Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

Archive for October 2012

Duygu the agnostic

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An example of a foreigner’s casual Turkish encounter, for the uninitiated:

I struck up a conversation with a young Turkish woman in the copy room. I figured it would have been awkward if I didn’t.

Her name was Duygu. We proceeded to discuss mundane things—like telephones, apartments, and the weather. I told her I was from the United States. She was from Bursa. We talked about New York and Bursa. Her father was a lawyer. She showed me his picture.

Five minutes passed. I started to excuse myself, but she needed a smoke, so we went outside. She offered me one of her Winston Blue Super Slims. I declined.

And then, without the slightest change of expression, tone, or posture, “Do you believe in God?”

So we talked about God for a while. Then we talked about mineral water. Then Turkish etymology.

An hour later—she is supposed to take me to a Fenerbahçe match, show me a neighborhood in Ankara, and introduce me to her father.

Written by M. James

October 31, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Posted in Culture, Religion, Turkey

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Turks subvert Iran sanctions

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Exclusive: Turkish gold trade booms to Iran, via Dubai
Humeyra Pamuk; Reuters; Oct. 23rd, 2012

To see one of Iran’s financial lifelines at work, pay a visit to Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport and find a gate for a flight to Dubai.

Couriers carrying millions of dollars worth of gold bullion in their luggage have been flying from Istanbul to Dubai, where the gold is shipped on to Iran, according to industry sources with knowledge of the business.

The sums involved are enormous. Official Turkish trade data suggests nearly $2 billion worth of gold was sent to Dubai on behalf of Iranian buyers in August. The shipments help Tehran manage its finances in the face of Western financial sanctions.

A trader in Turkey said Tehran had shifted to indirect imports because the direct shipments were widely reported in Turkish and international media earlier this year. “Now on paper it looks like the gold is going to Dubai, not to Iran,” he said.

Iranian gold buyers may want to conceal their Turkish gold deliveries for fear of attracting attention from the United States, which is pressing countries around the world to shrink their economic ties with Iran.

The buyers may also want to make their purchases less vulnerable to any possible interference by Turkey’s government. Turkey’s close relationship with Iran has begun to sour as the two states find themselves on opposite sides of the civil war in Syria, with Turkey advocating the departure of President Bashar al-Assad and Iran remaining Assad’s staunchest regional ally.

Written by M. James

October 23, 2012 at 6:49 pm

Posted in News, Politics, Turkey

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Democracy, dialectic, and subtle revolution

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From H.S. Maine‘s Popular Government (1885), Essay II:

The old Italian toxicologists are said to have always arranged their discoveries in a series of three terms—first the poison, next the antidote, thirdly the drug which neutralised the antidote. The antidote to the fundamental infirmities of democracy was Representation, but the drug which defeats it has now been found in the Caucus.

The “Caucus,” according to Maine, is “the agency, by which the representative is sought to be turned into the mere mouthpiece of opinions collected in the locality which sent him to the House of Commons….” Today, we can readily acknowledge this as an artifact of political “party.”

I found this quotation fascinating primarily because of the easy parallel that one can draw between “old Italian toxicologists” and so-called “Hegelian dialectics,” by which the zeitgeist formulates (1) an abstract idea, after which develops (2) its negation, and finally, (3) its “concrete” formulation. This formula is more commonly known as “thesis-antithesis-synthesis.”

When we run this through the subsequent filter of Marx, who advocated what is now called “dialectical materialism” (as opposed to Hegel’s “idealism”), we get this (from his afterword to the second German edition of Das Kapital, here):

My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. To Hegel, the life-process of the human brain, i.e. the process of thinking, which, under the name of ‘the Idea’, he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurgos of the real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of ‘the Idea’. With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought.

By making Hegel’s dialectic purely material, Marx formulates a dialectic of, quite specifically, political economy. For anyone who wishes to hold on to Hegelian dialectic, though, Marx’s materialism as a “direct opposite,” or antithesis, of Hegel, may offer justification for Hegel himself if a subsequent sort of “synthesis” between the ideas can be agreed upon.

