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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

Football Meets Politics Head on as Sports Figures Weigh iN On Turkey’s Future

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Turkish Football Fans Have Again Gotten Involved In Politics Ahead Of The Referendum. The Caption In this File Photo Is Relevant And Reads “We Will Not Give In To Industrial and Political Power: WE WILL NOT BE SILENT FANS; Long Live The Brotherhood Of Colors”. Image Courtesy Of: http://haber.sol.org.tr/spor/fenerbahce-taraftarindan-galatasaray-taraftarina-cagri-hayir-diyoruz-var-misiniz-183452

 

There can be no denying that football is a major part of culture around the world. It plays a role in local culture (from the local non league side) as well as global culture (FC Barcelona’s badge is likely one of the most recognizable symbols in the world). Events in the past few days have shown how deeply engrained the sport is in Turkish culture, as celebrities from the sporting world gave their opinion on Turkey’s future.

After the Turkish Parliament approved a controversial presidential system on 21 January 2017, with a vote of 339 in favor out of 550 (330 was the threshold), the issue will go to a public vote in a referendum some time in late March or early April of 2017. A switch to a presidential system would be an unquestionably a bad decision for Turkey, since, as Reuters notes, “The reform would enable the president to issue decrees, declare emergency rule, appoint ministers and top state officials and dissolve parliament – powers that the two main opposition parties say strip away balances to Erdogan’s power”. I could not agree more; a presidential system without checks and balances would spell ruin for a country that has already been ravaged by an odd form of totalitarianism. Unfortunately, it isn’t very surprising since the globalist world—based on a strict adherence to neoliberal policies—inadvertently fosters totalitarianism.

In One Dimensional Man philosopher Herbert Marcuse points out that “contemporary industrial society tends to be totalitarian” (Marcuse, 1964: 3). For him, in this kind of society, the “supreme promise is an ever-more-comfortable life for an ever-growing number of people who, in a strict sense, cannot imagine a qualitatively different universe of discourse and action, for the capacity to contain and manipulate subversive imagination and effort is an integral part of the given society” (Marcuse, 1964: 23). In short, modern capitalist society promises more and more improvement, more and more growth and (subsequently) more riches, stupefying people into following the flow of society without questioning its direction. That is the situation in modern day Turkey. It is undeniable that the country experienced a strong period of growth under the AKP between 2002-2011, when

the Turkish economy grew by an average rate of 7.5 percent annually. Lower inflation and interest rates led to a major increase in domestic consumption. And the Turkish economy began to attract unprecedented foreign direct investment, thanks to a disciplined privatization program. The average per capita income rose from $2,800 U.S. in 2001 to around $10,000 U.S. in 2011, exceeding annual income in some of the new EU members.

(Taspinar, 2012)

Unfortunately, this unprecedented growth has not come without a price. It has resulted in large scale divisions between secular and religious, Kurdish and Turkish, urban and rural; competing identities have increasingly come into conflict. The AKP’s poor judgement in foreign policy—like supporting the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria—have also opened the country up to attacks from ISIS/ISIL/DAESH on the one hand and the Kurdish PKK on the other. And now the people—blinded by their greed for more and inability to see past it, as Marcuse notes—are willing to throw their future away by getting behind a man like Mr. Erdogan who has continually ignored his country in order to profit from involvement in the neoliberal global economy.

With support for a “YES” vote in the referendum believed to be at around 32%, it seems that Mr. Erdogan has realized that an appeal to celebrities from the sports world might help boost his numbers. On 24 January 2017 famous sports commentator (and former Fenerbahce star) Ridvan Dilmen posted a video on his social media page with a call to the fellow sports superstar Arda Turan of FC Barcelona:

“Our nation, our country is going through a very difficult period. It is literally a war of independence. We want a strong Turkey. I say YES, I am also in for a strong Turkey. Arda, are you in?”

“Vatanımız, ülkemiz çok zorlu bir süreçten geçiyor. Adeta bir İstiklal Savaşı. Güçlü bir Türkiye istiyoruz. Güçlü bir Türkiye için evet ben de varım. Arda sen de var mısın?”

