdrew this approval, but by 1912, the Albanians were ready to declare independence, given the impending collapse of the Ottoman Empire. This met with the support and approval of the Great Powers, who wanted to keep the coastal country away from the expansionist but land-locked Serbia.

Albanians are predominantly Muslim (85%). In Kosovo and Macedonia, Albanians practice Islam more than Muslims in Albania mainly because of the bloody history against Orthodox enemy (Serbia). They were stating their religion proudly against the enemy. In Albania, there are many Muslims that they truly don’t know anything about Islam. Some of them have an identity problem: “Why we are Muslim’’?

Albanian Catholics seem to be not religious at all – but the most common thing they share with Muslims is nationalism. Muslims and Catholics are nationalist more than religious, and neither of them curses the other.

Orthodox Albanians are different story. They are quietly religious, not nationalist at all. Since they share the same religion with enemy neighbours, sometimes there are prejudices against them. Mostly the attitude of the Autochephalic Church of Albania against Serbs and Greeks makes them out of nationalism. So, in the whole Albanian community, Orthodox Albanians seem to be little pressured and are sometimes called Greeks.

Albania was strictly atheist under the Stalinist regime that was in place during the second half of the 20th century. When communism collapsed, overseas Islamic charities came, largely from the Arab peninsula and north-eastern Africa, to assist the Muslim community.

These foreign Islamic groups were the main financial backers for the resurgent MCA, the official organisation that runs Islamic affairs in the country. Albania’s Islamic community had been starved of funds and was poorly organised, as public worship had been outlawed under communism.

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1) Well documented article:

http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/albanian-muslims-grapple-with-religious-identity

2) Interesting Article:

https://www.equaltimes.org/is-albania-the-last-beacon-of?lang=en#.WifBxVWnF6t

In remembrance of Rumi: Şeb-i Arus 17 December

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Mevlevi ceremony in Konya

Şeb-I Arus translates literally as “Wedding Night”, but in fact was the date that the renowned Sufi mystic, Celaleddin Mevlana Rumi, passed away. In keeping with his transcendental philosophy, Mevlana Rumi saw his death as the merging of his spirit with the Divinity, hence a “wedding”, and not an event to be mourned.

I’m passing on some extra information from several sources:

The Istanbul Guide:

“He is the most-read poet in the United States and possibly the best-known Islamic figure after Muhammad. His philosophy of divine love has inspired countless artists, musicians, and writers. He created the iconic symbol of Turkey, the sema ritual often known as the “whirling dervishes.” The man referred to is of course Rumi, whose full name was Mevlânâ Celâleddîn-î Rûmî. His death 742 years ago is commemorated every year on December 17.  

Every year on December 17, people flock to Rumi’s mausoleum in Konya to pay their respects and experience a powerful ceremony of remembrance.”

The official Mevlana website:

rumiWho is Mevlana?  Hz. Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi is the great Anatolian mystic, poet and the father of the Mevlevi Order. He is known as Hz. Mevlana in the East and as Rumi in the West. At birth, his family named him Muhammed, though he came to be nicknamed Celaleddin. As for “Mevlana”, it connotes to “our master”, while “Rumi” relates to “the land of Rum” or “Anatolia”, where he lived. In his lifetime, he was also referred to as “Hudavendigar”, meaning “distinguished leader”, whereas his present internationally renowned title “Mevlana” was very seldom used.

Hz. Mevlana was born on 30 September 1207 in the city of Balkh, Horasan, which at the time was inhabited by Turkish tribes; (Balkh, today, remains within the boundaries of Afghanistan). His mother Mümine was the daughter of Rükneddin, the “emir” (sovereign ruler) of Balkh and his father, Bahaeddin Veled, was “Sultanu-l ulema”(chief scholar). Their clash of opinion with Fahreddin-i Razi, one of his contemporary mystics, along with the probability of a Mongol invasion urged him to desert his hometown accompanied by his entire family. Their migration, via Baghdad, Mecca, Medina, Damascus, Malatya, Erzincan, and Karaman, ended up, on 3 May 1228, in Konya upon the invitation of Alaeddin Keykubad, the Seljuk Emperor.

