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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

 

A Marginal Sociologist’s View on the Turkish Referendum and What the Future May Hold: The Fault lines Revealed Say Something About the World, Not Just Turkey

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Despite my earlier predictions, Turkish voters chose “YES” for a new constitution in the referendum of Sunday 16 April 2017 by a narrow 51.3%-48.7% margin. In my defense, the vote was marred by irregularities including ballot stuffing and a controversial decision to allow unstamped ballots to count. According to CNN’s piece, monitors

 

described a litany of shortcomings.

  • The state of emergency imposed after a failed coup last July had a profound effect on the political process. “Fundamental freedoms essential to a genuinely democratic process were curtailed,” the monitors’ report said. “The dismissal or detention of thousands of citizens negatively affected the political environment.”
  • State media was biased in favor of Erdogan and did not adequately cover opposition. “The legal framework for the referendum neither sufficiently provides for impartial coverage nor guarantees eligible political parties equal access to public media,” she [monitor Tana de Zulueta] said.
  • Monitors saw “no” supporters subjected to police intervention at events and senior officials in the “yes” camp equated them with terrorists.
  • The involvement of Erdogan and other national and local public figures in the “yes” campaign led to a “restrictive” and “imbalanced” campaign framework, she [monitor Tana de Zulueta] said. The decision on the day of the vote to allow unstamped ballots “significantly changed the ballot validity criteria, undermining an important safeguard and contradicting the law.”

 

In typical fashion, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed the monitors’ report, telling international observers to “know their place”. Given that Turkey’s three largest cities—Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir—all said no, it is very likely that voting irregularities did indeed turn the tide for the “YES” side. Indeed, it was noted that many polling places in southeast Turkey recorded clean sweeps (as in 97 for “YES” to 0 for “NO” in one case where all vote counters were relatives), the kind of questionable results that are common in authoritarian regimes. In fact the results were much closer in many Istanbul districts than would have been expected, as a look at Istanbul’s district by district results show. In conservative Eyup “NO” won out 51.54% to 48.46% while in conservative Fatih “YES” won with a similarly narrow 51.38%-48.62% result. With results this close—in even notoriously conservative districts—in an election where the majority of big cities went against the AKP for the first time since the party came to power, it is unrealistic to think that the “YES” win was truly “free and fair”.

 

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Three Largest Cities Say No. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39622335

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97 “YES” to 0 “NO” in Southeast Turkey’s Sanliurfa Province. Note the vote counters’ last names—they’re the same! Image Courtesy Of: http://ilerihaber.org/icerik/aile-boyu-saibe-urfada-dokzan-yedi-evet-0-hayir-cikan-oylari-sayanlarin-hepsi-akraba-70744.html

 

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Results Were Closer Than Expected In Some Conservative Districts of Istanbul. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2017/gundem/istanbul-2017-referandum-sonuclari-evet-ve-hayir-oy-oranlari-1784854/

 

 

Despite the controversy, the “YES” side won. As President Erdogan said—using a football analogy, no less—“I come from a football background. It doesn’t matter if you win 1-0 or 5-0. The ultimate goal is to win the game.” Given that the “game” was won—albeit with an offside goal (!) perhaps—we now need to analyze what it means. I believe that the fault lines that the referendum revealed in Turkish society mirror the fault lines we see in the world today, but it is not all doom and gloom for Turkey since the future could be brighter than many “experts” seem to believe.

Many political pundits seemed despondent in the wake of the results, with The Guardian’s Yavuz Baydar saying “Erdogan’s referendum victory spells the end of Turkey as we know it” and Foreign Policy penning a piece titled “RIP Turkey”. At first glance, the pessimism seems warranted; the kind of polarization seen in the election map—where, in this case, the tourist and industrial centers on the coasts and Kurdish areas in the southeast voted “NO” and the long-neglected peripheral provinces of central Anatolia voted “YES”—is reminiscent of the societal polarization seen in the wake of Brexit in the UK and Donald Trump’s victory in the United States.

 

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Turkey’s Results. Blue is “NO”, Red is “YES”. Image Courtesy Of: http://referandum.ntv.com.tr/#turkiye

 

While I have seen many observers describe this phenomenon as one pitting the “educated” and “cosmopolitan” urban areas against the “ignorant” and “backward” rural areas, I believe there is another answer; it an answer that does not try to degrade one group in the face of another, rather it is an answer that tries to get to the root of what might be called a budding global crisis. Rather than an “urban/rural” divide, I think we are seeing a divide between “capital-rich regions” and “capital-poor regions”. This is to say that regions rich in capital—due to foreign investment or development—are typically urban while regions rich in capital—devoid of foreign investment or development—are typically rural. Of course the ethnic aspect of the Kurdish areas (themselves also capital-poor) adds another dynamic to the Turkish case, but—generally speaking—ethnically Turkish “capital-poor” regions voted along the same lines for “YES”. It is also important to note that the terms “capital rich” and “capital poor” do not refer to individuals living in those areas, rather it refers to general regional attributes (like the number of foreign companies present, etc.).

This situation affects traditional voting patterns. In the past people voted on what they thought was best for their country; while there may have been different parties with different goals, they tended to be different visions for the same end goal: the betterment of the country as a whole. In the current situation, with politicians more and more beholden to corporate interests and capital and less to their countries, there is little middle ground to be had for voters. For many politicians and wealthy donors the end goal is not the betterment of the country, rather it is the betterment of personal bank accounts. Thus the stark divide as politicians look to win votes (to better their own economic situations) by polarizing the electorate: it is a classic situation of divide and conquer in the context of a zero sum game.