 Soon Mr. Dilmen’s call went viral as other celebrities—including former Galatasaray Striker Burak Yilmaz—voiced their support for a “YES” vote and the presidential system. This campaigning is not surprising, given that Mr. Dilmen has announced his candidacy for the presidency of the Turkish Football Federation and has publically voiced his support for Mr. Erdogan as well. For Mr. Dilmen it is a good choice; by making his politics clear he can assure his own safety in a climate where at least 2,000 footballers are being investigated for their involvement with the Islamist cleric Fethullah Gulen who is accused of being behind the attempted coup of 15 July 2016. But for his nation, it is a very bad choice. Of course he has just been blinded by his greed, a byproduct of the extreme capitalism that has engulfed Turkey in the last fifteen years.

 

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Do Mr. Dilmen (L) and Mr. Kocaman (R) Have Different Views Regarding Their Country’s Future? Image Courtesy Of: http://amkspor.sozcu.com.tr/2017/01/25/aykut-kocamandan-evet-kampanyasi-icin-farkli-aciklama-582090/

 

Fortunately other celebrities have hit back at their greedy colleagues, emphatically calling for a “NO” vote. Konyaspor’s head coach Aykut Kocaman also offered a voice of reason amid the maelstrom, saying “The players, including myself, should not be involved in politics. Because everyone makes up the group that supports us. We belong to no man, we are only the men of our profession and Konyaspor, and the players should be the same way” Mr. Kocaman even took a veiled shot at the establishment when he said “we are not people who live in glass houses, we are people who are in society (Biz öyle sırça köşklerde yaşayan insanlar değiliz, toplumun içinde yer alan insanlarız)”. The football fans have gotten involved as well, with Fenerbahce’s leftist “Sol Acik” group asking Galatasaray’s leftist “Tekyumruk” group “We also say NO for a free, equal, and secular country, @tekrumruk are you in?” on Twitter. Tekyumurk’s response created a similarly viral tweet as they reached out to Besiktas’s Belestepe group with the same tweet. Belestepe’s response was “No, one thousand times NO”.

 

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The Tweet Exchange Between Football Fan Groups. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.diken.com.tr/o-ses-baskanlik-uclusune-twitterdan-spora-siyaset-bulastirmanin-en-guzel-ornekleri/

 

There is no doubt that Turkey is going through a tough time and that society has become fragmented beyond belief. The hurt caused by this fragmentation is expressed well by a user of the internet community eksisozluk which shows the sociological and psychological damage that the behavior of Mr. Dilmen and other celebrities has caused. The user şükela wrote a heartfelt piece outlining his disappointment at Mr. Dilmen’s decision. In the piece the user notes how, as a free floating hopeless 17 year-old adrift in the world of industrial society while working with his uncle, his only love—his only hope—was his football team, Fenerbahce. He recalls listening to a match on the radio and crying when he heard that his hero, Mr Dilmen, had been injured: “I remember sitting and silently crying as I hopelessly tried to cling to life at only seventeen because Ridvan [Dilmen] was the defining symbol of the only branch I clung to, Fenerbahce (olduğum yerde sessizce ağladığımı hatırlıyorum, daha on yedi yaşında umutsuz bir şekilde hayatta kalmaya çalışırken, tutunduğum tek dal olan fenerbahçe’nin biricik sembolüydü çünkü rıdvan)”. The user goes on to say “it is now clear that you have long ago forgotten the country that made you you, and this community [of Fenerbahce]. Good luck, but as someone from Kadikoy [the neighborhood Fenerbahce is in] I’d like to remind you that the Republic of Turkey and the Republic of Fenerbahce will endure and last forever [but] you destroyed your chance to be an honorable soldier for both of these republics tonight with your own hands (ama anlaşılan o ki; sen çoktan seni sen yapan bu ülkeden, bu camiadan vazgeçmişsin, yolun açık olsun, ama bir kadıköy’lü olarak hatırlatmak isterim ki; türkiye cumhuriyeti de fenerbahçe cumhuriyeti de ilelebet payidar kalacaktır, sen bu iki cumhuriyetin de bir neferi, şerefli bir askeri olma şansını bu akşam kendi ellerinde yok ettin). ”

