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Politics Meets Sports in Alexandria, Virginia: What It Says About the State of The United States

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On 14 June, 2017 American lawmakers were attacked in Alexandria, Virginia, while practicing for—of all things—a baseball game. In the incident, House of Representatives Majority Whip Steve Scalise of the Republican party was seriously wounded along with two police officers and an aide. It was disgusting evidence of how deeply divided the United States has become in recent months, and that it should come in preparation for a sporting event makes it even more upsetting.

 

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The Gunman Shot From the Larger Circle (Top), While Mr. Scalise Was Wounded at 2nd Base (Small Red circle). Image Courtesy Of: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/06/14/us/virginia-shooting-congress-scalise.html

 

The suspect, who was killed in the incident, is a left-wing (I will say nut job) from Illinois, James Hodgkinson. What were some of Mr. Hodgkinson’s activities listed by the BBC, other than living in a van? Campaigning for Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders in the November 2016 election, assaulting his foster daughter, and punching his foster daughter’s (female) friend in the face. Clearly, the man was not exactly an upstanding citizen; he was characterized by his daughter’s friend as “crazy” and his former lawyer as “a very irascible, angry little man”. So why have some politicians in the United States not condemned this attack as they should? Why would some outlets—like Rolling Stone —report that this tragic event has been turned into a debate on gun control?

Perhaps it is because many individuals in the American political system—particularly on the left—are blinded by ideology. It may be that some misguided politicians are implicitly sympathizing with Mr. Hodgkinson’s “resist” rhetoric of “resisting” President Donald Trump. Many on the American left believe in the universality of “resisting”, whatever it may mean. Concerning universalities, philosopher/sociologist Herbert Marcuse wrote in 1964 about:

 

…[A] very forcible reality—that of the separate and independent power of the whole over the individuals. And this whole is not merely a perceived Gestalt (as in psychology), nor a metaphysical absolute (as in Hegel), nor a totalitarian state (as in poor political science)—it is the established state of affairs which determines the life of the individuals.

                        Marcuse, 1964: 207

 

In the United States currently, the “established state of affairs” is one where the
“left” (the Democratic party) is for gun control and the “right” (the Republican party) support the right to bear arms. According to this rhetoric, the “left” is morally superior while the “right” is morally reprehensible. This means that many politicians on the “left” are unable to break away from the universality—the ideological position, in this case—that defines them. They may implicitly even believe that “resistance” is right in the context of “the established state of affairs”; that unarmed civilians (although they are lawmakers, they are still civilians like you and I) were targeted in a heinous attack seems to not matter when it can be turned into political gains. Such is the cynicism endemic in American politics today.

For the “left”, resistance can only be resistance against Donald Trump and his policies. This is, of course, absurd. In the following passage, Marcuse shows the nature of why such universalities—and definitions of abstract concepts like “resistance”—are problematic:

 

Talking of a beautiful girl, a beautiful landscape, a beautiful picture, I certainly have very different things in mind. What is common to all of them—“beauty”—is neither a mysterious entity, nor a mysterious word. On the contrary, nothing is perhaps more directly and clearly experienced than the appearance of “beauty” in various beautiful objects. The boy friend and the philosopher, the artist and the mortician may “define” it in very different ways, but they all define the same specific state or condition—some quality or qualities which make the beautiful contrast with other objects. In this vagueness and directness, beauty is experienced in the beautiful—that is, it is seen, heard, smelled, touched, felt, comprehended. It is experienced almost as a shock, perhaps due to the contrast-character of beauty, which breaks the circle of everyday experience and opens (for a short moment) another reality . . .

Marcuse, 1964: 210 (emphasis in original)

 

By loosely substituting the word “resistance” for “beauty” in the preceding passage, we can better understand the current state of affairs. “Resistance” is a noun, just like “beauty”. It can be interpreted by individuals by its definition (as provided by uncle Google): “the refusal to accept or comply with something; the attempt to prevent something by action or argument”. This, of course, does not mean that the concept of what constitutes “resistance” need be the same for those on opposite ends of the political spectrum. What is important to realize is that the American “left” does not have a monopoly on defining the concept of “resistance” any more than any group in society should have a monopoly on defining what constitutes “beauty”. Once we understand this, we can begin to see why it is simply wrong to interpret the unprecedented events of 14 June—an assault on elected officials by a political opponent—as anything related to “resistance” or even partisan issues like “gun control”. It was an attempted murder, there need not be as much division over this event as there has been.

That this particular left-wing nut-job targeted a sporting event should come as no surprise either in this climate of political division. Sports is typically used—on the surface at least—to bring people together. Stadiums, on any given day, often host people from diverse political, racial, religious, sexual, and socio-economic backgrounds; in this sense sports can transcend differences. Indeed, the Republican-Democrat congressional baseball game has been played since 1962, and the first game was in 1909. As the BBC notes,

 

Baseball – and, in particular, the annual congressional baseball game for which the Republicans were practising – has long been a refuge for many in the nation’s capital. The contest is one of the last vestiges of old Washington, where politicians on both sides of the ideological divide can put aside their partisan differences and socialise together.

 

Attacking events that symbolize unity (like sporting events or concerts) has long been a trademark of terrorist groups: remember the Kurdish terrorist attacks on a Turkish stadium in December 2016 and the ISIS/ISIL attacks in Paris (2015) and Manchester (2017). Just because the perpetrator is an American “progressive” and Bernie Sanders supporter does not mean that this shooting was not an act of terrorism. In fact—amazingly—a counterterrorism analyst at the left-leaning American channel MSNBC even encouraged a terrorist attack against one of Donald Trump’s properties in Turkey, a country I know very well. MSNBC employee Malcolm Nance Tweeted a picture of Donald Trump’s Trump Towers in Istanbul with the text “This is my nominee for first ISIS suicide bombing of a Trump property”.

