Reaching out to the Muslims

Well, it seems like al-Qaeda have resurfaced after a period out of our headlines. Maybe people were getting bored with ISIS – or were just plain confused about who they actually were, given all the acronyms that seemed to refer to the same shadowy outfit: ISID, ISIL, DAESH etc. Then there are YPG and SDF . . . And that’s just in Syria! It’s all a bit much, really. Let’s just get back to basics and bomb the sh** out of al-Qaeda. At least we knew who those guys were . . . Didn’t we?

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Got those mothers!

So it seems that’s what we’re doing. By “we”, of course, I mean the Western alliance; the Christian, democratic, freedom-loving Western alliance. That’s us, right? Me and you?

And it’s with some satisfaction we note that the United States military is back to doing what it does best – taking out al-Qaeda operatives threatening Homeland, USA, just a short 9,220 km hop, step and a jump away from Washington DC, in Syria (that’s 5,763 miles for those of you who still insist on using those medieval measurements).

Colonel John Thomas (no connection with the male appendage of the gardener in “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”), spokesman for US Central Command, apparently told Reuters: “’US forces conducted an airstrike on an Al-Qaeda in Syria meeting location March 16 in Idlib, Syria, killing several terrorists.’ He later clarified that the precise location of the strike was unclear — but that it was the same one widely reported to have targeted the village mosque in Al-Jineh, in Aleppo province.

Washington DC to Aleppo

There’s DC – there’s Aleppo. You can see why we’re nervous, right?

‘We are going to look into any allegations of civilian casualties in relation to this strike,’ he added, when asked about reports from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that 42 people had died, most of them civilians.”

Several news sources, however, including the BBC, reported that the al-Jineh mosque “had been packed with worshippers for evening prayers. Forty-two people, mostly civilians, died in an air strike. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the raid by unidentified planes was in al-Jineh, Aleppo province.”

Back to Colonel Thomas: “We did not target a mosque, but the building that we did target – which was where the meeting [of militants] took place – is about 50ft (15metres) from a mosque that is still standing.”

Now, I have to tell you, I’m a little confused about how the Colonel can be so sure the mosque is “still standing” when he admits that “the precise location of the strike was unclear.” Nevertheless, I’m sure the families of the dead worshippers will be comforted to hear that the US military is going to “look into the allegations”.

The Non-people – Let’s say that they are dead

I wrote this back in 2003. I wasn’t writing a blog in those days, so it didn’t get much circulation. I’m posting it now in response to three items that crossed my screen this morning:

  • A reply to my post about Turkey’s human rights record – expressing deep sadness and frustration at the writer’s powerlessness in the face of US aggression and lies;
  • A clip my sister sent me with a Scottish woman singing/reciting a beautiful song/poem about Donald Trump;
  • Another reply from a woman who lost a child to the injustices of the US health system.

“It doesn’t snow that often in Istanbul, so it’s a novelty, especially for an ex-pat Aucklander. I love looking out of the window at the flying flakes, the trees with their branches laden and bent, the lawn white, and the Bosphorus beyond looking infinite, the Asian shore lost in mist.

When I got up this morning, the world was white, and the house was cold. My heating hadn’t come on. I had to go downstairs and bleed some air out of the heat pump. Now I’m comfortable behind double-glazed windows, radiators warming every room, enjoying the framed pictures on every wall, unreal, like old greeting cards of northern winters celebrating a southern Christmas.

I had to go out. My weekend morning routine is a leisurely breakfast with plenty of freshly brewed coffee, and it’s not complete without a warm-from-the-oven baguette from the bakery in Sarıyer, and a local paper. It’s ok though – once you don overcoat, scarf, gloves, woollen beanie, boots . . . snow adds a new dimension to the short walk to the village. Wish I’d got up earlier, though. It’s less picturesque after a few hours of traffic have churned the virginal white to brown slush.

