Home

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

Leave a comment

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.  

 

syrian_league_match-lr_wepdwgn.jpg

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:

 

t_shirts-mr_umsjxpw.jpg

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).

 

map-of-control_bbc-news-mr_xclzaq6_lkaejnd-mr_pznrd9v.jpg

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.

American Media Uses Sports to Send a Political Message in President Barack Obama’s Farewell: A Photo Essay

Leave a comment

The media has a unique power to shape our perceptions of the world, and even our perceptions of our own selves (Kellner, 2015). That’s why it shouldn’t come as a surprise that American sports media giant ESPN should use the occasion of the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs’ visit to the White House to send political messages. The baseball team’s trip to the White House on 16 January 2017 was, as ESPN noted, the final official event of Barack Obama’s presidency.

i.jpeg

Another Day, Another Jersey For Mr. Obama. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/18488717/president-obama-celebrates-world-series-champion-chicago-cubs

 

In a way, it is fitting that the holder of the world’s most powerful job should end his tenure by presiding over an event dedicated to sports since it shows the continual importance of sport to modern society. In President Obama’s words (the full event can be seen here): “Sports has changed attitudes and culture in ways that seem subtle but ultimately made us think differently about ourselves and who we are. … Sports has a way of changing hearts in a way politics or business doesn’t”. Perhaps that is true, and President Obama showed how much he believed it to be true when he visited Cuba in the midst of a historic rapprochement. But if we take Mr. Obama’s words in another direction—and note that sport is itself a business and rarely separate from politics—then I am left wondering…can sport, if connected to both business and politics, truly change hearts in the manner that Mr. Obama believes?

From ESPN’s perspective, judging by their reporting on this event, sport is clearly seen as a tool in order to send a political message and is—therefore—not independent of either business or politics; in this respect the United States is no different from Turkey. Even Mr. Obama saw a chance to use the event to his benefit, astutely opening the event with the multilayered line “they said this day would never come”, which could refer either to the Cubs’ long-awaited championship, his presidency, or its imminent end.  His triple entendre, so to speak, is a tribute to Mr. Obama’s oratory skills that have enabled him to become a revered–even “saint” like–figure in America and the world, even if I believe history will view his presidency in a less than favorable light. Since I am a fan of jerseys, however, I will present you with a selection of Mr. Obama’s collection since it is pretty substantial. Mr. Obama’s collection just goes to show that sports and politics (as well as business) are rarely independent of one another, even if the outgoing President believes that they can be separate.

 

123456-1024x675.jpg

November 2013: The NHL Champion Chicago Blackhawks Visit the White House. From USA Today: “the Chicago Blackhawks visited the White House for the traditional meeting with the president. As is customary, the team gave President Obama a customized jersey — this time, a road sweater with Obama’s name and the number 13, representing the year of the Blackhawks Stanley Cup victory. Image and Quote Courtesy Of: http://ftw.usatoday.com/2013/11/blackhawks-jersey-obama

usatsi_7392222-1024x712.jpg

A Little Bonus Coverage Of Sports And Politics In The US Media Here. The USA Today Noted That The Chicago Blackhawks Presented Mr. Obama With Three-Year Old Jersey (One Above). In Response, They Posted The Above Picture With the Caption: “At least it’s not as bad as the time the 1972 Miami Dolphins completely misspelled the president’s name.” Of Course, The 1972 Miami Dolphins Were Not Misspelling Mr. Obama’s Name, They Were Celebrating Their Undefeated 1972 Season; The Comment Represents A Small Shaming Of The Team For Not Presenting An “Obama” Jersey. Critical Readings Of The Media Are Necessary. Image and Quote Courtesy Of: http://ftw.usatoday.com/2013/11/blackhawks-jersey-obama

xxx-alabama-football-hdb2899-4_3.jpg

April 2013: The University of Alabama (American) Football Team Visit the White House. From USA Today: “The University of Alabama Crimson Tide, college football champions for the third time in four years, presented the president with one more jersey — as well as a helmet and football — during a White House ceremony Monday, adding to an ever-expanding list of presidential gifts.” Image and Quote Courtesy Of: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2013/04/15/obama-alabama-jersey-gifts-national-archives/2084645/

Tlumacki_patriotsatwhitehouse_sports333.jpg

April 2015. NFL Champion New England Patriots Visit The White House. Note The Political Tensions Inherent In This Comment By Mr. Obama: “‘I usually tell a bunch of jokes at these events, but with the Patriots in town, I was worried that 11 out of 12 of them would fall flat,’ Obama quipped, referencing the Deflategate saga.” The main protagonist of the “deflategate” controversy was New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady, a Prominent Republican Who Did Not Attend This Ceremony. Image And Quote Courtesy Of: https://www.bostonglobe.com/sports/2015/04/23/patriots-minus-tom-brady-set-for-white-house-visit/ozlYSf3PvGBiSPdsRF9lvJ/story.html

Obama Patriots Footba_Prus.jpg

Bonus! Just Because Its an Amusing Picture. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bostonherald.com/sports/patriots_nfl/the_blitz/2015/04/obama_jokes_about_deflategate_as_white_house_salutes_patriots

