Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 3, 2013

Is Turkish Nationalism a Crime Against Humanity?

I write this with tongue in cheek, but given not only Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s declaration that Zionism is a crime against humanity but also because his Turkish constituency has rallied around him, it is important that Turks consider the implication of Erdoğan’s efforts to de-legitimize the State of Israel and the Jewish nationalist enterprise.

Erdoğan combines religious intolerance and partisan anger at the Arab-Israeli conflict to conclude that are Jews unworthy of the same rights as Muslims, and Israel is unworthy of the same status of Turkey. Perhaps it is Turkey that has been born in blood. Certainly, the casualties that have arisen as a result of Turkish nationalism have been far greater.

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I write this with tongue in cheek, but given not only Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s declaration that Zionism is a crime against humanity but also because his Turkish constituency has rallied around him, it is important that Turks consider the implication of Erdoğan’s efforts to de-legitimize the State of Israel and the Jewish nationalist enterprise.

Erdoğan combines religious intolerance and partisan anger at the Arab-Israeli conflict to conclude that are Jews unworthy of the same rights as Muslims, and Israel is unworthy of the same status of Turkey. Perhaps it is Turkey that has been born in blood. Certainly, the casualties that have arisen as a result of Turkish nationalism have been far greater.

At its roots, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a dispute over territory where two nationalisms overlap. The same is true in Turkey. Kurds living in Diyarbakir have about as much desire to be part of Turkey as Palestinians living in Nablus have to be part of Israel. While the Israel-Palestinian conflict has claimed thousands of lives, the number of Palestinian casualties does not come anywhere near those of the Kurds in Turkey. And while the Turkish government complains when an Israeli jet destroys a house in which bombs are built or a terrorist lives, never does Erdoğan reflect on the fact that the country which he leads has razed hundreds of Kurdish villages and continues its wanton and illegal aggression across the border into Iraq. If Hamas is a legitimate entity, then certainly the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is. When Erdoğan embraces Khaled Meshaal, should he wonder why the French government allowed senior PKK officials to operate from Paris?

The suffering of the Kurds, however, does not come anywhere near comparing with the plight of the Armenians in the decade prior to Turkish independence. Turks and Armenians can argue over whether the slaughter of Armenians was pre-planned and coordinated and therefore merits the designation “genocide,” but they cannot argue about whether up to a million Armenians perished at the hands of Turkish forces (and Kurdish irregulars operating at the time alongside the Turks). If Erdoğan believes Israel represents original sin and must cease to exist, perhaps he would like to set an example of reversing historical fact by granting to Armenia the lands in eastern Anatolia from which the ethnic Armenian population was cleansed? Perhaps he would like to return Constantinople to its rightful owners? Perhaps it is time he pays reparations to the Cypriots whose country the Turkish army still occupies?

There is a pot and there is a kettle, but in this case, they do not compare. Now, let me be clear: The point of this provocative post is not to question Turkey’s right to exist, nor to try arbitrarily to undo more than a century of history. Trying to reverse history or implement one side’s ‘justice’ quickly becomes reductio ad absurdum. Mr. Erdoğan should recognize, however, how dangerous to Turkey it could be to embrace de-legitimization of states and nationalist causes.

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Turkey Doesn’t Deserve the Olympics

Turkey is one of three finalists for the 2020 Summer Olympics. Its chief competitor is Tokyo. Madrid, because of Spain’s financial woes, remains a long shot. The Turkish press often reports endorsements of its bid, most recently by former London mayor Ken Livingstone and also by U.S. Ambassador Frank Ricciardone, whose unprofessional endorsement seemed motivated more by a desire to make himself popular in Turkey than by U.S. policy.

Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s European Union minister, has argued that bestowing the Olympics on Turkey would further Turkey’s European Union drive by undercutting European prejudice. This is ironic because, during a trip to Bulgaria in 2011, a senior aide to Bağış dismissed the Bulgarian Foreign Minister’s criticism of Turkish policy toward Hamas and Israel by questioning whether he had Jewish blood. Perhaps it is not Europe where prejudice is so ingrained.

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Turkey is one of three finalists for the 2020 Summer Olympics. Its chief competitor is Tokyo. Madrid, because of Spain’s financial woes, remains a long shot. The Turkish press often reports endorsements of its bid, most recently by former London mayor Ken Livingstone and also by U.S. Ambassador Frank Ricciardone, whose unprofessional endorsement seemed motivated more by a desire to make himself popular in Turkey than by U.S. policy.

Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s European Union minister, has argued that bestowing the Olympics on Turkey would further Turkey’s European Union drive by undercutting European prejudice. This is ironic because, during a trip to Bulgaria in 2011, a senior aide to Bağış dismissed the Bulgarian Foreign Minister’s criticism of Turkish policy toward Hamas and Israel by questioning whether he had Jewish blood. Perhaps it is not Europe where prejudice is so ingrained.

Bağış also plays the grievance card, suggesting that the failure to award Istanbul the Olympics would be the result of anti-Muslim bias.Bağış said the International Olympic Committee (IOC) members will also have a chance to put an end to rumors that the Games are biased ‘against a belief group,’” Hürriyet Daily News reported. This too is nonsense, because the frontrunner for the 2024 Summer Games remains Dubai. The International Olympic Committee should consider candidates on a country-by-country case; to start a religious quota would be dangerous.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent outburst at the United Nation’s Alliance of Civilizations conference should end any talk for now of Turkey hosting the Olympics. Erdoğan has promised to use any international forum to criticize Israel. His 2009 temper-tantrum at Davos when talking to Israeli President (and Nobel Laureate) Shimon Peres shocked the audience. Giving Erdoğan the world stage at the Olympics could endanger the spirit of the Olympics for decades to come should he confuse hosting the Olympics with having a bully-pulpit from which to play out his obsessions.

Bashing Israel may be in vogue, but the International Olympic Committee should not assume that Erdoğan’s obsessions are singular. In recent years, he has embraced Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese leader wanted on charges of genocide. As Erdoğan’s top aide, Bağış himself has gotten in on that game, threatening military action against Cyprus.

Let us hope that, as the International Olympic Committee visits the three finalists for 2020, they do not forget what the ideals of the Olympics mean. And if Bağış is worried about a majority Muslim country never hosting the Olympics, let us hope he can find a ticket to Dubai 2024.

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Privatize Airport Security

Rather than use sequestration to trim waste, the Obama administration has viewed the deadline—and the Republican desire to curtail spending—as an assault on big government. If it’s a choice between defending big government and hurting the individual, President Obama appears much more inclined to punish the individual, hoping that a backlash against government-instigated inconvenience will lead Republicans to cave.

Nowhere is this attitude on greater display than with regard to airport security. Transportation Security Administration procedures at airports have been controversial for some time, and their effectiveness up for debate. There’s no need to rehash those news stories here. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Transportation Secretary Raymond LaHood, and other officials have warned darkly of the time needed to clear security checkpoint and customs lines doubling, tripling, or even quadrupling. Jonathan Tobin has covered the fear-mongering well.

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Rather than use sequestration to trim waste, the Obama administration has viewed the deadline—and the Republican desire to curtail spending—as an assault on big government. If it’s a choice between defending big government and hurting the individual, President Obama appears much more inclined to punish the individual, hoping that a backlash against government-instigated inconvenience will lead Republicans to cave.

Nowhere is this attitude on greater display than with regard to airport security. Transportation Security Administration procedures at airports have been controversial for some time, and their effectiveness up for debate. There’s no need to rehash those news stories here. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Transportation Secretary Raymond LaHood, and other officials have warned darkly of the time needed to clear security checkpoint and customs lines doubling, tripling, or even quadrupling. Jonathan Tobin has covered the fear-mongering well.

Lost in the headlines, however, has been the desire of several airports even prior to sequestration to drop the TSA and instead contract out for their own security. The government may be playing chicken, with ordinary people the victims, but sequestration should also renew the drive to enable the private sector to replace government bureaucracy. Endless airport lines under sequestration are not about security, they are about the inability of a government agency to do its job with its available means. In the real world, if a business fails to provide a promised service, its contract becomes void. Rather than cave once against to those who would embrace big government, perhaps it’s time to call Obama and Napolitano’s bluff, send the TSA pink slips, and let airlines and airports handle the security task themselves.

