Turkey and Iran – Best of Friends

Hürriyet newspaper reported this morning that in the first five months of this year, 1052 foreign firms were established in Turkey. A sign of – what? Development? Globalization? Hmm, I wonder… Of those 1052 foreign firms, the largest numbers originated in Germany (no surprise there with 123 firms) and – drum roll, please – Iran. Yes, Iran with 120 firms.In the last few weeks, particularly following the scandalous and tragic clashes between Israeli soldiers and international (including Turkish) ships breaking the blockade to bring aid to Gaza, Turkish papers, commentators, humanitarians, and huge numbers of bloggers have had a field day with pro-Gaza, anti-Israeli stories and reports. And beside each of the newspaper reports, one could typically find a colorful photo of a smiling Ahmadinejad, the grin a bit too smug, a bit too self-congratulatory. The puppet-master sitting back and appreciating the play he has wrought.

More to the point, if you keep your eyes open, have been the photos of Ahmadinejad and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, side by side, hand in hand, Erdoğan’s smile only slightly less smug, but equally satisfied with himself and the scenario he is creating. A few days ago, Turkish papers reported on how Ahmadinejad described a recent communication between Ahmadinejad’s new best friend Erdoğan and his long-time foe the United States: “Obama calls Erdoğan to plead with him.” I wasn’t present when the call took place, yet I find it hard to believe that Obama begged Erdoğan to do … well, anything.

Whether or not it happened quite that way, it is clear that, at least as regards Erdoğan and Ahmadinejad, Turkey and Iran have become fast friends yet again. All for utilitarian purposes. Largely, as the economic reports suggest, for financial reasons. Which you would expect anyway, right? But more insidiously, for religio-political purposes. Erdoğan has been dying for another opportunity to disprove Atatürk’s resolute belief that Turkey’s future lay with the West. (I easily imagine, in my angrier moments, Erdoğan throwing darts at a picture of Mustafa Kemal. Late at night. With the doors locked. Just in case anyone might chance along.)

As for Ahmadinejad, imagine how much pleasure he derives from forcing ever larger and larger wedges – spiked wedges – between the U.S., the largest military member of NATO, and Turkey, the second largest member. How he gloats, not just at the harm to U.S.-Turkish relations, but to the zealous attacks against Israel by Turks, both in there private and public capacities, both as Islamists and secularists. Has Erdoğan ever enjoyed so much popularity? Finally he has found something that even hardcore secularists can praise him for – hating Israel and – can this really be true – for loving Iran!

The puppet-master keeps pulling his strings, chuckling all the while. And look at how we dance here in Turkey. Look at how we dance!


Mali protest against women’s law

Dear God, this leader of Muslim women in Mali, arguing against a law that would grant Muslim women equal rights with their husbands. As the report indicates, she says, “The poor and illiterate women of this country – the real Muslims – are against it.” How very nice to have a leader of Muslim women associating “real Muslims” with poverty and illiteracy. God forbid Muslim women should ever go to school and learn to read and interpret the Qur’an for themselves! Better to keep them poor and illiterate. Has this woman no shame? Bloody idiot! It is very difficult for me to keep my cool during Ramadan with morons like this pronouncing such nonsense in the name of Islam.

Mali protest against women’s law

A demonstration in Bamako's main stadium on August 22
Women were among the crowd at the rally at Bamako’s main stadium

Tens of thousands of people in Mali’s capital, Bamako, have been protesting against a new law which gives women equal rights in marriage.

The law, passed earlier this month, also strengthens inheritance rights for women and children born out of wedlock.

The head of a Muslim women’s association says only a minority of Malian women – “the intellectuals” as she put it – supports the law.

Several other protests have taken place in other parts of the country.

The law was adopted by the Malian parliament at the beginning of August, and has yet to be signed into force by the president.

One of the most contentious issues in the new legislation is that women are no longer required to obey their husbands.

Hadja Sapiato Dembele of the National Union of Muslim Women’s Associations said the law goes against Islamic principles.

“We have to stick to the Koran,” Ms Dembele told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme. “A man must protect his wife, a wife must obey her husband.”

“It’s a tiny minority of women here that wants this new law – the intellectuals. The poor and illiterate women of this country – the real Muslims – are against it,” she added.

From BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8216568.stm 

Kicking God Around

Just reading a report on BBC this morning (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6964564.stm).  The US military has distributed footballs (what Americans would call soccer balls) to Afghan children, something to play with, they say.  A good thing.  These footballs are covered with flags.  Quite international, yes?  Nice global touch, there.  And remarkably silly.  How so, you ask? 
For those who know American history, recall how often Americans have objected to the burning of the American flag, which various politicians have sought to outlaw.  Even Hillary Clinton came out in favor of protecting the flag.  In 2005 she joined – dare I say it – Robert Bennett of our own Utah to propose a flag protection act that called for one year in jail and $100,000 in fine for anyone who would dare to desecrate the American flag.  Gotta wonder what Bill thought of that.  After all, Bill Clinton was quite centrist in many ways, while flag protection and imprisonment for an act of symbolic speech sounds, well, pretty far to the right, doesn’t it?
I still find it utterly bizarre that every year, particularly around 4 July, Americans blow all kinds of money on disposable flags.  US flags on the bumpers of SUVs, which become splattered with mud.  US flags on paper plates, which are covered with greasy meat and beans and unthinkingly tossed into a trash can.  US flags on – oh, yes indeed! – underwear, which is then soiled with … well, you get the picture.  But those same patriotic Americans who don’t think twice about soiling the flag (or a fanciful rendering of it) with sweat, grease, feces, and God knows what else … vehemently defend the flag from being used as a constitutionally protected act of protest by those leftist, pinko bastards that the right has striven so hard to defend this great country from.  Double standard, I think.  So long as you have the correct political beliefs, then you can do whatever you want with the flag.  Otherwise, we will lock you away where no one will ever find you.  (I know – hyperbole.  Happens when I’m upset.)
But the protest sparked by this apparent act of kindness by the US military in Afghanistan had nothing to do with sensitivities over flags as symbols of nations that must be protected at all costs.  No, no, no.  You see, included among the flags that Afghan children were supposed to kick around on a soccer field is the flag from Saudiyya.  Hmm, you say – what’s so special about the flag of Saudi Arabia?  Take a look at it.  It includes the shahada.  My last few journal entries sought to explain the five pillars of Islam, including the importance of the shahada – the declaration, the testifying that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is His Messenger.  Absolutely the cornerstone of Islam.  The US military might as well have drawn a picture on the footballs of a venerable old man with a white beard along with the caption: “This is a picture of God – come and get ‘im, boys!”
I’m sure there will be those in this country who respond to this protest (if they are even aware of it) with the same disdain they expressed over the vehement reaction of some Muslims to the Danish cartoons of Muhammad.  “Oh, God, here they go again – those crazy Muslims!”  But you see, for Muslims the word of God is sacred.  The Qur’an is believed to be the word of God.  Everything in it is sacred.  You don’t just take down a Qur’an and start reading it.  You cleanse yourself – physically and spiritually – before you lay a hand on it.  The Qur’an is kept wrapped and secure when not in use to protect it from any harm.  In other words, Muslims treat the Qur’an in a way that actually reflects their belief that they are interacting with God through His words.
In contrast, every year that I attended the University of Utah, there would come a day when I would walk into class and find little Bibles spread out over the tables.  I assume they were left there by someone who felt this was the best way to reach the people.  Same type of approach that the US army has used in wartime – blanket the area with leaflets dropped from planes.  If some of them land in garbage or mud or feces, so be it.  So long as we reach just a few.  And I know that the same fate befell those Bibles.  I would watch as some were pocketed by students entering the classroom while other Bibles were simply dropped into a trash can.  Is that how you treat the word of God?
So before you assume that Muslims are overreacting yet again, I ask you to consider what status the word of God should have in our lives.  How it should be treated.  Do you honestly feel that the US flag should be protected, but that the word of God should be kicked around a soccer field?  In the end, a spokesman for the US military has apologized.  Not for the first time.  Rather than having to apologize again and again for such an “oversight,” why can’t our leaders take the time to hire men and women who are specially trained in these matters.  People who know about the Middle East and Islam.  There are a lot of us out here.  And who knows?  By respecting others, our nation just might manage to retrieve some of the respect it was once shown by others.  The very respect we lost when we allowed our leaders to shame us before the world.

