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Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

Archive for August 2012

Turkey has “direct” responsibility for Syrian crisis

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Embattled Assad says he needs time to ‘win’ war of attrition
Today’s Zaman; August 29th, 2012

“What is taking place (in Syria) is neither a revolution, nor a spring. It is a conspiracy,” he said, alluding to the Arab Spring revolutions that have topped authoritarian regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

Assad paid tribute to his supporters at home, saying they stood steadfastly behind him, and also praised the armed forces.

But he criticized the leaders of onetime ally Turkey.

“The state of Turkey bears direct responsibility for the blood being shed in Syria.”

Written by M. James

August 30, 2012 at 3:20 am

Nursi on sincerity and brotherhood

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Or “How to Regain Imperial Power”

I was handed a neat little booklet titled “Sincerity and Brotherhood” not too long ago. It was all in English, and claimed to be from Said Nursi‘s Risale-i Nur Collection. Having just been implored by a Turk to read Nursi in English rather than Turkish (significantly better, in his opinion), I was delighted to run across the booklet. And so, on yet another unpleasantly long bus ride (not an uncommon phenomenon), I began to read some Nursi.

It was not at all what I expected.

One thing was made clear to me from the outset: Nursi is very political, and very much a product of his times (late Ottoman Empire). There are two parts in the booklet: One on “Sincerity” and one on “Brotherhood.” But they really aren’t about sincerity or brotherhood—they are about how sincerity and brotherhood are instrumentally useful for delivering Muslims from their humiliation and disgrace as a civilization. In fact, the whole booklet reads like an apology for the collapse of Islamic civilization.

Here’s how it begins:

The agreement among the people of misguidance is on account of their abasement, and the dispute among the people of guidance is on account of their dignity. That is to say that the people of neglect – those misguided ones sunk in worldly concerns – are weak and abased because they do not rely on truth and reality. On account of their abasement, they need to augment their strength, and because of this need they wholeheartedly embrace the aid and co-operation of others. Even though the path they follow is misguidance, they preserve their agreement. It is as if they were making their godlessness into a form of worship of the truth, their misguidance into a form of sincerity, their irreligion into a form of solidarity, and their hypocrisy into concord, and thus attaining success. For genuine sincerity, even for the sake of evil, cannot fail to yield results, and whatever man seeks with sincerity, God will grant him it.

From this excerpt, it is not entirely clear what “attaining success” means, but it seems to me that Nursi is speaking of imperial power—the imperial power that has been lost by the Ottoman Empire and gained by the godless Europeans.

What surprised me was that, immediately before explaining the success of the “people of neglect,” Nursi accuses them of being “sunk in worldly concerns.” In order to avoid calling Nursi a hypocrite himself, we can only assume that imperial power is either (1) not a “worldly concern,” or (2) a “worldly concern” that only Muslims are allowed to have.

The implications of this view—if it has been conveyed to me accurately by this booklet—are enormous. From the man who is regarded as perhaps the most notable Turkish-Muslim Sufi in history, this is not what I was expecting.

Written by M. James

August 20, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Understanding Turkish “secularism”

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There are multiple—primarily inaccurate—interpretations of what “Turkish secularism” means. I have intended to post about this in the past, but I have never run across a clear explanation of the phenomenon to cite. What makes the effort even more difficult is that the meaning of “secularism” in Turkey is changing. This post is merely an effort to lay the groundwork for further analysis if, or when, I manage a fuller, more concise understanding.

I think the best starting point to understand Turkish secularism is probably an excerpt from Jenny White’s “Islam and politics in contemporary Turkey,” found in volume 4 of The Cambridge History of Turkey:

The Turkish state’s position on religion (laiklik) is more accurately translated as ‘laicism’, the subordination of religion to the state, than secularism, a separation of church and state. The term ‘secular’ is used here to refer to a non-religious identity or one that consigns religious beliefs to the private, rather than public, realm. The laic state controls the education of religious professionals and their assignment to mosques, controls the content of religious education, and enforces laws about the wearing of religious symbols and clothing in public spaces and institutions.

The important thing to understand is that Atatürk’s reforms favored French secularism (laicism) to American secularism. Given Turkey’s Ottoman past, this made sense—Islam had been the state for centuries and it needed the harsher French approach to amend the situation. Atatürk clearly wanted to do to Islam what the post-revolution French did to the Catholic Church.

But almost ninety years on, things have changed: It is hard to see French secularism in 21st century Turkey any longer. This has, of course, led to columnists’ claims of the end of secularism in Turkey and the beginning of the Shari’ah-governed, neo-Ottoman era. But I would like to propose, if a bit haphazardly, that what we are witnessing is the shift from French secularism to American secularism, where the state is no longer so self-conscious as to purge itself of religious individuals, and where religion has become more “separate” than “subordinate.”

This, I think, is the historical charm of the AKP. If nothing else, the current rule of the AKP is a symbol of a maturing secular state. It remains to be seen whether they can restrain themselves in this regard, or if this is a transition to a less apologetic, more religious, government.

Written by M. James

August 15, 2012 at 4:32 pm

The new trend in Turkish-Iranian relations

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As the Syrian crisis has progressed, I have found it instructive to recall, at intervals, the words of a particular regional expert from October 2011 (here):

In his first interview with a Western journalist since Syria’s seven-month uprising began, President Assad told The Sunday Telegraph that intervention against his regime could cause “another Afghanistan”. Western countries “are going to ratchet up the pressure, definitely,” he said. “But Syria is different in every respect from Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen. The history is different. The politics is different.

“Syria is the hub now in this region. It is the fault line, and if you play with the ground you will cause an earthquake … Do you want to see another Afghanistan, or tens of Afghanistans?

“Any problem in Syria will burn the whole region. If the plan is to divide Syria, that is to divide the whole region.”

One of the divisions is already becoming apparent as Turkey and Iran start fighting over influence in the new Syria (here):

A series of unusually sharp statements over the past several days from both Turkey and Iran have brought relations between the two neighbors — which have kept improving until recently even at the expense of angering Turkey’s NATO ally the United States — to what one may call a historic low.

Turkey hit back with a harsh statement at recent remarks from Iranian officials, including the country’s chief of General Staff who has said that “it will be its turn” if Turkey continues to “help advance the warmongering policies of the United States in Syria.” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called comments by Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi “regrettable” and denied his country has meddled in Syrian affairs.

Read more.

Written by M. James

August 8, 2012 at 6:45 pm

Posted in News, Politics, Turkey

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Quaint? Firm? Aggressive?

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Like a Rorschach Test—one can interpret it however one likes. The Turkish media has certainly had a field day with Obama and his “huge” baseball bat.

nationalturk.com

Written by M. James

August 3, 2012 at 10:17 am

Posted in News, Politics, Turkey

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Turkey: SCO membership?

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Shanghai Cooperation Organisation

Turkey wants to become a member of SCO
BakuToday; July 26th, 2012

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan officially appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to take Turkey into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). He said this in an interview with “24 TV”.

“Although we have done much for European integration and even created a separate Ministry, but French President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel blocked the process. Before the arrival of Sarkozy and Merkel, I participated in the summits of EU leaders. After the decision was made to minimize the relationship with us. But we have not suffered from it. Now everything is in front of the eyes, where Europe is where we are. Remains to be seen whether Europe until the year 2023. I invited Putin to accept Turkey into the SCO, and he promised me to consider this matter with other partners for this organization, “said Erdogan.

Written by M. James

August 1, 2012 at 9:31 am

Posted in News, Politics, Turkey

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