As Mevlana began attending his father’s lessons at a very early age, he pursued the divine truth and secrets. He acquired Turkish, Arabic, Persian, and common Greek as well as Classical Greek. He studied the other religions along with Islam. From history to medicine, he received his initial education from his father and then from Seyyid Burhaneddin Tirmizi and other top scholars of the time. Later on, he himself, in turn, taught hundreds of students in Madrassahs (theological universities).

Turkey Travel Centre

Rumi and the Annual Whirling Dervish Festival in Konya

“From the 10th of December to the 17th, thousands of people will descend on the Turkish city of Konya. Hotel accommodation will be fully booked up and any latecomers that do find spare rooms will have to pay heavily to secure them. Konya is bracing itself for one of the most important events of the year and that is the annual celebration of Rumi and the whirling dervishes’ festival.

For many, this is a journey to commemorate the death of a poet and his works that continue to penetrate everyday society.

Who was Rumi?

MevlanaRumi was born on the edge of the Persian Empire, in the city of Balkh which is now part of Afghanistan. In 1273, he died in the Turkish city of Konya. Despite his departure from this earth over 700 years ago, his poems and quotes are still widely read today by millions of people all over the globe.

Rumi Poems and Quotes

The work of Rumi is extensive and often called words of wisdom by modern day artists and authors. His words spoke about every aspect of life but mainly focused on love and inner peace.

Famous quotes include

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

“Words are a pretext. It is the inner bond that draws one person to another, not words.”

“Come, come, whoever you are. Heathen, fire-worshipper, idolater, it doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again, come, come.”

What is his significance to the west?

Despite his origins in the east, Rumi is widely known in western countries. He was the bestselling poet in America for a number of years and his poems have been globally translated into many languages.

As a practicing Sufi, his beliefs lay in a branch of Islam yet his followers include Christians and Jews along with Muslims. He did what many others have tried to do and failed miserably at. He connected people of different religions and it all began with his words.

Read any poem or quote, and there is no bias against cultures. There is no preference of one race against another. Muslims are not favored over Christians or Jews.

He found a way to communicate with the world without excluding one single person, hence his popularity in the west.”

Visit these sites for more information:

https://www.everfest.com/fest300

https://www.everfest.com/e/mevlana-anma-torenleri-konya-turkey

https://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2015/dec/18/whirling-dervishes-at-the-rumi-festival-in-konya-a-photo-essay

Hidden History: When Muslims Ruled in Europe — The Most Revolutionary Act

When the Moors Rules in Europe Bettany Hughes (2011) Film Review When the Moors Ruled in Europe corrects many common misconceptions about Muslim rule in Spain between 711 and 1492 AD. Historical and archeological evidence contradicts the prevailing belief that this 700 year rule represented a violent military occupation. At the time Muslim Berbers from […]

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via Hidden History: When Muslims Ruled in Europe — The Most Revolutionary Act

https://turkeyfile.com/2014/11/28/cultural-amnesia-islamic-contributions-to-modern-science-and-technology/

More lies about Turkey!

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An evening out in Kadıköy

I had a meal and a drink in Kadıköy with a mate last Friday. Or was it a drink and a meal? Anyway. Kadıköy, once known as Chalcedon, has a long history of Christian settlement, and consequently a flourishing alcohol-fuelled entertainment economy. Despite loudly expressed fears that the AK Party government is dragging the country back to a medieval nightmare of Islamic fundamentalism, the labyrinthine streets of Kadıköy are packed most nights with revellers of all ages, knocking back beer, wine, rakı, or whatever beverage takes their fancy, unmolested by religious police. Even during the holy month of Ramadan.

Anyway. Gunther and I don’t see each other that often these days. We used to work together at one of Istanbul’s plethora of private universities (forty-one is the most recent figure I could find – FORTY-ONE!!). Our meetings inevitably descend into political argument, although I do try to steer towards other topics. My mate is an outspoken critic of Turkey’s AK Party government. Well, I can handle that. I’ve heard a thousand times all the arguments churned out ad nauseam proving that RTE* is the worst thing that’s happened to Turkey since Thanksgiving (sorry, that was a stupid joke – I could have said Winston Churchill).

hitler_bushIt also happens that Gunther, as you might guess, comes from German stock – and is intensely proud of the fact. To hear him tell it, Germany is indisputably the greatest country in the world, its economy driven by superior German brains and hard work, its industries second-to-none. Well, leaving aside the question of why he has chosen to make his home in Turkey rather than the Teutonic paradise of his birth, I found myself gagging over some of the outrageous claims he made to substantiate his thesis. Admittedly I have no formal background in the study of German history – which Gunther claims to have. Nevertheless I read, and take an interest, as one does. After our latest heated debate, I came home and checked the facts that I thought I knew, and which Gunther had vehemently contradicted:

  • Germany’s economy was in tatters after the First World War as a result of the huge punitive reparations demanded by the victorious allies, France and Britain.
  • The Weimar government was saved from imminent disaster by funding from the United States, enabling them to meet their obligations to those creditors.
  • When Wall Street crashed in 1929, the USA called in its foreign loans, throwing the German economy again into severe recession.
  • Adolf Hitler’s rise to power was funded by German and American bankers and industrialists to keep out the Communists who had become enormously popular with the working classes as a result of the Weimar government’s misguided austerity measures.
  • The Swiss-based Bank for International Settlements was founded in Basel in 1930, and, among other dodgy activities, laundered ill-gotten Nazi money during the Second World War.
  • In 1953 a conference in London agreed to cancel most of Germany’s debt and “reschedule” the rest. The United States, under the Marshall Plan, gave $1.3 billion in aid to assist in the rebuilding of Germany after the destruction of WW2.

Why am I telling you this? This is a blog about Turkey, isn’t it? The thing is, some people vociferously assert misinformation and even outright lies from behind a façade of superior authority (academic or otherwise), relying on the ignorance of their listeners or their own loud voices to carry their arguments.

I was reminded of this when reading an article about Turkey the other day. The piece, Why Turkey Chose Qatar, appeared on a website, The National Interest. For a start, the byline attributed it to two people with Turkish names, Aykan Erdemir and Merve Tahiroglu , which you might immediately think gave them credibility. Moreover, Mr Erdemir was a member of Turkey’s National Assembly from 2011-2015, is a respected academic, and is now on the staff of the US-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). End of argument, you might think. Clearly this guy must know what he’s talking about. And in case he needed to check his facts, he had a helpful research assistant, Ms Tahiroğlu, backed by the no doubt exhaustive resources of the FDD.

Nothing daunted, I read the article, made a few notes, did a little research of my own, and here’s what I found.

First up, Aykan Erdemir was a representative of the CHP (Republican People’s Party), sworn enemies of Mr Erdoğan’s AK Party government, and frustrated losers of so many elections everyone’s lost count. Why did he leave political life after four short years in parliament? Who knows? Maybe he thought he could achieve his purpose better with American backing from abroad.

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What have the Yemenis done to Saudi Arabia or the USA?

Anyway. What were these two authoritative Turks writing about? Of course you are aware that the freedom-loving, democratic governments of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt have imposed an embargo on Qatar on the grounds that their wealthy oil-rich neighbour is supporting terrorism. The “terrorists” in question are the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Iran – and the concerted Arab action was announced immediately after their governments had been visited by US President, Donald Trump. The Big DT didn’t actually mention that he had suggested the embargo, but he was proud to announce he had sign a deal with the Saudi royals for the supply of $110 billion worth of US military equipment, most of which is being used to terrorise the impoverished, starving people of Yemen.

Now some might argue, and indeed do, that the Muslim Brotherhood has been doing its best to work peacefully through the democratic process to bring change in Middle East countries. They actually won Egypt’s first truly democratic election in 2012, before being ousted by a military coup a year later. Turkey’s Prime Minister at the time, Mr Erdoğan, made no secret of his objections – which no doubt upset powerful interests in the USA and Israel. Some might also argue that someone needs to represent the interests of Palestinians suffering under the expansionist aggression of the Zionist Israeli government – and Hamas tries to do this. They might go further and suggest that US hawkishness towards Iran is driven by oil needs and their support for Israel, right or wrong.

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Mohammed Morsi – first democratically elected president of Egypt

But Aykan and Merve are not among those people. The main thrust of their argument is that Mr Erdoğan and the government of Turkey are acting purely from venal financial motives, largely aimed at increasing the personal fortunes of the Erdoğan family. I’m not going to dignify the argument by repeating it here. You can read the article for yourself if you’re interested.