An example of how this manifests itself is the case of Izmir businessman Selim Yasar, a member of the board of Yasar Holding, which owns the foodstuffs brand Pinar, the sponsor of the Pinar Karsiyaka basketball team (the Yasar family has also been involved with the Karsiyaka football team). After posting a Tweet reading “YES thank you to the Turkish public that made the right choice!”, fans of the Karsiyaka team slammed Mr. Yasar on Twitter to the point that the Tweet was deleted. This is not surprising, since Karsiyaka’s fan group Carsi has ran foul of the government before for sending political messages (much like the other Carsi group, fans of Istanbul team Besiktas). When fans confronted Mr. Yasar on social media, reminding him that his district (of Karsiyaka) voted overwhelmingly against the referendum (83.2% “NO”, one of the highest rates in the country), Mr. Yasar responded with a threat that the team’s sponsorship deal would need to be “reconsidered” so as not to fall afoul of Ankara [the government] following such a high percentage of “NO” votes in the district. In the authoritarian climate fostered by the referendum results, of course, such bold threats are not surprising.

Here we clearly see that the businessman is putting his own interests first, likely knowing that cultivating good relations with the government will mean more business deals and increased profits; for Mr. Yasar is voting along the lines of what will bring more money in. Mr. Yasar is a good example of how, under extreme capitalism, politics can get polarized (and, at times, ugly). Indeed the local—and even the team—is of no concern to Mr. Yasar. In order to cultivate support from the government, Mr. Yasar is willing to end his relationship to the sports team (or at least publically threaten to do so in the name of appeasing the state).

 

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Mr. Yasar Vs. The Fans. Images Courtesy Of: http://haber.sol.org.tr/toplum/evet-kutlamasi-yapan-yasar-holding-karsiyakali-taraftarla-karsi-karsiya-geldi-193445 (TOP) and http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/karsiyaka-taraftarina-tezahurat-sorusturmasi-40074959 (Bottom).

 

This brings me to why it may not be all doom and gloom for Turkey. First of all, there is a disconnect between what the state wants (the “YES” camp) and what the capital rich regions want (they mainly voted “NO”). This kind of divide will likely not be sustainable, especially given that the AKP has built itself on a foundation of economic “stability” and “development” (processes that affect capital rich regions). Mr. Erdogan has upped his populist rhetoric to speak to the capital poor regions of ethnically Turkish Central Anatolia, but that betrays his neoliberal leanings. His recent attempt to bridge these contradictory positions shows how untenable the situation is. At a ceremony marking the birth of the Prophet Muhammed on 22 April 2017, Mr. Erdogan said:

How can one who does not listen to the voices of millions of Muslim children who have been killed in Syria regard himself a follower of the Prophet? You must have seen the father who was holding his deceased twins after the chemical attack [in Syria]. How long will those villains continue their cruelties without paying the price? What are we called just because we speak against them? They call us dictator. Let them say that. We will continue to raise our voices against them. Because our Prophet preaches ‘consent to cruelty is cruelty.

While his pursuit of justice in the Muslim world is underlined here, it also conspicuously ignores the role that Turkey played in undermining Syrian stability by turning a blind eye to militants streaming into Syria from Turkey; this type of hypocritical position is not sustainable in the long term. Neither is the fact that, following the coup of 15 July 2016, much of Turkey’s civil society (including government officials, diplomats, and judges) has been purged for relationships with reclusive cleric Fetullah Gulen. The AKP was built on the foundations of a relationship with Mr. Gulen and his followers; without that deep-seated support—which penetrated all levels of the Turkish state—it is unlikely that the AKP can retain its institutional cohesion.

Perhaps most heartening, however, is the fact that—for arguably the first time in Turkish history—we truly see the liberal communities of coastal Turkey taking the same side as the Kurdish communities of eastern Anatolia. One look at the voting map shows this convergence based on shared interests. When one takes into account the close vote in conservative districts—and the fact that the biggest cities all voted “NO”—we can infer that many conservative Turks were also against the constitutional change. In this atmosphere, we see a rare opportunity for Turks of all stripes—conservative and liberal, Muslim and secular, ethnically Turkish and ethnically Kurdish—to come together.

 

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Most Big cities, Excepting Bursa, Voted “NO”. Among the Top 10 “YES” Voting Provinces (In the Red Column), Most Were From Central Anatolia. The Top 10 “NO” Voting Provinces (In the Blue Column) Were a Mix of Kurdish Provinces (5) and Liberal Coastal Provinces on the Aegean and Thracian Coasts (5). Note also that “NO” percentages in Turkey’s most Liberal City (Izmir) and Turkey’s Main Kurdish City (Diyarbakir) Were Virtually Identical: 68.80% to 67.59%. Image Courtesy Of: http://referandum.ntv.com.tr/#turkiye

 

Likely, it will necessitate the rise of a new political party or at least a new charismatic political leader to bring these disparate groups together. Such a party would probably have to be socially conservative (but not Islamist), much in the way America’s Republican party is conservative and not specifically religious, and it would have to be nationalist (civically, and not ethnically, so as to include Turkey’s Kurdish citizens) to have success. If such a movement mobilizes, it is likely that it will also benefit from fractures that have emerged within the AKP following the split with the Gulenists, and could mount a challenge to Mr. Erdogan in the 2019 Presidential election (which this referendum ensures). This means that a new opposition party could emerge to exploit the close nature of the referendum; if well-organized enough it would be able to challenge Mr. Erdogan, who could then actually lose the election in 2019 (and with it the power) he hoped to gain through the referendum in the first place! Hopes for a truly inclusive Turkey may actually be more alive after the referendum than they were before the referendum, and that is another perspective from which the referendum results can be viewed.

