28east

Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

Posts Tagged ‘Sunni

Turkey: sectarian leanings?

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As Turkey becomes the leader in a newly-democratized Sunni-majority Middle East, events like this may become more common (here):

Iraq’s fugitive Sunni vice president, who was sentenced to death on charges of masterminding the murder of rivals, has said the Turkish foreign minister has assured him that he stands by him after the sentencing.

“[Ahmet] Davutoğlu called me and said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m with you’,” Tariq al-Hashemi told Turkish Habertürk TV in an interview on Tuesday. “I will never forget this,” the vice president added.

Hashemi fled to Turkey after Iraq’s Shiite-led government issued the charges against him in December, the day after US troops withdrew from the country. He would receive a retrial if he agrees to return to Baghdad, but the vice president has refused, saying he will never get a fair hearing in a Baghdad court.

The next day, NINA reported that Iraq responded by hitting Turkey where it hurts:

Baghdad / NINA /– Trade Ministry announced stopping giving permission or licenses for Turkish companies and stopped enrolling in the registration of its subsidiaries.

But if all goes well, Turkish construction companies—well-represented in Iraq—will soon have plenty of contracts to rebuild from the rubble in post-revolution Syria.

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Written by M. James

September 13, 2012 at 4:17 am

Fighting Iran with Kurds

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What follows is a must-read analysis of Turkey’s new Kurdish problem by M. K. Bhadrakumar. With a few crucial twists and turns, it all boils down to the U.S.-Iran conflict—with Turkey as a beneficiary. Read the whole article (here):

U.S., Turkey, and Iraqi Kurds join hands
M. K. Bhadrakumar; Asia Times Online; Apr. 23, 2012

The tensions between Turkey and Iraq have been steadily building up, and of late they have sharply escalated. The “crisis in Iraq” referred to in the Turkish statement is Maliki’s ongoing political battle with Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, which has taken a sectarian Shi’ite-Sunni dimension. In sum, Turkey has waded into Iraq’s sectarian politics and is positioning itself on the side of the Sunnis and the Kurds.

Conceivably, Washington and Ankara are acting in tandem and there is close coordination of the US and Turkish policies toward Syrian and Iraqi Kurds. For both, the ultimate objective is to weaken Iran’s regional influence. The Obama administration hopes that Turkey’s efforts against the PKK are successful and is providing intelligence support for the military operations.

Written by M. James

April 23, 2012 at 7:10 pm

A Response to Robert R. Reilly

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Robert R. Reilly (AFPC)

Robert R. Reilly pleads insanity on behalf of Sunni Islam.

When I read this post by Robert R. Reilly, author of The Closing of the Muslim Mind, I intended to respond to it, as it did not make sense based on what I had read of Sunni Ash’arite theology. But after my written request to post a response on The Catholic Thing was ignored, I convinced myself that it was simply not worth responding to.

Since then, I have been finding Reilly’s view—that today’s Islam is inherently unreasonable—more prevalent, and thereby more worthy of attention.

I would first like to emphasize, before addressing his argument, that my response is not a philosophical vindication of Sunni Ash’arite theology but a practical endeavor. The practical implications of the view that Sunni Islam is unreasonable is that the ideas and actions that result from it are incoherent—unexplainable. If we accept this, then there is no use in trying to explain or justify anything that the Muslim world does. Suddenly, all the things that we cannot understand are not even worth understanding. Suddenly, the proximate cause of everything (disagreeable) that happens in the Islamic world becomes misguided fundamentalism. Consciously or not, Reilly is justifying the ultra-expedient “talking to a wall” mentality that has pervaded Western foreign policy—and the violence that naturally comes with it. The additional fact that he “has taught at the National Defense University and served in the White House and the Office of the Secretary of Defense” is telling, and perhaps worrying.

For the sake of space, I will provide no synopsis of Reilly’s post, so before I continue, I encourage the reader to read his argument.

Abubakar Shekau of Boko Haram

In his post, Robert Reilly is seeking to explain the murderous practices of Boko Haram, an Islamist group in northern Nigeria. He does so by describing their practices as consistent with the theology of Sunni Islam—specifically the dominant Ash’arite school. The implication of this consistency is, significantly, that mainstream Islam is supportive of the terrorism of Boko Haram and organizations like it. But Reilly bases this supposed consistency on two troublesome premises: (1) an oversimplification of Ash’arite theology and (2) an unprecedented assumption.

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The Saudi dilemma

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Below is crucial analysis for understanding the ideological difficulties faced by Saudi Salafism (Wahhabism) within the context of the Arab Spring. I urge readers to access this article in its entirety before Stratfor re-erects its paywall.

Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood: Unexpected Adversaries
Stratfor; Mar. 5, 2012

The Muslim Brotherhood has factored prominently into nearly every case of Arab unrest. The strength of the MB branches varies greatly from country to country, but even after decades of political repression, the MB and its affiliates have been able to maintain the largest and most organized civil society networks. When power vacuums are created in autocratic states, the MB networks are typically best positioned to convert public support for their social services into votes. This dynamic was most clearly illustrated in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing emerged as the single-largest party in the parliament. More liberal incarnations of the MB in Tunisia and Morocco also made significant political gains in 2011.