GettyImages-536199472-1024x683.jpg

May 2016. College Basketball Champions Villanova University Visit the White House. Mr. Obama Doesn’t Seem Too Pleased; Perhaps He Prefers Un-Framed Jerseys. From rollcall.com: Barack Obama showed his love of college basketball one last time as president by welcoming this year’s NCAA champion Villanova Wildcats to the White House.” Image and Quote Courtesy Of: http://www.rollcall.com/news/hoh/villanova-basketball-fan-ncaa-obama-president
470461508.jpgApril 2015. Mr. President Doesn’t Look Too Pleased, Perhaps Because It Means He Will Need a Bigger Closet. College Basketball Champions Ohio State University Visit the White House. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.gettyimages.com/event/obama-welcomes-national-champion-ohio-state-university-buckeyes-to-white-house-549283835?#president-barack-obama-receives-a-team-jersey-as-he-hosts-the-ohio-picture-id470461360

president-obama-with-saints.jpg

August 2010. The NFL Champion New Orleans Saints Visit The White House. Post Hurricane Katrina, President Obama Sends a Political Message. From CBS News: “’I’m a Bears fan, I’m not going to lie, but this was a big win for the country – not just New Orleans’ the president said. He noted that after Hurricane Katrina the Saints had to play an entire season on the road because their home stadium, the Superdome, was ruined in the storm”. Image And Quote Courtesy Of: http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2010/08/09/obama-welcomes-saints-to-white-house/

Lebron-Heat-Obama-jersey-and-autographed-ball-e1359494230358.jpgJanuary 2013. The NBA Champion Miami Heat Visit the White House and Mr. Obama Is More Enthused Alongside Lebron James. Image Courtesy Of: http://thatsenuff.com/2013/01/29/mama-i-made-it-heat-visit-the-white-house/

1186788_1280x720.jpg

February 2016. NBA Champion Golden State Warriors Visit the White House. Interestingly, Mr. Obama Managed a Near Carbon Copy of His January 2013 Smile. Image Courtesy Of: http://abc7news.com/sports/warriors-honored-by-obama-at-the-white-house/1186562/

ap_492224656364_custom-594e0d5c1def5d1326dd008f5298c3b6ba86ba2c-s800-c85.jpg

October 2015. The FIFA Women’s World Cup Winning US Women’s National Soccer Team Visits the White House. Note the Amazing Design Of the Numbering, Hats Off To Nike. From npr.org: “This team taught all of America’s children that ‘playing like a girl’ means you’re a badass,” he [Mr. Obama] said. Image and Quote Courtesy Of: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/10/27/452260571/obama-to-u-s-womens-soccer-team-playing-like-a-girl-means-youre-a-badass

Screen Shot 2017-01-19 at 10.19.04 PM.png

For Those Interested in Mr. Obama’s Connection to Football, Please Check Out Sports Illustrated’s Article. It Includes This Amazing Image From 2009, when Brazilian President Lula Presented the American President With a Brazil Jersey. Judging By Mr. Obama’s Reaction, It Just Isn’t The Same as Receiving an American Jersey. Image courtesy of: http://www.si.com/planet-futbol/photo/2017/01/19/president-barack-obama-soccer-mls-usmnt-uswnt-world-cup

obama%20jersey.jpg

One Final Bonus Comes From a Russian News Site. Russia-insider.com Managed To Dig Up This Piece. It Shows the Odd Connection Between Sports, Militarism, Nationalism, and Politics In the United States. Note Russia-insider’s Caption “A Big Fan Of Himself”. Image Courtesy Of: http://russia-insider.com/en/politics/obama-rails-against-putin-many-others-un-speech/ri10016

A Marginal Sociologist’s Take on Turkey, the United States, and the World at the Beginning of 2017 As Seen Through a Short Tour of Istanbul: Is this the end of the Post-Cold War World System, Where Money Became the Only Guiding Principle?

1 Comment

After the violent episodes that have taken place in Istanbul, Berlin, Ankara, Izmir, and Fort Lauderdale in the last month I am left thinking that in a world where money is the only principle guiding human action stability will be a hard thing to find. When human values are reduced to a search for money (and, by extension, power) such fundamental human values such as compassion, empathy, and love are thrown out the window. The story of how this happened is intimately tied to the globalizing processes that have defined the post Cold War world, and my time spent in Istanbul during the last three weeks made me think about how the insatiable desire for money (and power) has caused the world to slowly unravel before my eyes, possibly portending the end of the post-cold war world system.

Driving through Istanbul on the way to the Atatürk airport on a winter day as grey as carbon has a way of making a person think. One thinks mainly about change: the changes that the city has gone through over the years and the changes that the country—and, of course, the world—have undergone during the same period. Along the main highway areas that used to be green oases, a welcome respite from the urban sprawl, are now populated by gaudy apartment buildings. The ugliness of some of the structures is striking, and it makes one wonder how some people were given architecture degrees in the first place. Yet they were, and the structures they have produced now dominate the skyline, looming grey giants meeting the grey skies in a seemingly seamless transition. These are a product of the neoliberalism that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has so enthusiastically accepted (at the behest of the United States first under President George W. Bush and, later more emphatically, under President Barack Obama). New apartments like these have sprung up around the city in recent years; a capitalist version of Krushchyovka. With the dollar climbing due to recent instability, however, these looming concrete giants portend a looming housing crisis if people cannot pay back the credit with which they bought on. These new apartments make the city—which had been known for its history—look more like Las Vegas or Dubai: a faux reality propped up by fake money, based on credit. As we drive my mind drifts off, thinking about the street scenes I have witnessed over the past few weeks.