 

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

 

Crowd Trouble Mars UEFA Europa League Clash Between Besiktas and Olympique Lyon: What the Media Won’t Say About the Events

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European football’s second tier competition, the Europa League, is often derided for being less exciting than its more illustrious big brother, the UEFA Champions League. This week, the Europa League defied the preconceptions by providing a lot of unexpected excitement, albeit for the wrong reasons. The April 13 2017 quarterfinal match between Turkish side Besiktas JK and French side Olympique Lyon started 45 minutes late because of crowd violence, pitting fans of the two teams against one another and prompting a pitch invasion before the match.

While the unprecedented level of violence is alarming—and not to mention extremely disappointing—it also raises many questions. Why did this kind of violence happen at this particular match, and at this particular time? Who is to blame for it; Turkish supporters or French supporters? I hope to answer these questions by putting forth two theories. Likely, the truth is somewhere in between, but it is a lot more of an interpretation than much of what I have seen provided in main-stream media outlets.

As would be expected after an event like this, both sides blamed one another. The Turkish news media (especially the pro-government daily Sabah) blames the French police and supporters. Their articles carry headlines like “French Hooligans Attack Besiktas Fans!” and “French Police Attack Besiktas Fans”. In the mean time, Lyon’s president Jean-Michel Aulas claims that it is Besiktas fans who are to blame. Mr. Aulas hyperbolically said “We can always say that the match organiser has to face these issues but either we make stadiums that make it possible to do family football or we build blockhouses with barbed wire. It is not football that you love”. In the end, UEFA found that no one was innocent in this ugly situation and charged both teams.

Unfortunately, much of the foreign media took the blame game to the next level by strongly accusing the Turkish fans. In this regard British daily/tabloid The Sun was the most egregious, and their piece of photo-journalism, written by Gary Stonehouse, is a poor and misguided attempt at journalism; the pictures don’t even match the captions!

 

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The Young Girl in the Turkish Flag Hat Is Portrayed as “Launching a Terrifying Attack” By the Sun. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.thesun.co.uk/sport/football/3328924/europa-league-clash-between-lyon-and-besiktas-delayed-as-thousands-of-fans-pile-onto-pitch-following-violence-in-stands/

 

The caption here reads “The travelling Besiktas supporters launched a terrifying attack on the home end”, yet in the picture we clearly see a group of masked men clad in black—with one wielding a metal rod—attacking a group of Besiktas supporters including a young girl with a Turkish flag hat! Unless this terrified young girl is a hardened football hooligan, I am unsure how Mr. Stonehouse could characterize this scene as one of Turkish supporters attacking innocent French supporters. The Sun’s piece is also keen on pointing out how scared “the children” were (one caption reads “A small child snapped along with thousands of Lyon fans fleeing onto the pitch in terror”) yet conspicuously ignores the plight of the terrified young Turkish girl.

 

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The Sun Is Cleary Concerned About The Well-Being of “The Children”…As Long As They Aren’t Turkish, Apparently. Images Courtesy Of: https://www.thesun.co.uk/sport/football/3328924/europa-league-clash-between-lyon-and-besiktas-delayed-as-thousands-of-fans-pile-onto-pitch-following-violence-in-stands/

 

Unfortunately, this is a prime example of a biased—and perhaps xenophobic—press. Even the image with the caption “Besiktas fans launched fireworks and missiles into the home end” is misleading, one can figure it out just by looking at the image. Clearly it is the masked hooligans, again clad in black, from the French side that are attacking the Besiktas fans (on the left) who are seen running in the opposite direction. Unfortunately The Sun seem to have lost their ethical sense and chose to run a biased story rather than do their job—provide unbiased journalism.

 

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Clearly It Is the Masked Men In Black (From the Lyon Side) Who Are Attacking The Turkish Fans (In White and Red, Mainly); It Is As If the Captions Describe a Different Event. Images Courtesy Of: https://www.thesun.co.uk/sport/football/3328924/europa-league-clash-between-lyon-and-besiktas-delayed-as-thousands-of-fans-pile-onto-pitch-following-violence-in-stands/

 

Given this example of poor journalism, it is clear that a better explanation for what happened is necessary. While there was violence both inside and outside the stadium, it appears that there is no way to establish blame at this point. This is why I will put forth two theories; it is likely that the truth lies somewhere in between:

  • The violence pregame was planned as a way to stoke the fires of Turkish nationalism before the critical referendum on Sunday 16 April 2017 in Turkey.
  • The violence during the game was a planned attack by ultra-nationalist and far-right French hooligans as a response to the pre-game fighting and is indicative of rising Islamophobia in Europe.

In terms of the first theory, we must first understand that the fighting before the match makes little sense. Besiktas—in this Europea League Campaign alone—faced teams from two countries with which Turkey has (geo)political tensions. Two rounds ago Besiktas faced Israeli side Hapoel Beer-Sheba, and the most interesting thing to happen was that some of Besiktas’ board members laid a wreath at a bust commemorating Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. One round ago Besiktas faced Greek side Olympiakos Piraeus (who got into a Twitter spate with Osmanlispor, the Turkish side they faced earlier in the competition) and the matches were played without visiting fans. Given that both of these matches carried political tension but went off without a hitch, the situation in Lyon raises questions.

Lyon President Jean-Michel Aulas said that shops were damaged before the match, and The Sun (in a different piece) reported that “Fans were snapped angrily clashing with armoured police, most wearing black signalling the club’s Ultras – and some waving the Turkish flag and letting off smoke bombs”. Here it should be noted that Besiktas’ “Ultras”—known as Carsi—do not look like the gentleman below who is pictured attacking stewards.

