Commentary Magazine


Topic: Turkey

Turkey’s Jihad Against Online News Portals

In 2002, Reporters without Frontiers ranked Turkey 99th in the world in terms of press freedom. That was a poor showing for a country aspiring to join the European Union, but it still placed Turkey well above countries like Burma, Russia, Ethiopia, and Iraq. No longer. Over his more than decade-long premiership, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has used a number of tools to constrain press freedom.

Read More

In 2002, Reporters without Frontiers ranked Turkey 99th in the world in terms of press freedom. That was a poor showing for a country aspiring to join the European Union, but it still placed Turkey well above countries like Burma, Russia, Ethiopia, and Iraq. No longer. Over his more than decade-long premiership, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has used a number of tools to constrain press freedom.

After replacing technocrats on Turkey’s banking and tax boards with political loyalists, Erdoğan levelled ever-increasing tax liens against media organizations that criticized him or his agenda. If his targets did not forfeit their media outlets, Erdoğan would confiscate them. While, in theory, these media companies would come up for auction, Erdoğan would ensure that the only permissible bidders would be loyalists to his political party and, preferably, members of his own family.

Erdoğan would simultaneously employ other strategies as well. Turkey imprisons more journalists than Iran and China. It harasses female journalists and has recently begun targeting journalists working for foreign outlets as well. (I have not been immune; after I criticized Turkish corruption, Erdoğan aide Cuneyd Zapsu and (now disgraced and fired) EU Minister Egemen Bağış sued me in a Turkish court). He targeted authors to confiscate unpublished manuscripts; Turkey now prosecutes thought-crime rather than actual crime.

Now, alas, Turkey is no longer willing to simply go after traditional outlets. While Erdoğan’s jihad against social media is long standing, Erdoğan increasingly seeks to control what can be published online. Quite simply, the Internet—and, more broadly, free discourse—frustrates Erdoğan, who would much rather crush dissent than accept the accountability and transparency a free media encourages or address the merits of his opponents’ arguments. As journalists have moved to online outlets to escape Erdoğan’s authoritarian ambitions, the number of Turkish news portals has exploded online.

It is these that Erdoğan now targets. According to “the radical democrat,” a Turkish blog which closely follows free speech, Internet freedom, and individual liberty issues in Turkey:

Today, surprisingly access to Karsi‘s newsportal online was blocked… The portal continues to use a proxy newsportal for now “uncensored news” (sansursuz haber) until it also gets subjected to same treatment. Another surprise news of the day is that newly established “Gri Hat” (Grey Line) newsportal is also taken to court and blocking access is declared, for potential to distribute critical news material which has published the corruption records on the newsportal. Gri Hat was established not more than a month ago by unemployed/fired journalists and it was going to leak more news pieces regarding all kinds of corruption… If alternative/opposed news portals continue getting raided or subjected to threats and give in to such pressure, the future of democracy hangs on spikes in Turkey.

Turkey was never a beacon of freedom. But with Erdoğan’s latest move against Internet portals, it seems determined to fall further in international press freedom rankings, below even Iran, Belarus, and China.

Read Less

What Obama Left Unsaid

A year ago President Obama was contemplating bombing Syria in order to punish Bashar Assad for his use of chemical weapons. Now U.S. warplanes are actually bombing Syria–but not Assad’s forces. This week’s air strikes targeted only ISIS and the Khorasan group, a subset of the Nusra Front, which is fighting against Assad’s regime. There are credible reports that the U.S. gave a heads-up about the airstrikes to the Iranian and Syrian regimes but not to the Free Syrian Army, our ostensible allies on the ground.

Read More

A year ago President Obama was contemplating bombing Syria in order to punish Bashar Assad for his use of chemical weapons. Now U.S. warplanes are actually bombing Syria–but not Assad’s forces. This week’s air strikes targeted only ISIS and the Khorasan group, a subset of the Nusra Front, which is fighting against Assad’s regime. There are credible reports that the U.S. gave a heads-up about the airstrikes to the Iranian and Syrian regimes but not to the Free Syrian Army, our ostensible allies on the ground.

The Free Syrian Army forces have no love lost for ISIS and they have fought against its fanatical fighters whose activities have been largely focused not on resisting the Assad regime but on consolidating control of rebel-held areas. But the Free Syrian Army has worked with Nusra against the Assad regime and its leaders are understandably perplexed by the U.S. failure to target Assad.

McClatchy reports from Turkey: “By focusing exclusively on Islamic State insurgents and al Qaida figures associated with the Khorasan unit of the Nusra Front, and bypassing installations associated with the government of President Bashar Assad, the airstrikes infuriated anti-regime Syrians and hurt the standing of moderate rebel groups that are receiving arms and cash as part of a covert CIA operation based in the Turkish border city of Reyhanli.”

It is hard to figure out if Obama, who has publicly been on record as demanding Assad’s departure from power since 2011, is even interested in hastening regime change anymore. Anyone listening to his United Nations speech today would have been left perplexed. While Obama had a long and fiery denunciation of ISIS’s “network of death,” he mentioned Assad only once: “Together with our partners, America is training and equipping the Syrian opposition to be a counterweight to the terrorists of ISIL and the brutality of the Assad regime,” he said. “But the only lasting solution to Syria’s civil war is political – an inclusive political transition that responds to the legitimate aspirations of all Syrian citizens, regardless of ethnicity or creed.”

That’s a long way from Obama’s statement in August 2011: “For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.” Nor, it should be noted, did Obama have any harsh words for Iran, which is sponsoring Assad’s murderous attacks on his own people. Rather than denouncing Iran (whose support for terrorism went unmentioned), he offered the mullahs yet another olive branch: “My message to Iran’s leaders and people is simple: do not let this opportunity pass. We can reach a solution that meets your energy needs while assuring the world that your program is peaceful.”

The fact that Obama is no longer demanding Assad’s resignation and that U.S. aircraft are not targeting any regime installations suggests that Obama may view Assad and his Iranian patrons as de facto allies against ISIS. This, sadly, is more evidence of the theory that Michael Doran and I have previously advanced that Obama is trying to engineer an entente with Tehran that would turn Iran into America’s partner in the Middle East. He may even be going easy on Assad to win Iranian support for a nuclear deal.

If so, this is a tragically misguided policy that will make the U.S. complicit in Iranian-sponsored war crimes while actually undermining our goal of turning Sunni tribes in both Iraq and Syria against ISIS: The Sunnis will not fight if they perceive the opposition to ISIS as being dominated by Iran and Assad. The president would be better advised to pursue a more evenhanded strategy of bombing both ISIS and the Assad regime. Otherwise we risk “degrading” one group of violent, anti-American fanatics while empowering a competing group of violent, anti-American fanatics.

Read Less

Islamist Atrocities and the End of Outrage

When Islamist terrorists stormed a school in Beslan, southern Russia, just over a decade ago, not only Russians and the West were aghast, but so too were many Ossetians, Chechens, and, more generally, Islamists otherwise supportive of militancy and violence. The victimization of the children was too great to bare for many, and led them to question just what it meant to put the rhetoric they once embraced into action. In the aftermath of the Beslan massacre, radicalism did not diminish, but the Chechen and Ossetian ability to fundraise and recruit did and, for a moment at least, men and women of all religions stood against Islamist radicalism.

Read More

When Islamist terrorists stormed a school in Beslan, southern Russia, just over a decade ago, not only Russians and the West were aghast, but so too were many Ossetians, Chechens, and, more generally, Islamists otherwise supportive of militancy and violence. The victimization of the children was too great to bare for many, and led them to question just what it meant to put the rhetoric they once embraced into action. In the aftermath of the Beslan massacre, radicalism did not diminish, but the Chechen and Ossetian ability to fundraise and recruit did and, for a moment at least, men and women of all religions stood against Islamist radicalism.

There were the beginnings of a similar moment when terrorists from Boko Haram, a radical Nigerian group, abducted hundreds of school girls, most of whom remain missing. Even al-Qaeda criticized Boko Haram’s action as destructive to the overall cause which al-Qaeda and other radical Islamists embrace.