But anyway—returning to the parallel that I claimed I would make—observe how Maine’s assertion may seem to be influenced by contemporary Marxist thought on historical dialectic. Being that Maine is not too keen on the idea of “Popular Government,” the “zealots of democracy,” or the “Caucus,” the prospect of dialectic may seem appealing to him in this case. I will steal a line from Wikipedia by way of explanation (here, as before):

Dialectical materialism is a strand of Marxism, synthesizing Hegel’s dialectics, which proposes that every economic order grows to a state of maximum efficiency, while simultaneously developing internal contradictions and weaknesses that contribute to its systemic decay.

So, if party politics within a democratic republic (where democracy was the thesis and representation was the antithesis) is the concrete, synthetic, maximally-efficient, and final formulation of a political-economic order (democracy) in a materialist, dialectical conception of history, then it is the last stop before that political-economic order’s systemic decay, and subsequent revolution.

What is fascinating about this theoretical decay and revolution is that someone like Maine becomes the “revolutionary” in this case. This is a different kind of revolutionary than Marx described—he is one who openly scoffs at the proletariat, its corrupt tendencies, and the harm caused by its place in government. He is indignant, but he is also subtle.

Now, if the reader finds any of this—(a) the truth of dialectical materialism or (b) Maine’s interpretation of the development of party politics—convincing, more questions arise. What would Sir Henry James Sumner Maine’s revolution look like, if the system fell into decay? Could you tell if it were happening? Would the “contradictions” be visible? Would there be rallying cries or war? Perhaps economic upheaval? Would new terms be coined, or would the old ones simply be recast?

Knowing that a new “thesis” would only be met with “antithesis,” wouldn’t Maine publicly assert that, really, nothing had changed at all?

Written by M. James

October 13, 2012 at 10:00 am

Of mortar rounds and minor details

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I recently posted about the latest big news item: a mortar attack from Syria and Turkey’s backlash—a parliamentary mandate authorizing military action across the Syrian border.

The story was, of course, nonsense. Bashar al-Assad has no reason to send mortar rounds into Turkish villages. Thankfully, The Telegraph printed the more likely, and less news-friendly, explanation (here):

An online video purporting to be from Jabhat al-Nusra, a jihadist group accused of ties to al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility.

So, more likely, it was just strategic provocation by jihadist rebels. A minor detail, by NATO’s standards.

More on the al-Nusra Front.

Written by M. James

October 5, 2012 at 6:58 pm

Posted in News, Politics, Turkey

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Turkish parliament affirms border integrity

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Turkey approves military operations in Syria
Al Jazeera; October 4th, 2012

Turkey’s parliament has authorised cross-border military action against Syria, if deemed necessary by the government.

The mandate, valid for one year, was passed by 320 votes in the 550-seat Turkish parliament, the Anatolia news agency reported on Thursday.

Besir Atalay, Turkey’s deputy prime minister, said authorising the use of force in Syria was not a declaration of war but was intended as a deterrent.

The vote came as Turkey resumed shelling Syrian government military positions on Thursday morning in retaliation for a mortar attack which landed over its border in southeastern Turkey killing five of its citizens – a woman and four children from the same family.

“The Syrian side has admitted what it did and apologised,” Atalay told reporters.

Turkish state media said that the attacks by artillery units based in the border town of Akcakale were continuing.

Several Syrian troops were killed as a result of overnight Turkish shelling at a base near the Syrian border town of Tal al-Abyad, a UK-based Syrian activist group said.

An aide to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, said on Thursday that his country had no intention of declaring war on Syria, pointing out that the shelling – now in its second day – should be seen as a “warning” to the authorities in Damascus.

Written by M. James

October 4, 2012 at 9:06 am

Posted in News, Politics, Turkey

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