 

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The Above Image–of Men In Black Tracksuits Attacking Stewards–Does Not Fit Carsi At All; They Look More Like Hired Thugs. Images Courtesy Of: https://www.thesun.co.uk/sport/football/3328782/besiktas-fans-clash-with-french-police-in-violent-scenes-in-lyon/

 

In fact, Carsi gained notoriety for protesting against the government in 2013 and have a reputation for their liberal stance on social issues; they are not a group known for wanton violence. The key issue seems to be that, as the Lyon president noted, many fans entered the Turkish section without tickets. Sports Illustrated reported that “Lyon’s director of security, Annie Saladin, said about 50 Turkish fans forced their way inside the stadium and were responsible for the trouble”. Again, this is not something that Carsi are known for doing; having attended a Besiktas away match in London I can attest to the fact that the Carsi fans I met were largely rule-abiding decent human beings. So what happened in Lyon?

Given the history of framing Carsi (the pitch invasion at a 2013 Besiktas-Galatasaray derby comes to mind) by blaming them for crowd violence in order to discredit the group after they participated in anti-government protests, it is possible that this event is a similar framing. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has lofty goals for Turkey—reiterated in an editorial for the daily Sabah on 15 April 2017 where he speaks of plans for as far off dates as 2053 and 2071–and he cannot afford to lose in Sunday 16 April’s nation-wide referendum which would give him executive power. Given this obsession, it is not unlikely to believe that he took a page out of Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s playbook: stoke the fires of nationalism through soccer hooliganism. In this past summer’s European championships, Russian fans clashed with British fans while Putin mocked the violence. Later, it became clear that the Russian “hooligans” had ties to the Kremlin.

Regarding the case in Lyon, it is possible that either Erdogan sent fans from the Turkish community living in Europe to cause trouble or members of the European Turkish community went of their own accord to cause trouble. In either case, the troublemakers knew that the response from police would solidify the “Us vs. Them” narrative that Mr. Erdogan feeds on: the narrative that Turkey is a Muslim nation bullied by Europe and that—in order to stand up to this injustice—Turkey must be strong and, therefore, allow Mr. Erdogan to have complete power to “strengthen” the country. Even Mr. Erdogan’s response to the Lyon events carries an unprovoked denial: “The match is happening in France, there is no Erdogan there. If the French [fans] went onto the field that is dangerous. I suppose there have been some changes there too lately […]”. Why would Mr. Erdogan voluntarily tie himself to this event, as he does in the first sentence, if he wasn’t involved?

The second theory is that the French fans came looking for a fight. The rush with which Lyon’s president—and much of the European media—moved to blame Turkish fans for the violence suggests a tacit acknowledgement that the French fans held some culpability. The images provided above also tell an important part of the story. Scenes of French fans clad in black and attacking children with metal rods—or screaming, shirtless, on the pitch—do not give the impression of an innocent group. Quite the contrary, they look like members of a paramilitary group.

 

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The Section of Lyon Fans “Reacting To their Turkish Attackers” Don’t Look So Innocent To Me. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.thesun.co.uk/sport/football/3328924/europa-league-clash-between-lyon-and-besiktas-delayed-as-thousands-of-fans-pile-onto-pitch-following-violence-in-stands/

 

Given the recent incident involving the bombing of German side Borussia Dortmund’s team bus (initially blamed on Islamic terrorists) and the rising tide of terrorism in Western Europe, it is quite possible that some of the French fans came ready to fight the Besiktas fans because they represented Turkey, a Muslim country. In short, Lyon’s fans may have been expressing the kind of Islamophobia that has been on the rise in Europe recently; they are not innocent.

Unfortunately, much of the Western media has ignored the guilt of Lyon’s fans. Besiktas’ main fan group, Carsi, has sent out a series of tweets detailing the atrocities committed by Lyon’s fans. It is also important to note that on 11 April 2017 Carsi Tweeted a warning to visiting fans, telling them to not travel in small groups, wear team colors, or respond to any agitations; Carsi was aware of the possibility that there could be trouble in Lyon which leads me to believe that they would not go out looking for trouble.

 

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Carsi Sends a Message To Traveling Fans Urging Them To Not Respond to Provocation From Home Fans In Lyon. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/forzabesiktas?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

 

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Carsi’s Twitter Feed Points Out the Errors In the Western Media Narrative. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/forzabesiktas?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

 

Once again, I do not believe that Besiktas’ “Ultras” themselves–the “real” ones–had anything to do with the horrible scenes we saw unfold in Lyon. Rather, it seems as if the match was used in order to further different narratives concerning Turkey and its relationship with Europe. I don’t know which is sadder: that football is being tarnished to further political goals, or that Western media cannot separate fact from fiction? On the other hand, what is important to recognize is that this was certainly not the work of real football fans; it is instead a classic example of what happens when politics gets mixed up with football.  Given that matches in the Turkish league have been postponed this weekend due to Sunday’s referendum, we are likely to see politics mix further with Turkish football in the coming weeks.

 

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As The Banner Shows, Many Of the Besiktas “Fans” Came From Europe, In this Case Berlin. It is Likely that the Majority Were Not Part of Carsi’s Core Support From Istanbul. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/sportsnews/article-4410138/Lyon-Besiktas-fans-fight-pitch.html

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For Those Who Think The French Fans Are All Innocent, This Is A Picture That Speaks A Thousand Words. Thanks To The Daily Mail For Correcting The Sun‘s Egregious Error In Reporting. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/sportsnews/article-4410138/Lyon-Besiktas-fans-fight-pitch.html

Terrorists Target Borussia Dortmund And Football Fans Respond Admirably: Preserving the “Local” in the Face of the “Global”

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On 11 April 2017 the team bus carrying German football club Borussia Dortmund to their Champions League tie with French side AS Monaco came under attack. Thankfully, the team escaped generally unscathed (the notable exception being Marc Bartra who required surgery), but—as the Telegraph notes—this was a serious attack:

 

Islamist terrorists came within a hair’s breadth of massacring one of Europe’s top football teams when they detonated three bombs close to a team bus, German authorities have revealed. The three devices which exploded next to Borussia Dortmund’s coach were studded with metal shrapnel and pins, one of which pierced a window and embedded itself in a head rest.         The blast, which injured a player and a policeman, had a radius of more than 100 yards and federal prosecutors said it was lucky the toll was not more severe.