Alas, it seems that the public—and Islamists—are becoming accustomed to such brutality and are no longer willing to condemn it on such a broad scale. Cases in point are the capture and enslavement of Yezidi girls and the systematic execution of journalists and aid workers by proponents of ISIS. Now certainly, these have been subject to the usual rote condemnations by governments and by groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) that have taken Saudi and Qatari money and often associate with more radical Islamist movements like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

But, when push comes to shove, many Islamists and the groups and countries which support them are not putting their money where their mouth is. Arab countries—the same countries whose citizens often donated to ISIS and associated charities—have been reluctant to help. Turkey’s excuse—that it is afraid for hostages held in Mosul—does not pass the smell test given that Turkey has not hesitated to wage war against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) even when that group has held Turks hostage. That President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan refuses to label ISIS as terrorists simply reinforces the issue.

It’s all well and good to dismiss ISIS actions as “un-Islamic” as CAIR has done or, for that matter, as President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron have done. But the truth is that to millions of Muslims, they are very Islamic. To deny the religious component of “Jihad John” or ISIS’s actions is to deny that there is an exegesis within Islamic thought that not only allows but blesses such actions. It is to deny that there is a battle of interpretation which must be won. Nor is it logical to embrace a politically correct and scrubbed 21st century definition of jihad when ISIS reaches back to interpretations of a millennium and more ago when jihad was understood by Islamic theologians to mean an often offensive holy war.

The fact that the visceral outrage which confronted the Beslan murders has now been replaced by pro-forma but ultimately meaningless condemnations of Islamic terror by Muslim majority states and Islamic advocacy organizations suggests that far from rising up with righteous outrage against the actions of the latest Islamist group, the broader Islamic world has become inured to such actions conducted in its name and unwilling to recoil and shame its proponents and supporters in the same way.

Indeed, the thousands of foreign terrorists which now flock to Syria and Iraq did not radicalize in the last two months, nor did they embrace the most radical interpretations of Islam simply because they disliked former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Rather, they were instructed in hundreds of mosques scattered across Europe, North Africa, South Asia, and Turkey. They were taught the Koran and its meaning by thousands of teachers and imams funded by the likes of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey. These mosques were protected from criticism by so-called Islamic civil-rights and advocacy groups who conflated any criticism of radical Islamist ideology with Islamophobia. If only the same organizations instead began to name and publicly shame the extremists who preach in American, European, or Middle Eastern mosques.

Press releases won’t cut it, nor diplomatic handshakes and symbolic press conferences. The problem lies deeper, and ultimately boils down to the tolerance for extremism in so many European, American, and Middle Eastern mosques upon which ISIS recruiters rely.

Read Less

Obama’s Coalition of the Unwilling

After President Obama rallied the nation to an effort to destroy the ISIS terrorist group, Secretary of State John Kerry headed straight to the Middle East to solidify the coalition of allies that his boss had said was necessary to conduct the conflict in a manner that would not be confused for the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But judging by the initial reactions of the nations Obama is counting on to help, the war isn’t going so well.

Read More

After President Obama rallied the nation to an effort to destroy the ISIS terrorist group, Secretary of State John Kerry headed straight to the Middle East to solidify the coalition of allies that his boss had said was necessary to conduct the conflict in a manner that would not be confused for the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But judging by the initial reactions of the nations Obama is counting on to help, the war isn’t going so well.

Under Obama’s formulation, the fight against ISIS would not involve U.S. ground troops but would rather than be a joint effort in which the U.S. would facilitate a broad alliance of nations, to eliminate a threat to the security of the region as well as to the United States. But the joint communiqué issued by the U.S. and ten Arab nations whose representatives met with Kerry today in Jidda, Saudi Arabia produced nothing resembling the alliance Obama envisaged. While George W. Bush characterized the nations that he led to war in Iraq as a “coalition of the willing,” the one that Obama will lead against ISIS is very a “coalition of the unwilling.”

The Jidda meeting made clear that while Obama would like the Arab and Muslim worlds to take an active, if not leading role in the struggle against ISIS, they have no such intentions. Though the countries in attendance at the meeting said they would “do their share,” they clearly have a rather limited definition of that expression. None said what they would do to aid the cause and it has yet to be seen whether any of them would join the U.S. in deploying air power against ISIS. Even worse, Turkey, a key neighboring country, wouldn’t even sign the communiqué because it feared to anger ISIS, lest Turkish hostages in their hands be harmed. But, as Michael Rubin wrote here earlier, the Turks may be more worried about any arms coming in to help those fighting ISIS will eventually wind up in the hands of Syrian Kurds who are aligned with the PKK group that fights for Kurdish rights in Turkey.

The Turks are, however, just one problem. A bigger obstacle to the construction of the kind of fighting alliance that Obama spoke of is the fact that most of these nations simply do not trust the president. Egypt is clearly one such nation. The Egyptians military government has had some bad experiences with the Obama administration and is convinced that if the president had his way, the Muslim Brotherhood would still be ruling in Cairo. Others, including some Iraqi Sunnis who remain in harm’s way if ISIS isn’t stopped, simply don’t identify with the battle against the terror group in the way that Obama envisaged.

This is in part the fruit of Obama’s lead from behind strategy in the last six years. But it is also evidence that the president’s faith in multilateralism and belief that wars can be won on the cheap is a tragic mistake.

The problem here is more than Obama’s unrealistic notions of how wars can be successfully fought or one more instance of Kerry’s inept diplomacy. The most disturbing news out of the conflict isn’t just the reluctance of Arab nations to take the ISIS threat as seriously as Americans do even though the terrorist army poses a direct threat to the future of those governments. It is that ISIS is clearly perceived by many in the Arab and Muslim worlds as winning. As long as the terrorists are perceived as “the strong horse,” to use the title of Lee Smith’s valuable book about the Middle East, they are going to be able to attract recruits and more cash. The brutal murders of two American journalists horrified Westerners but were also perceived by some Muslims, both in the region and in the countries now being asked to fight ISIS, as ideal recruiting videos. Mere statements of support from Arab governments or even some Muslim clerics won’t alter that view of what ISIS considers a war, even if Kerry doesn’t.

While some writers like David Ignatius of the Washington Post and David Brooks of the New York Times, think the president’s “reluctant warrior” approach is useful, the Muslim world seems to have a different opinion. If Obama is going to do something to reverse these perceptions, it is going to take more than the halfway measures he spoke of on Wednesday or a coalition in which America is not prepared to do more than bomb from afar.

The basic problem remains a terrorist threat that Obama considers serious enough to justify a major effort by the United States but which he expects to be defeat by troops from other nations that may not be quite so eager to engage the enemy. Until the administration figures out a strategy that will make it clear that it is America that remains the strong horse in the region — something that Obama specifically seems uninterested in doing — expecting a good outcome from any of this for the United States may be wishful thinking.

Read Less

Tell Turkey: Counterterror Goes Both Ways

The Turkish government has decided that it will not allow its airbases to be used to support military action against ISIS. Turkey explained its decision, which surprised no one but perhaps Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry, and President Barack Obama, in the fact that ISIS holds more than 40 Turks hostage in Mosul.

Read More

The Turkish government has decided that it will not allow its airbases to be used to support military action against ISIS. Turkey explained its decision, which surprised no one but perhaps Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry, and President Barack Obama, in the fact that ISIS holds more than 40 Turks hostage in Mosul.

Some Turks may be held hostage, although if President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu were truly worried about ISIS terrorism, they likely would not have forbidden the Turkish press from reporting on it nor would they have encouraged ISIS in the first place nor would they have opened their borders to provide medical treatment for ISIS leaders.

The problem with American diplomacy today is, when it comes to important issues, there is no consequence for those who would thumb their nose at American priorities. In the wake of Hagel’s visit to Ankara, Hürriyet Daily News interviewed Derek Chollet, an assistant secretary for defense. Despite the Turkish refusal, Chollet’s talk was full of the usual platitudes:

  • “The U.S. and Turkey see very much the same threats in this region and have a shared perspective.” (Really? So we share Turkey’s views on Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran, and al-Qaeda?)
  • “Secretary Hagel wanted to come to Turkey because Turkey is an indispensable ally of the United States on many challenges we face in the world, whether it be the threat from ISIL or broader regional issues happening in the Middle East.” (Never mind that Turkey just slapped the United States down on ISIS.)
  • “One of the conversations we had was about how we can work together to help strengthen border security. That’s not a unique conversation between the U.S. and Turkey at all; it’s something we have talked about with many partners around the world.” (Yet it is a unique problem when it comes to Turkey, as the Turkish border is the main mechanism of ingress for foreign jihadis joining ISIS.)