No sign of my local charities today. There’s an old chap with a set of scales who bases himself all day on the esplanade near the supermarket. Too proud to simply beg, he accepts offerings from passers-by in return for reading their weight with doubtful accuracy. I always make a show of putting down my shopping bags, and getting him to read the kilos, in return for which I slip him one Turkish Lira. He shakes my hand and thanks me effusively. But I haven’t seen him for a few weeks. Wonder where he goes in winter?

Outside the bakery sits a woman in late middle-age. She makes little nest for herself with flattened cardboard cartons. On a good day, she may score a wooden fruit box from the grocer across the road. “Allah razi olsun,” she says, in return for my greeting and my lira; “God bless you.” But she wasn’t there today either. Too cold, I suppose.

So I got home, with my loaf and my ‘Milliyet’. The house felt marvellously warm as the radiators began to do their job. I fiddled around in the kitchen preparing a plate of olives, cheese, tomatoes, cucumber, scrambled egg . . . a glass of fresh orange juice (with coffee to follow), then settled down with newspaper spread out on the table.

Arab childI’d noticed, as soon as I took it from the newsagent that this morning’s paper looked different. Half of the front page was filled with the photograph of a doe-eyed Arab girl, about five years old, hair covered with a black embroidered headscarf, but her face open and innocent. “Ölü çocukların sessiz çığlıkları” read the restrained headline – little more than a caption, in fact: “The silent cries of the dead children.” It’s the title of a brief poem printed beside the photo:

‘Shall it be said of them that they are dead

Their hearts have long since stopped

Shall it be said of them that they are dead

The pupils of their eyes show no sign of life

Then let’s say they are dead

Like mighty ships at anchor

In great harbours

No sign of life in the pupils of their eyes

Shall it be said of them that they are dead?’

‘When the photograph of this little girl arrived at the reporters’ department of ‘Milliyet’ yesterday afternoon we were in a meeting.

It was taken in Baghdad yesterday during Friday prayers by Reuters correspondent Shuayib Salem . . .

The little girl’s name was not attached. Maybe it’s Ayshe, Fatma perhaps, or Emine . . . No one knows her name; in my opinion, no one wants to know.

Because, for the movers and shakers sitting in warm rooms in the great capitals of the world, whose names we read in newspapers, whose faces we see on television, it’s necessary that she should have no name, no identity. It’s necessary that she should remain a statistic . . .

In that way, it’s easier to accept the suffering . . .’

That was the front page. I don’t usually read every word – my Turkish is still a bit slow. I brewed my coffee and savoured the taste and the aroma as I flipped through the rest of the paper: movie reviews, apartments to rent, cartoons, football . . . On page 16, news that eighty thousand Turkish troops will be going to Iraq[1], along with fifty thousand from the US; three hundred US aircraft will be based on Turkish soil.

And it occurred to me that I don’t know the name of the old chap with the scales; nor the woman outside the bakery in her cardboard nest – the man and woman who weren’t there. For sure it’s easier that way.”

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[1] In the end, those Turkish troops weren’t sent.

Some Thoughts on Terrorism

We had visitors from New Zealand last summer. An old friend from university and his wife spent a few days in Istanbul, then we drove together down the Aegean coast to Bodrum via the towns of Çanakkale and Selçuk. On the way we stopped over to see the killing fields and cemeteries of Gallipoli, the ruins of ancient Ephesus, and the nearby house where, according to some, God’s virginal mother, Mary, spent her declining years.

dscf0105It’s always good to catch up with old friends, but I was especially delighted on this occasion because this couple came in defiance of dire warnings from the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the dangers of traveling to Turkey.

We picked up our rental car from Atatürk Airport on Tuesday morning, 28 June, missing by a few hours the bomb attack that killed 45 people and injured 230 more. Blissfully unaware of our near miss, our friends went on to enjoy a fortnight of sightseeing and sailing before returning to Istanbul and flying out of the country on Friday 15 July. That evening, as we got ready for bed in our Bodrum retreat, Dilek’s daughter called from the USA to inform us that a military coup was under way in Istanbul and Ankara.