 

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Some Damage to the Team Bus (Top) and Police Officers Stand Watch Outside Dortmund’s Stadium (Bottom). Images Courtesy Of: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/04/12/borussia-dortmund-bus-bombing-police-probe-islamist-letter-referring/

 

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Borussia Dortmund’s Team Bus Guarded by Police (Top) and a Close-Up Shows the Extent of the Damage (Bottom). Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/sportsnews/article-4402644/Borussia-Dortmund-team-bus-hit-explosion.html

 

The Daily Mail and the Financial Times also cite an Islamist motive for the attack. According to a spokeswoman for Germany’s federal prosecutor’s office: “We found several letters of responsibility. It appears that a possible Islamist motive is indeed possible. Among other things they demand the withdrawal of [German] tornado fighter jets from Syria and, I quote, ‘the closure of Ramstein airbase’ [Author’s Note: Where drone operations against targets in the Middle East are controlled from].” Despite statements like this, authorities still point out that it is not certain that this was an Islamist attack and on 14 April 2017 the BBC reported that there is “significant doubt” that the attack was the work of Islamists.

What makes this case strange is that German fans do not have a reputation for this kind of brutality (directed at teams). The fact that this attack came before a Champions League match—and not a domestic match—makes it even more unlikely that this attack was perpetrated by a rival fan group. An Islamist motive is certainly possible (and I have written about Islamist attacks on football targets previously) but it is also possible that—in an interesting twist—this attack may have meant to misdirect security forces by tricking them into thinking it was an Islamist attack. Either way, security services the world over would do well to recognize that football—given its immense popularity—is a prime target for terrorism of all stripes.

 

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Dortmund and Monaco Fans Side By Side. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-39576904

 

Despite the confusion, it is not all doom and gloom. Fans of Borussia Dortmund kindly opened up their homes to visiting fans from Monaco with the hashtag #bedforawayfans. The BBC did a nice piece on how Dortmund fans hosted their French visitors in a kind display of solidarity in the face of senseless violence. I can only hope that Dortmund fans would have shown the same consideration had their opponent on the day been from a non-Western European country, like Turkey, where the fans of Turkish side Besiktas Tweeted their condolences to Borussia Dortmund by acknowledging that terrorism like this affects everyone equally, whether in Western Europe or elsewhere. In the Middle East there was support for Dortmund as well, as Iraqi sides Al Zawra’a and Naft al-Wasat showed solidarity before their match on 14 April 2017.

 

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Besiktas Shows Their Support to Borussia Dortmund. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/forzabesiktas

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Iraqi Football Sends a Message in German and Arabic. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-4412072/Dortmund-attack-condemned-ahead-Iraqi-game.html

 

While football sometimes divides people, it is important to note that football can also serve as a way to unite people from different backgrounds. Whether it is by responding to terrorism or to rising ticket prices and the trend towards industrial football, fans can use their power to send messages that transcend national boundaries without succumbing to a homogenized “global” culture. Football fans show that local cultures can still be emphasized even when taking part in global processes like sport.

Politics Clashes with Sports in the United States Uncovering the Far Reach of Corporate Greed: The Perspective of a Marginal Sociologist

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These days it seems as if the culture wars are seeping into all walks of society. Previously I wrote about how political developments have affected sports in Turkey; now I am writing about how political developments are affecting sports in the United States. In the United States we are seeing how the entrance of politics into the world of sports (and wider culture) may be morphing into a fascistic movement without offering any real solutions. That sport is involved should come as no surprise; it represents—after all—a major part of culture in the United States and the world.

The biggest provider of televised sports in the United States, ESPN, has turned much of their sports programming into political programming, the fact that North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” is being debated on a sports program is (in my most humble of opinions) doing a disservice to all those who pay for ESPN in order to watch…sports (these policies have actually caused ESPN to lose money). While it is of course admirable that important societal issues are discussed on different platforms, it makes me (as a marginal sociologist) wonder whether or not we—as a society—are not muddying the waters. Could it be that sports are serving as a vehicle, by corporate interests, to intimidate people into making decisions? If this is indeed the case, what is the difference between sports organizations (like the NCAA and NBA) and the mafia man in the back alley threatening to break your knees with a baseball bat unless you do what you’re told? It’s a fine line, and one that I feel deserves some discussion.

The NCAA—the governing body of university sports in the United States—warned the state of North Carolina about HB2, which The Charlotte Observer says is “North Carolina’s newest law [that] solidifies [the] state’s role in defining discrimination”. One of the main points of the law is that “Transgender people who have not taken surgical and legal steps to change the gender noted on their birth certificates have no legal right under state law to use public restrooms of the gender with which they identify. Cities and counties no longer can establish a different standard”. Taken at face value, this is not very discriminatory; if one has not “taken surgical and legal steps” to change their gender, they cannot enter the bathroom of their choice. This keeps people from arbitrarily claiming that they can enter whichever bathroom they would like. Obviously the solution to the bathroom conundrum in the United States is complicated, but it is important that we realize that not everything is inherently discriminatory; somethings are merely the best attempt we can make to appease all facets of society, both “progressive” and “conservative” instead of one or the other. While, according to the Charlotte Observer “the national headquarters of the ACLU describes North Carolina’s HB2 as the ‘most extreme anti-LGBT measure in the country’”, they also use language that presents the situation as a zero-sum game, where those on one side of the debate are diametrically opposed to those on the other. CNN supports this kind of rhetoric, claiming that proponents of HB2 are subscribing to 3 myths:

 

1) Sexual predators will take advantage of public accommodations laws and policies covering transgender people to attack women and children in bathrooms; 2) Being transgender is not a valid condition. Transgender people are mentally ill and should not be afforded the same legal protections or healthcare guarantees as gay and lesbian Americans; 3) Children are too young to know if they are transgender, and supporting a child who identifies as transgender is child abuse.