His last one was the real whopper, however. According to the Hürriyet Daily News:

Another concern that Turkey has is that weapons to be provided to the groups fighting ISIL may end up in the wrong hands, such as the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Chollet said this worry was also being taken seriously “because it is the last thing we want.”

Why should arms leaking to Syrian Kurdistan be “the last thing we want?” The Syrian Kurds are the only group to have defeated both the Syrian regime and ISIS. They have established a secular, autonomous region and given shelter and protection to hundreds of thousands regardless of their religion or ethnicity. When I went to “Rojava” earlier this year, girls walked to school unescorted and without fear of violence, municipalities collected trash on regular schedules, and women and men worked and shopped together in the markets. The weaponry of the YPG, the Syrian Kurdish peshmerga, did not leak to Turkey.

The United States has long supported Turkey’s fight against the PKK. Whatever one’s views regarding the PKK and whether or not they are a terrorist group (here are three views, including my own, ranging across the spectrum arguing that the PKK should be de-listed as a terrorist group), it’s long past time the United States embrace reciprocity. Fighting terrorism is never easy. It’s always inconvenient, and there can always be complications. Rightly or wrongly, America (and Israel) bent over backwards to support the Turkish fight against the PKK because Turkey was an aspiring democracy and because it took terrorism seriously. But today Turkey does not reciprocate counter-terrorism assistance; indeed, more often than not, whether with regard to Iran, Hamas, or Hezbollah, it undercuts it. There should be absolutely zero assistance to Turkey in what it perceives as its counter-terror fight until such a time that Turkey realizes that alliances go both ways.

Indeed, just as the United States should support India and Afghanistan without apology in their war against terrorism and ensure India, at least, receives a qualitative military edge over terror-sponsors like Pakistan, it would be just as wise to support actively Syrian Kurds and perhaps even the PKK so long as they continue to take their fight to ISIS. Turkey has chosen its side; let it face the consequence of its decision. Perhaps it’s time to recognize that, given Erdoğan and Davutoğlu’s actions and position, Turkey was the past and, for the United States, Kurdistan is the future.

Read Less

A Rabbi Upsets the Church of Liberalism

Last week, Rabbi Richard Block caused a bit of a stir by announcing he was canceling his subscription to the New York Times. It caused a stir because of who he is: “a lifelong Democrat, a political liberal, a Reform rabbi, and for four decades, until last week, a New York Times subscriber,” as he wrote in Tablet.

Read More

Last week, Rabbi Richard Block caused a bit of a stir by announcing he was canceling his subscription to the New York Times. It caused a stir because of who he is: “a lifelong Democrat, a political liberal, a Reform rabbi, and for four decades, until last week, a New York Times subscriber,” as he wrote in Tablet.

Every so often, someone surprises and offends the intelligentsia by revealing they don’t read the Times. National Review’s Jay Nordlinger wrote the definitive column on the subject back in 2004 (reprinted online at NRO a few years ago). Because Block represented a somewhat prominent liberal defector, the true believers of the religion of liberalism were aghast.

Perhaps no one took this more personally than Chemi Shalev, columnist for Haaretz. Most of Shalev’s column is pretty silly, accusing Block of intellectual retreat because he no longer will give his money to the house organ of the Church of Liberalism. This is, essentially, the I know you are but what am I response to Block, since the Times’s extreme ideological rigidity and enforced narrative conformity are precisely what Block objects to about the newspaper. But Shalev’s column–actually, one sentence of the column–is interesting for two reasons.

The first is the extent to which the rise of conservative and pro-Israel alternative media has slowly driven the left mad. Shalev writes:

Really, Rabbi Block? You won’t miss the New York Times? You’ll make do with Fox News and the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Free Beacon, because they report on Israel in the way you deem acceptable? You’ll give up the Times because they upset you on Gaza?

It’s the third sentence there, of course, that is the interesting one. Can you imagine, Shalev asks, someone giving up the Times? What will they read, the Washington Free Beacon? This is supposed to be an insult directed at the Free Beacon, but of course a Haaretz columnist taking a shot at the reporting chops of the Beacon is actually punching up. (Sample piece from today’s Haaretz: Sefi Rachlevsky’s argument that the country’s Orthodox Jewish schools are putting Israel in danger of transforming the Jewish state into “the world of ISIS.” Haaretz tweeted out a link to the article, writing: “Israel needs humanistic science education, not religious – or else it will become like ISIS.”)

The other reason that line is interesting is because it offers an opportunity to point something out about the Wall Street Journal. Shalev includes the Journal with Fox and the Beacon, presumably to impugn the objectivity of its reporting. Shalev, in other words, has no idea what he’s talking about. As everybody knows, the Journal’s editorial page is conservative but its reporting–as the data make explicitly clear–is not. There is a view among many leftists that if the editors of a publication are reliably supportive of Israel, the entire publication isn’t to be trusted. It would be shame if Shalev subscribed to this mania.

But more importantly, the summer war with Gaza made clear that when it comes to reporting on the conflict in the Middle East, no one holds a candle to the Journal. It was by far the most important newspaper to read, at least outside of Israel, to understand the complex web of diplomacy before and during the war. Adam Entous, in particular, was head and shoulders above any of his peers.

Entous had two major scoops during the war, in addition to excellent general reporting. The first told the story of how the alliance between Israel and Egypt’s new strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi formed after the Egyptian military overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi in a coup. The story explained how Egypt’s policies changed toward Gaza, how Israel’s assessment of Sisi developed, and how and why the ceasefire diplomacy during the war took shape.

The second was the major scoop that the Obama administration had downgraded its military cooperation with Israel during the war and even withheld a missile shipment in order to tie Israel’s hands and force it to accept a ceasefire opposed not just by Israel but by the Arab states in the immediate vicinity who understood the deal would benefit Hamas and its benefactors, Qatar and Turkey.

Meanwhile, the Times was making a fool of itself. It wasn’t just biased; it was, as the better reporting elsewhere showed, creating a version of events so far removed from reality as to make the reader wonder which war the Times was covering. This wasn’t altogether surprising: the Times Jerusalem bureau chief has had a disastrous tenure and does not appear to be at all familiar with the basic geography of the country she covers and the municipality out of which her bureau is based. And the Times’s Gaza correspondent was apparently using a photo of Yasser Arafat as his Facebook profile picture.

In sum, the point is not about bias: that’s nothing new. The point is that if you read the Times’s war coverage you did not learn anything about the war. You simply read proofread versions of Hamas press releases. I can’t speak for Rabbi Block, but I get the impression he’s not canceling his Times subscription because he can’t deal with inconvenient facts. I imagine he’s canceling his subscription because he is seeking out the facts, and this summer proved he’d have to go elsewhere for them.

Read Less

UN Internet Control As Bad As Feared

Back in November 2012, Arthur Herman, author of Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II, warned in the pages of COMMENTARY about what was at stake because of the Obama administration’s decision to turn control over the governance and regulation of the Internet to the United Nations. He explained:

Read More

Back in November 2012, Arthur Herman, author of Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II, warned in the pages of COMMENTARY about what was at stake because of the Obama administration’s decision to turn control over the governance and regulation of the Internet to the United Nations. He explained:

This all began in 2005, when the United Nations sponsored a World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis. That choice of venue was itself rich with irony, since Tunisia’s then dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was the Arab world’s leading censor of the Internet, and the two sponsors of the summit’s trade fair were China’s biggest network companies, Huawei and ZTE. They are the anchors of China’s Great Firewall that keeps out Western ideas and suppresses dissent—and also leaves it free to hack into the secrets of Western governments and corporations more or less at will. That is precisely the kind of Internet many other countries would like to have, and China emerged from the Tunis meeting as their chief spokesman. Several belong to the so-called G-77 of developing countries, which includes Pakistan, the Philippines, Brazil, and Argentina, as well as Iran, Syria, and Venezuela. They believe that the administration of the World Wide Web by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), headquartered in Los Angeles, isn’t responsive enough to the needs of developing countries, and so they pushed through a paragraph in the Tunis final report that “underlines the need to maximize the participation of developing countries in decisions regarding Internet governance, which should reflect their interests, as well as in development and capacity building”—in other words, in helping governments control what their citizens can see, and can’t see, on the Internet. The best way to do that, China proposed in the run-up to the Tunis meeting, was to take administrative control of the Internet away from ICANN and hand it over to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

And here is Heritage with some more detail. The Obama administration cared little, however. Faced with international passions whipped up by Edward Snowden’s leaks—often framed inaccurately by those seeking to amplify his revelations into something more nefarious—it agreed to complete the handover of Internet regulation to the United Nations earlier this year, a move which will become final in a year.