The unrest in Syria represents yet another complication for the Saudi regime. Saudi Arabia is certainly enticed by the prospect of undercutting Iran’s leverage in the Levant, but it also cannot ignore the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood as a powerful force in the opposition movement. The Sunni armed resistance operating under the label of the Free Syrian Army takes care to publicly distance itself from any Islamist ideology in the hopes of attracting Western support, but local anecdotes and the limited polling that has been done by journalists embedded among Sunni protesters has so far revealed strong support for the MB should the political struggle come to a vote.

Saudi Arabia is thus caught between a geopolitical imperative to contain Iran and a domestic strategic imperative to contain Islamism as a political force. This dilemma has put Saudi Arabia directly at odds with Turkey, the rising regional counterweight to Iran and Saudi Arabia’s co-collaborator in backing the Syrian Sunni opposition against the al Assad regime. Turkey’s own liberal Islamism, shaped by Sufi Islamic culture, Ottoman religious values and Kemalist secularism, is distinct from the MB’s conservative model of Arab Islamism and allows far more room for secularist practices, but the two strands share a basic ideological principle in using Islam as a path toward governance. Whereas Turkey is actively trying to mold the MB in Syria according to its own moderate Islamist vision, Saudi Arabia would like nothing more than to see the MB marginalized in the Syrian opposition.

Written by M. James

March 5, 2012 at 8:39 pm

Iranian inroads in Turkey

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The Iranian lobby in Turkey
Gökhan Bacik; Today’s Zaman; Feb. 26, 2012

It is extraordinary to observe that the Iranian effect on Turkey, including its domestic politics, is crucial.

In sharp contrast, Turkey cannot generate the same level of influence on Iranian politics. I am not sure if there is any serious organized group in Iran that is influenced by Turkey. Similarly, Turkey’s influence over the Azeri people in Iran is very limited. More, there is no kind of consequential Turkish influence over Iranian intellectuals or political life. However, there are several, if not many, groups in Turkey who have historically been inspired by Iran. How is this possible, remembering that Turks have been a challenger of Iran since the Ottoman ages?

Here is a simple comparison: Turkey has been part of NATO since 1952. NATO protected Turkey during the Cold War against the Soviet threat. In the post-Cold War period, Turkey has gained a higher profile in many global issues, including the Arab Spring, due to NATO’s support. But, it has become almost shameful to support any NATO project in Turkey today. Opposition parties and journalists frequently criticize the government for being part of various NATO agendas. On the other hand, despite various high-profile Iranian figures regularly and openly threatening Turkey, it is not again easy to criticize Iran in Turkey. Since last year, ironically, it has been a major task of the Turkish government to persuade the public that the NATO radar system is not against Iran.

In like manner, both conservative and Kemalist secular parties have a very tolerant approach to Iran. Even one can easily detect that both Islamists and Kemalists have the same narrative on Iran. For instance, they both argue that the NATO radar system has been installed to protect Israel from Iran. For example, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the Kemalist secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), on Sept. 8, 2011, said: “Why is this NATO radar system being installed in Turkey? Is it to protect Turkey? No, of course not. So what is it for? To protect Israel against Iran.” In this vein, I should note that since the rise of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), the traditional Kemalist narrative of “Turkey is becoming Iran” was interestingly left behind.

So, how is Iran successful? Naturally, there are many reasons to explain this; however, I will just focus on two factors. To begin with, it may seem interesting but the 1979 Iranian Revolution had the utmost affect on various Sunni Islamic groups in Turkey. Iran has been an irrelevant sample for the Turkish Alevis. Thus, the early and significant effect of the 1979 Iranian revolution was felt among various Sunni Islamic groups. How was that possible? Various Sunni Turkish Islamic groups took the Iranian case as a political model against the West. Thus, they believed that they would be able to rid the Iran model of its Shia elements. Therefore, the Iranian model was imported to Turkey as if it was a sect-free phenomenon. Consequently, many distinguished people (in various public offices and universities) have a very positive view about the Iranian model in today’s Turkey. In a historical analogy, the 1979 Iranian Revolution was saluted by many Turkish Sunni Islamic figures just like the Arab Spring of the present day: An anti-Western popular revolution that would bring back the oppressed Muslims. A curios scholar will find many interesting things if he studies the Islamic journals and newspapers published in 1979.

The second factor is the economy. Turco-Iranian trade exceeds $15 billion, but it is not possible to send even $100 from Turkey to Iran through the banking system. There are more than 1,000 Turkish firms owned by Iranians in Turkey and there also exist many other informal social and political networks sustaining this huge trade volume. Of course, money is not a neutral phenomenon in politics, and this huge amount of money creates many networks between Iranian and Turkish politics as it travels between the two countries.