 

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 Graffito Tweeted By Fenerbahce Fan Group Sol Acik Reads “In Izmir We Say Sunflower Seeds are Cigdem [A Local Word Referring To Sunflower Seeds In The Aegean City Of Izmir] And Say No To A Presidential System” [Author’s Note: This Is A Very Difficult Passage To Translate On Short Notice Since It Is Very Culturally Specific So The English Is Much Longer Than The Turkish, I Apologize To The Readers]. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.diken.com.tr/o-ses-baskanlik-uclusune-twitterdan-spora-siyaset-bulastirmanin-en-guzel-ornekleri/

 

The words of this anonymous individual show how shocking it can be when your childhood hero turns his back on not just his football team, but also his country. Consumed by the desire for money Mr. Dilmen—as well as Arda Turan and Burak Yilmaz—have decided to abandon their personal morals and values as well as their country; they have become “one-dimensional men”. It is disappointing to see but we must remember that it is symptomatic of a modern industrial society consumed by extreme capitalism. I say NO to industrial football, NO to extreme capitalism, and NO to globalization. I am sure you can infer my position on Mr. Erdogan’s presidential system as well…!

 

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A Touch Of Banal Nationalism. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.diken.com.tr/o-ses-baskanlik-uclusune-twitterdan-spora-siyaset-bulastirmanin-en-guzel-ornekleri/

 

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?

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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.

 

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“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.

 

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“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.

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“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.

 

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“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.

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“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.

 

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“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”.

 

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“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.

 

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“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.

 

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“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.

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

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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.

 

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“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.

 

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“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.

 

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“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.

 

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“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.

 

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“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.

 

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

A Marginal Sociologist’s Thoughts On Why Perspective is Important: Americans Are Terrified About Donald Trump’s Views About Muslims…While I’m Terrified About Turkey’s Views About Rape

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The election of Donald Trump as President-elect of the United States has sparked fear in the hearts of many Americans. Unfortunately, I have seen a lot of it in my own university. One of the fears—along the lines of those pertaining to immigration and diversity—regards Muslims. As a Turkish-American this is a subject that I pay attention to every day. Today, I was not happy with what I saw.

 

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The Position of Muslim-Americans–Even Those Who Represent the United States in Sports–Is Difficult. Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad Was Discriminated Against In The Ultra-Liberal City of Austin, Texas, Of All Places. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/sxsw-south-by-southwest-us-olympian-ibtihaj-muhammad-donald-trump-a6928471.html

 

The first story I read was a response to Mr. Trump’s plan to “register” Muslims in the United States. One response to this proposed plan by Americans is one where

 

citizen allies of the community have been increasingly stepping up on social media and offering to register themselves instead. The goal is to confuse ICE officials — the more names on the list, the harder they will be to identify, the argument goes  —  and to establish ties of solidarity. A website that has since gone viral, known as Register.us, allows allies to sign a pledge to register themselves in the event of a Muslim registry.

 

As with most issues in the current political climate there was a reference to the Holocaust, designed to horrify rather than stimulate debate: Benjamin Gladstone wrote that, “All Jews should should register as Muslims because we know the horrors of religious registration all too well […] The new American president-elect, Donald Trump, whose Islamophobia, misogyny, ableism, racism, and anti-Semitism have brought protesters out into the streets, has also announced a plan to ‘register’ Muslim Americans, just as the Nazis once did the Jews.” The comparison is disgusting—and that is where critical thinking needs to come in.