The United Nations has long made itself a laughing stock with its choice of promotions and chairmanships. Take, for example, Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya becoming chair of the UN Human Rights Commission or Iran chairing a non-proliferation conference. If Hamas were a member of the United Nations, UN bureaucrats would likely find a way to put it in charge of counter-terrorism.

Over the past few years, Turkey has distinguished itself with an unprecedented crackdown on not only the media, but also the Internet and Twitter. So what does the United Nations do? It chooses Turkey to host an Internet governance forum:

Turkey has begun hosting the ninth annual meeting of the Internet Governance Forum, a United Nations-mandated organization, despite a number of recent controversies regarding the country’s Internet freedom record. Speaking at the event Sept. 2, Minister of Transport, Maritime and Communication Lütfi Elvan focused mainly on the issues of “cybercrimes.” “The Internet is abused by criminal networks, terrorist organizations, drug smugglers and child abusers. Sadly, the rampant abuse of the Internet has reached undesirable heights,” Elvan said.

Amnesty International rightly chimed in to criticize Turkey’s selection:

The Turkish government’s prosecution of Twitter critics is a deeply hypocritical stance for the host of the Internet Governance Forum, Amnesty International said today… The event, which takes place in Istanbul between 2 and 5 September, brings together governments and civil society to share best practice on Internet regulation, security and human rights.Twenty-nine Twitter users are being tried in Izmir, Turkey, and face up to three years in jail for posting tweets during last year’s protests that the authorities claim “incite the public to break the law.” None of the tweets contained any incitement to violence.

Many non-governmental activists urging transfer of Internet governance to the United Nations seemed most concerned with taking regulatory power away from a U.S.-based organization and simply hoped that the United Nations would do the right thing once vested with new power over the Internet. The United Nations, however, seems intent on proving itself unworthy. The question for those committed to free speech and free exchange of information is whether it is too late to rectify the situation and save the internet from a UN bureaucracy more inclined to assuage dictatorships like Turkey than defend freedom and liberty.

Read Less

Turkey Doubles Down on Conspiracy

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is not only an Islamist and an autocrat disdainful of the rule of law, but he is also a full-blown conspiracy theorist. As he has faced challenges—whether from homegrown environmentalists, foreign diplomats, followers of Fethullah Gülen, or anti-corruption officers who question how he has become a multimillionaire several times over during his time as a public servant, he or his proxies will increasingly launch into ever more ridiculous conspiracy theories.

Read More

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is not only an Islamist and an autocrat disdainful of the rule of law, but he is also a full-blown conspiracy theorist. As he has faced challenges—whether from homegrown environmentalists, foreign diplomats, followers of Fethullah Gülen, or anti-corruption officers who question how he has become a multimillionaire several times over during his time as a public servant, he or his proxies will increasingly launch into ever more ridiculous conspiracy theories.

There was, for example, the “Interest Rate Lobby,” a thinly-disguised attack on allegedly Jewish-run finance. Erdoğan subsequently dispensed with the niceties promoted by his aides and blamed Jews directly. A bit over a year ago, one of Erdoğan’s favorite newspapers accused me personally of plotting the unrest that culminated in the Gezi Park protests, never mind that I’ve never met (or am not on speaking terms) with so many of the officials supposedly participating in my secret meeting, and I wasn’t even in Washington at the time. (My response to that bout of Erdoğan craziness is here.) Buzzfeed listed nine conspiracy theories used to explain the corruption scandal in Turkey. Whenever Al Jazeera calls you out on conspiracies and suggests you’re becoming a banana republic, you probably have something to worry about.

Because the Erdoğan regime has taken over the independent press—press freedom in Turkey, of course, now ranks below even Russia and is on par with Iran—conspiracy theories now substitute for news and analysis. What is missed in fact is made up for in repetition. Given how conspiracies have become the new normal, it says something when the craziness of any particular one shines through. Such was the case last summer when Turkish journalist and longtime Erdoğan mouthpiece Yiğit Bulut claimed that Israel was trying to assassinate Erdoğan by telekinesis. (Of course, this was always silly claim: didn’t Bulut know that to build up lethal telekinetic power is a seven-day task, but many Israelis would have to rest on Saturday and that it’s hard to focus telekinetic power simultaneously upon interest rates and telekinetic assassination?)

Well, rather than end Bulut’s career, Bulut’s loyalty and his ardent defense of Erdoğan against Israel’s evil telekinesis plot have paid off (so much for Jews being able to trash careers in such enlightened societies such as Turkey). Erdoğan has announced that he has appointed Bulut to be his chief economic adviser. With dark clouds looming on the horizon for Turkey’s economy, let’s hope that Bulut’s credentials go beyond his constant vigilance against malevolent telekinesis and the machinations of the Interest Rate Lobby. Let us hope that he keeps an open mind so he can dream up and expose ever more conspiracy theories to explain Erdoğan failures. In the meantime, however, Erdoğan’s appointment of Bulut is as clear a sign that investors should flee and flee fast from what Turkey is becoming.

Read Less

Congress Last Holdout to Break Turkey Embrace

Kudos to President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. Obama entered office blind to the anti-democratic agenda that Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sought to impose on Turkey, even going so far as describing the Turkish strongman as among his most trusted friends. Never mind that under Erdoğan, the murder rate of women skyrocketed. During a recent trip to Turkey, a female member of parliament waved off suggestions that the increased murder rate was simply because more people were reporting crimes; rather, she suggested, it was because Erdoğan’s constituents understood they could impose their savage notions of honor with impunity.

Read More

Kudos to President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. Obama entered office blind to the anti-democratic agenda that Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sought to impose on Turkey, even going so far as describing the Turkish strongman as among his most trusted friends. Never mind that under Erdoğan, the murder rate of women skyrocketed. During a recent trip to Turkey, a female member of parliament waved off suggestions that the increased murder rate was simply because more people were reporting crimes; rather, she suggested, it was because Erdoğan’s constituents understood they could impose their savage notions of honor with impunity.

Turkish journalists and even former budget officials privately acknowledged and detailed how Erdoğan used Islamist backers in Qatar and Saudi Arabia to amass political slush funds, a practice I detailed here, and which history has proven correct. Erdoğan also reoriented Turkish foreign policy and society away from Europe and the West and into the Islamist world, a mission of which he placed Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, in charge. It’s no coincidence that he appointed Davutoğlu to be his Medvedev now that Erdoğan is moving onto the presidency. At any rate, I’ve detailed Turkey’s change repeatedly in the pages of COMMENTARY, but I summarize most of them in this lecture delivered at the Chautauqua Institution last year.

Obama might be forgiven for not being aware of just how corrosive Erdoğan has been to Turkey’s democratic development and rule of law. After all, a succession of U.S. ambassadors to Turkey—Eric Edelman being a notable exception—had long carried water for Erdoğan. Had they acknowledged that Erdoğan wasn’t as progressive as they claimed, they might have condemned what they believed to be an enlightened notion of just what “moderate Islamism” could become. In recent months, many of these former ambassadors have gone silent, and some have even noticeably and publicly switched sides, for example by signing this letter. If they had previously defended Erdoğan publicly, their counsel to Obama and his aides was even more dismissive of the notion that Erdoğan was up to no good.

Well, that’s all past, it seems. As Erdoğan gears up for his presidential inauguration, the Turkish press notes the foreign dignitaries who will be attending:

Fifteen countries are to be represented at the level [of] president or heads of state, 6 countries at the level of parliament speaker, 12 countries at the level of prime ministers, 3 countries at level of vice presidents, 7 countries at the level of deputy prime ministers and around 40 countries at the level of ministers.