Infantrymen in First World War trenches believed that an incoming artillery shell would, or would not, have your number on it. If it did, your number was up, your name would be inscribed on a war memorial and your mortal remains, if they could be found, interred with appropriate military ceremony. As the years go by, I find myself increasingly willing to adopt that fatalistic view of life and death.

On 22 February 2011 a 6.3 magnitude earthquake caused widespread damage to the city of Christchurch in New Zealand’s South Island. 185 people lost their lives, 115 of them in the collapsing six-storey Canterbury Television building. Among the victims was a young woman from Çanakkale in Turkey. Didem was on a post-graduate scholarship to study international relations at Otago University. That weekend she visited a friend in Christchurch and while in the city, saw a doctor at his surgery in the CTV building. What can you say? Avoid visiting New Zealand, and in particular, stay away from Christchurch?

Dilek and I have just returned from a trip to visit family in New Zealand and Australia. We had a marvellous time with my sisters, children and grandchildren. The weather was delightful, and a welcome break from the cold of a northern winter. The last stage of our journey took us to Melbourne where my daughter lives with her partner and two small sons. On Thursday, 19 January we took a tram to the central city, alighting in Bourke Street and strolling down to the Yarra River. We spent some time munching hamburgers, watching tennis in Federation Square and wandering along the riverbank, enjoying some free entertainment with the little ones. The next day, as we were packing for our return home, a young man drove his Holden Commodore at speed into a crowd of pedestrians in the Bourke St mall, killing five and injuring twenty others. Stay away from Melbourne? Where can you go these days, I ask you?

Still, one comforting thought did come out of the Melbourne tragedy. Police spokespersons were quick to assure us that the killer was not a terrorist. Victorian Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton said the man “had no links to terrorism”. Acting Commander Stuart Bateson was able to “confirm that this is not a counter terrorism-related incident.” Whatever that means. The best reason I could come up with was that the guy seems to have been of Greek extraction, and therefore, we gather, not a Muslim. Which makes it better, I guess. It was just a random act of gratuitous violence, rather than another manifestation of the global Islamic assault on Christendom.

Then again, I don’t know. I’m not in any way justifying the slaughter of innocent people by fanatics pursuing a political or religious agenda – but I can at least understand where they are coming from. They believe in something greater than themselves, and they are prepared to die for it.

One of my all-time favourite movies is the 1996 historical biopic, “Michael Collins”, starring Liam Neeson as the Irish revolutionary hero who brought the British Government to the negotiating table and paved the way for the foundation of the modern independent Republic of Ireland. According to his Wikipedia entry, Collins “directed a guerrilla war against the British”, creating “a special assassination unit called ‘The Squad’ expressly to kill British agents and informers”. Collins ironically died at the hands of Irish nationalist assassins during a bloody civil war fought over the conditions of independence from Britain. The first president of the Irish republic, Eamon de Valera, is on record as saying “It is my considered opinion that in the fullness of time history will record the greatness of Michael Collins; and it will be recorded at my expense.” Without Collins and his campaign of violence, Irish independence might never have been realised. Conventional history, however, prefers to remember de Valera, and play down the role of Michael Collins.

Am I making a case for violent rebellion against one’s lawful government here? By no means! But an important question arises here. To what extent was the British Government in the early 20th century the lawful government of the Irish people? Even peaceful protestors campaigning for Irish independence could be convicted as traitors and executed, or taken out in extrajudicial killings reminiscent of today’s US drone strikes. Proponents of Irish independence had found that peaceful protest got them nowhere, and confronting head on the might of the British Armed forces led inevitably to bloody defeat. They turned to asymmetrical guerrilla tactics, and their cause was successful.

