Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

Archive for October 2011

Bashar al-Assad’s operating system

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From the Telegraph’s recent interview with President al-Assad:

Comparing Syria’s leadership with that of a Western country, he said, was like comparing a Mac with a PC. “Both computers do the same job, but they don’t understand each other,” he said. “You need to translate. If you want to analyse me as the East, you cannot analyse me through the Western operating system, or culture. You have to translate according to my operating system, or culture.”

But al-Assad, many say, is too slow to update his operating system, and this is reason enough to uninstall. The danger? An “earthquake,” President al-Assad says. “Another Afghanistan,” or “tens of Afghanistans.” In other words, a very unstable operating system.

He described the uprising as a “struggle between Islamism and pan-Arabism [secularism], adding: “We’ve been fighting the Muslim Brotherhood since the 1950s and we are still fighting with them” [here].

Why, then, if this is to any extent a struggle between pan-Arabism/secularism (al-Assad) and Islamism (Muslim Brotherhood), is Turkey (secular) supporting the (armed) uprising in Syria? I still maintain what I said in my first post: that Turkey is merely trying to “retain its legitimacy” as a supporter of the Arab Spring. And that’s whether it believes in the Syrian uprising or not.

Written by M. James

October 30, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Government without religion

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Both times I heard it, it was indicated that it was quite the ubiquitous expression. Yet I’ve still only heard it twice. Perhaps this is merely a testament to the fact that I haven’t spent enough time in Turkey. Or perhaps it’s just not the kind of thing you hear in the teahouses.

The expression is “dinsiz hükümet olmaz,” or “government without religion is not possible.”

Seeing the phrase, one has to wonder how many Turks believe it. Or, more interesting, how many among those who believe it think that the rule of the AK party satisfies it by constituting a religious government. Is the secular nature of the state somehow ameliorated by the presence of an Islamist party?

Even more interesting—how many Muslims believe it?

To a Muslim with literalist tendencies, God did not reveal Islam in order that it be a “religion.” Rather, Islam is a dīn—which is better described as “religion together with its practices in general.” Part and parcel of this dīn is a certain form of governance, and the AK party; according to the literalist, certainly doesn’t fit the bill.

As Turkey reintroduces itself to the Muslim world, it reintroduces itself to the kind of criticism that it endured from such literalists during the Ottoman era—that its brand of Islam is not the Islam given to man by God (ironically, later critics said that the Republic of Turkey destroyed Islam by abolishing the Ottoman caliphate). Today’s AK party, which has been called neo-Ottoman on many occasions, takes up the gauntlet once again—this time as an aggressive salesman (call them Ottomongers) to the victims [?] of the Arab Spring. Whether the Turkish model will ring true on the Arab market remains to be seen.

Yeah, I don’t think it’s likely, either.

Written by M. James

October 29, 2011 at 11:45 pm

PKK a tool of “certain powers”

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Turkish ground troops have entered northern Iraq (with significant air support) in response to recent attacks by PKK militants. Erdoğan has, of course, taken the opportunity to lay blame on nebulous “powers.” (AJE)

“The PKK are subcontractors used by other forces and other powers, trying to provoke Turkish society.” [CSM]

Speaking about Israel in September, Davutoglu said that the PKK has turned into a tool for anyone who wants to harm Turkey. “Every time someone wants to bother Turkey he uses the PKK,” he said. “It is important that our Kurdish brothers pay attention to this.” (Haaretz)

But Davutoğlu probably wasn’t just referring to Israel here. More likely is that he thinks that several groups aside from Israel really have been trying to “bother Turkey” with help from the PKK.

Which would help to explain the PKK’s seemingly endless supply chain.

Written by M. James

October 19, 2011 at 6:50 pm

Posted in News, Politics, Turkey

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“Where is NATO, where is Turkey in NATO?”

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From the Milliyet’s columnist, Kadri Gürsel, on the NATO/US missile-defense radar to be constructed near Kürecik. Translated by the Hürriyet:

It is only legitimate to ask this question at this point and time: Why would Turkey want, with such persistence, to protect that information from Israel, the one that would enable an earlier extinction while in air of a nuclear head that would cause immense civilian losses underneath it wherever it explodes?

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) diplomacy was not able to give a satisfactory answer to this question to this day. I assume this attitude stems from the efforts of the AKP government’s trying to establish an internal consistency in its Middle East policy: On the one hand it is trying to create political power and legitimacy in the Middle East by forming a relationship of contention with Israel, even daring a military conflict, at least in statements, while on the other hand it wishes not to have the image of supporting Israel’s strategic defense.

But Gürsel doesn’t go the extra mile to mention that it is by no means in the interest of Turkey to let Israel get nuked—that’d look bad for Turkey. The exercise of control over the radar information (with regard to Israel) is no more than a matter of “internal consistency” and an attempt to “create … legitimacy” in the eyes of its Middle Eastern audience.

Put simply, it’s just politics.

Written by M. James

October 11, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Posted in News, Politics, Turkey

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NATO gets minimal cooperation from Turkey

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Despite the expert orchestration of Turkey’s “Plans” over the past month, there has been one befuddling outlier—something that didn’t seem to be in the playbook. And if you read the usual headlines, you may have missed it.

Here’s the usual story:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by M. James

October 6, 2011 at 2:38 am