The highest American official? The chargé d’affaires at the embassy, a clear sign that the United States is not supportive of how Erdoğan acts and what his true agenda is.

Too bad that so many congressmen have not gotten the message, and still lend their names through their membership in the “Caucus on US Turkey Relations & Turkish Americans” (more often called simply the “Congressional Turkey Caucus”) to endorse a regime that supports Hamas, engages in anti-Semitic propaganda, allows international jihadists and perhaps even arms to cross unmolested into Syria, makes Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attitude to the press look positively enlightened, and even lends assistance to Iranian sanctions-busting. Perhaps such positions could be expected of folks like Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a former member of the Nation of Islam and a cheerleader for more radical causes, or Gerry Connelly (D-Va.), who has flirted with groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations. But dozens of other congressmen should know better, and not allow themselves to be used by the Turkish government for its own propaganda purposes.

Congress so often takes the lead to seek to defend religious freedom, to ensure that the White House doesn’t subvert American national security in its rush to cement deals with regimes like Iran’s and Russia’s, and to try to prevent the State Department from allowing U.S. money to be used by terror-sponsoring groups. And yet when it comes to Turkey, it now trails behind even Obama and the State Department in recognizing just how destructive Turkey has become. It’s time to quit the Congressional Turkey Caucus; Istanbul is a lovely city, but the junkets membership allows do not enhance American security, diplomacy, and interests and are simply are not worth the price.

Read Less

The Myth of the Palestinian Underdog

One of the enduring myths of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is that much of the West supports the Palestinians out of natural sympathy for the underdog. Victor Davis Hanson of Stanford’s Hoover Institution effectively demolished that myth last week, pointing out that if sympathy for the underdog were really driving the massive pro-Palestinian demonstrations sweeping the West, one would expect to see equally massive demonstrations in support of occupied Tibet, the undoubted underdog against superpower China, or embattled Ukraine, the equally undoubted underdog against superpower Russia. In reality, he argued, anti-Israel sentiment flourishes not because Israel is Goliath, but because it is David:

Read More

One of the enduring myths of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is that much of the West supports the Palestinians out of natural sympathy for the underdog. Victor Davis Hanson of Stanford’s Hoover Institution effectively demolished that myth last week, pointing out that if sympathy for the underdog were really driving the massive pro-Palestinian demonstrations sweeping the West, one would expect to see equally massive demonstrations in support of occupied Tibet, the undoubted underdog against superpower China, or embattled Ukraine, the equally undoubted underdog against superpower Russia. In reality, he argued, anti-Israel sentiment flourishes not because Israel is Goliath, but because it is David:

Israel is inordinately condemned for what it supposedly does because its friends are few, its population is tiny, and its adversaries beyond Gaza numerous, dangerous and often powerful.

Or to put it more bluntly, condemning Israel entails no costs and frequently provides benefits, whereas supporting it could invite retaliation from its numerous enemies. So just as Western countries are reluctant to push China on Tibet for fear that China will retaliate by barring access to the world’s largest market, or to push Russia too hard on Ukraine because Russia is a major natural gas producer with no qualms about cutting off supplies to its political opponents, they often find it easier to push Israel than to push its enemies.

Take, for instance, the cases of Qatar and Turkey, currently Hamas’s two main patrons. Qatar is Hamas’s leading financier, giving it hundreds of millions of dollars per year to build its rocket arsenal and tunnel network; it hosts Hamas leader Khaled Meshal; it reportedly torpedoed an emerging Hamas-Israel cease-fire deal by threatening to kick Meshal out if he signed; and according to former Israeli Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin, about a third of all cement imported to Gaza for Qatari-sponsored projects was instead diverted to Hamas’s tunnel network–presumably with Doha’s willing cooperation, since EU-managed projects suffered no similar diversions.

Turkey also gives Hamas hundreds of millions of dollars a year, and hosts about a dozen senior Hamas officials, including Saleh Arouri–who, over the past week, has both admitted to being behind the kidnapping of three Israeli teens in June and been accused by Israel’s Shin Bet security service of organizing a massive terror network in the West Bank tasked with starting a third intifada and overthrowing the Palestinian Authority. Israel has arrested some 90 members of this network and confiscated weapons and funds; the PA took the accusation seriously enough to launch its own investigation.

In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that without the support Hamas receives from Turkey and Qatar, it could never have built the war machine that enabled it to start this summer’s war, and thus the death and destruction the world is now decrying in Gaza would never have happened.

Since both America and the European Union have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization, one might expect this flagrant support for Hamas to prompt sanctions on Qatar and Turkey as state sponsors of terrorism. But Qatar is the world’s largest natural gas exporter and richest country, as well as home to the main U.S. air force base in the Middle East, while Turkey is a NATO member and major emerging economy. So in fact, far from sanctioning Qatar and Turkey, both America and Europe consider them key partners. In short, it’s simply easier for the West to condemn Israel’s response to Hamas attacks and pressure it to accede to Hamas demands than it would be to condemn and penalize Turkish and Qatari support for Hamas.

Clearly, Israel has many strengths, including a thriving economy, a relatively powerful army, and strong American support. But as Hanson noted, it’s still a tiny country with few friends and many enemies, and anti-Israel protesters intuitively sense this. So don’t be fooled by their pretensions to “moral indignation” against Israel’s “oppression of the underdog.” They’re just doing what mobs have done since time immemorial: targeting a victim they see as fundamentally vulnerable.

Read Less

Who will be Turkey’s Medvedev?

As Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan prepares to move to the presidential palace and to transform that office from its former ceremonial and constitutional role into that of strongman policymaker, there will be a change in the premiership.

Read More

As Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan prepares to move to the presidential palace and to transform that office from its former ceremonial and constitutional role into that of strongman policymaker, there will be a change in the premiership.

Erdoğan has announced that he will choose his successor on August 21. Several names have been floated. When I was in Turkey earlier this, several people suggested that Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan might take the post. On paper he seems qualified: he was previously minister of foreign affairs and also minister of finance, and in his deputy premiership, he also has special responsibility for the treasury. That may also be his undoing. Erdoğan is politically savvy but he does not have any firm grasp of the economy. Certainly, he implemented no-nonsense reforms which were long overdue and for that he gets credit, but he also was fortunate enough to hold power against the backdrop of a demographic dividend and in the aftermath of massive currency devaluation. The Turkish economy had hit rock bottom shortly before Erdoğan’s Islamist party won election. Rebounds are often time of great prosperity, especially if the starting point is the economy’s nadir. Today, however, the Turkish economy is tenuous at best. Currency devaluation has undercut Turks’ buying power, and personal debt is up more than 3,000 percent. People are living on credit, and eventually the banks will call in the debt or risk failure. Against this backdrop, Babacan has sought reforms that Erdoğan neither wants nor understands.

Others have suggested that Ahmet Davutoğlu, architect of Turkey’s neo-Ottoman foreign policy. Davutoğlu’s policy has on the face of things been a disaster: He has embraced Hamas over the Palestinian Authority; looks at Israel with anti-Semitic disdain; was for Assad before he was against him; oversaw perhaps the covert Turkish flirtation with ISIS; and cast his lot with the Muslim Brotherhood over Egypt. In short, he has made Turkey into a pariah in the region, but his ideological radicalism and fealty to Erdoğan’s ambitions to be sultan in reality if not in name, makes him another prime candidate.

Others suggest Bülent Arınç, another Erdoğan deputy who, while serving as parliamentary speaker once warned the constitutional court that the AKP could dissolve them if they kept finding AKP legislation unconstitutional. He, too, has the right ideological pedigree. Other candidates might also take the prize, all of them handpicked for their loyalty to Erdoğan.

Make no mistake, though: It doesn’t matter who becomes Turkey’s Dmitry Medvedev because just as in Russia, the premiership will be irrelevant. Erdoğan has become the Turkish equivalent of Vladimir Putin. He is an authoritarian dictator, a strong man, and internally as intolerant as the Islamic State even if he too refined to show it directly. That the premiership no longer matters in Turkey, that any appointment will be as irrelevant as Putin’s placeholder was in Russia, shows just how far Turkey has fallen. It is now just another third world dictatorship, and will ultimately be just as much a failure. Unfortunately, the damage Erdoğan can do before that happens will remain considerable.