 

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The Fact That Mr. Nance Has a Job In Journalism Is Unforgivable. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.theblaze.com/news/2017/04/19/msnbc-counterterrorism-analyst-nominates-trump-towers-in-istanbul-for-an-isis-suicide-bombing/

 

Beyond being a disgusting provocation for violence in one of my countries, Turkey, Mr. Nance’s Tweet is a perfect example of the kind of vitriolic hatred that is rife in American “progressive” politics; they seem to believe that their desire to “resist” Donald Trump absolves them of all guilt and that it is impossible for them to say such absurd things. This is the problem with universalities. No political position has a monopoly on morality; morality and ideology are very separate things. To confuse the two only leads to more problems and more divisions within society. The United States is going down a dark road—some commentators have already begun talking about civil war as a possibility—and one way to turn back from this dark road is to stop believing in universalities. That would also necessitate less reliance on ideology, a position I have not seen those on the American “left” ready to embrace.

 

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Image Courtesy Of: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_the_United_States#/media/File:Flag_of_the_United_States.svg

The Pawtucket Red Sox: Baseball, The United States, and Globalization in 2017 at McCoy Stadium

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A few days ago I went to a baseball game with my little brother in the Pawtucket Rhode Island, a city that could be characterized as epitomizing the pitfalls of globalization and representing post-industrial revolution America. Author Dan Barry’s interesting account of the Pawtucket Red Sox baseball team, Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball’s Longest Game, shows what baseball means to this depressed post-industrial town. It also shows what sport can mean to a struggling community. Although I had read the book years ago, it echoed in my mind as I sat in the seats of aging McCoy stadium with my brother, taking in a typically American sporting event in the early days of summer.

Schools were passing the time before the end of the school year by giving the kids a de facto day off by taking a field trip to the ball park; the voices of children melded together and created such a buzzing sound that my brother and I referred to them as “bees”. Later I learned that it was “kids and seniors day”, an odd combination but it made sense when my brother (himself only fifteen) pointed out that “people walk slow when they are young,” pointing to a small child negotiating the stadium steps with his father, “and they also walk slow when they are old,” no doubt referring to our father. Indeed, it is the circular nature of life that my brother—perhaps unwittingly—uncovered on this afternoon.

The afternoon consisted of a double header, two seven inning games. The first game is spent behind home plate, “the best seats in the house” as my brother said. I couldn’t help but notice that the majority of (empty) seats around us were those reserved for corporations. It was normal for them to be empty for a game with an 11 am start time, after all the owners of said seats were busy at work making the money to afford those seats. It was also an example of industrial sports at their finest, the best views go to those with the most money. The rich get richer (financially and culturally) while the rest…well, you know how the story goes.

 

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Behind the Plate, Welcome To Pawtucket. Image Courtesy of the Author.

 

The first game ends with a victory for the home team as my brother and I head over to Papa Gino’s for a pizza, waiting out the twenty-minute break between games. As we wait we watch a a controversy over payment: did the woman in question pay or did she not? It is a meaningless discussion since life will go on, it is—after all—an overpriced cheese pizza that is in question. Perhaps those working could have kept track of things, but that is beyond my purview. Maybe they’ll just build some more security cameras in the future in order to ensure payment (and ensure our surveillance as well in the process).

As the second game starts we are sitting on the grassy berm in the outfield, behind the left field wall. The stadium is now empty, as both the school children and the elderly have left. This, I think to myself, is the essence of both baseball and America: the ball hitting leather, the crack of the bat, and the sun on your face. It brings you back to a simpler time…it is a time, judging by the empty stadium, that no one wants to remember. Perhaps a double header is too much; people have more important things to attend to…people must get on with their days and engage in the other American national pastime: shopping.

 

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An Empty Stadium But An Amazing Day. Image Courtesy of the Author.

 

The mascots come out to amuse the few fans that are left by throwing cheap plastic balls into the stands. My brother and I each catch an oversized plastic ball, sponsored by Wendy’s, and toss it around for a few minutes. I watch a young boy and girl, probably eight or nine years old, play with the same plastic ball which they had caught. It was shades of Jack and Diane, harkening back to a time when a plastic ball could amuse as much as an iphone. It reminded me of my own obsession with plastic footballs in Turkey as a kid, as Bryce Brentz heads to the plate to the tune of country music completing the theme of Americana.

The crack of the bat turns my attention back to the game It’s a line drive foul and the visiting team’s left fielder tosses the ball into the bullpen, and the bullpen pitcher tosses it up to us. My brother fields the ball and tosses it over to me, completing a different type of life cycle. I examine the Rawlings ball—the writing half smeared by the spot where the bat made contact. “Official International League Ball”. I feel the seams and turn it around in my hand. “Made in China”. I look at the plastic Wendy’s ball . . . “Made in China”.  I yell over to my brother: “Hey-the official game ball—and the fake ball—are both made in China. This is absurd!”

 

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Made In China. Images Courtesy of the Author.

 

At that the young kid—of Jack and Diane fame—asks to no one in particular (even though Diane is standing next to him) “Why is everything made in China?”. When even a nine-year old can ask the questions politicians can’t ask, you know we live in an absurd world. At least—in this classic American scene on an early summer’s day in the post-industrial Northeast—the home team won both games of the double header.

In a Crazy World Andorra Gives Some Hope to the Underdog as They Win Their First Competitive Match Since 2004

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The news around the world has recently become more and more negative; between the threat of ISIS/ISIL, North Korea, and failing economies (and cultures) in the global West it is refreshing that football can still provide some hope and even humor. Today’s rare event is one example, as the Andorra national team stunned Hungary 1-0 in qualification for the 2018 World Cup. Surprisingly, most immediate reports of today’s qualification match day only referred to Andorra’s victory in passing: The Mirror focused on the Netherlands’ thrashing of neighbors Luxembourg while ESPN chose to focus on victories by Portugal and Sweden. Reuters were the first to focus solely on Andorra’s achievement.