 

5.jpg

20161217_144857.jpg

20161217_145421.jpg

20161217_145823.jpg

20161217_160051.jpg

“The ugliness of some of the structures is striking, and it makes one wonder how some people were given architecture degrees in the first place. Yet they were, and the structures they have produced now dominate the skyline, looming grey giants meeting the grey skies in a seemingly seamless transition”. Images Property of the Author.

 

On a bitterly cold morning I am in the suburb of Kartal on Istanbul’s Asian side outside of (ironically in a country where justice can be hard to find) the world’s biggest courthouse. I decide to hit the streets, passing a ghostly football pitch which—if not for the early morning light reflecting off fresh snow—would have been more depressing than it was. A block away an old woman walks beneath a crumbling apartment block. It looks like Aleppo and I shiver at the thought of what the future might hold but, in reality, the crumbling apartment is just a representation of Turkey’s last fifteen years. In the name of ambitious urban renewal projects the AKP has demolished older buildings in order to build new ones so as to line their pockets through the cash made off construction deals; the recent stadium boom is an example of this process in another context. Even Kartal, far as it is from Istanbul’s ever-expanding center, is not immune from the extreme capitalism that has begun to define the country.

 

6.jpg

“I decide to hit the streets, passing a ghostly football pitch which—if not for the early morning light reflecting off fresh snow—would have been more depressing than it was”. Image Property of the Author.

7.jpg

“A block away an old woman walks beneath a crumbling apartment block. It looks like Aleppo and I shiver at the thought of what the future might hold but, in reality, the crumbling apartment is just a representation of Turkey’s last fifteen years”. Image Property of the Author.

 

On another day I find myself in the shadows of Trump Towers. The American President-elect’s alleged conflict of interest in Turkey looms over a neglected Soviet-style playground on the side of a busy highway. Just one block away is what looks like a grim kindergarten, iron bars block the exit and only a half-hearted cartoon mural defines it as a place for children. I suppose it is fitting; just as there is a fine line between cop and criminal there is an equally fine line between pre-school and prison. The only thing is…this is neither; it is a Koran course for 4-6 year olds. The thought of children barely old enough to read being indoctrinated into an Islamic education is—to me at least—much more chilling than the idea of Donald Trump’s conflict of interest just one block away. But these kinds of public displays of religiosity are necessary in a country that has tried, over the last fifteen years, to re-educate its citizenry in order to manufacture a new society and ultimately a “new Turkey”; “Yeni Türkiye”. Sociologically speaking, it is as fascinating as it is disturbing.

 

8

“On another day I find myself in the shadows of Trump Towers. The American President-elect’s alleged conflict of interest in Turkey looms over a neglected Soviet-style playground on the side of a busy highway”. Image Property of the Author.

9

“Just one block away is what looks like a grim kindergarten, iron bars block the exit and only a half-hearted cartoon mural defines it as a place for children. I suppose it is fitting; just as there is a fine line between cop and criminal there is an equally fine line between pre-school and prison. The only thing is…this is neither; it is a Koran course for 4-6 year olds”. Image Property of the Author.

 

Standing on an overpass outside the Çağlayan courthouse—like Kartal’s courthouse, it is another of the AKP’s major infrastructure projects—I can see firsthand the attempts to manufacture a new society. As Eric Hobsbawm and Terrence Ranger note, traditions are invented. In the same way, nations—like Benedict Anderson argues—can be thought of as “imagined communities”. The current AKP government does not agree with Atatürk’s conception of the Turkish nation and has therefore engaged in an aggressive re-interpretation (or re-imagination) of Turkish society. Opposite the overpass I stand on, the highway signs give a left exit for the 15 July Martyr’s Bridge; before last summer’s attempted coup it had been known as the Bosphorus Bridge. When it was completed in 1973 it was the longest suspension bridge outside of the United States and represented a major engineering feat for Turkey. During the AKP years—motivated by a fascistic desire to develop more and more major construction projects (like the aforementioned courthouses)—the bridge had to be reclaimed. The renaming of the bridge, therefore, is an important part of manufacturing a new society. Like the renaming of stadiums—and the erasure of the names of important historic figures like Atatürk and Ismet Inönü from them—the renaming of the bridge ensures that subsequent generations will be less likely to remember the years before AKP rule.

 

10.jpg

“Opposite the overpass I stand on, the highway signs give a left exit for the 15 July Martyr’s Bridge; before last summer’s attempted coup it had been known as the Bosphorus Bridge”. Image Property of the Author.

 

This kind of societal engineering has been slowly creeping into all walks of Turkish life. The hill above Beşiktaş’s stadium, formerly known as “Beleştepe” (Freeloader’s Hill) for the fans who would gather on the sidewalk to watch games at the old Inönü Stadium without paying admission, has been re-named “Şehitler Tepesi” (Martyr’s Hill) in remembrance of those who perished during the 10 December 2016 bombings in the area. Beyond Istanbul, a regional MP from Muğla province proposed that the district of Marmaris—where President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was staying as last summer’s attempted coup unfolded—be renamed “Gazimarmaris” or “Kahramanmarmaris” (Veteran Marmaris or Hero Marmaris). Any one with a rudimentary knowledge of Turkish history will know that the prefixes of “Gazi” and “Kahraman” were given to the cities of Antep (now Gaziantep) and Maraş (now Kahramanmaraş) due to the heroic acts of their citizens during the Turkish war of independence. Again, like the renaming of the stadiums and the bridge, the call to rename the district of Marmaris represents an attempt to erase—or at least overwrite—the history of the modern Turkish Republic. Like the rising tide of violence in Turkey, this kind of renaming will soon become a “new normal” as people get used to the changes; the “invented traditions” will become “real traditions”.