 

Personally, I do not believe that any of these myths are true. However, I also recognize that some people might not be ok with the idea of people of another gender being in their bathrooms. As much as we need to respect transgender rights, we must also respect the rights of those who have differing opinions which might not be based on bigotry. If the United States is to be a free country, then people are allowed to have their opinions on an issue; they cannot be forced into accepting things they are not comfortable with accepting. Some states (as the map below shows) agree with allowing transgender people into the bathroom of their choice, while others do not. Isn’t the essence of democracy allowing people a choice? Notably, the sports world is seems to not agree with these basic democratic principles, which is worrisome.

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/07/health/transgender-bathroom-law-facts-myths/index.html

 

On 23 March 2017 the NCAA, the governing body for Collegiate athletics in the United States, “issued a straightforward warning to the state of North Carolina on Thursday, the one-year anniversary of the controversial House Bill 2: Revise or repeal the law in the coming weeks, or don’t host any NCAA events between now and 2022” . In 2017 the NCAA moved games from Greensboro, North Carolina to Greenville, South Carolina because of the North Carolina law, while the National Basketball Association (NBA) moved the 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte, North Carolina to New Orleans, Louisiana. This prompted the “North Carolina Sports Association [to send a letter] to the state’s House of Representatives and General Assembly in February warning that the economic impact of the bill could reach $250 million as the state continues to miss out on major sporting events”. In the face of this social (and economic) pressure the North Carolina Legislature decided to repeal the bill; but the power of sports wasn’t lost on some lawmakers: State Representative Carl Ford said “”If we could have props in here, I would take a basketball covered in money and roll it down the middle aisle there, because that’s what this is about, money and basketball”.

 

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Amidst the Controversy, Only Fans Lose…Regardless Of Their Gender. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2017/03/14/north-carolina-ncaa-tournament-games-hb2

 

Of course few people were happy with the decision on either side of the debate, while the HB2 issue is—according to CNN—“estimated to have cost the state millions of dollars through the loss of jobs, businesses and consumer spending, though by one measure, the losses only amount to about 0.1% of the state’s total GDP”. Here we see the results of polarizing rhetoric. Essentially North Carolina was blackmailed into repealing a law in order to not lose money. To an impartial observer, this seems dangerously fascistic. While champions of LGBT rights may celebrate this decision because it benefits them today, but what about the perils of allowing democracy to be subverted by financial concerns? What keeps members of the LGBT community from being discriminated against down the road if we allow the financial concerns to subvert the democratic process? And what about the state income that was lost when the NCAA and NBA decided to boycott North Carolina? Were people—transgender and cisgender—not both affected when jobs were taken away? Economic hardship—especially to the tune of 3.76 Billion USD lost—does not discriminate based on gender or anything else.

It is interesting that the sports world was quick to bully North Carolina lawmakers on this issue while—in the face of other social issues—the sports world has not been nearly as quick to respond. Recently, a passenger was forcibly deplaned from a United Airlines flight because it was overbooked. While the event has caused much controversy, the CEO of United Airlines, Oscar Munoz, gave conflicting responses while refusing to step down. At first Mr. Munoz seemed to argue that the customer was in the wrong for being (justifiably) upset, before backtracking and offering a half-hearted apology.

Notably, no one from the sports world has responded to this heinous act of corporate violence with a threat of boycott (despite the fact that most sports teams in the U.S. use air travel to cover the great distances of the United States). Even (state) media in the United States, the Washington Post, discouraged any potential boycott in an 11 April, 2017 article entitled “Want to boycott United? Good luck with that”. Here the author, Christopher Ingraham, notes that “thanks in part to a rash of airline mergers and consolidations in recent years, major airports are increasingly becoming one- or two-carrier affairs. Today, United commands over 50 percent of the market share in some places where it served fewer than five percent of air travelers ten years ago”. Essentially, because of the slow monopolization of air-travel by corporations like United Airlines, the author believes that normal citizens have little ability to resist the disgusting behavior of United Airlines.

What are we to take away from these two issues? Is it that corporations—due to their financial might—can do whatever they want to paying customers because individuals cannot respond? And is it that state governments cannot respond to voters’ concerns because they will be bullied by business interests? In both cases the corporate side, the one with the money, is effectively over-riding public opinion.

Or is it that people in the United States only take a stand when it is a small group—in the North Carolina case transgender people—are affected? Is a general affront on humanity—like the United Airlines debacle—not enough to make people take a stand? Apparently, it isn’t. As days have gone by, the issue has become racialized: New Republic writer Clio Chang’s piece “Why it Matters That the United Dragging Victim Is Asian” is a notable example of this discourse; and it contains the statement: “…for Asian-Americans who watched this video, the victim’s race is an important part of this story. To treat it as an inconsequential factor seems, at best, an oversight—at worst, it’s an erasure”. I would argue the opposite. To racialize the issue makes it an “Asian” problem when it is not an Asian problem. It is a human problem. Everyone in the world faces an unequal fight against corporate greed and extreme capitalism; to racialize the issue only serves to divide rather than unite.

 

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Somehow, a Human Issue Becomes a Racial Issue. Image Courtesy Of: https://fortunedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/asian-american-protest-police-brutality-united-airlines.jpg?w=720

 

Needless to say, both of the aforementioned trends, where corporate interests over-ride voter concerns and where human issues become racialized issues, are worrisome trends that people—regardless of their sex, gender, race, class, sexual orientation, religion, or any other sociological variable you can think of—need to think about.