Read Less

Turkey’s Pariah President

Turks head to the polls today and all indications are that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will win the presidency, most likely in the first round. The campaign has been anything but even: Erdoğan refused to resign from the premiership after declaring his candidacy for the presidency, effectively allowing him to use the resources of the state to campaign. State television began the campaign by giving Erdoğan a more than 400-to-one advantage in airtime over his competitors and ended by giving the prime minister an only 25-to-one advantage in coverage over his opponents.

Read More

Turks head to the polls today and all indications are that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will win the presidency, most likely in the first round. The campaign has been anything but even: Erdoğan refused to resign from the premiership after declaring his candidacy for the presidency, effectively allowing him to use the resources of the state to campaign. State television began the campaign by giving Erdoğan a more than 400-to-one advantage in airtime over his competitors and ended by giving the prime minister an only 25-to-one advantage in coverage over his opponents.

But with votes counted, Erdoğan will claim a popular mandate, no matter how shady his path to the presidency. How ironic it is, then, that Turkey has effective elected a pariah to be president. Erdoğan began his tenure as prime minister committed to neo-Ottomanism, the idea that Turkey should lead a community of nations that once had the commonality of being in the Ottoman Empire. And his foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, promised a policy that would lead to good relations with all Turkey’s neighbors.

Consider the reality: Turkey seeks to be a big player in the Middle East, but as Turks wryly noted during a visit last month, Erdoğan is now unwelcome in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority, something no previous Turkish statesman had ever achieved. So much for the role of respected mediator. Nor is Erdoğan anymore welcome in the White House; even the Turkish government acknowledges that Erdoğan and President Obama no longer talk directly on the telephone, quite a status change for the man Obama once described as one of his most trusted foreign friends.

True, Erdoğan is not completely isolated. He might still receive a hero’s welcome from Hamas’s leadership, and in Iran. Russian strongman Vladimir Putin will embrace his Turkish counterpart not only as a friend but also as a business partner. And Qatar, of course, will always lay out the red carpet for any supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Erdoğan has been one of its key investments.

Erdoğan is not completely isolated, but the fact that his most trusted friends and allies are Hamas, Iran, and Russia confirm the facts: Turks have elected as their president not a statesman, diplomat, or respected representative but rather a pariah, one who has contributed not to peace and stability, but rather to war, unrest, and insecurity throughout the region. He has become not a symbol of progressive Turkey, but rather one of backwardness, misogyny, corruption, and dictatorship.

Read Less

Turkey’s Authoritarian Moment

Turks will head to the polls on Sunday, August 10. It will be the first time the Turkish public elects their president, a post which in the past has both been largely ceremonial and also meant to be above politics. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, however, feels different and seeks to transform the position into a mechanism not to protect constitutional guarantees but to eviscerate them. When pressed during his confirmation hearing last month, John Bass, a career foreign service officer nominated to the ambassadorship to Turkey, only acknowledged Turkey’s “authoritarian drift” when Sen. John McCain threatened to hold up his nomination until he received an answer.

Read More

Turks will head to the polls on Sunday, August 10. It will be the first time the Turkish public elects their president, a post which in the past has both been largely ceremonial and also meant to be above politics. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, however, feels different and seeks to transform the position into a mechanism not to protect constitutional guarantees but to eviscerate them. When pressed during his confirmation hearing last month, John Bass, a career foreign service officer nominated to the ambassadorship to Turkey, only acknowledged Turkey’s “authoritarian drift” when Sen. John McCain threatened to hold up his nomination until he received an answer.

Bass may wanted to have been diplomatic, but a quick look at the current presidential race shows just how authoritarian Turkey has become. Make no mistake: Erdoğan is as much a dictator as Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad are and Hosni Mubarak was. The current presidential race merely confirms it.

Consider the following:

Turkish law says all public office holders should resign a month or two before elections, but the High Election Council, dominated by Erdoğan groupies, gave Erdoğan an exception. The prime minister, of course, doesn’t want to resign even for a moment both in fear that corruption cases suspended because of his parliamentary immunity would kick in and because he wants to use the resources of the state in his campaign.

And, indeed, he has. Whenever he has held a public rally—and he holds multiple rallies per day using his plane or bus to get there—local governors and government officials bus in thousands of people who are handed flags to wave and instructed what slogans to chant. Government officials who do not attend the rally are blacklisted, and quickly find themselves moved to different towns or demoted to lower positions. State officials “request” that contractors who do business with the government pay for the expenses such as buses, flags, and food for those attending the rallies. If contractors do not comply with the request, they will not get a new contract.

The new presidential election law restricts individual campaign contributions to a candidate to about $4,000 and requires that payment be made through a bank, but such donations in kind do not count as campaign contributions. Therefore, when it comes to campaign resources, the Erdoğan government’s blackmail puts Erdoğan in a different category than his two competitors.

Turks also know that a campaign contribution made through a bank to anyone other than Erdoğan could lead to blacklisting. Donate to Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, for example, and expect your business to be audited, lose your government job, or be fired from your private sector job under government pressure. (When I was in Turkey earlier this summer, even some of those working in multinational businesses asked not to be included in group photos of lunches that included low-ranking opposition politicians since they were afraid that would be enough to invite retaliation.) In effect, İhsanoğlu and Kurdish candidate Selahattin Demirtaş receive donations only from their much smaller pools of political activists or from retirees who are less susceptible to blackmail.

Erdoğan operates not only by intimidation, but also by reward. Turks report lines of pensioners in front of banks in order to donate the equivalent of $50 to Erdoğan’s campaign. One old lady interviewed on Turkish television, when asked why she was there, said, “They [AKP] gave me this money to deposit to an account in the bank. In return they will give me food.”

State radio and television (TRT) focus on Erdoğan and rarely give any airtime to İhsanoğlu and Demirtaş despite their mandate for balance. In a typical ten-day period in July, the official statistics showed 428 minutes of coverage for Erdoğan, 45 seconds for İhsanoğlu, and no time whatsoever for Demirtaş. The ratios have improved slightly, but Erdoğan still receives 25 times the coverage of the other candidates.

Even those outside Turkey are subject to intimidation. Absentee voters in Turkey were shocked to see that ballot envelopes are transparent enabling Turkish officials to see the ballot. Rather than count the ballots abroad, they will be flown on the state-owned airlines Turkish Air and counted back inside Turkey. What happens to those ballots along the way is anyone’s guess.

Erdoğan is a dictator. The constitution prohibits the use of religious symbols in political propaganda, but Erdoğan has waved a Qu’ran in election rallies and declared a vote for him is a vote for the Qu’ran. He has an agenda and, like Putin, he recognizes that the West is all bark and no bite. The question is not only whether Turkey has re-embraced authoritarianism so many Turks sought to leave behind more than a half century ago, but also what cost Erdoğan’s dictatorship will extract from the Turkish public and regional security.

Read Less

Erdoğan’s Projection of Hatred

Israel’s exercise of self-defense brings out the worst in those prone to hate the Jewish state, or Jews themselves. Hence, protestors of the Israeli campaign against Hamas—action brought on by Hamas’s kidnapping and killing of Israeli (and American) teens and the launching of rockets itself—in Paris sought to sack synagogues. German police allowed anti-Israel protestors to use a police megaphone to incite the crowd with anti-Semitic chants. A University of Michigan professor turned polemicist was particularly unhinged with this piece as he performs intellectual somersaults to ignore the fact that Gaza is not occupied, Hamas is motivated by ideology rather than grievance, and that Hamas’s charter blesses genocide against not Israelis but Jews everywhere. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s authoritarian and virulently anti-Semitic ruler, can be counted on to take hatred to a new level.

Read More

Israel’s exercise of self-defense brings out the worst in those prone to hate the Jewish state, or Jews themselves. Hence, protestors of the Israeli campaign against Hamas—action brought on by Hamas’s kidnapping and killing of Israeli (and American) teens and the launching of rockets itself—in Paris sought to sack synagogues. German police allowed anti-Israel protestors to use a police megaphone to incite the crowd with anti-Semitic chants. A University of Michigan professor turned polemicist was particularly unhinged with this piece as he performs intellectual somersaults to ignore the fact that Gaza is not occupied, Hamas is motivated by ideology rather than grievance, and that Hamas’s charter blesses genocide against not Israelis but Jews everywhere. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s authoritarian and virulently anti-Semitic ruler, can be counted on to take hatred to a new level.

