I missed this very smart article when it first came out, but it’s well worth reading. Apropos of Alana Goodman’s comments yesterday and using Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as an example, Burak Bekdil, one of Turkey’s most talented columnists, examines how so many Islamists talk about their desire to embrace “American freedom” when it suits them but ignore such freedoms when they contradict Islamist precepts. A few excerpts:
…At his party’s historic congress, the prime minister lamented once again that his daughters had to study in the U.S. because they had not been admitted to a Turkish university due to the now defunct headscarf ban on campuses. Similarly, a small Chinese-army-size army of his cheerleaders in the media have invariably hailed American democratic culture and civil liberties in the hope that these freedoms would one day blossom in Turkey too. They have glorified American freedoms and exemplified American secularism over French laicite. In short, “we wanted American freedoms in Turkey!”
Did we? Really? Why, then, was Mr. Erdogan “saddened by President Barack Obama’s remarks” that a ban on the unworthy film mocking Prophet Mohammed would violate free speech? Simple. Because the prime minister and his chorus of willing devotees adore American freedoms when American freedoms do not ban the headscarf, but hate American freedoms when American freedoms do not ban an anti-Islamic blasphemous video either.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has made no secret of his religious and, frankly, sectarian agenda. “We will raise a religious generation,” he told parliament. With the military under Erdoğan’s boot—one-in-five Turkish generals are now imprisoned for offenses emanating from Erdoğan’s fevered imagination—the prime minister is now pushing a transformative social agenda even harder.
Last month, Hürriyet Daily News reported that the government was forcing students seeking vocational education to instead enroll in religious academies. Adding insult to injury is the fact that many of the students forced to enter the schools which are, in effect, Sunni indoctrination centers are members of the Alevi religious minority. Just as Pakistani Islamists, for example, target the Ahmadi sect, so too does NATO member Turkey now target its Alevis.
This weekend saw the convention of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Turkey’s ruling Islamist party. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that he would remain active in politics until 2023, thereby confirming his role as the Turkish equivalent of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
The AKP’s convention played host to a number of foreign officials, including the leader of Hamas:
Among the many high-profile leaders from around the world, Khaled Meshaal, the head of the Hamas movement, was by far the most popular foreign guest for the thousands of supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) who gathered for the party’s convention in Ankara yesterday. In his opening remarks, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan introduced all foreign dignitaries attending the convention one by one. The biggest applause from the AKP supporters present came for Meshaal, prompting him to stand up and greet the audience. While Meshaal was greeting the audience, slogans such as “Damn Israel” echoed around the convention hall.
That President Obama describes Erdoğan as one of his closest foreign friends is scandalous. Erdoğan has transformed Turkey from an aspiring democracy to a country which ranks below even Russia in terms of basic freedoms. And it has transformed Turkey from a country fighting terrorism to, in effect, a country cheerleading terrorists.
Under the leadership of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey has embraced often crude anti-Semitism and religious incitement. Erdoğan, whom President Obama has identified as one of is his closest foreign friends, has not changed much since he delivered this anti-American and anti-Semitic rant almost 20 years ago.
Now, it seems that Turkish Airlines—Turkey’s state carrier and a member of the Star Alliance—is getting in on the action. While American Muslims for Palestine’s list of sponsors is not online, according to literature at the group’s booth at the recent Islamic Society for North America conference, Turkish Airlines is a major corporate sponsor of American Muslims for Palestine’s forthcoming conference, in addition to which it is encouraging attendance by announcing that the “first 200 Registrants will be entered into a raffle to win an international airline ticket from Turkish Airlines.”
When the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in Turkey almost a decade ago, it promoted itself as a clean alternative after years of governance by corrupt parties and politicians. Many Turkish politicians made no secret of their desire to hold seats in parliament in order to shield themselves behind parliamentary immunity. The most prominent case was Cem Uzan, who created a party and almost bought his way into parliament after, as courts subsequently confirmed, he defrauded Motorola of more than a billion dollars.
AKP leader and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his allies, however, have been just as corrupt. As mayor of Istanbul and subsequently prime minister, Erdoğan accumulated tens of millions of dollars; as of 2008, before he completed his take-over of the judiciary, he faced 13 separate corruption cases. He retains immunity so long as he remains in parliament, but as soon as he leaves office, he is fair game for any independent prosecutor who remains. So too are his cabinet ministers who together face almost three dozen separate corruption probes. One Wikileaks cable reported AKP informants accusing several trusted Erdoğan aides—most notably current Minister for European Affairs Egemin Bağış—of corruption. Regarding Erdoğan, it said, “We have heard from two contacts that Erdogan has eight accounts in Swiss banks; his explanations that his wealth comes from the wedding presents guests gave his son and that a Turkish businessman is paying the educational expenses of all four Erdogan children in the U.S. purely altruistically are lame.”