I think that this visceral reaction comes for two reasons: The first is a misinterpretation (or misunderstanding) of Mr. Trump’s position, mainly because he has not articulated it very well. The second comes from the fact that vast numbers of Americans have never visited or lived in a Muslim country, and that the few—if any—Muslims they may have met are most likely to be Americanized. In response to the first point, I must say that racist/bigoted policies in the West towards Muslims are not new. Just look at Turkey’s (failed) bid to join the European Union. The country—if Europe had wanted it to—could have (and, given the state of Turkey now, probably should have) joined the European Union long ago, before the current government even came in. The main obstacle was that Turkey was too big; Christian Europe did not want a Muslim majority country to be the second largest country (after Germany) in the European Union. Now, had they allowed Turkey to join, we may have now been living in a very interesting world—but that hypothetical is a job for the alternative historians.

In response to the second point, I really do wonder what Americans would think about living in a Muslim country. Having lived half my life in the United States and half my life in a Muslim country (and an officially secular Muslim country at that) I must say “it isn’t easy”. But American ignorance of things international is nothing new. I look at one Tweet featured in the article outlining Americans’ response to Mr. Trump’s proposed registry, which claims that “allies of the Muslim community offered to step up and be registered first, arguing they could use their privilege to help others”. I have never known what the term “white privilege” actually means, but perhaps the Tweet featured below might give me a hint:

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Image Courtesy Of: http://mashable.com/2016/11/17/ways-to-fight-muslim-registry/#vGMJkwBaM5qQ

 

The user cited in the article, “liam and the bees” (https://twitter.com/liamandthebees?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw , vows to “stand with Muslim-Americans” as a “LGBTQ citizen”. The irony here is palpable, since the sentiment expressed is one that could only be expressed by someone with “white privilege” who lives in the West. An article in The Independent regarding the international status of LGBT relationships notes that according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA):

 

In 13 countries, being gay or bisexual is punishable by death. These are; Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Mauritania, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Qatar, UAE, parts of Nigeria, parts of Somalia, parts of Syria and parts of Iraq.

In 17 countries, bans are in place to prohibit ‘propaganda’ interpreted as promoting LGBT communities or identities. These are; Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Nigeria, Somalia, Tunisia, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lithuania and Russia.

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/gay-lesbian-bisexual-relationships-illegal-in-74-countries-a7033666.html

 

Of all these countries, only Russia, Lithuania, and Nigeria are not majority Muslim countries. And that makes me think: What do Americans really know about Muslim countries? Does “liam and the bees” know that, in many Muslim countries, it would not be possible to express being a member of the LGBTQ community? Probably not, and the reason I’m terrified for Turkey’s future should be indicative of why all Americans should do a little more research on what goes on in Muslim countries before taking such bold stances.

In Turkey, my other country, there will be a historic vote on Tuesday. The result could be far more terrifying than the result of the American Presidential election could ever have been. The vote will decide if men can be cleared of statutory rape as long they marry their victims. This is obviously a stomach-turning proposal, which, if passed, “will likely quash the convictions of some 3,000 men accused of assaulting an under-18-year-old”. For some background on a motion that states: “in the case of sexual abuse of a minor committed before November 11, if the act was committed without ‘force, threat, or any other restriction on consent’ and if the aggressor ‘marries the victim’ the sentence will be postponed”, we can look at some pieces from Al Jazeera:

 

Under current law, the age of consent in Turkey is 18 years old, meaning individuals aged 17 or younger are not legally able to consent to sexual activity, and such activity may result in prosecution for statutory rape.

Turkey’s statutory rape law is violated when an individual has consensual sexual contact with a person under the age of 18, but sexual contact with minors between the ages of 15-17 can only be prosecuted upon complaint.

[Turkish Prime Minister Binali] Yildirim said the motion will be a “one-off” pardon for people who violated the law “unknowingly”.

 

In a country where child marriage is widespread, this is clearly a troubling motion since it will allow the rape of young girls “as long as they consent to marry”. How a twelve-year old girl can consent to anything like marriage is mind-boggling. If it is passed, Turkey will be moved back hundreds of years. Yilmaz Ozdil, a Turkish political commentator, listed a number of offenses committed against underage girls in Turkey which will be legalized if this heinous motion passes in his recent column, noting that as long as the Imam—or religious leader—accepts the marriage on religious (Islamic) grounds, the rape is acceptable.