Later in the day I marvel at the subway cars in the Istanbul Metro. When I first lived in Istanbul, a few of the metro cars were decorated with advertisements for various Western brands—again, a sign of Turkey’s creeping ardent support for global capitalism—yet most were advertisement free. Now, they are wrapped in a red and white nationalist message that reads “We are a country; we will not let Turkey succumb to coups or terrorism”.

 

11.jpg

“Now, they are wrapped in a red and white nationalist message that reads ‘We are a country; we will not let Turkey succumb to coups or terrorism'”. Image Property of the Author.

 

Even the money is not immune from this kind of subliminal messaging; a one Lira coin is given to me as change that—surprisingly—does not carry the image of the country’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Instead, the “heads” side has an image of a Turkish flag being raised with a message remembering the martyrs of 15 July’s attempted coup. This “Democracy Lira”, as I call it, is yet another new development and another move to, subliminally and slowly, push the memory of Atatürk onto the backburner.

 

12

“Instead, the ‘heads’ side has an image of a Turkish flag being raised with a message remembering the martyrs of 15 July’s attempted coup”. Image Property of the Author.

 

But they claim it is for a good cause, because a military coup is anti-democratic, right? Of course any military coup is bad…but the response to this violent attack on democracy in this case is also a cynical attempt to use “Western” ideas to further a fascistic engineering of society. Ersin Kalaycıoğlu’s essay about civil society in Turkey (from Amin Sajoo’s Civil Society in the Muslim World) outlines how this process took place in the context of the headscarf debate in Turkey during the 1990s:

although the Sunni conservative women’s organisations seem to espouse human rights and democracy in their propaganda, they do not generally espouse values like gender equality or respect for a majoritarian form of democratic rule. They instead seem eager to change society to what they regard as a conservative-religious community, while holding an authoritarian image of the state (Kalaycıoğlu in Sajoo, 2002: 266).

In the era of globalization, where “Western” values like democracy and neo-liberalism have become part of the dominant ideology, those who might not accept such values have realized the value of using them to further their own goals. It is not surprising to see why this has been such a successful tactic, since it keeps the investment—and money—flowing.

Mohammed Arkoun links this process—in the context of the Islamic world—to the end of the cold war:

If the end of the cold war opened a horizon of fleeting hopes of a shared and controlled emancipation of all societies, then the 1990 Gulf War and its aftermath inaugurated the vision captured in the ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis. The deep, unspoken reasons for these post-colonial and post-cold war situations have yet to be adequately analysed—and indeed are too often veiled by social and political scientists whose task should be to unveil the persistent will to power, economic war, and the geopolitical strategies that underlie the tensions between the dominant ‘West’ and ‘the Rest’ (Arkoun in Sajoo, 2002: 36).

In order to become accepted as a part of “the West” it is necessary to speak the language of human rights and democracy. Doing so means that even if a country such as Turkey may not be accepted as part of “the West” in cultural terms, they will be accepted in economic and political terms. In a world where money is the bottom line this game works and that is why—particularly during the years of President Obama’s rule in the US—the AKP has flourished despite its less-than-democratic record.

But this does not mean that there have not been pockets of resistance to the hegemony of the AKP and neoliberalism. Walking down the streets of Beşiktaş, a stronghold of the liberal opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), a graffito is scrawled across the façade of an apartment building: “Zafere kadar daima! Adios Fidel” (Until victory always! Adios Fidel). The shout out to Che Guevara and Fidel Castro are small-scale rejections of the ongoing commodification of Turkish society, one that has made Turkish society into a caricature of what it has been: Honest, Proud, and Respectful.

 

13.jpg

“Walking down the streets of Beşiktaş, a stronghold of the liberal opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), a graffito is scrawled across the façade of an apartment building: ‘Zafere kadar daima! Adios Fidel’ (Until victory always! Adios Fidel)”. Image Property of the Author.

tumblr_mdfj44EIqM1rzh67go1_500.jpg

Che Guevara’s Version of the Message. Image Courtesy Of: http://projectguerrilla.tumblr.com/post/37400443674/until-victory-forever#.WHVTRrGZPRi

cuba-castro-death-11.jpg

Cuban Newspapers Send Mr. Castro Off With the Same Message. Image Courtesy Of: https://correspondent.afp.com/death-legend

 

I saw that respectfulness thrown out the window at Ataturk International Airport when I read the words on a Turkish Airlines advertisement: “Our Lounge in Istanbul is Bigger Than Some Airports”. I cringed at the audacity, the sheer classlessness, of such a claim. It smacked of the kind of nouveau riche sentiment that comes from someone who—upon striking it rich by ill-gotten means—suddenly moves into a McMansion and ditches the Toyota for a Mercedes overnight.

 

14.jpg

“I saw that respectfulness thrown out the window at Ataturk International Airport when I read the words on a Turkish Airlines advertisement: ‘Our Lounge in Istanbul is Bigger Than Some Airports’. Image Property of the Author.

 

I saw the pride of Turkey be thrown out the window when I roamed the Grand Bazaar in search of presents for friends back in the US. Gone were the bustling alleys that I was used to, full of tourists speaking every language of the world. Instead it was almost abandoned, even the blatant display of the national flag could not raise the morale of shopkeepers. Indeed, in the shop I stopped at, all three employees—including the owner—told me of their plans to move to the United States in order to work with a friend who owns a Turkish restaurant. With tourists scared away due to the violence, these once proud shopkeepers are left contemplating a different future.