Football and Geopolitics: The Media Impetus for the U.S. Strike on Syria, What It Might Mean for The World, and Why Media Literacy is Important

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Author’s Note: This Was First Posted on 7 April 2017 But The Text Was Not Visible. I am Re-posting, with some new stories and analysis included. The main point here is to take a post-modern approach in the tradition of French Sociologist Michel Foucault; we must be cognizant of the fact that there is no one single “Truth” with a capital “T”; in order to make sense of mainstream media we must strengthen our media literacy.  

 

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The Bleak State Of Syrian Pitches During the Civil War. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/syria_football_on_the_frontline

 

On 22 March the BBC came out with an eye-opening look at football in Syria during the ongoing six-year civil war. The article opens with the claim that “since the uprising began in 2011, there has been little positivity spoken in connection with the country, but then there is the remarkable story of Syria’s national football team. The relationship that exists between this national team and its people depicts the power of sport on a personal, cultural and political level”. Given this excerpt, one would be forgiven for believing that the BBC was publishing a humanistic piece. The reality—as is the case with most modern news media—is something less than humanist; after all the media (given its relationship to capital) is not wholly independent. Unfortunately, the authors Richard Conway and David Lockwood cannot resist bringing the political—in this case from a biased perspective—into their piece:

 

A month before the victory against China, Syria drew against former World Cup semi-finalists South Korea. These results mean gradually, the footballing world is starting to pay attention to Syria for sporting reasons. But this is not entirely a good news story.

There is no ignoring the control that president Bashar Assad’s regime tries to exert over its citizens and, once again, sport is no different. The relative success of the team is both a passing panacea and a propaganda opportunity, the former for the people and the latter for the president. To present a thriving football culture to the world fits in entirely with the agenda of normalisation, of having quelled the rebellion, of stabilisation and control. However, as we discovered, the reality is far from that.

 

The emphasis here is less on the football team and more on the ills of the Assad government, which sends a political message in the guise of a humanist piece of sports journalism. While the journalists claim that “the rapid return of football to these areas shows the government’s desire to use the game to display life as returning to normal and of the war as being won. What could be more normal than going to a football match? But like the normality, this ‘growth’ of the game is an illusion;”, it seems that both fans and footballers might have a different opinion.

The authors cite one un-named fan as saying “It is very important to keep hope and to stay optimistic. Live our life in normal way, in sport, in everything. The kids need to live a normal life, what’s happening is not their fault, they need to watch sport, go to their schools, go to public parks, they have to”. The “hope” that this fan speaks of is certainly essential, and increased violence in the country will not serve him/her —or the children—in the long term. Footballer Mohammad al-Khalaf says “we are angry because the families are separated by the war. All the Syrians’ families are separated, that’s why we have so much anger. But what shall we do?

We have to accept our destiny and adapt to it. We didn’t want this to happen but it wasn’t in our hands, they are trying to destroy the people. We hope that it will end and in God’s will we will be able to return to our country as soon as possible”. Again, the footballer’s description of the situation can be read in many ways; it is a lament for the destruction of his country without taking a particular stance on the issues. His next statement that is quoted is more nationalist: “sport has nothing to do with politics. We have to move forward and sport has a message and we should relay this message. If the Syrian team plays with any other country, for sure and from the bottom of my heart I will back it and support it”. The focus here is not on a particular government or political group, rather it is about the Syrian nation, the Syrian people—perhaps not even the state at all! The article even notes that assistant coach Tarek Jabban said he coaches for the love of his country, despite making just $100 (£80) a month. The team’s star defender, Omar al Midani, might put it best when he says “The football was much better before the war. We were happy, the only thing we cared about was football and school. Now the only thing we care about is to have our country back like it used to be”. This statement—more than that of any other person cited in the BBC piece, shows that there are at least some Syrian footballers who recognize the importance of the state; whether they are nationalist or not is immaterial, what matters is that they have a respect for the state independent of its leader—insofar as it provides law and order. The fact that Mr. Assad has managed to stay in power throughout this bloody six-year civil war implies some sort of support, thus these sentiments should not be surprising.

The article cites Brigadier General Mowaffak Joumaa who (unsurprisingly, given his role as a soldier) gives the nationalist explanation that “the Syrian government is defending our people and [is] keep[ing] Syria united, this country in land and people”, yet the authors of the article conspicuously eschew any statements remotely sympathetic to the regime (as an impartial media outlet would be expected to do). Instead, they write that Syrian President Bashar al Assad:

 

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Sports Is Used In Syria To Support Mr. Assad’s Regime In Its Darkest Days. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/syria_football_on_the_frontline

has led a war against opposition forces within his country for more than six years […and] that there’s nothing funny about him [al Assad] to those trapped within the country’s borders or living under his authoritarian rule. Many here will not talk of him openly. Most will not even dare speak his name when asked about their feelings towards him. The reach and menace of the regime runs deep in the Syrian psyche. What started as peaceful demonstrations, all part of a popular uprising across the region in 2011 known as the Arab Spring, quickly degenerated into a vicious and bloody war.

 

Again, the BBC’s piece is perpetuating the image of Assad as a killer and “menace” so as to (perhaps indirectly) influence Western policy (or readers’ support of the latter) vis-à-vis Syria, while also downplaying the fact that there are fans and players who just want things back to where they were. Unfortunately, because of a refusal to even acknowledge an alternative “truth”, the BBC’s work can be viewed as a form of intellectual imperialism. It is one characterized by media narratives and tropes that are repeated enough to become pseudo-facts.