Here, for example, is Erdoğan comparing Israel’s policy to Hitler’s, while accusing Israel of perpetrating state terrorism. The irony here is that it was under Erdoğan that Mein Kampf became a Turkish best-seller, apparently because of mysterious Turkish subsidies, and a Turkish film endorsed by Erdoğan’s wife brought blood libel to the big screen. There’s a reason why Turkey’s centuries-old Jewish community is now beginning to flee.

But what about the charge of state terrorism? Hamas, of course, is in violation of the Geneva Accords by hiding among civilians, eschewing uniforms, and placing weaponry in homes, schools, and mosques. Despite this, Israel, however, has bent over backwards to prevent civilian casualties. They are the only military force in the world to utilize roof-knocking, for example, to warn civilians to evacuate buildings in which Hamas built bomb factories or sheltered terrorists.

But what about Turkey? On December 28, 2011, Turkish fighter jets fired at a column of unarmed Kurds near the border, killing 34, half of whom were children. While Erdoğan has claimed that Muslims don’t kill Muslims, dozens of widows, parents, and orphans beg to differ. And while Erdoğan claims that Israel pays money for the deaths of those on the Mavi Marmara, he has refused to pay compensation for the Kurds for whose deaths he is responsible. That’s certainly reflective of Erdoğan’s hypocrisy. But taken together, it creates a certain irony: a racist, hate-mongering ruler who censors the press, slaughters innocents on the basis of their ethnicity, and then accuses others of acting like Hitler. Perhaps when Erdoğan invokes such analogies, he projects a bit too much?

Read Less

Can Turkey Hijack the Internet?

Turkey continues its march toward authoritarianism unabated. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has made clear that not only does he want to become president, but should he assume that office—and there is every reason to suspect he will given both the blind support Turkish Islamists give him and the power over the bureaucracy which he can wield to change the results of close elections—he will not act aloof from politics as the constitution demands, but rather will wield his power to privilege his supporters and punish those who oppose him.

Read More

Turkey continues its march toward authoritarianism unabated. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has made clear that not only does he want to become president, but should he assume that office—and there is every reason to suspect he will given both the blind support Turkish Islamists give him and the power over the bureaucracy which he can wield to change the results of close elections—he will not act aloof from politics as the constitution demands, but rather will wield his power to privilege his supporters and punish those who oppose him.

Indeed, Erdoğan is not shy about using whatever power he can accumulate, whether it is constitutional or not. Visiting Istanbul and Ankara late last month, businessmen to a man (or woman) said that should they become involved in politics either directly or by funding a party or cause which contravenes Erdoğan’s vision, they can expect ruinous tax audits and judgments designed to dissuade and ruin. At the height of his purge of the military, one-in-five Turkish generals was in prison, never mind that the supposed evidence against them was blatantly fraudulent. Erdoğan and his then-allies in the Gülen movement controlled security forces and heavily influenced the judiciary—and so simply were not going to allow rule of law to get in the way of his agenda.

The prime minister has reserved special animus toward the free press. Turkey now ranks below Russia in terms of free press and is on a trajectory to fall below even the Islamic Republic of Iran. So much for the model of democracy to which President Obama, and former secretaries of state Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, and Colin Powell once referred. Erdoğan is smart: while he has come down like a ton of bricks on journalists and editors who have dared criticize him or give voice to his opponents, journalists who tow Erdoğan’s line find themselves recipients of millions of dollars in largesse. Some have been so bold as to buy fancy villas alongside the Bosporus when just a few years ago, they were unknown and their journalism job would not suffice to pay the real estate bill. One veteran journalist estimated that only five percent of Turkish journalists working today can be considered professional or ethical in their work.

Erdoğan has previously lashed out at social media and Twitter. As is so often the case with Turkey, real repression follows months after the headline-grabbing bloviating when the international media moves on. Erdoğan, however, doesn’t forget. According to Turkish Internet and privacy experts, it seems that the Turkish government is taking Internet surveillance and censorship to a new level:

Due to legal obstacles to prohibiting social-media sharing by political dissidents in Turkey, the government has a new strategy: to act as Internet pirates… Turkey will now try to hack into ISPs’ systems and surveil users’ browsing/sharing habits. With this aim, recently the Internet watchdog sent a “secret orders” memo to ISPs, to prepare the software infrastructure necessary for detecting users that share unwanted content on social-media platforms. The daily Taraf’s article by Tunca Öğreten reveals the government’s plans to intervene in Internet users’ privacy and basic freedoms yet again.The method for intervening between the user agreement which secures the user’s privacy regarding the service s/he signs up for is to hack into the HTTPS protocol and surveil user habits. The government’s request from ISSs to establish a bug that will work as spyware is planned to enable browsing all users’ behavior and data without their consent. This includes not only the content of social media updates a person shares but also the e-trade flow and all related data; and the system is planned to be open for immediate interventions.

The whole article is worth reading as the Turkish government increases its machinery of repression. And the response from Washington? Crickets.

Read Less

Islamic State vs. Syrian Kurds

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity and pleasure to visit Rojava, the autonomous region which Syrian Kurds have carved out by pushing out or containing Bashar al-Assad’s forces while simultaneously defeating wave after wave of Nusra Front and later Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) attacks. What the Syrian Kurds have achieved would be amazing under any circumstance; that they did so while blockaded by Turkey, the Syrian government, Iraq, and Iraqi Kurdistan (whose leader Masud Barzani opposes them for both tribal reasons and because they refuse to subordinate themselves to his leadership) is even more impressive. That Rojava has become a refuge for tens of thousands of Arab Muslims and Syrian Christians is testament to its tolerance and moderation.

Read More

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity and pleasure to visit Rojava, the autonomous region which Syrian Kurds have carved out by pushing out or containing Bashar al-Assad’s forces while simultaneously defeating wave after wave of Nusra Front and later Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) attacks. What the Syrian Kurds have achieved would be amazing under any circumstance; that they did so while blockaded by Turkey, the Syrian government, Iraq, and Iraqi Kurdistan (whose leader Masud Barzani opposes them for both tribal reasons and because they refuse to subordinate themselves to his leadership) is even more impressive. That Rojava has become a refuge for tens of thousands of Arab Muslims and Syrian Christians is testament to its tolerance and moderation.

Largely out of deference to Turkey, the State Department has steered clear of Syrian Kurdistan, refusing to welcome its representatives to the ill-considered and ill-fated conferences in Geneva earlier this year, while choosing instead to bring in Syrian Kurdish politicians lacking any real constituency on the ground in Syria.

The U.S. position is both strategic and moral malpractice. The Assad regime has implemented, in the words of State Department official Stephen Rapp, “the kind of machinery of cruel death that we haven’t seen frankly since the Nazis.” The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, of course, has broken away from al-Qaeda because it considers that extremist group too moderate. Since renaming itself the Islamic State and taking over broad swaths of Iraq, its atrocities have been well covered by the media. That given the option between Assad or a radical Islamist group on one hand, and a secular, democratic-leaning entity on the other, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry place the United States against the secular, democratic-leaning entity says a lot about the current moral bankruptcy infusing U.S. policy.

For months, that lack of support made life difficult for Syrian Kurds, Christians, and other citizens within Rojava. What has not been covered, however, is the all-out battle now occurring between ISIS and Syrian Kurds. Tweets from residents of the region now under ISIS attacks have also reported that the Syrian opposition has been using chemical weapons against the Kurdish population. See, for example, this account from July 9 and 10. Now, of course, just because someone tweets something does not make it true. But there is no indication the reports are false, and every indication they are true At the very least, this is a charge American and UN officials should investigate. How ironic that just over a quarter century after Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds—and the Reagan administration remained silent because speaking up would be too diplomatically inconvenient—history seems to be repeating against Kurds once more. It’s a good thing there are now public intellectuals like Samantha Power who put their moral compass above ambition. Or not.

Read Less

Is Now the Time for a Cyprus Deal?