From Jakarta: Call for a Caliphate

In case you happen to have seen the news report about the mass gathering of Muslims at Jakarta’s Gelora Bung Karno stadium last week, you might be wondering, well, what it all means.  After all, this wasn’t just a small group coming together, but some 100,000 people, right?  Mostly women.  Interesting that.  I have yet to have come across an assessment of why, but the cynic in me says that this was a deliberate effort by event planners to send out a message to women around the world that, hey, Islam is okay!
Of course Islam is okay, but what about the goals of this particular meeting of Muslims in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world?  An outsider might be inclined to think, woe – 100,000 people?  This must be what Muslims are all about, whatever these people are saying.  
Well, not exactly.  Think about it.  Around 250,000 people gathered together in Washington D.C. in 1963 to listen to leaders of the civil rights movement, including Martin Luther King, Jr., who spoke eloquently of his dream of a better future for all.  And I have no doubts whatsoever that those quarter of a million people did not represent the aspirations of the majority of Americans at that moment.  Likewise, the audience and participants in Jakarta cannot be said to have represented the one and half billion Muslims around the world.  Like me.
Superficially, there may have seemed a resemblance between the Jakarta gathering and the march on Washington.  Both seemed to aspire to a unification of sorts.  But whereas King’s vision was for a unity of all mankind, the extremists who promoted and spoke in Jakarta used violent rhetoric, painting a picture of division and hatred.  I am not suggesting that everyone at the meeting was cruel or abusive or a terrorist.  I am not inclined, as the Bush government is, to throw out the word terrorist any time they wish to turn the U.S. population against an individual or group of people that have fallen afoul of the U.S. government.  100,000 terrorists did not attend the Jakarta gathering; 100,000 impassioned people did.
But how many of them really understood the message being delivered there?  How many of them truly comprehend the historical concept of this caliphate they so long to return to?  Various regimes have existed throughout Muslim history with ambitious, sometimes quite brutal rulers referring to themselves as khalifa.  And as their brutality grew, it became necessary by the 18th and 19th centuries for some Muslim writers to argue that a brutal ruler may be acceptable, so long as he enforces the law of God.  Tell me – how is it possible for a cruel man to enforce the law of God?  The law of God, as best I can understand it, has nothing to do with cruelty.  
For that matter, the law of God, the shari’a, is not about killing either.  And yet that is also what some of the presenters at the Jakarta conference were in essence calling for.  Even if they didn’t use those specific words.  You see, those who call for a khalifa, unlike Martin Luther King, have no intention of uniting the world into a global society ensuring equality for all.  The type of world they see is a divisive world.  In the time of the caliphate, Muslim leaders perceived a divided world: the Dar al-Islam and the Dar al-Harb.  That is to say, the realm of Islam and the realm of war.  Which tells you what?  That anywhere in the world not governed by Muslims is an area that must face war, struggle, until the infidels have been conquered or converted.
Not a pretty picture, is it?  But keep this in mind – as I said before, 100,000 people may seem like a lot, but they do not represent the 1,500,000,000 Muslims of the world today.  And my sense of my fellow Muslims, however wrong I may be, is that most Muslims just want to live in peace and security.  They do not see a bipolar world, a world divided between Islam and war.  The types of divisions many people around the world today perceive are more likely to be defined according to nationality, ethnicity, economics, and politics.  A working class Muslim Turk does not go about his day wondering how he can cleanse the world of non-Muslims or contribute to the establishment of a worldwide caliphate.  More than likely, he thinks about how he can make more money, take care of his family, provide them with a home.
In other words, however strange it may sound to those Americans bombarded with images of so-called Muslim extremists, most Muslims in the world today are just like most non-Muslims.  They just want to live – not fight, not struggle, not kill.  They long for a world of peace, of caring for one’s family, of striving to learn and better oneself.  And that would be a pretty wonderful world to live in, I think.  Which is why it worries me any time someone calls for a worldwide caliphate.  THAT is not a call for peace.  THAT is not a call for unity and harmony and understanding.  It is a call for separation, for division.  At its worst, coming from the mouths of a few extremists, it is a call for war.
I would like to think that most of the attendees in Jakarta did not want war.  I don’t believe that was the case.  But they need to be very, very careful.  Because they are intently listening to and passionately considering the propaganda of men who want just that.  And as we have seen from our own experiences here in the U.S. – you get just the right men spouting just the right propaganda, and you can stir up all kinds of fear and avarice and hatred.  With just the right words about weapons of mass destruction and about how if we don’t fight "them" in Iraq, we’ll have to fight "them" here in the U.S. … and you can convince an entire nation to march into battle or to support mass killings.  As has happened in Iraq, where many, many innocent people have died.  With just the right words, my brothers and sisters, you may begin to perceive war as a blessing. … And by then, it is too late.

2007 Election in Turkey

I am in mourning for my nation.  No, not this one.  As I see it, any country that would elect a man like George Bush twice pretty well deserves whatever misery he brings it.  But Türkiye.  My beloved Türkiye, what were you thinking?  Do you want to step back in time?  Do you want to erase all the reforms that the Father and his companions gave their lives to achieve?  Do you want to be the next Iran?  The last time I was in Turkey during an election, Refah won around 20% of the vote, and I could console myself with the thought that this was far, far from a majority of the Turkish people.  But today?  You will receive praise from Islamist governments and aspiring Islamist parties around the world, Türkiye.  May that praise be enough to sustain you, because you have lost any praise, any respect I and many, many others once felt for you.  Atatürk, neredeysin?  Sensiz vatanın kendini kaybediyor.  Yol gösterdin bize, fakat yola bakmıyoruz.  Kör olduk.