 

15.jpg

“Gone were the bustling alleys that I was used to, full of tourists speaking every language of the world. Instead it was almost abandoned, even the blatant display of the national flag could not raise the morale of shopkeepers”. Image Property of the Author.

 

I saw the honesty of Turkey thrown out the window in the Akmerkez mall—Turkey’s first, before one was built in every spot imaginable—where a Carhartt sweater was selling for almost 150 USD. The irony of a blue collar brand being sold as a luxury good was not lost on me, but it is not surprising in a world where consumption might be the last value that human beings hold dear. As Arjun Appadurai notes in Modernity at Large, referencing Norbert Elias, “consumption has become the civilizing work of postindustrial society” (Appadurai 1996: 81). If, in the neo-liberal era of globalization, being “civilized” means gouging consumers for a sweater then honesty can be easily ignored.

 

20161227_103241

“The irony of a blue collar brand being sold as a luxury good was not lost on me, but it is not surprising in a world where consumption might be the last value that human beings hold dear”. Image Property of the Author.

 

It is important to note, however, that these processes did not happen in a vacuum. Turkey did not magically adopt the values of neo-liberal economics and globalization by itself. While hesitating to give credence to the conspiracy theories that the United States is to be blamed for all ills (it isn’t), it is undeniable that President Barack Obama’s record in the region—and track record with Turkey—has been less than stellar. I started to think about it when I took a short trip to Istanbul’s “Little Syria”(in Fatih district)—for an admittedly positive perspective, please see Vice News’ rosy portrayal. In short, the place is depressing. The signs are all in Arabic, and Turkish is barely spoken on the streets. While Vice might want to underline how culturally “enriching” the Syrian presence is, the truth comes out that the vast majority of Syrians do not want to live in Turkey. Understandably, they want to live in their own country. That is the paradox of globalization and globalism; immigrants are to be accepted yet immigrants do not want to be immigrants in the first place. They would—as we all would—prefer to live in a place where their language is spoken and where they are not treated as second class citizens.

 

17.jpg

18.jpg

20161228_104035.jpg

“The signs are all in Arabic, and Turkish is barely spoken on the streets”. Images Property of the Author.

 

While wandering the back streets and contemplating what different notions of “home” might be for different people, I couldn’t help but begin to wonder why these Syrians were in Istanbul in the first place. The Obama administration in the U.S.—in a move that must go down in history as one of the most ill-conceived—pushed for President Bashar Al-Assad’s ouster. But for what reason? I personally can see no geopolitical benefit (from the U.S. perspective) coming from a destabilized Syria, and the meddling in a sovereign state’s foreign policy strikes me—as an American—to be fundamentally against the purported values of the United States of America. Uprooting millions of people from their homes could never have had a positive result, and sadly Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan went along with Mr. Obama by aligning against Mr. Assad. Again, the motive was—most likely—economic from the Turkish perspective.

But when the allegiance to money becomes stronger than the allegiance to your country—your constituency—problems emerge. In Turkey these problems have manifested themselves in the form of ethno-nationalist Kurdish terrorism, and on 5 January 2017 a courthouse in Izmir was attacked in the latest heinous act of violence to hit Turkey. Unfortunately, one cause of this violence is the willingness of the Obama administration has to arm the Kurds in order to use them as a bulwark (re: pawn) in the fight against ISIS/ISIL/DAESH. (For a comical video of US politicians trying to claim that they are not arming terrorists in Turkey, please see Breitbart’s story.Turkey has been stuck between a rock and a hard place as a result of Mr. Obama’s policies, and Mr. Erdogan has bet on the wrong horse. And for Mr. Obama, too, it seems that the lure of money—by way of the military industrial complex, which benefits from arming both Kurds as well as NATO allies (in response to a perceived Russian threat)—has trumped (pardon the pun) his own identity as an American since he seems to truly be “going out in a blaze of self-interest”, particularly judging by his response to claims of Russian hacking during the election. Mr. Obama’s narcissistic obsession with his own legacy has made him neglect the best interests of his country, a situation that is deeply disturbing to someone like myself who cares about the well-being of the United States.

This is not to say that Turkey’s precarious security situation is to be blamed solely on the United States; on the contrary Mr. Erdogan has made some very poor decisions motivated, no doubt, by money. But this also means that the crisis in Turkey is not wholly self-inflicted. Violence is not confined to Turkey, it can unfortunately find a person anywhere in the world. Just days after returning to my home in Florida an attack took place where five innocent people were killed by a gunman at the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport. This latest mass shooting will no doubt be used for gun control advocates in the USA, even though the shooter himself apparently “heard voices” and “allegedly told authorities at the time that an intelligence agency was telling him to watch ISIS videos, according to law enforcement officials”. His family members assert that he had been different since returning from serving in Iraq from April 2010 to February 2011 and that he didn’t get the help he needed. Far from being a case for the gun control advocates, it seems that this tragic event was the result of blowback from imperialism and reflective of America’s failure to properly take care of the veterans who make huge sacrifices for their country—these men and women deserve much better treatment.