Given that mainstream outlets like ESPN sometimes focuses on odd subjects in football like Saudi Arabia’s apparent “refusal” (the word ESPN chose) to participate in a moment of silence for the victims of the recent terrorist attacks in London, I am surprised that they did not do a feature on Andorra’s victory. The moment of silence controversy was certainly an odd focus for a football article, given that the video clearly shows the Saudi side silently standing on their side of the field, with some players folding their hands behind their backs. The team seemed to simply be participating in the moment of silence in the manner they saw fit; unfortunately, ESPN chose to immediately interpret their actions negatively, politicizing the event and serving to further a growing divide the world over between “the West and the rest”. FIFA, of course, decided not to punish the Saudi Arabian football association after a Saudi apology, but I’m sure we all understand that—knowing FIFA—their decision most likely came down to money.

Regardless of whether one thinks the Saudi decision to “not participate” was right or wrong (personally, I would have liked it had they lined up like the Australian side did if only to avoid this needless controversy), it all comes down to intent in the end. As I always tell Sociologists, it is impossible to know people’s intents. In this case, since we cannot know the Saudi FA’s intent because we are not mind readers, it seems odd for ESPN to have immediately politicized the event (and, in the process, fueled anti-Muslim rhetoric by criticizing the Saudi Arabian team without providing any background information). Remember, after attacks in Istanbul last summer UEFA refused to hold a moment of silence at a EURO 2016 match to remember the Turkish victims of an ISIS/ISIL attack on Isanbul’s Ataturk Airport. This, of course, fuels the perception that it only matters to the world when attacks target Europeans (or Westerners), and not when they target Muslims. When this happens the important fact that the perpetrators are the same, and that the victims—regardless of their religion—are still victims is missed.

That said, I think we can all agree on the fact that Andorra’s victory is a nice, lighthearted story in world football (although perhaps not for fans of Hungary’s national football team, understandably). This is just the fifth victory in the history of Andorran football, and their first in a competitive match since a 2004 victory over FYR Macedonia. In fact, Andorra won their first match in more than 12 years when they defeated San Marino 2-0 in February of 2017. In March of 2017, there were celebrations in the tiny principality when the team got their first points in a competitive match since 2005 after drawing 0-0 with fellow minnows the Faroe Islands. The draw broke a 58 game losing streak in competitive matches dating back more than 11 years!

 

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The Celebration Was Real in Andorra! Images Courtesy of: https://www.thesun.co.uk/sport/football/3180032/andorra-end-dismal-run-of-58-competitive-defeats-with-faroe-islands-draw-in-world-cup-qualifying/

 

And now Andorra is actually on a three game unbeaten run in all matches dating back to February of 2017, and a two game unbeaten run in competitive fixtures since March of 2017. This means that Andorra is unbeaten in 2017 without conceding a single goal, a remarkable accomplishment for a principality sandwiched between France and Spain with a population of just over 85,000. That they could defeat Hungary, a country with a population of almost 10 million and with a rich footballing history makes these easily the biggest day in Andorran football history. It would be refreshing if mainstream sports media could focus on interesting events like this one, rather than perpetuating divides that already threaten the stability of our world. Focusing on football culture—one that most of the countries in the world shares—seems to me to be logical thing to do, and would go a long way to combat the divisiveness which has (ironically) become rampant in the globalized world.

 

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Congratulations to Andorra, a Team With a Beautiful Shirt. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.thesun.co.uk/sport/football/3180032/andorra-end-dismal-run-of-58-competitive-defeats-with-faroe-islands-draw-in-world-cup-qualifying/

A Marginal Sociologist’s Take On Some of the Absurdity in American Schools: Take an Example from the Sports World

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The past few days have seen some increasingly absurd events on campuses across the United States; while many may have heard of the events in question I have not seen much meaningful (or helpful) discussion on the topic. My aim here will be to provide one concrete example—from the sports world—in order to underline the degree of absurdity.

A writer for the New York Times (State Media) in the United States, Anemona Hartocollis, wrote a seemingly innocuous piece (at least judging by the headline) entitled “Colleges Celebrate Diversity With Separate Commencements” on 2 June 2017. In the article the author seems to—perhaps unwittingly—support racial segregation, an entirely unjust system that divided black and white citizens of the United States into “separate but equal” schools and public spaces; it was a system that was defeated by the Civil Rights Movement and activists like the late Martin Luther King, Jr. Hartocollis celebrates (among others) the separate graduation ceremonies held by Black students at Harvard University, the separate “lavender” (for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students) graduation at the University of Delaware, and the separate graduation for first generation college students and New York’s Columbia University. Apparently, the “separate” graduation at Harvard took place before the main graduation ceremony (the two were not mutually exclusive, students could attend both judging by reports) where famous Harvard dropout and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said that the struggle of our times was “against the forces of authoritarianism, isolationism and nationalism”. As a scholar of nationalism myself, I will not bore you with an eloquent retort to Mr. Zuckerberg’s grossly misinformed comments. Rather, I will outline why things like “separate” graduations are quite simply absurd.

There is a form of segregation going on across campuses in the United States, that much is certain. It is also certain that this type of division goes against the very ethos of what the college experience should be. Ward Connerly, president of the American Civil Rights Institute, is quoted in Hartocollis’ piece saying “[c]ollege is the place where we should be teaching and preaching the view that you’re an individual, and choose your associates to be based on other factors rather than skin color”. Mr. Connerly believes that events like “separate” graduations simply serve to amplify racial divisions. Judging by the present—as well as the past—he seems to be correct in his assessment of the situation despite state media’s celebration of “separate” graduations as a positive development!