On December 19, 2011, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government issued an arrest warrant for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi alleging that al-Hashemi had planned a wave of bomb attacks and had directed the assassination of Shi’ite opposition. The move unleashed a furious wave of political maneuvering, not only in Baghdad and Erbil, but also amongst Iraq’s neighbors, most notably Turkey. Interpol subsequently upheld the warrant against al-Hashemi, whose trial is ongoing even as Hashemi remains a fugitive. Almost nine months on, it’s clear that Maliki has come out the winner. Hashemi and his allies—Masud Barzani and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—miscalculated and face a growing perception respectively of weakness and fallibility among their home constituencies.
Erdoğan and Barzani’s embrace of al-Hashemi was a cynical and sectarian strategy. While Turkish diplomats still insist, despite evidence to the contrary, that Erdoğan harbors no ill-will toward Jews and Christians, Shi’ite and Shi’ite offshoot sects are another issue. Often, strict adherents to any religion exhibit more tolerance toward those of other religions than they do toward those whom they consider deviating from their own. Simply put, Erdoğan dislikes Turkey’s Alevis. Upon winning his first national elections, Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) included not a single Alevi parliamentarian. He has since unleashed a campaign of discrimination, refusing to recognize Alevi places of worship, in some cases even threatening to tear them down. Alevis complain he is imposing Sunni religious education teachers upon their children. Like his counterparts in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan, Erdoğan will never accept a Shi’ite-led Iraq.
The White House continues to talk about Turkey not only as a regional ally but also as a model for reform in the Middle East. It has been several years, however, since Turkish reforms contributed to democracy.
The latest case in point is Turkish real estate reform. The Turkish government has announced new regulations. Here is the rub: While the government has removed onerous rules and regulations that made navigating Turkish real estate a nightmare, the government has in effect legislated its traditional hatreds.
Armenians, for example, need not apply. They are by law unable to own housing or businesses in Turkey. Greeks have it better. They are merely banned from purchasing houses or stores in Istanbul and coastal provinces. Such discrimination is rooted in Turkish historical animus. During World War I, Ottoman forces killed perhaps one million Armenians. Much of the world recognizes their death as a deliberate genocide, albeit one Turkish officials dispute to this day. Less well known was the ethnic cleansing of Greeks and Christians from Istanbul and the Aegean provinces of Turkey although, to be fair, the transfer of populations went both ways.
The answer to that question is sure, why not? Any country able to invest the resources and organize such a spectacle, and willing to host delegations from around the world including from countries they do not recognize should have their shot. But religion should not be the determining factor. Don’t tell that to Turkey, though. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sees the world through a religious prism. The genocide in Darfur? Impossible. After all, he argued when welcoming Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir. “A Muslim can never commit genocide.”
Now Erdoğan has rooted Turkey’s bid to host the 2020 Olympics in religion. “No country with a majority of Muslim population has ever hosted the Olympics,” he said while visiting London last week. “Istanbul has bid to host the Olympics five times but has never been handed the rights. This is not a fair approach.” The Istanbul 2020 logo features not the bridge between civilizations, but rather minarets and mosques. No previous Olympic emblem has featured religious symbols.
Two days after the Turkish press reported that Israeli diplomats would not be invited to Prime Minister Erdoğan’s traditional iftar (breaking the Ramadan fast) dinner, Erdoğan showed that he may stand against tolerance but he does not stand against terrorism: He made Khalid Mishaal, the leader of the most militant faction in Hamas, his personal guest at an iftar dinner.
President Obama describes Erdoğan as one of the five foreign leaders with whom he is friendliest. Given Erdoğan’s anti-American and anti-Semitic rants, and his repeated support for not only Hamas terrorists, but also an Al Qaeda financier, perhaps it is time for Obama to describe why he embraces Erdoğan above most others. Then, again, perhaps it’s time for Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and the other members of the Congressional Turkey Caucus to also explain against such a backdrop why they also shill for such an anti-American, anti-Semitic leader.
The Congressional Turkish Caucus or, the Caucus on U.S.-Turkish Relations and Turkish Americans as it is formally called, is one of the larger congressional groupings dedicated to the promotion of good relations with another country. Its 150 plus members represent 45 out of 50 American states, and support a strong U.S.-Turkish partnership.