 

Unfortunately, it is all-too-often the poor who end up fighting their rich leaders’ wars and the case of the United States is eerily similar to that of Turkey, where we have become accustomed to seeing the dilapidated homes that martyred soldiers (fighting Mr. Obama’s—and by extension Mr. Erdogan’s—war in Syria) have come from. But this is just one of many parallels between the United States and Turkey in the 21st century. The latest parallel was revealed on 9 January 2017 in the form of Turkey’s debate over a new constitution as Mr. Erdogan looks to change the country’s political system to a presidential one (like the United States), allowing him the chance to stay in power until 2029 (he has already ruled the country as Prime Minister from 2003-2014). Of course—in his defense—Mr. Erdoğan “and the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) say the presidential system would bring Turkey into line with countries such as France and the United States and is needed for efficient government”. This argument is no different than the argument quoted above regarding the headscarf; it is a use of “Western” and “democratic” values to further authoritarian policies.

 

gafer.jpg

CnF2o4VWgAASmqe.jpg

“Unfortunately, it is all-too-often the poor who end up fighting their rich leaders’ wars and the case of the United States is eerily similar to that of Turkey, where we have become accustomed to seeing the dilapidated homes that martyred soldiers (fighting Mr. Obama’s—and by extension Mr. Erdogan’s—war in Syria) have come from”. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2016/gundem/suriye-adina-mi-sehit-olmalilar-1310098/

 

In light of the recent developments I cannot help but feel like the post-cold war era of neoliberalism may be coming to an end. When a country like Turkey can make such a mockery of democracy—and when even the American President Barack Obama mocks his own democracy by implicitly calling for a third term, saying “I’m confident that if I — if I had run again and articulated it, I think I could’ve mobilized a majority of the American people to rally behind it” one must realize that that is how an Al-Jazeera writer can call the United States a despotic “stan”. It has become abundantly clear that democracy is becoming a shameful façade, used by any and all to get their way. I am hopeful that the world can learn from the dangers of succumbing to the influence of—and desire for—money (and power). This is why I hope people in Turkey do not give up on their country. In recent years many friends of mine have expressed a desire to emigrate abroad just like the shopkeepers in the Grand Bazaar mentioned above. The problem is, the obsession with money is everywhere and emigration does not help. As Mohammed Arkoun explains in his essay Locating Civil Society in Muslim Contexts from Amin Sajoo’s Civil Society in the Muslim World, “emigration to foreign countries or to enclaves inside oppressive regimes […] delays the emergence of a civil society in more and more disabling societies, and it enhances the construction for the future of pluralist spaces for a wider citizenship in advanced, democratic regimes” (Arkoun in Sajoo, 2002: 38). Given that the “pluralist spaces” are rapidly collapsing in “advanced democratic regimes” due to processes like the refugee crisis, it seems—to me at least—prudent for us all to not give up on our countries just yet and develop strong civil societies. I know I haven’t yet given up on either of my countries just yet.

 

Turkey-USA-America-Flag.jpg

“I know I haven’t yet given up on either of my countries just yet”. Image Courtesy Of: http://turkicamerican.org/networking-for-success/

Cultural Hegemony, Free Speech, and Terrorism in Turkey: (Un)Happy New Year

2 Comments

After at least 39 people were killed in a heinous New Year’s attack on Istanbul’s Reina nightclub there has been a lot of soul searching in Turkey. What does the attack mean for a country that is rejected by the West on most terms, yet is targeted by ISIS for being a member of the West? Understandably, this “identity crisis” has affected many Turks. The latest news claims that the attacker may have been a Uighur, a member of the Turkic Muslim ethnic group that lives mainly in Western China’s Xinjiang region. If this is the case, it would represent (sadly) yet another example of blowback in American foreign policy, since there have been reports of Uighurs being trained in Pakistan (and, by extension, their client the United States) in order to destabilize China. A 2009 piece in the Washington Post called for increased support of Uighurs in the face of Chinese repression, and such American support is not surprising given the Soviet Union’s support for Uighurs in the past; the policies of the USSR in the distant past—and the United States in the recent past—both aimed to destabilize China, a geopolitical rival to both powers. Now with the rise of the Turkistan Islamic Movement—yet another Jihadist group that has emerged from the Syrian civil war—these policies have been complicated and have begun to produce unexpected consequences.

Given the complicated mix of international intrigue and ethnic affinities that are swirling around the Middle East, it is understandable that there is a sense of bewilderment in Turkey. One disgusting response came from, of all people, a football referee.

 

58696dc818c77312d0dbde1d.jpg

The Referee In Question. Image Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/hakem-suleyman-belliden-reina-saldirisi-sonrasi-skandal-paylasim-40323917

 

Regional referee from Kutahya province, Suleyman Belli, posted on his Facebook page in the wake of the Reina attack:

“What happened your Santa Claus isn’t always going to bring presents 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 Maybe the raki [Anise-flavored Turkish Brandy] and beers you drink will be your bliss on the other side just kidding you’ve been left empty handed 🙂 🙂 🙂 :)”

58696dcf18c77312d0dbde1f.jpeg

Mr. Belli’s Distasteful Post (With an Even Worse Graphic). Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/hakem-suleyman-belliden-reina-saldirisi-sonrasi-skandal-paylasim-40323917

The reference to Santa Claus refers to reports that the Reina gunman was wearing a Santa Claus outfit; it is also an example of the thinly veiled anti-Christian sentiment that has gradually emerged in Turkey during the rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the last 14 years, which also led to a gun being pulled on a Santa Claus character in western Turkey during the last week of 2016.