In the present the case of Evergreen State College in Washington State, where the campus had to be shut down due to violence, serves as a perfect example. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Bert Weinstein

 

a professor of biology, objected to a proposed “Day of Absence” that encouraged white students, staff, and faculty members to leave campus in order to “explore issues of race, equity, allyship, inclusion and privilege.” He wrote that “on a college campus, one’s right to speak — or to be — must never be based on skin color.” The request, he argued, was “an act of oppression in and of itself.”

Since then Mr. Weinstein, who considers himself “deeply progressive,” has been called a racist, and a group of Evergreen students have demanded that the professor be “suspended immediately without pay.” What’s more, dozens of his fellow professors signed a letter last week calling for the university to investigate him, complaining that his speaking out had turned the campus into a target of white supremacists.

 

To a marginal sociologist like myself, this is absurd. A professor is being challenged for his opposition to what amounts to fascistic mobs (fascism in the United States is something I have written about before) and he is also being criticized by his fellow professors! The New York Times gives more detail regarding the content of Mr. Weinstein’s email:

 

 “There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and under-appreciated roles,” he wrote, “and a group or coalition encouraging another group to go away.” The first instance, he argued, “is a forceful call to consciousness.” The second “is a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself.” In other words, what purported to be a request for white students and professors to leave campus was something more than that. It was an act of moral bullying — to stay on campus as a white person would mean to be tarred as a racist.

 

For me, “moral bullying” is a kind term to employ describing this kind of behavior, but that is normal coming from State Media; a simple Google search of “Evergreen College” brings up just one story from State Media (The Washington Post)—the rest are not from “well-respected” and “mainstream” American news sources. Unfortunately, this leads the public to believe that this is not a real threat to their very lives and livelihoods in the United States of America. Just because Breitbart reported that protestors were “roaming [Evergreen’s] campus with baseball bats” and CNN didn’t doesn’t make it any less of a real threat to dialogue, communication, and—most of all—student safety! Unfortunately, this kind of intolerance is rooted in the indoctrination—that passes for education—in many American Universities. It is a reason that I myself do not always feel comfortable (intellectually speaking) on American college campuses. Sociologist C. Wright Mills said it best in The Sociological Imagination when he compared the Soviet Union and the United States, pointing out that while in the former intellectuals were “physically crushed”, in the latter they are “morally crushed” (Mills, 1959: 191). This is a fascistic form of divide and conquer and it needs to stop.

 

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When I attended the University of Texas, the bats we talked about on campus were winged mammals living under the Congress Avenue bridge. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.breitbart.com/tech/2017/06/06/report-evergreen-protesters-roaming-campus-with-baseball-bats/

 

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Very Few Mainstream Media Outlets Reported on the Situation at Evergreen College. Image Courtesy Of the Author.

 

The “Social Justice Warriors” on American campuses would be well served to also take a look at history in order to understand why segregation was unjust and was—rightly—overturned in Brown vs. The Board of Education in 1954. Sports provides a great example of why segregation, the division of people based on race (or any other characteristic for that matter), is a policy destined for failure (for instance, Tamir Sorek’s eminently readable Arab Soccer in a Jewish State contains an interesting chapter on separate Muslim soccer leagues in Israel). In America the national pastime is baseball, a sport that—like football in Turkey (and perhaps Israel)—both reflects and shapes the national consciousness. That is why baseball—like so many social and cultural institutions in the United States—has been affected by the issue of racial divisions; the most prominent example is Negro League Baseball. According to a cursory look at the Wikipedia page, 1888 was the last year blacks were allowed in either the major or minor leagues of American Baseball; 1887 was when the first “negro league” was founded: The National Colored Baseball League. It was not until 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke the “color barrier”, that a black player appeared in the top tier of American Baseball. Was it good for American baseball that—for almost sixty years—blacks and whites played in different leagues, apart from one another? Of course it wasn’t. Like intellectual environments, sports competition also thrives when diverse people come together. So why would anyone want to re-create such a separation on college campuses?

 

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Jackie Robinson (Displaying the Proper Use of a Baseball Bat) Did Not Fight for Equality so that Self-Proclaimed “Social Justice Warriors” Could Fight For Division.  Image Courtesy of: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackie_Robinson

 

It might be because many people just cannot see what they are doing. Despite the “intelligence” one might think they possess by virtue of a Harvard degree, they also show a distinct lack of historical knowledge by thinking that “separate” graduations are a good thing. This might be because they did not learn history in school; it was indoctrination and not education. I paraphrase one of my former students who asked, rhetorically, whether “critical thinking” was not just a way to tell people how to think.

Indeed, this lack of self knowledge is widely manifested by those who think that being “progressive” absolves them of all ability to be fascistic, totalitarian, or bigoted. For example, a black baseball player—Adam Jones—donated twenty thousand dollars to the Negro Leagues Museum after he was reportedly racially taunted by fans at a game. Where were these racist fans, you might ask? In the same city that Harvard’s “separate” graduations—based on racial difference—took place in: Boston, Massachussetts. Ironically, Massachusetts is also one of the most “progressive” states in the country, home to much of America’s so-called “elite”. Indeed, Massachussetts’ election map shows the large margin (almost double the votes) by which the liberal candidate Hillary Clinton defeated the conservative candidate Donald Trump.

 

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“A Reliably Blue State Is an Understatement. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.nytimes.com/elections/results/massachusetts

 

I am lucky enough to have lived all over the United States, and have learned that talk is cheap. No education can teach “diversity” or “tolerance”, and it certainly can teach nothing if it is merely a form of indoctrination: One must travel and meet people different  than themselves in order to grow. We must learn from history—and sports is a part of it—in order to stand up to the absurdities of our time.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Attempts to Re-Brand Himself as a Nationalist by Renaming Football Stadiums

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Turkey’s controversial President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a savvy political leader to say the least. He is also very intelligent, and his latest move is another attempt to survive amidst the ongoing global turmoil. Mr. Erdogan sees the rising tide of populist nationalism (most prominently exemplified by June 2016’s “Brexit” and the election of U.S. President Donald Trump in November 2016) and is looking to exploit it by re-branding himself as a populist nationalist leader. His latest tactic focuses on football stadiums. On 29 May 2017 Mr. Erdogan announced that he was “going to remove the word ‘arena’ from stadiums”, deeming the word “un-Turkish”. According to The Telegraph, Mr. Erdogan asked a rhetorical question: “What does arena mean? We don’t have such a thing in our language,’ Mr Erdogan added, urging people to examine the ‘meaning and interpretation’ of arenas saying the word was ‘neither polite nor elegant’ “.