More pertinent, I believe, is the way the writers seek to portray the Saudi coalition as the “good guys” in the current stand-off, and Turkey, Iran and Qatar as “cast[ing] their lot with Islamists”. Mr Aydemir’s paymasters, whoever is funding the FDD Defenders of Democracy, seem to have decided that the slave-based economies of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and the oppressive military dictatorship of Egypt, are worthy of defending. The government of Israel is staying on the sideline, but if I were a betting man I’d put safe money on their being involved in the whole shady business.

Turkey is depicted as being in “a downward spiral of isolation due to its reckless foreign policy”, “estrang[ing itself] from the region’s Sunni camp, led by Saudi Arabia”. Well, Turkey’s people may be mostly Sunni Muslims, but their moderate brand of Islam bears no resemblance to the extremist Wahhabi hypocritical Shariah violence of the Sauds. Erdoğan is accused of nurturing some kind of “game plan” for Washington, trying to curry favour with President Trump after “ruining his relationship with Barack Obama”. Well he certainly seemed to hold his own in the macho hand-shaking competition, which you can still view on Youtube despite the fact that their administrators keep removing the clips.

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Well worth a look

Incidentally, I checked out “The National Interest” website. As you might expect, with a name like that, they unabashedly admit that their business “is not . . . about world affairs. It is about American interests . . . guided by the belief that nothing will enhance those interests as effectively as the approach to foreign affairs commonly known as realism—a school of thought traditionally associated with such thinkers and statesmen as Disraeli, Bismarck, and Henry Kissinger.” THINKERS! Not war-mongers, you’ll notice. And according to the FDD website, their “distinguished advisors include Sen. Joe Lieberman, former National Security Advisor Robert “Bud” McFarlane, former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, former State Department Under Secretary Paula Dobriansky, Gen. P.X. Kelley (ret.), Francis “Bing” West, Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol, former CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Richard W. Carlson,  and Forbes CEO Steve Forbes.” Interesting company for our two Turkish academics to be keeping.

tellalieonceBut I’m saving the best till last. That article about Turkey and Qatar was chock full of links to other sites, suggesting that the material had been exhaustively researched, and was therefore beyond reproach. Just on a hunch, I decided to check one out at random. The final paragraph sums up the writer’s case and includes this statement: “For all these reasons, Turkey chose Qatar in the recent Gulf crisis. Indeed, it would have had little choice to discard such a lucrative partnership at a time of brewing economic crisis at home.” That link will take you an archived OECD report written in 2001, a year or so before the AK Party came to power, when Turkey had been plagued for decades with incompetent coalition governments, embedded hyper-inflation and regular military coups. The leaders it refers to are the Prime Minister and President at the time, Bülent Ecevit and Ahmet Necdet Sezer. OUT-RAGE-OUS! Check the other links if you have time. They are probably equally dishonest. Disinterested academics? Phooey!

I read a sad article in our local Hürriyet Daily News the other day, informing me that Over 8.5 million Turks received psychological treatment in 2016”. Statistics released by the health Ministry also showed that the use of antidepressants increased by 25.6 percent between 2011 and 2016” and “one out of every eight people . . . has applied to a hospital for mental and neurological disorders”. 

9aa63d24f038b03f13bdffdc7582c30dFor some reason, the newspaper chose to seek comment from Independent Member of Parliament, Aylin Nazlıaka, who expressed the opinion that “The solution is to remove the common perception and belief that the justice system is not objective and fair. The solution is getting rid of the pressure on people who have opposing views and thoughts. The solution is creating a Turkey whose people are hopeful about today and tomorrow, that produces [opportunity] and that has equality of opportunity. The solution is the normalization of Turkey by removing problems such as terror and unemployment.”

Well, Ms Nazlıaka could be right – and it may help if the CHP leader, Mr Kılıçdaroğlu finds the “justice” he is seeking on his current protest march from Ankara to Istanbul. On the other hand, some of those depressed citizens might try looking around to see the good things happening in their beautiful country instead of paying heed to the self-seeking and biased criticisms of foreign leaders and dishonest “academics”.

 

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  • Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

The Mind of a Terrorist – Not that complicated really

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

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Getting away from it all in NZ

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

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

yavuz-sultan-selim-koprusu-nde-ilk-olumlu-kaza

Truck driver killed taking selfie on bridge

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

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

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

Ariana grande

Sorry, Mr Harkin – It’s not about her

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

Drone strikes

Creating terrorists

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

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

Pai marire

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

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

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

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

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’.”

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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!