Written by M. James

February 29, 2012 at 12:36 am

Posted in Politics, Religion, Turkey

Tagged with , , , , , ,

Why Syria?

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The Department of History, United States Military Academy.

In 333 B.C., Alexander the Great laid siege to the Mediterranean port of Tyre. It was early in the young Macedonian king’s campaign in Asia, and besieging an island fortress for several months wasn’t in the playbook. But Tyre simply couldn’t be ignored. It was the last Persian port in the Mediterranean—and leaving a Persian navy in the Mediterranean was not an option (as the Peloponnesian War demonstrated).

Which is why he sacrificed time, troops, and manpower building a kilometer-long stone causeway to the walls of the city, complete with siege towers and naval support. After more setbacks than he could have anticipated, Alexander breached the walls and concluded the siege, ending Tyre’s service as a Persian port and securing the Mediterranean from Persian naval power.

A few hundred miles up the coast and a couple thousand years later, the Syrian port city of Latakia faces a similar predicament—sans siege towers and brilliant generals. Latakia is the new Persian Empire’s (Iran’s) attempt at a naval base on the Mediterranean, and while it may not be as well-established, defensible, or suitable for a large naval presence (yet), it’s a port. Much to Israel’s chagrin, as you can see. Take away Iran’s Syrian port at Latakia and the new Persian Empire will have a hard time projecting power in the Mediterranean. Cue an unstable Syria.

But first, there’s more:

The Russians are willing to contribute towards the Iranian port’s defenses and looking forward to cooperation between the Russian, Iranian and Syrian fleets in the eastern Mediterranean opposite the US Sixth Fleet’s regular beat.

Tyre, Lebanon (A); Latakia, Syria (B); Tartus, Syria (C)

If anyone knows the value of a Mediterranean port, it’s Russia. Historically denied access to warm-water ports, Russia has never been granted legroom in the world’s oceans. Even now, Russia’s shipping industry relies on Turkish cooperation in the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. But what Russia does have is a Mediterranean naval port. It’s in Tartus, Syria—just south of Latakia. Considerably better developed and defended (complete with Russian surface-to-air missile system), Russia’s port in Tartus will not be given up easily—at least that’s what Admiral Kuznetsov says.

So, what this all adds up to is two NATO antagonists with ports in one unstable country. If the Syrian regime falls, it’s a probable BOGO for NATO and anyone who wants unilateral security (in the form of U.S. Nimitz-class supercarriers) in and around the Med. If Bashar stays, the George H.W. Bush might have to do more than “experience the rich history and culture of France”  the next time it’s in the 6th Fleet AOR.

But it isn’t just naval geopolitics driving foreign pressure against the Syrian regime, either. This is, after all, the Middle East, and no story would be complete without a sprinkling of sectarianism. Or, in this case, several helpings.

From the U.S. Department of State’s Jeffrey D. Feltman (here):

Iran continues to be complicit in the violence in Syria, providing material support to the regime’s brutal campaign against the Syrian people. Cynically capitalizing on the Syrian government’s growing alienation from its Arab neighbors, Iran is seeking to increase its influence in Syria and help Assad remain in power as a vital conduit to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The problem is that, with the recent U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, Iran will be filling in the political and military void. And if Iran retains al-Assad’s Syria as a close ally—well—look at the map.

This map.

The only thing stopping the new Persian Empire from expanding its Shia-powered influence—continuously—from Iran to the Mediterranean (and to Israel’s doorstep), is a new, unfriendly Sunni government in Syria. All of the relevant actors know this. And if you ask Bashar al-Assad, they’re all doing their best to bring about that Sunni government as quickly as possible.

Which leads us to the next question: If sanctions, attempts to undermine the Syrian army, and foreign assistance (training and weapons) for the Free Syrian Army don’t weaken the Iran-friendly regime (or empower the resistance) enough, who will be the first to step in? Turkey certainly stands out for being the loudest, but if it is as the Turks say, havlayan köpek ısırmaz (a barking dog doesn’t bite).

So we wait.

Written by M. James

December 14, 2011 at 6:11 pm

Syria: Everything is normal

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A thought-provoking (in a strange sort of way) article from the New York Times: Life in Syria’s Capital Remains Barely Touched by Rebellion

Just ignore the part about Aleppo being the second-largest city (news sources have been getting this one wrong for months). Damascus is the second-largest. Aleppo is the largest. Which is not to say that Damascus isn’t important.

But Damascus, be it at the beauty salon, in its somnolent neighborhoods or in its fear-stricken mosques, remains the linchpin, a reality that even activists acknowledge. Until protests reach this capital, their thinking goes, Syria’s leadership will avoid the fate of its ossified equivalents in places like Egypt and Tunisia. And so far, Damascus — along with Aleppo, the nation’s second-largest city — has stayed firmly on the margins, as anger builds toward both cities from Syrians bearing the brunt of the uprising. “Trust me, everything is normal,” insisted a manicurist at the salon.

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Written by M. James

September 6, 2011 at 10:41 pm