Alas, as so often happens with such caucuses, the members are either asleep at the switch or forget that good relations must be two-way. In recent years, Turkey’s behavior has been problematic at best, but in recent weeks, its government’s behavior has again deteriorated. President Obama may count Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as one of his closest foreign friends, but it doesn’t seem to get the United States much. The marquee examples of the Turkish-American partnership are the Turkish agreement to host an anti-ballistic missile radar system on Turkish territory, and Turkey’s willingness to participate in the Afghanistan conflict.
I’m with the always-sagacious Fouad Ajami: He argues in the Wall Street Journal that the new Muslim Brotherhood president of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi, ought to be given a chance to show what he can do. Perhaps he will turn out to be as bad as numerous critics suspect, but it’s also possible that he could turn out to be better than expected. If he concentrates on instituting free-market reforms to get Egypt’s sclerotic economy moving rather than concentrating on issuing decrees to ban such “immoral” behavior as drinking and wearing bikinis, he might well win over even secular Egyptians.
It is doubtful that the worst fears of his American and Israeli critics will come true, at least not in the short term–given how much power the army has kept for itself, Morsi would not be able to abrogate the Camp David Accords even if he wanted to. It may well be the case that he will provide more aid to Hamas and adopt a more belligerent tone toward Israel, but remember that even under the Mubarak regime, the Egyptian state pumped out a steady diet of disgusting anti-Semitic propaganda and looked the other way at massive smuggling into the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
The Turkish press is reporting that Bülent Yıldırım, the founder and president of the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), the group which sponsored the ill-fated Gaza flotilla, is under investigation for allegedly funding al-Qaeda:
The probe, led by an Istanbul specially authorized prosecutor, accuses Yıldırım of “providing financial aid to al-Qaeda via his foundation” with absolute secrecy, reportedly without official numbering and identification. A Diyarbakır specially authorized prosecutor has also been leading a similar case into Yıldırım, Habertürk reported.
This would not be the first time a prominent Turk has sought ways to finance al-Qaeda. Cuneyd Zapsu, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who has enriched himself tremendously off his political connections to Erdoğan, donated tens of thousands of dollars to Yasin al-Qadi, designated by both the United Nations and U.S. Treasury as a financier for al-Qaeda. Zapsu’s mother donated a cool quarter million dollars.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s transformation of Turkey into a police state grew a little more complete earlier this week with the arrest of the mayor and two other officials in Van, a predominantly Kurdish city in southeastern Turkey. Turkish authorities charged the three with being members of a terrorist organization, the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK). Let’s put aside the fact that Erdoğan argues that Hamas isn’t really a terrorist group because its members are elected. The root of the case to unseat and arrest the mayor should send chills down the spine of anyone who believed Erdoğan’s reforms were about making Turkey more democratic. The detainees’ crime? They “liked” articles on Facebook:
Van Mayor Bekir Kaya, along with the [Peace and Democracy Party] BDP’s Van provincial head, Cüneyt Caniş, and the former mayor of the province’s Başkale district, İhsan Güler, were arrested June 10 on charges of being a member of a terrorist organization. BDP officials in the northwestern province of Bursa and the southeastern province of Hakkari were also detained in a KCK raid yesterday morning. Sixteen people were detained by Hakkari police yesterday in the early morning. Police raided houses of BDP members and detained 28 people, including the BDP’s deputy provincial head, Sait Gezer. Thirteen people were also detained in Bursa. The Human Rights Association’s (İHD) Hakkari branch head, Sait Çağlayan, and a reporter from Dicle News Agency (DİHA) were among the detainees. The BDP said the detainees had been charged with being members of the KCK via the articles they had “liked” on Facebook.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry is denying that Turkey blocked Israel from participating in the recent counterterrorism conference, organized by the United States, in Istanbul. The Foreign Ministry says Israel never planned to attend, which is itself somewhat strange. But the best reason for skepticism toward the denial is that this conference took place just weeks after Turkey blocked Israel’s attendance at this year’s NATO conference. If Turkey can blackball Israel in Chicago, surely it can do so in Istanbul.
And how else is Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spending his summer vacation? So far, with a crackdown on the press that has bestowed upon Turkey the distinct honor of having more journalists in prison than China or Iran. Istanbul is also getting the message out that jokes about Islam will earn you a spot in prison right next to those pesky journalists–who Erdoğan compared to terrorists, by the way–as it demonstrated by charging Turkish pianist and composer Fazil Say with insulting Islam in a series of tweets. “It is unusual for Twitter posts to be the subject of an indictment in Turkey,” the New York Times dryly notes.