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Muslim “detainees” at Guantanamo prison

One might argue there are parallels here with the plight of Muslim countries in the Middle East. Ever since oil emerged as the world’s most important energy source, Britain and the United States have been forcibly interfering in the internal affairs of countries with large reserves of the black gold. Regimes friendly to Western interests have been installed and supported while others choosing to pursue their own national interests have been overthrown, their leaders ousted or killed. George W Bush’s invasion of Iraq massacred tens of thousands, and left a power vacuum where chaos reigns thirteen years after the execution of bad guy Saddam Hussein.

That other bad guy, Muammar Gaddafi was killed and his regime toppled by NATO forces in 2011. Since then, Libya too has descended into political and social chaos. Nevertheless, Nobel Peace laureate, Barack Obama, authorized B-2 bombing strikes on Libya last week, just days before his term in office ended. Are you surprised to learn that Libya has the largest proven oil reserves in Africa, and ranks 9th in the world?

Again, I’m not supporting Daesh operatives beheading innocent Western journalists – but where do you think they got the idea for those bright orange overalls?

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So who’s representing that bottom 50%? And are we surprised that most of them don’t even bother to vote?

But getting back to Melbourne and that non-terrorist tragedy in Bourke St mall . . . I can’t help feeling that there is more to these “random acts of violence” in the West than that that label suggests. Fanatical Muslims may be fighting a losing battle – but at least they have organisations they can belong to that give them a coherent identity, and which they feel are fighting for their rights and beliefs. What about the downtrodden 50% in the United States that share a mere one per cent of their nation’s wealth, while the richest 400 have a minimum annual income of $100 million? Do Hilary Clinton and her armchair liberal supporters give a brass nickel for their disenfranchised poor fellow citizens? The Labour Party in New Zealand celebrated its centenary in 2016. Its founding fathers (and mothers, probably turning in their graves) were socialists fighting for the rights of the working poor. In the 21st century, as George Orwell wrote in “Animal Farm”, “The creatures outside looked from pig (Labour Party) to man (Conservative/National Party), and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

The left wing revolution in the West has been bought and sold – but those “random acts of violence” carry an underlying message those countries’ leaders would do well to heed. And their privileged citizens should beware of the complacent self-righteousness that allows them to ignore levels of anger in other lands.

I’m not leaving Turkey

When I started writing this blog, nearly seven years ago, my aim was two-fold:

First to present to English-speakers out there an alternative picture of this country to the one they tend to get from their own corporate-controlled mass media, and

Second, to give Turks themselves another view of their history and culture that their own education system does not always do justice to.

i-turkeyI came up with the name “Turkey File”, which, of course, is a not-very-creative pun along the lines of “Anglophile, bibliophile” etc.

I’m not planning to write here about the latest terrorist outrage committed at the Reina nightclub on New Year’s Eve. I do, however, want to pass on the words of an American citizen, William Rakk, quoted in our Hürriyet newspaper this morning. The young man was wounded in the hail of gunfire that took the lives of 39 innocent young people enjoying the first celebration of 2017. “I want to come back to Turkey,” William said. “This is a beautiful country. The people are great!”

Also on the front page was a brief report about a journalist from Britain’s Independent newspaper. Simon Calder was quoted as saying, “I’m impatient to go to Turkey. The best response to random acts of violence is not to change your behaviour.”

In another positive, the so-called “Islamic-rooted” AK Party government has let it be known that they will not tolerate religious nutters trumpeting that the New Year’s Eve killings were God’s punishment for godless alcohol-drinking sinners. Freedom of speech is an important human right, for sure – but there should be limits, don’t you agree?

A few years ago some religious extremists were demanding that the government turn the Aya Sofia Museum back into a mosque. Mr Erdoğan’s reply at the time was, “When you can fill the next-door Sultanahmet Mosque five times a day, and not just for Friday prayers, we’ll look into it.”

Well last week I had my residence permit for living in Turkey renewed, and I’m happy about that. It is indeed a beautiful country. Its government and its people have been good to me – and I have no intention of leaving.