 

basliksiz-1-10.jpg

Santa Claus Has Seen Better Days. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2017/gundem/noel-baba-protestosuna-10-gozalti-1598573/

 

While Mr. Belli was forced to delete the comment from his Facebook page after public outrage, it is notable that the response—especially from authorities—wasn’t more severe. Unfortunately, it is representative of a far bigger problem in Turkey: many people have accepted the hegemony of the ruling AKP and are all-too-willing to accept, at times, anti-Christian and anti-Semitic rhetoric in favor of the party’s pro-Sunni Muslim stance. Of course, this conflicts with the fact that ISIS/ISIL/DAESH—who claimed responsibility for the Reina attack—are also Sunni Muslims. The most disturbing issue is that the AKP’s hegemony means that free speech exists only insofar as it does not hit the government.

Mr. Belli faced no legal repercussions for his disgusting support of the cowardly killing of innocent party-goers. On the other hand, just days later on 3 January 2017, Turkish designer Barbaros Sansal was attacked on the tarmac at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport by Turkish Airlines employees. Mr. Sansal, an outspoken critic of the AKP government, was returning to Turkey after being deported from Northern Cyprus for ”insulting the Turkish nation”. While Mr. Sansal’s comments, in which he criticizes the government for all of the recent instability and closes by telling Turkey to “drown in [its own] s***”, were not the most couth, they were still just his opinion (just like Mr. Belli’s Facebook post). It was Mr. Sansal’s comments, however, which got a response from the AKP’s outspoken Ankara mayor (who football fans know well) Melih Gokcek and led to his arrest for “inciting hatred among the public”.

 

resized_817fb-f386e89dsansal.jpeg

Mr. Sansal’s Attack. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/turkish-fashion-designer-attacked-istanbul-aiport-following-critical-video-1015234313

Screen Shot 2017-01-05 at 7.16.44 PM.png

Screen Shot 2017-01-05 at 7.16.59 PM.png

Mr. Gokcek’s Attack and A Few Opposing Views. Note the Ankaragucu Football Club’s Badge in the Post by “Ankara Jan”. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/turkish-fashion-designer-attacked-istanbul-aiport-following-critical-video-1015234313

 

Mr. Sansal effectively paid the price for going against the AKP’s cultural hegemony (to borrow the term from Antonio Gramsci) when making his (admittedly uncouth) comments. This cultural hegemony which aims to (re)define the nation state is further dividing Turkey every day. Even a small scale industrial worker in Istanbul became an internet phenomenon overnight after his battle with AKP supporters on social media. After experiencing an unexplained power outage in Istanbul during the first week of 2017, Sehmus Seven Tweeted Energy Minister Berat Albayrak to ask for help since his business had been without electricity for five days. Government supporters attacked Mr. Seven on social media, accusing him of being an Israeli agent, a member of the opposition CHP, and a member of the Kurdish PKK, among other things. In response, an exasperated Mr. Seven said “some [people] called me a Marxist-Leninist! I don’t even know what a Marxist-Leninist is. One [person] says I’m an agent for [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad, another [person] asks if I’m an Israeli agent. I say there is no electricity and the person asks if I want to divide the country. I don’t get it! I just wanted electricity. I’m a nationalist. I have seven insured employees. I pay my taxes and insurance on time”.

 

586d0033e50aa91420fbd5a8.jpeg

The Exchange between Mr. Seven and Government Supporters. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cnnturk.com/turkiye/esnaf-sehmus-marksis-leninist-nedir-bilmiyorum-ben-milliyetciyim

 

Here, Mr. Seven was shamed for going against the AKP’s narrative of developing the country by protesting the lack of electricity. Interestingly, just as the international trend of decolonization in the 1960s and 1970s saw its parallel in the United States with the civil rights movement, we have seen developments in the United States parallel to those in Turkey where a similar attempt to re-define the nation-state has led to further division.

Since Donald Trump’s victory in the election the United States has become divided to a dangerous degree. One of the most sickening manifestations of this division surfaced on 5 January 2017 when four people were held for an attack that was live-streamed on Facebook. In the attack four African-Americans assaulted a bound and gagged special needs man while making “derogatory statements against white people and President-elect Donald Trump” according to the BBC story (CNN later reported that they said “F*ck Donald Trump! F*ck white people!”). The assailants remove part of the victim’s scalp with a knife and make him drink from a toilet bowl while forcing him—at knife point—to say “I love black people”. While the four assailants have been arrested and are being charged with a “hate crime” it doesn’t solve the problem that there is a real division in American society. US President Barack Obama made a predictably weak statement in response to the attack, calling it “despicable” while opining “What we have seen as surfacing, I think, are a lot of problems that have been there a long time. Whether it’s tensions between police and communities, hate crimes of the despicable sort that has just now recently surfaced on Facebook. The good news is that the next generation that’s coming behind us … have smarter, better, more thoughtful attitudes about race.” I suppose Mr. Obama didn’t realize that the assailants were the next generation—three of the four were 18 years old!

 

_93283507_untitasdfled-2.jpg

The Assailants in Question. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38525549

 

Instead of realizing that the recent emphasis on racial identity in the United States (please see college sports and the Confederate flag debate)—in order to re-define the country as a racist state—has actually perpetuated further division, Mr. Obama chose to pay lip service without actually addressing the real problems. Until people in the world—whether in Turkey, the United States, or anywhere else—realize that the answer to societal problems is not to be found by dividing people by creating new cultural norms (and hegemonies), however, it is unlikely that we will see any more global stability in 2017 than we saw in 2016, and that in itself should make people think. Many people would do well to make a New Year’s resolution to think more independently—and more critically—about the world around them so as to not fall into the trap of blindly succumbing to cultural hegemony.

What’s Happening in Turkey?