Even prior to his party’s embrace of the Mavi Marmara attempt to break the blockade of Gaza, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has held both Israel and, more broadly, Jews in deep disdain. While Turkish diplomats may say that Turkey’s problem with Israel involves its government and not its people, no one gave Erdoğan that memo. From Hürriyet Daily News:
“We don’t need Israeli tourists,” Erdoğan was quoted as saying. “Thirty-one million tourists came to Turkey last year. Israel’s tourism boycott won’t affect us.” Erdoğan said Israel needed to take three necessary steps if it wanted to improve bilateral relations with Turkey, namely, apologizing for the commando raid that killed nine Turkish activists on the Mavi Marmara in 2010, paying compensation to their families and removing the blockade against Gaza.
As the Obama administration and many Western officials persist in suggesting the Turkish experience might be a model for the Arab Middle East, it is worth considering whether the model about which American diplomats speak is the same one that Turkey’s Islamist prime minister considers.
After the AKP’s 2002 election victory, the party rightly focused on economics, and after the party’s second victory, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accelerated reforms to diminish the power of Turkey’s military. With the AKP victory in Turkey’s June 2011 general election, however, Erdoğan felt entrenched enough to implement his social agenda. Some of his agenda is bizarre: The prime minister, for example, now rants about the evil scourge of Caesarean sections. He has waged a war on beer. And now, the state-controlled media seeks to ensure that Lebanese pop singers dress more conservatively than they do back home. From Hürriyet Daily News:
Lebanese singer Jehan Barbur refused to attend a TRT show after she was asked to be careful about her clothes, daily Sabah reported. The singer complained of the incident on her Twitter account, saying: “I was asked to be a guest on one of TRT’s channels. But I was asked to be careful about my clothes. Who do you think you are dominating…?” The agent also told reporters that a similar warning was made for guitarist Kemal Evrim Aslan’s vocalist. “They put a table cloth over her because her shoulders were showing,” the agent said.
President Obama once said that he solicited parenting advice from his pal, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Islamist prime minister. Let’s hope, then, that President Obama’s daughters don’t want to go to a co-ed summer camp. According to the Turkish press, Erdoğan’s government has just segregated summer camps by fiat:
The General Directorate of Youth and Sports has just written a new regulation which will oversee gender organized camps, where boys and girls are hosted at different periods of time in an effort to keep them segregated. The camps host participants between the ages of 13 and 22 and for the last 6 years have operated in a coed manner, hosting girls and boys at the same time. The new regulation will be applied to camps on June 11.
While Western diplomats persist in calling Turkey a “model,” Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP) continues to tweak relatively minor rules to change Turkish society fundamentally. He makes no secret of this. “Do you expect the conservative democrat AK Party to raise atheist generations? This may be your business and objective but not ours,” he declared last February.
Previously, the Turkish parliament tightened licensing on alcohol sales, and has increased taxes more than 700 percent on beer. The ban on alcohol advertisements forced Efes Pilsen, one of Turkey’s most popular basketball teams, to change its name.
The Turkish press is reporting that, with the latest round of arrests of former military officers for allegedly forcing the resignation of Necmettin Erbakan’s Islamist government in 1997, one-in-five Turkish generals is now in prison.
Even those who see the end of military influence in Turkey as the litmus test for democracy should worry. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan now targets political opponents, real or imagined, without restraint. Under the Turkish system, an accusation is enough to jail an opponent, sometimes for years without trial. There is no mechanism for bail. On its surface, the targeting of the generals is ridiculous: The Turkish Supreme Court affirmed the illegality of the Erbakan and disbanded his party for violating Turkey’s constitution. The European Court of Human Rights upheld the Turkish court’s actions. Turkish generals might have pursued unsavory actions—especially toward Turkey’s Kurdish minority—but the sheer number of those now in prison suggests a separate motivation.
The Obama administration’s reaction to the Chen Guangcheng case is disgraceful, and will taint America’s name among liberty-seeking dissidents for a generation. While all eyes are on China, however, administration fecklessness regarding liberals, friends, and allies is spreading quickly. When it comes to standing up for principle, Obama’s reaction to Chen is the rule, not the exception.
Take Egypt: Adel Emam is perhaps Egypt’s most famous film comedian, sort of a cross between an Egyptian Steve Martin and Leslie Nielsen. Among his most famous films are Al-Irhabi (The Terrorist) and Al-Irhab wal kabab (Terrorism and Kebab). The first—released at the height of Egyptian Islamists’ campaign of terror—skewered the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist terror masters as cynical, hypocritical, and naïve. The latter took potshots at both religiosity and the inefficiency of the Egyptian bureaucracy. Islamists may tell Western journalists and think-tankers they will honor civil liberties, but nowhere do they tolerate satire or ridicule if they themselves are the target. Hence, their targeting of Adel Emam for films made years ago. Emam now faces three months in prison for “defaming Islam.”