 

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Many In Turkey Are Coming Out Against The Government’s Stomach-Turning Proposal. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-38030182

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Women From All Walks of Life Protest The Government’s New Proposal in Turkey. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/11/turkey-motion-protecting-child-marriage-draws-debate-161118124734306.html

 

The reason this is important is that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) who is seeking to change the laws so as to rule until 2029 (he has been in power since 2002), was backed for many years by the United States during Barack Obama’s presidency with Mr. Obama claiming Mr. Erdogan as one of his best buddies among world leaders. With Mr. Trump now pushing a harder line on Muslims in the United States, we have seen the domestic backlash I described earlier. Still, state media is pushing the idea that—somehow—Mr. Erdogan is delighted at Trump’s victory. I am not sure that I can see any reason that Mr. Erdogan would be enthused about Mr. Trump’s victory but, as I have said earlier, state media in the U.S. have an agenda to push and mendacious stories are not totally unexpected. Even state media’s (Bloomberg’s) piece mentions an Op-Ed (that I have cited in an earlier piece) written by Trump advisor Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn (Ret.), former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and they note that Flynn’s “language was deliberate. He said he wanted to provide Erdogan a choice to move away from the Islamist ideology of his own party”. This sounds like more of a threat than an endorsement, and that is why I see things differently, in the vein of Brookings’ more nuanced analysis.

The Mr. Obama who supported Mr. Erdogan so whole-heartedly is the same Mr. Obama who could not utter the words “radical Islamist terrorism,” during his years in office. Mr. Trump, on the other hand, was quick to state that “Turkey looks to be on ISIS’ side” (something I have also written about). This is, obviously, not something Mr. Obama could say since his administration did, arguably, have a hand in the emergence of the so-called “Islamic State” through the funding of various shady “opposition” groups in a bid to bring down Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Now that Mr. Trump is shaping his new administration, fears have arisen since  “’President-elect Trump’s first appointments and nominations display a troubling Islamophobic trend that is of concern to American Muslims and should be of concern to all Americans,’ Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said in a statement”.

What the media frames as “Islamophobic” is merely realist geopolitics (even state media can admit it) —and given the hard line stances that Mr. Trump and his possible cabinet member Mr. Flynn have expressed—I cannot imagine that it will be free sailing for Mr. Erdogan. Perhaps that is why he is attempting to push openly-Islamist legislation (like the one mentioned earlier regarding child rape) before a possible threat to his hold on power stemming from the changes in Washington.

Given what I have seen in Turkey, rising from the rhetoric of a strongman leader who has stated that “to lead people one must understand the philosophy and psychology of a shepherd”, I am (unlike most Americans) not overly concerned about the hardline rhetoric emanating from President-elect Trump. Just two weeks ago, before the recent proposal to legalize statutory rape, an art show was attacked in Istanbul by those objecting to the presentation of an Ottoman Sultan’s image on a female body. The growing misogyny and repression of women in Turkish society is worrying and it needs to stop, and I think one way would be a concerted effort to confront ISIS/ISIL/DAESH.

 

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The Sculpture in Question. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/turkiye/625771/Contemporary_istanbul_acilisina_gerici_saldiri.html

 

Politico.com points out that Mr. Obama refused “to use the phrase ‘radical Islamic extremism’ for fear of alienating moderate Muslims who might hear in those words an attack on their religion”. I, as someone who has lived half of his life in a Muslim country, see things differently. I have met many completely peace-loving people who are also observant Muslims. Traveling in Egypt I met some of the kindest people I have ever had the privilege to meet in my life; even though the country was in turmoil they were excited to help a foreign visitor since they were (rightly) proud of their country. That’s why the term “radical Islamic extremism” should not be offensive to Muslims since it serves to separate the small number of “radicals” from the vast majority of peace-loving Muslims. The world is a difficult place, and most people just want to live out their days in peace without having to worry about violence. Unfortunately for many in the Middle East—especially those who are not “radicals”—the “radical Islamic extremists” of ISIS/ISIL/DAESH and their ilk are not allowing the majority to live in peace. If we need to use “bad words” to wake people up to the threat that radical Islamic extremists pose to the world—whether the United States, Turkey, Syria, or anywhere else—then so be it.