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Maliki Should Not Appease Terror

February 2013 was a particularly bloody month in Iraq, with more than 200 killed and 500 wounded in terrorist attacks. When it comes to Iraq, the United States military has a sectarian problem: In the conflict between Sunnis and Shi’ites, the Pentagon often is more sectarian than Iraqis, and deeply biased against the Shi’ites. The reasons for this are multifold:

  • The Iranian seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran
  • The 1983 attack on the Marine Barracks in Beirut.
  • Subsequent Hezbollah hostage-taking in Lebanon
  • CENTCOM deals almost exclusively with Sunni generals and Sunni royal families who don’t hesitate to badmouth Shi’ites at every possible opportunity.

Iranian malfeasance is real, but the Shi’ites are not all fifth columnists for Iran. Most Iraqis—including the vast majority of Iraqi Shi’ites—place Iraqi nationalism above sectarian solidarity. The whole reason Iran must sponsor militias in Iraq is to impose through force of arms what is not in Iraqi hearts and minds.

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February 2013 was a particularly bloody month in Iraq, with more than 200 killed and 500 wounded in terrorist attacks. When it comes to Iraq, the United States military has a sectarian problem: In the conflict between Sunnis and Shi’ites, the Pentagon often is more sectarian than Iraqis, and deeply biased against the Shi’ites. The reasons for this are multifold:

  • The Iranian seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran
  • The 1983 attack on the Marine Barracks in Beirut.
  • Subsequent Hezbollah hostage-taking in Lebanon
  • CENTCOM deals almost exclusively with Sunni generals and Sunni royal families who don’t hesitate to badmouth Shi’ites at every possible opportunity.

Iranian malfeasance is real, but the Shi’ites are not all fifth columnists for Iran. Most Iraqis—including the vast majority of Iraqi Shi’ites—place Iraqi nationalism above sectarian solidarity. The whole reason Iran must sponsor militias in Iraq is to impose through force of arms what is not in Iraqi hearts and minds.

While it is easy to blame Maliki for precipitating sectarian crises by issuing an arrest warrant first for Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi and then several bodyguards employed by Finance Minister Rafi Issawi, the sectarian story breaks down when other details emerge: Few doubt Hashemi’s guilt, and several of the judges and the plaintiffs in the Issawi case were Sunni Arabs from al-Anbar. The Iraqi government has also taken on Shi’ite terrorists, like the Hezbollah-affiliated Jaysh al-Mukhtar.

The crisis is now coming to a head, with Issawi’s Friday resignation and calls for a general strike on Tuesday. To blame Maliki for the Iraqi government’s actions against Hashemi and Issawi, however, is dangerous. While it may be frustrating that Maliki simply does not meet the demands of some Sunni Arabs in al-Anbar, it would set a horrendous precedent to accept a dynamic in which prominent Sunni politicians say “accept our agenda or face terrorism”: That’s not politics, it’s blackmail.

Nor are the Sunni protestors necessarily motivated by justice or a desire for a more perfect democracy. Youtube footage of Friday prayers in al-Anbar a week ago shows Sunni preachers threatening violence against not only the Iraqi government, but also against European and American interests. Nor are they shy about announcing ties to al-Qaeda.

The surge was a successful military strategy, but it was politically short-sighted. The base problem in Iraq remains that many Sunni Arabs refuse to accept that they are the minority in the country and will never have the same power that they did under the Baathists. There is simply no solution to the Iraqi situation that would put the Shi’ites back in the bottle. To try to disenfranchise the Shi’ites validates Iranian propaganda, which says that only the Islamic Republic defends the Shi’ites’ human rights.

The way forward is not to counsel Maliki and the Iraqi government to submit to blackmail or appease an al-Qaeda-affiliated fringe, but rather to:

  • Make clear to al-Anbar residents that there will be no concessions under fire.
  • Target terrorists and those inciting violence regardless of their sect.
  • Remove grievances by fighting sectarian discrimination in the ministries which leave Sunnis and other minorities feeling dispossessed and unable to make a living.
  • Counter Iranian influence by targeting Iranian-backed militias.
  • Establish guarantees and checks-and-balances to ensure transparent elections not only in al-Anbar and Baghdad but also in Erbil, and other cities susceptible to the dominance of local militias.

A strong, independent Iraq—capable of both empowering Shi’ites and standing up to Tehran—is not only in America’s interest, but it would also be a poison pill for the Islamic Republic of Iran. Criticizing the victims of terrorism should never be American policy, no matter what Saudi generals, Turkish ministers, or the American officers to whom they whisper may counsel.

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