Leave a comment

The Galatasaray-Fenerbahçe derby, postponed from 20 March 2016 amid security concerns following deadly blasts in Istanbul, was rescheduled for 13 April, 2016 on 28 March, 2016. As a football fan, I hope they get a chance to play it. Amidst an interesting string of events in the past few days, however, it seems the future of Turkey is more unclear than it has been since, arguably, the 12 September 1980 military coup. In order to better understand the procession of events I present a timeline below in the fashion of “connect-the-dots”:

  • The first domino to fall, if you will, was Reza Zarrab—an Iranian-Turkish businessman arrested on 19 March, 2016 in Miami, Florida of all places. Mr. Zarrab was implicated in the December 2013 corruption scandal that hit Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP); he has also now been indicted by the United States for much more: “For Zarrab and his two alleged accomplices, the charges carry maximum sentences of five years in prison term for defrauding the United States, 20 years for violating the International Emergency Powers Act — which regulated the sanctions against Iran — 30 years for bank fraud and 20 years for money laundering. The district attorney is also calling for all of Zarrab’s assets to be confiscated.” Given that Mr. Zarrab had been cleared of wrongdoing in Turkey and released following the corruption scandal means his recent visit to—and arrest in—the United States may well be more than meets the eye. As Al-Monitor states: “Many believe that Zarrab had to have known he would be arrested the minute he landed in the United States, and that he wouldn’t have made the trip without a deal worked out in advance. His potential disclosures to the US federal prosecutor will surely implicate Turkish officials and, as such, may well be an instrument of pressure on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.”
  • Indeed as if answering Al-Monitor, just days later on 24 March, 2016, Newsweek published an interesting opinion piece posing the simple question “Will there be a coup against Erdoğan in Turkey?”. While the question posed is simple, the implications are more complex. That Michael Rubin—a member of a Washington D.C. think tank—should voice such a rhetorical question itself begs another question: Is such a rumor floating around Washington and, if so, where did it come from? Such rumors do not just materialize out of thin air and this too could be construed as an instrument of pressure on President Erdoğan…
  • On 28 March, 2016, there was another flurry of events concerning the United States and Turkey. A meeting between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavuşoğlu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was reportedly concerning “Peace talks in Cyprus”. A seemingly downbeat quote from Mr. Cavuşoğlu sums it up—in fact, the sarcasm is all but bleeding off the page: “’We have also some good news from the eastern part of the Mediterranean, I mean Cyprus’ Cavuşoğlu said ahead of their [His and Mr. Kerry’s] meeting.” On the same day—in an interesting “coincidence”—the Turkish military announced that they would soon be receiving six CH-47F (Chinook) helicopters from the United States. With “peace” on the horizons, one would be forgiven for asking why the military build-up? And why on earth are the headlines about Cyprus when—it seems—both Turkey and the United States have more pressing concerns when it comes to Middle Eastern Geopolitics…
  • Just one day later on 29 March 2016, after talk of “good news in the eastern Mediterranean”, the United States took the unprecedented step of forcibly evacuating all families of defense personnel and diplomats out of Turkey. The evacuations included not just parts of southeast Turkey near the Syrian border but western cities such as Izmir and Muğla as well. The move seems to be setting the table for something…
  • On 30 March 2016 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan arrived to a cool reception in Washington D.C, and even some U.S. news media openly criticized the Turkish leader. Bloomberg View asked “how the U.S. got Turkey’s dictator so wrong” in reference to U.S. President Obama’s 2013 comment that Mr. Erdoğan was one of his closest friends. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal noted that Turkish journalists were on trial for allegedly undermining the state as Mr. Erdoğan visited the United States. As someone who watched CNN’s live coverage of the 2013 Gezi Park protests and heard CNN call the protesters “anti-American” I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry at one of my countries’ complete and utter failure to understand the other. But the ability of any S. media outlet to utter the word “dictator” is an interesting turn.
  • On the same day, the head of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee said that “a ‘covert counterterrorism operation’ is underway to halt an extremist plot in Turkey”; Michael McCaul’s warning is cited as the rationale behind evacuating military and diplomatic families but—at least to me—it doesn’t hold up. In fact, the United States also decided to issue a travel warning for Turkey as well, putting it in the same league of dangerous destinations as the tourist hot spots of Iran, Algeria, and Yemen. Indeed Conde Nast traveller picked it up immediately, something that will undoubtedly hit Turkey’s tourist industry hard.

Ok…so what does it all mean? To be honest, when dealing with a country as complex as Turkey—that is situated in a region as complicated as the Middle East—and has such a convoluted relationship with its main ally the United States, nothing is easy to interpret or predict. Despite this, observers of the region should have reason to feel uneasy. The fact that a Washington-based pundit should even breathe the word “coup” in relation to Turkey is thought provoking. The fact that major U.S. media outlets should describe the Turkish leader Mr. Erdoğan—previously a darling of the Obama administration—as a “dictator” is startling. The fact that the U.S. should forcibly evacuate military and diplomatic families from Western Turkey a day after the Turkish military announces the imminent receipt of new military hardware and a day before the Turkish leader arrives in Washington is telling. It seems that something is in the air.

Those who care about Turkey and the United States should keep an eye on developments; given a global security situation where Pentagon-funded militias are fighting CIA-funded militias just across the Turkish border in Syria, the fortunes of both countries are, undeniably, intertwined. Only stability in Turkey can stem the rising tide of violence that threatens to engulf a region stretching from the Tigris to the Seine.