 

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Ataturk’s Language Reform. Image Courtesy of: http://www.nationalturk.com/en/turkey-83th-anniversary-of-turkish-language-reform-to-be-celebrated-14675/

 

Of course, such a move is not new or unprecedented in Turkish history. Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, pursued a language revolution which brought the Latin alphabet to Turkey by eliminating the Perso-Arabic script of Ottoman Turkish; it was one of the cornerstones of Ataturk’s revolution designed to “Westernize” Turkey. More recently, as scholar Banu Eligur points out in her illuminating book on Political Islam in Turkey, the military did the same after the 1980 intervention when “the state-owned television issued a long list of words that were banned from use over the network” (Eligur, 2010: 117). According to the author, “the state was not simply expected to promote a conservative understanding of national culture, but to discourage—or, as one document puts it—to ‘extinguish’ modernist movements in literature and the arts” (Eligur, 2010: 117). This is the same kind of consolidation that Mr. Erdogan is looking to achieve with his attempt to ban the word “arena” from use in Turkish stadiums; it is also an attempt for Mr. Erdogan to equate himself with Ataturk.

 

 

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According to Mr. Erdogan’s Decree, the Names of Galatasaray’s Turk Telekom Arena (Top) and Besiktas’ Vodafone Arena (Bottom) Will Have to Change. Images Courtesy of https://www.tripadvisor.co.za/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g293974-d2329797-i222044743-Turk_Telekom_Arena-Istanbul.html (Top) and http://www.vodafonearena.com.tr/_assets/images/layout/og-image.jpg (Bottom).

 

It would behoove observers to realize that Mr. Erdogan’s purported goal is a façade. After breaking with Fethullah Gulen—the reclusive Islamic cleric blamed for the 15 July 2016 coup attempt—Erdogan is looking to become more of a nationalist and less of a globalist (as Mr. Gulen is). Mr. Gulen, who is undoubtedly an Islamist, embraces a globalist vision without countries; it is a vision where an Islamic umma (believers) is united as Muslims and not Turks, Egyptians, Iranians, etc. State media in the United States decided to publish a statement by Mr. Gulen (himself a traitor to his country) on 15 May 2017, in which he states his position clearly. He argues that:

 

school curriculum that emphasizes democratic and pluralistic values and encourages critical thinking must be developed. Every student must learn the importance of balancing state powers with individual rights, the separation of powers, judicial independence and press freedom, and the dangers of extreme nationalism, politicization of religion and veneration of the state or any leader. [Emphasis added].

 

It is remarkable how closely Mr. Gulen’s emphasis on “pluralistic values” and “critical thinking” resembles the indoctrination strategies of many universities in the United States, where “critical thinking” is a code-word for anything but; in reality it means “think like your professors think”. Mr. Gulen’s decrying of nationalism and the “veneration of the state or any leader” fits in with the same anti-nationalist rhetoric of globalists around the world. That American state media should publish the words of a shady Islamic cleric is, also, sadly not surprising. The Washington Post turned against Mr. Erdogan since his split with Mr. Gulen; after Mr. Erdogan’s bodyguards thuggishly attacked anti Erdogan protesters in May of 2017 the newspaper called Mr. Erdogan’s security detail “thugs” and “goons”. That the newspaper is finally outing Mr. Erdogan for his authoritarianism does not absolve them of their guilt for supporting Mr. Erdogan (while he still worked with Mr. Gulen) during the Gezi Park protests of 2013 when Max Fisher cited a poll which said Mr. Erdogan had “high approval ratings” despite the protests. The false nature of the claims—designed to discredit the anti-government protestors—is made clear by the newspaper’s own admission of misrepresenting the facts. A disclaimer in the story reads:

 

Correction: This post originally indicated that the Pew poll had been taken after protests began. In fact, it was taken in March, before protests started. 

 

It seems “fake news”, or at least deliberate misrepresentation of the facts by state media in the U.S., was alive and well long before the Donald Trump era in a bid to prop up Mr. Erdogan. Now, having lost his globalist ally, state media is changing their tune just as Mr. Erdogan is. It is important to realize that Mr. Erdogan is merely adapting to a changing world without truly changing at all.

The fact that Galatasaray was the first team to change the name of their stadium in response to Mr. Erdogan’s comments is not surprising (the team has been close to Mr. Erdogan), but it is indicative of the falseness inherent in Mr. Erdogan’s comments. Sports Illustrated reported that Galatasaray changed their stadium’s name from “Turk Telekom Arena” to “Turk Telekom Stadium”. But…what is a “stadium”? Is “stadium” not a non-Turkish word? Of course it is, and it underlines the ridiculousness of the call to erase “Arena” from Turkish stadiums; it is more ridiculous when one realizes that most of the new stadiums built in Turkey under the AKP regime have been named…arenas. Mr. Erdogan is trying to re-brand himself by separating himself from the era of Gulenist influence but it will not be that easy since Mr. Erdogan is not a nationalist, and has never been one.