But I believe that, first and foremost, the small number of bad must be separated from the vast numbers of “good”. I am speaking from experience: Mr. Erdogan was seen as a “moderate Muslim” when he was first elected, but the term offended him back in 2007. “Moderate Islam” was seen to not be offensive in the West (even though it implies that there are non-moderate Muslims, as Mr. Erdogan showed), yet “radical Islamist” is now offensive? If we want to truly show Muslims that they are respected and accepted, then we must do our best to single out those Muslims who give the entire religion a bad name first. No one wants art shows to be disrupted or statutory rape to be legalized, any more than people want concerts or airports to be bombed, and I think that is something both Muslims and non-Muslims can agree on. That’s why those in the United States—many of whom have never even visited a Muslim country—should try to step back for a minute before balking at everything that “offends” their refined sensibilities, and hope that the United States can develop a more positive policy towards Muslims in the future.

 

The Failure of Turkish Diplomacy Through Sports: The Interesting Case of Muhammad Ali

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Despite knowing nothing about boxing (since I am a football fan), even I know that Muhammad Ali was “The Greatest”. Evidently, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also knows that and he somehow attempted to turn the late Boxer’s funeral into his own personal propaganda show. Fortunately—most importantly for the sake of the late great boxer—Mr. Erdogan’s move failed. This attempt by the Turkish politician to use sports as a diplomatic tool is, however, not unprecedented and its utter failure is reminiscent of past moves by his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to mix sports and politics in the international realm. Just like the foreign policy of the party Mr. Erdogan founded, however, these moves have tended to make more enemies than friends—spelling disaster not only for Turkish foreign policy but the country’s international reputation as a whole.

After Muhammad Ali’s death on 3 June 2016, the Turkish president expressed his plan to attend the two-day funeral services on 9 and 10 June. Turkish columnist Rahmi Turan immediately wrote a column in the opposition daily Sozcu about how Mr. Erdogan’s ill-timed visit to the United States—coming just days after yet another deadly bombing hit Istanbul on 7 June—actually had historic precedence. While it did indeed seem strange at first that a leader should leave his country in the midst of such instability, a deeper look shows that the tenuous connection between Muhammed Ali and Turkey goes back exactly forty years to 1976. When Ali visited Istanbul in 1976 it was then assistant to the Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, who has been called “the father of Turkish Islamism”, that greeted the legendary boxer at the Istanbul airport. The Boxer’s visit was turned into a political stunt to further the interests of Turkish political Islam. Forty years on, history is repeating itself.

Mr. Erdogan wanted to use Muhammad Ali’s funeral in a cynical attempt to push his own image. He said Ali stood up for those who were oppressed, praising his stance against the Vietnam war…ignoring the fact that—as many Turkish Twitter users pointed out—anyone who refuses to take part in Erdogan’s war against Turkish Kurds risks being branded a traitor. He spent money that came out of taxpayers’ pockets to visit the United States, taking his wife, children, and son-in-law with him, as well as the head of the ministry of religious affairs. Some saw this as a glorified family vacation. Perhaps it was—but it didn’t have a happy ending. Al-Monitor noted how Mr. Erdogan’s visit “scored no points”: He was not allowed to make a speech, he was not allowed to place a cloth from the Kaaba on the casket, he was unable to deliver his gifts to Mr. Ali’s family, and the head of the Turkish ministry of religious affairs was not allowed to make a speech. Mr. Erdogan was not featured in any pictures during the proceedings, and decided to leave a day early. Opposition media suspected that the abrupt departure came because Mr. Erdogan learned that Rabbi Michael Lerner would speak out against Turkey’s treatment of its Kurdish minority; Mr. Erdogan himself explained that staying was “unnecessary” because the ceremony would have “no religious aspect”. In the end the burial went on despite Mr. Erdogan’s absence and it was his fans—15,000 of them to be exact—who made up the majority of the crowd that sent “The Greatest” off.