Unfortunately, intellectual imperialism—even in the world of sports journalism—has its consequences. Less than two weeks after this piece was published with the passage “The Syrian government also stands accused of war crimes against its own people for numerous egregious breaches of human rights such as using banned chemical weapons and bombing water supplies” [my emphasis], the Syrian regime was reported to have used chemical weapons on its own people during an attack on Idlib province on Tuesday 4 April 2017. On Thursday 6 April 2017, doctors in Turkey confirmed that chemical weapons had been used in an attack that killed at least 72 people. Despite the reports, the fact remains that the Syrian state could stand to gain nothing from conducting such an attack at this stage; much of the world had grown to see that Assad was far less of a menace than ISIS/ISIL/DAESH and even the footballers and fans cited by the BBC had expressed their desires for a return to normalcy.

Without resorting to conspiracy theories, it is still important to keep an open mind and the words of one “expert” are useful to explain why this “attack” is so suspect. The Los Angeles Times’ Matt Pearce rightly points out that “there’s a mystery at the heart of an apparent chemical weapons attack in Syria this week: Syria’s government, suspected of carrying out the attack, was supposed to have gotten rid of all its chemical weapons in 2014”. Indeed, this is true (it even appears as a link beneath the Guardian’s story reporting this week’s attack). The “expert” cited by the LA Times is Markus Binder, a chemical weapons expert at the University of Maryland. According to the Times, he “still had basic questions about the attack that need to be confirmed, including exactly what chemicals were used and whether the Syrian government carried out the attack”. The LA Times points out that “the use of chemicals makes [no] immediate sense, given that the government has been using explosives that often kill civilians.” Mr Binder adds “Why now? It puzzles.’”. This alone should make any impartial observer pause for thought.

Now, given the United State’s attack on a Syrian airbase on 6-7 April 2017 in response to the purported use of chemical weapons (which Syria denies), we must think even harder: What is the motivation for this kind of aggression? There are three likely scenarios that come most immediately to mind:

  • The Megalomaniacal Theory; Mr. Trump Attacked Syria to further his own political agenda: This theory has three inter-related components:
    1. By attacking Russia’s ally Syria in such a conspicuous manner, Mr. Trump may have thought that he could put an end to the speculations that the Kremlin paved his way to the White House.
    2. This attack also serves to differentiate Mr. Trump from his predecessor—former president Barack Obama—during the first 100 days. By definitively acting on the alleged use of chemical weapons by Mr. Assad, Mr. Trump can show his ability to follow through when a “red line” is crossed (something Mr. Obama did not do). Similarly, if Syria did indeed use chemical weapons, it would show the failure of Mr. Obama in the realm of negotiation since he “agreed to a Russian deal to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons program” in the first place.
    3. Trump may have believed that the use of force would restore credibility for the United States in the international realm, which feeds into a third theory.
  • The America First Theory: Since Mr. Trump campaigned on an “America First” platform, he may have seen this as a simple way to assert American military strength at the outset of his presidency in order to send a message to other geopolitical rivals like Iran and North Korea. The fact that Mr. Trump’s administration has been keen to point out that “no people were targeted” and that Russia was notified before the attack (even the sections of the base where Russians were present were not targeted by the strike) shows that the administration saw the airbase as a fairly safe target, PR wise, for a “one-off” strike. The Trump Administration may see this kind of a one-off strike as allowing them to negotiate for a settlement from a “position of strength”; threats are much more credible after force has been used. This approach would also signal a perceived return of the United States to global prominence.

 

Likely, the explanation for the United States’ first open use of force in Syria is a combination of elements from these three theories. The fact that the two candidates who fought a bitter presidential campaign should agree on the issue of using force in Syria is eye-opening, as is the coincidental nature of timing. While former presidential candidate and current Florida senator Marco Rubio thinks the timing of Mr. Assad’s attacks is coincidental since it came in the wake of tacit American support for the Assad regime; I would go the other way (while wondering about Mr. Rubio’s thought process) and point out that the timing is coincidental since it comes at a time when Mr. Assad is re-gaining (at least some) lost legitimacy while Mr. Trump is losing legitimacy (judging by polls that had put him at 46 % approval rating). It was a perfect storm that may have forced the American President into a corner, acting on any information he had—whether real or fake.

The reality is that if the state has an agenda, too often the media supports that agenda. While we should all be cognizant of conspiratorial stories (like those claiming that the Daily Mail deleted a story in January 2013 about a false-flag attack in Syria involving chemical weapons) we also need to recognize (in the Foucauldian tradition) that there is no one, single, “Truth”; there is nothing to say that mainstream media is telling “the Truth” all the time. As a country that fought a civil war–and emerged from it better off (and without major meddling of foreign powers)–the United States should be the first to recognize that there is little “Truth” (with a capital “T”) when it comes to civil war. There are embedded messages in every news story we read. That even a humanist story about a nation’s football team can carry political undertones—in this case directed against the Assad regime in Syria—is worrisome, regardless of Mr. Assad’s record (he is not a saint after all; politics is a dark game and political leaders rarely are saints).

 

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No One Can Be a Saint When a Country Is This Divided. Readers Should Imagine What They Would Think If Their Own Country Was as Divided as Syria Is Now. Would They Be Happy With Foreign Intervention? Would They Support The Government? Would They Support the Rebels? Empathy is Important in Moments Like This, Since It Allows For a Humanist Approach to the Issues at Hand. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/syria_football_on_the_frontline

 

It means that—when used hand in hand with the policies of the state—the media can act as a shepherd of the masses; the media can condition public opinion before any action is taken by the state so as to mitigate the possible negative reactions to the state. Time will tell what the fallout of Mr. Trump’s actions will be in Syria and the wider Middle East; in the mean time the best we can do is be cognizant of the biases inherent in every kind of news story we read—whether about sport or politics—so as to increase our media literacy. Honing these skills will allow us to avoid being drawn in by “fake news”, while also allowing us to take a more critical view of mainstream media.

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