As Banu Eligur notes, Mr. Erdogan said in January 1995 that “the 21st century will be an era in which systems that are based on Islam will come to power in the world” (Eligur, 2010: 162). Islamism is, clearly, not compatible with nationalism, itself a secular ideology. Thus, it is unlikely that Mr. Erdogan’s about face is credible. It shouldn’t be surprising, since his own reformist wing within the Turkish Islamist movement founded the Justice and Development Party (AKP); it was a wing that, according to Eligur, “placed a greater value on electoral victory, which required a significant expansion of the party’s constituency base, than on the religious purity of the membership” (Eligur, 2010: 198). In other words, Mr. Erdogan was never really a Islamist (in terms of faithfulness to the religion of Islam), rather he was looking for votes (and by extension) power. Thus his new-found populist nationalism is similarly false.

To understand this, Banu Eligur’s work is again useful. Eligur ends her book by pointing out that

 

Islamism, unlike Turkish nationalism, does not accept the notion of a Turkish identity. Turkish nationalism, as a secular ideology, seeks to protect both the secular and the unitary character of the state. The Islamist movement is likely to have a hard time competing against the very foundations of the secular-democratic Turkish Republic: the Turkish nationalism of Ataturk. However, Islamist entrepreneurs may opt once again, as they have after each threat to the survival of their movement, to reframe their message to the Turkish people so as to neutralize the nationalist challenge and secure the power and appeal of the Islamist movement in Turkey. (Eligur, 2010: 283)

 

This is the essential point that observers of Turkey should keep in mind at this critical juncture in history. Mr. Erdogan’s move regarding stadium naming policy is—to borrow Eligur’s term—a “reframing” of the message. Mr. Erdogan, being the observant leader that he is, senses the rising tide of populist nationalism in the world and is looking to reframe himself in that context. None should be fooled, however, as to Mr. Erdogan’s intentions. He is still a politician who—in the context of extreme capitalism—is looking to keep his hold on power in Turkey using whatever methods necessary. Due to the global context, for the foreseeable future it seems as if Mr. Erdogan will look to exploit Turkish nationalism as a means to keep his hold on power and the Turkish state.

 

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Banal Nationalism. Image Courtesy Of: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flag-map_of_Turkey.svg

Fascism in the United States? Both Football Fans—and Journalists—Seem to be Looking in the Wrong Places

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Antifa Fans at a Colorado Rapids Match. Image Courtesy Of: https://sports.yahoo.com/news/trump-presidency-created-quiet-anti-fascist-movement-americas-soccer-stadiums-225443656.html

 

A few weeks ago a friend alerted me to an interesting article written by journalist Leander Schaerlaeckens. The article, from Yahoo Sports, is titled “How Trump presidency created quiet anti-fascist movement in America’s soccer stadiums”. While Mr. Schaerlaeckens correctly recognizes that “[s]occer stadiums have historically been hotbeds of political sentiment”, he fails to question why this movement has risen. Mr. Schaerlaeckens takes the easy route by regurgitating media tropes:

quietly but surely, “antifa” – as the anti-fascist movement is broadly referred to – is on the rise in American soccer stadiums. This is a direct reaction to the current political climate in which the far right has made very visible inroads since the election of President Donald Trump.

 

Without bothering to engage the issue critically—like a journalist should—the author goes on to quote a supporter of the New York Cosmos’ (a second division team in the United States football pyramid) Antifa fan group “Metro Antifa”, who says that:

 

The election of Donald Trump has made many people feel scared, like they do not belong in our country. We want to show all Metro supporters that we do not care what your ancestry is, what your skin color is, what your sexual orientation is. If you support the same club we do, you are more than welcome to stand with us without fear of exclusion.

 

While this particular fan’s intentions are certainly laudable, I am left wondering what would happen if a fan entered their group not with a different ancestry, skin color, or sexual orientation, but with a different political opinion. Something tells me that they would not be welcomed in “Metro Antifa”. The political “left” in the United States has become more and more intolerant of dissenting views—despite their own “tolerance”—and it makes me wonder how real these self proclaimed “Antifa” groups truly are. It makes me wonder if modern society has—as Herbert Marcuse argued in his One Dimensional Man—already become totalitarian (and fascistic)?

Two recent examples—from personal experience—tell me that American society has exhibited signs of fascism long before Donald Trump; in fact, it is a form of fascism that comes from the opposite end of the ideological spectrum. While sitting among fellow students at my university one asked what our summer plans were. Knowing that this particular student was one of the best in our department—a hard-working and intelligent individual—I spoke honestly: I was going home to take care of my mother and father who have not been well recently. When she asked me what I could specifically do since I am not a medical doctor, I told her that I would be assisting my mother and father with day to day activities while also taking care of my brother. That is when I made the fatal mistake of adding that “obviously, my father wants to see me before his surgery”. At this the girl exploded, telling me “Obviously? My father would not want to see me even if he was dying”. At this I paused…it was a deathly silence and I simply said “this is not a competition”. At that she added “Well don’t say obviously”. I was shocked. I was being silenced—censured, if you will, for using the word “obviously”. That a father should want to see his son before a serious surgery seemed fairly “obvious” to me. Yet, to this girl, it was “offensive”. That her family was less than stellar is not my problem. That her upbringing was less than stellar—and that it did not give her basic manners—is also not my problem. In fact, judging by her response, I have little sympathy for her going forward. Such callous responses—in the name of “tolerance”—are fascistic in nature and must be resisted. While this is just a personal anecdote, this process has also worked itself out in national politics in the United States.

A statue of Jefferson Davis—the president of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War—was removed from the city of New Orleans on 11 May 2017 at 5 am. It is a statue I myself have seen (and photographed) during a visit to New Orleans, and its removal reminded me of similar social engineering projects in fascistic societies.

 

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Jefferson Davis in New Orleans…When it it existed. Image Courtesy of the Author.

 

It reminded me of the occasional removal of Ataturk statues from Turkish cities (to make way for 15 July “democracy” monuments (!) ) by the ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party. It is an attempt to erase history, a tactic that the fascistic rulers of Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union wrote the book on. Yet this is not Turkey, this is not Nazi Germany, this is not the USSR; it is the United States of America.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu justified the removal of the statue by saying:

These monuments have stood not as historic or educational markers of our legacy of slavery and segregation, but in celebration of it. I believe we must remember all of our history, but we need not revere it. To literally put the Confederacy on a pedestal in some of our most prominent public places is not only an inaccurate reflection of our past, it is an affront to our present, and a bad prescription for our future. We should not be afraid to confront and reconcile our past.