Thankfully the world’s most famous boxer was sent off by his fans in a way befitting of the People’s Champion, despite the designs of one particular foreign head of state. Unfortunately, Mr. Erdogan’s actions were not befitting of the country he represents and this is yet another example of a politician who has let power go to his head. To attempt to use another person’s funeral for political gains is despicable and is certainly not in the spirit of Muhammad Ali or the religion of Islam; one can safely say that Mr. Erdogan lost by decision here after Ali’s final knockout.

May Muhammad Ali Rest In Peace, my condolences go out to his family, friends, and fans.

Football, Politics, and Islam in Turkey: May 2016

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When a country’s president is former footballer, the connection between politics and sport can be more apparent. At the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) Congress on 22 May 2016, where new Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim pledged his allegiance to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the festivities took an interesting turn. Spectators at the conference did a tifo consisting of choreographies; images of Mr. Yildirim, former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and Mr. Erdogan were raised to the rafters by spectators.

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Images Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/ak-partililerden-uc-lidere-koreografi-40107385

This show was strangely reminiscent of football supporters’ Tifos. Here is a list of 10 great looking choreographies from around the world and fans of both Galatasaray and Fenerbahce have put on similar shows in Turkish football. The Galatasaray choreography shows the team’s ownership of Istanbul’s geography but showing a lion advancing towards the Bosporus Bridge while Fenerbahce’s combines the team’s badge with Turkish nationalism by using an image of Turkey’s founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The tifo at the AKP conference, by contrast, confirms the old saying about Turkish politics—people support political parties as if supporting a football team.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://spor.milliyet.com.tr/koreografi-tepkisi/spor/spordetay/23.04.2012/1531627/default.htm

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/kadikoyde-muthis-koreografi-40005855

The football analogies, however, do not stop there. President Erdogan, wary of criticism, offered that—perhaps—parliamentary groups should not have observers since in the football world matches can be played without fans if fans misbehave. Therefore, the reasoning stands, if politicians misbehave then they should not be able to observe in parliament. The liberal Cumhuriyet offered a sarcastic second solution: Why not just disband parliament? But President Erdogan has gone to great lengths to prevent criticism from all walks of society. On 20 May 2016 the Turkish parliament voted to lift immunity for MPs, a move targeting MPs from the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) who are accused of being part of the terrorist PKK) and MPs from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) who have had charges of “insulting the President” levied on them. Outside of politics, on 31 May 2016 the 2006 Miss Turkey Merve Buyuksarac was convicted of insulting President Erdogan through social media postings. In this climate, it isn’t that far fetched that the President would consider treating parliamentary sessions like football matches.

Another important development happened at the Black Sea club Trabzonspor. The team’s new coach Ersun Yanal has decided to ban his players from sporting beards, with a 25,000 Turkish Lira (About 8,000 US Dollars) fine for appearing in a match with a beard. The player most affected by this will be Aykut Demir, who has been known as much for off the field incidents as for his on field play. Mr. Demir, born in Holland, has reflected the changing currents in Turkish society since transferring to Ankara’s Genclerbirligi in 2009. His nickname is “Commando”, stemming from his love of weapons and his strong sense of Turkish national pride according to Hurriyet. While at Genclerbirligi he posed for a photo shoot decked out like Turkish special forces, complete with war paint and a blue beret. These days, however, he has taken to appearing in public dressed in Islamic garb—complete with a beard even a haji would be proud up. With the arrival of Mr. Yanal, however, Mr. Demir’s beard will have to go. That Mr. Demir has taken a more outwardly pious appearance is no surprise given the gradual Islamicization of Turkish society; what is interesting is that Mr. Yanal has moved to distance his players from this kind of appearance. We will keep watching to see if other teams make similar moves in the future, since Genclerbirligi’s chairman Ilhan Cavcav made a similar move two years ago.

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Mr. Yanal Apparently Does Not Fear the Beard. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/trabzonsporlu-aykut-demirden-olay-fotograf-40012107

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