 

With all due respect to Mr. Landrieu I have to ask a simple question: How does removing a statue work to “confront and reconcile our past”? Erasing history—by forcibly removing it—does not confront the past, it merely pushes it under the rug. These are the same tactics that the USSR engaged in; it is fascistic in nature and must be resisted. All such events do is exacerbate the divisions within American society—adhering to the fascistic doctrine of “divide and conquer”. Some of the protestors came with banners that read “America was never great”, trying to exacerbate the divide between Whites and Blacks. Unfortunately, what these so called “antifa” don’t realize is that they are feeding, and not healing, the division. By dividing Blacks and Whites further they are playing in to a true fascistic system that can take total control in the name of “globalism”.

 

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Images Courtesy Of: https://www.bestofneworleans.com/thelatest/archives/2017/05/11/jefferson-davis-comes-down-second-of-four-confederate-era-monuments-removed-in-new-orleans

 

It is my hope that these two examples of the rampant fascism that exists in American society—a type of fascism which has nothing to do with Donald Trump—will open the eyes of the football fans that Mr. Schaerlaeckens wrote about. Those fans (as well as the author) might want to get out a little more. While the United States is not perfect, it is certainly not (yet) fascist. There are far worse places in the world, and the sooner football fans in America realize that they are feeding—and not fighting—division the more effective they will become in fighting for their cause. Fighting “fascism” and being “antifa” is not a child’s game in order to further ones’ own sense of moral superiority; fascism is real—it just takes more than regurgitating media tropes to understand where it comes from.
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Image Courtesy of Instagram

A Footballer’s Response to Turkey’s Referendum Shows The Failure of Europe’s “Multiculturalism” in the Context of Extreme Capitalism

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After the Turkish referendum of 16 April 2017, the plaudits came in from some unexpected sources including U.S. President Donald Trump and dual Turkish/French national footballer Mevlut Erdinc (Erding in Europe). What is notable about both responses is that they show the extent to which “democracy” and “freedom” are relative terms; in the modern world they have become mere words far detached from their actual meanings. I will first discuss Mr. Trump’s response before focusing on Mr. Erdinc’s, in order to show how both responses represent the flaws inherent in what we—in the West—have come to believe “democracy” means.

Following the “YES” victory in the Turkish referendum that paves the way for a constitutional change, U.S. President Donald Trump called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (the fact that the President is a ceremonial position in Turkish politics, and is technically impartial, was apparently lost on the U.S. leadership). Perhaps recognizing this fact, the U.S. government later backtracked and claimed that the call was not so much congratulatory, rather that it “focused on terrorism”. Regardless of what was discussed, it is likely that the U.S. was truly just “checking in”, so to speak, so as to ensure that Turkey was still on board with Mr. Trump’s war on ISIS/ISIL in the Middle East. While the call may have been a poor decision—and CNN certainly thought it was —Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s article makes a useful point:

Erdogan will never do away altogether with democracy: It’s not in his interest. Keeping a semblance of democratic norms can be useful to the ruler; it allows him to refute any charges that he’s a dictator.

 Unfortunately for Ben-Ghiat, whose point here is well taken and one I will expand on further, she (like so much of State media in the United States) loses credibility by following up with this statement:

Trump’s public support for Erdogan is a serious thing: It’s another nail in the coffin of America’s prestige in the world as a beacon (no matter if flawed) of freedom. Trump’s seeking out the favor of Erdogan, like his shameless courting of Putin, should startle Republicans out of their favorite recurring fantasy: that Trump will go “mainstream” and support democratic norms in America and elsewhere.

She—like many in U.S. mainstream media—misses the point that “democracy”, whether espoused by the U.S. or Europe, is on the ropes (please see the BBC for a detailed explanation of Democracy’s recent failures). Indeed, State media’s Washington Post similarly embarrassed themselves with this line in Daniel W. Drezner’s column:

If it were president Hillary Clinton or president Barack Obama at this moment in time, they probably would have publicly voiced qualms about the referendum while still maintaining a prickly partnership with Ankara.

 Mr. Drezner attempts to qualify his position with this statement:

Public disquiet and behind-the-scenes pressure on key illiberal allies is an imperfect policy position. It is still a heck of a lot more consistent with America’s core interests than congratulating allies on moving in an illiberal direction. In congratulating Erdogan, Trump did the latter.

What Mr. Drezner essentially advocates is lying to the American people: in his mind Mr. Obama (or Ms. Clinton) would have publically squawked while privately continuing their work with Turkey. How this is preferable to a leader actually coming out and openly showing (through rhetoric) the problems with America’s pursuit of “democracy” is beyond me; I might not agree with Mr. Trump’s decision to “congratulate” Mr. Erdogan (if that is even what he actually did) but I still prefer it to the fakery that Mr. Drezner seemingly prefers. In order to understand just how deeply the failures of democracy run, however, we need to move beyond Mr. Trump and the United States. After all, the United States does not seem to be as bad as Europe when it comes to contradicting democracy.

Another public figure who praised Mr. Erdogan in the wake of the referendum is Turkish national team footballer Mevlut Erdinc, himself a dual Turkish and French national. In a Tweet Mr. Erdinc says “Before being a footballer I am a normal person; I have a position I have thoughts I am free”. Beside this caption Mr. Erdinc posted a picture of Mr. Erdogan, seated, with the word “Baskan” (Turkish for “President”) written in the font the Godfather movies made famous. That this picture essentially equates the Turkish leader (himself known for corruption) with a mafia leader is a fascinating topic on its own, yet it also goes much deeper—into the issues of mainstream European politics.

 

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A Picture Can Tell a Thousand Words. Image Courtesy Of: http://amkspor.sozcu.com.tr/2017/04/17/referandum-sonrasinda-mevlut-erdincten-erdogan-icin-baskan-paylasimi-614120/

 

That a sports figure would openly express support for Mr. Erdogan’s government—despite the government’s failure in the field of sport (which has seen a rise in doping related penalties and a 70 percent decrease in attendance for football matches in the top two tiers since the beginning of the Passolig system) —is notable in and of itself. Yet this support is understandable when we recognize that Mr. Erdinc is a “European” Turk, by virtue of his French citizenship.

“European” is in quotation marks because Europe has, in recent years, strayed from what it was known for: free thought and democratic values. The Gatestone Institute wrote a recent piece entitled “Europe: Making itself into the new Afghanistan?”, which underlines the odd way that catering to the sentiments of the Muslim minority actually makes Europe less democratic in the long run; artists self-censor their art while museum directors cancel exhibitions for fear of offending Muslim sensibilities. Algerian writer Kamel Daoud puts it well:

Those (migrants) who come to seek freedom in France must participate in freedom. Migrants did not come to seek asylum in Saudi Arabia, but in Germany. Why? For security, freedom and prosperity. So they must not come to create a new Afghanistan.

This comment—which I am sure is controversial to some—underlines the limits of cultural pluralism in Europe (something Stephen Steinberg has noted has limits in the United States, much to the consternation of Sociologists who are threatened by the notion that celebrating difference can be problematic and undemocratic). Unfortunately, sometimes the focus on diversity means that the perceived “difference” of others becomes concretized; the social construction becomes real because society over-emphasizes it. Nowhere is this more evident than modern Europe, as results from the Turkish referendum show.

According to NTV, it was European Turks who all but turned the tide in the referendum. While the general result was a win for “YES” by 51.4% to 48.6%, the result among international voters was 59.5% to 40.6% in favor of “YES”. Among these “YES” votes, the highest percentages came from Western European countries: Germany (63% “YES”); Austria (73% “YES”); Belgium (75% “YES”); Denmark (61% “YES”); France (65% “YES”); Holland (71% “YES”); Norway (57% “YES”). Clearly, international votes were crucial in the referendum, and unstamped votes were counted even in the international voting.

 

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Images Courtesy Of: http://referandum.ntv.com.tr/#yurt-disi

 

It should be worrying to Europeans that Turks living within the perceived “liberal” climate of Europe chose to vote “YES”, since it shows the distinct failure of Europe’s “liberal” policies. Clearly, the Turks living in the context of Europe’s cultural pluralism did not internalize the “values” of Europe—freedom of expression and freedom of speech (the same values that are under attack in art galleries and museums which silence artists for fear of offending Muslim sensibilities)—rather they voted to increase the power of a president who aims to curtail freedom of speech and freedom of expression in Turkey. In effect these “European” Turks—like Mevlut Erdinc—became more, and not less, conservative despite living in Europe. They effectively doubled down on their ethnic identity—itself tied to Islam—in the wake of European othering under the guise of cultural pluralism.

This is just one example of how “democracy”, as it is known it in the West, can be subverted. As Burak Bekdil of the Gatestone Institute points out, “Turks Vote[d] To Give Away Their Democracy”. Mr. Bekdil points out that the voters chose to support a party that has purged thousands: 

According to Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu:

  • 47,155 people have been jailed since the coup attempt on July 15;
  • 113,260 people have also been detained;
  • 41,499 people have been released with condition of judicial control and 23,861 people have been released without any condition; 863 other suspects remain at large;
  • 10,732 of those who have been arrested are police officers, while 168 military generals and 7,463 military officers have been jailed as of April 2, 2017;
  • 2,575 judges and prosecutors

 

The fact that “democracy” has supported such undemocratic policies may be astounding, yet it shouldn’t be. Mr. Erdogan, in his bid to ingratiate himself to the “West” in order to continue the inflow of capital in the context of neoliberalism, has celebrated his response to the 15 July 2016 Coup attempt as being in the name of “Democracy”. This obsession with the word—and not the practice—of democracy has manifested itself in many ways: A new “Martyrs and Democracy” museum is opening in Ankara to remember victims of the failed coup of 15 July 2016. and the island of Yassidada—where former Prime Minister Adnan Menderes was hung, among other political figures—has also become “Democracy and Freedom Island”. The AKP even moved to authorize construction on the island (and increased the amount of construction allowed after the referendum), turning the former prison island into a tourist resort, since it is one of the few unspoiled spots of land available for development. These are just small examples of how the ideas of Western liberalism are being used to support decidedly illiberal policies; it is a failure of “the West” to separate “neoliberalism” from “liberalism”.

 

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The “Original” Yassiada. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/infamous-istanbul-island-home-to-menderes-trial-renamed-democracy-and-freedom-island.aspx?pageID=238&nID=57571&NewsCatID=341

 

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Yassiada Now. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2017/ekonomi/yassiada-daha-da-beton-olacak-1803736/

 

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The Name Change Is Complete on Google Maps. Image Courtesy of Google Maps.

 

Unfortunately, this trend—of putting capital before community—looks set to continue. The European Union has looked to “reset ties with Turkey”, in the eyes of The Wall Street Journal, perhaps seeking a return to the status quo ante. Regardless of what happens, it is clear that the European brand of liberal pluralism has failed. What happens in the future is anyone’s guess, but it would behoove all of us to realize that “democracy” has become just a word, used in certain contexts in order to receive certain returns in political and material terms. In effect, the concept of “democracy” itself has become commodified; it has become something to be bought and sold in intellectual and political circles, like so much else in the age of extreme capitalism.

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/illustration/turkey-flag-map-with-business-man-shouting-royalty-free-illustration/585516128

 

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