I and others here at COMMENTARY have written many times about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s efforts to transform Turkey from a secular state to an overtly religious one. As Erdoğan has consolidated power and dismantled checks and balances within Turkish society, he has increasingly made good on his promise to eschew secularism and instead “raise a religious generation.” He has done this not only by encouraging greater religiosity among his own constituents, but also by seeking to impose his conservative interpretation of Islamic values upon those for whom they are not part of daily culture.

Read More

I and others here at COMMENTARY have written many times about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s efforts to transform Turkey from a secular state to an overtly religious one. As Erdoğan has consolidated power and dismantled checks and balances within Turkish society, he has increasingly made good on his promise to eschew secularism and instead “raise a religious generation.” He has done this not only by encouraging greater religiosity among his own constituents, but also by seeking to impose his conservative interpretation of Islamic values upon those for whom they are not part of daily culture.

Enter Cyrpus: It is a problem that has confounded Turkey, Greece, and Europe more broadly for more than four decades. In 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus to protect the Turkish minority against a hardcore, Greek nationalist group seeking to incorporate the island into Greece. Internal and forced displacement segregated the island. In 1983, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) declared its independence. While Pakistan and Bangladesh briefly recognized the new state, once the United Nations declared it illegal, they withdrew their recognition.

Nevertheless, the TNRC has maintained theoretical independence from Turkey, even as it has depended on Turkish subsidies for decades and relies on the Turkish military for security. In reality, it remains Europe’s longest occupation—and makes Turkish complaints about Israel’s presence in the West Bank completely hypocritical, all the more so because the status of the West Bank has always been a subject of dispute, while Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus was an invasion of an internationally-recognized, existing sovereign state.

The past has seen repeated international mediation efforts come to naught. The closest the two sides came to resolution was a decade ago, when they negotiated the “Annan Plan,” which would have recognized a united Cypriot republic characterized by loose federalism. While Turkish Cypriots recognized the plan, Greeks rejected it in a referendum.

Ironically, Erdoğan may now accomplish what statesmen for years have failed to: uniting the island, albeit against him. Turkish Cypriots are increasingly unhappy at efforts by Turkey’s ruling party to impose their conservative Islamic values on the island, where the ethnic Turkish community has always been a bit more laid back. And while Turkish Cyprus remains poor, Cyprus proper has moved to exploit, in partnership with Israel, its significant offshore gas reserves. According to conversations I had in Turkey with Turkish Cypriots last month, this has encouraged Turkish Cypriots to seek a settlement more on Greek Cypriot terms, albeit one that would recognize the rights and freedom of ethnic Turkish Cypriots. Turkish troops would have to go but, then again, with the ethnic Turkish minority no longer under threat, there is no reason why Turkey should continue its decades-long occupation.

Across the Middle East, oil often fuels divisiveness. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran, for example, uses its interests in Iran’s oil infrastructure to fund terrorism around the globe. Oil was at the heart of the dispute (although, of course, not the only factor) between the Iraqi central government and Iraqi Kurdistan. It remains a major source of conflict in Libya. How refreshing it would be if new gas discoveries combined with a rejection of the Turkish government’s radicalism actually contributed to peace in the long-divided nation of Cyprus.

Read Less

The Complexities of Kurdish Secession

Masud Barzani, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s president, announced yesterday before the region’s rubber-stamp parliament that he would put Kurdish independence to a referendum. If the referendum goes forward—Barzani is coy about the date and seems loathe to forfeit the oil subsidies he received from southern Iraq’s oil fields which are far more lucrative than Kirkuk’s—then the Kurdish public will overwhelmingly accept it. That is their right, and if they decide to become the world’s newest state, congratulations to them. Kurds deserve statehood. (And with it, maybe Google will finally add Kurdish to the languages Google Translate covers.)

Read More

Masud Barzani, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s president, announced yesterday before the region’s rubber-stamp parliament that he would put Kurdish independence to a referendum. If the referendum goes forward—Barzani is coy about the date and seems loathe to forfeit the oil subsidies he received from southern Iraq’s oil fields which are far more lucrative than Kirkuk’s—then the Kurdish public will overwhelmingly accept it. That is their right, and if they decide to become the world’s newest state, congratulations to them. Kurds deserve statehood. (And with it, maybe Google will finally add Kurdish to the languages Google Translate covers.)

Statehood, however, will be not the end of the story but rather its beginning, both within Kurdistan and in the region.

Within Kurdistan, Kurds will have to address a government which is both disorganized and often acts in its own self-interest rather than that of its supposed constituents. That can be dismissed as an internal matter. Ultimately quality of government is an internal Kurdish matter, though, and one which Kurds will eventually resolve whether it takes months, years, or decades. Despite Kurdistan’s impressive development over the past decade, it still lacks basic financial infrastructure. That has helped ruling party members get rich because it enables them to better hide ghost employees or skim money from those under them who owe their jobs to their patron’s influence. Kurds might also need to standardize their language and alphabet, although that too is an internal issue.

Kurdistan’s formal birth, however, will also have international reverberations. While the West sees Kurdistan moving closer to Turkey, Kurdish leaders cultivate Iran as enthusiastically for balance. Whether the United States can sway the balance or not with bases of its own is an open question, although one which President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will defer given budget constraints and a lack of appreciation of American force projection abroad.

Then there’s water: The Euphrates bypasses Kurdistan, going from Turkey through Syria and into Iraq in al-Anbar. But the Tigris (or its tributaries) cuts across Kurdistan, traverses Turkey and forms part of the Syrian-Turkish border, before it heads into central Iraq. The negotiations over its flow were complex at the best of times, when the water only needed to be divided between three countries. A fourth will only add additional complexity. That’s not Kurdistan’s problem, as they get the water before the rest of Iraq does, but as one Iraqi told me in Jordan, “We Sunnis can make nasty neighbors if you make us mad enough.”

If Kurdish independence eventually spreads beyond Iraq’s current borders, the implications will be greater. Turkey, for example, is a NATO member. It hosts a major airbase in Diyarbakir, which many Kurds see as a future capital. Even if Turkey becomes a federal, biregional state, the implications are the same as Kurds there would seek a division of resources and infrastructure.

None of this is a reason for the United States to oppose Kurdish nationhood. But it should mean planning for the day, week, and months after. None of this planning or more than the most superficial considerations has apparently yet occurred.

Read Less

Is Turkey’s Partition Inevitable?

World turmoil in 2014 increasingly recalls that of one hundred years ago as national aspirations and trans-national ambitions set the world on a path to war. I do not suggest that the world is on the verge of a catastrophe such as that unleashed when an assassin’s bullet struck down Archduke Ferdinand just over a century ago, but rather that forces now at work could fundamentally remake the map.

Read More

World turmoil in 2014 increasingly recalls that of one hundred years ago as national aspirations and trans-national ambitions set the world on a path to war. I do not suggest that the world is on the verge of a catastrophe such as that unleashed when an assassin’s bullet struck down Archduke Ferdinand just over a century ago, but rather that forces now at work could fundamentally remake the map.

I posted earlier regarding the possibility that Iraqi Kurds may soon declare their formal independence, a move with which even Iraqi Arabs have grown ambivalent. After all, Iraq’s real oil wealth is in southern Iraq, and many Iraqi Arabs would be fine keeping that for themselves.

Syrian Kurds have been coy about their future. The Kurdish administration in “Rojava,” an autonomous zone in northeastern Syria, is relatively secure, organized, and functioning. Kurds there say they will settle for federalism within the confines of Syria, although the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham in the areas surrounding Rojava suggests that events outside their region may ultimately determine the outcome, much as it has in Iraq.

For Kurds, however, Turkey is the real prize. That is where the bulk of Kurds live, and southeastern Turkey remains an incubator of Kurdish culture. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan opened negotiations with Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which once waged an insurgency and terror campaign against the Turkish state. The PKK has accepted a ceasefire and temporarily laid down their arms. While Erdoğan has hinted that he will offer the Kurds a reform package ahead of the August presidential elections (for which he wants Kurdish support), history should not give the Kurds much confidence: every outreach Erdoğan has made to the Kurds has come against the backdrop of elections, and after elections have passed, Erdoğan reneges on his promises. Fool me once, fool me twice, but few Kurds are prepared to be fooled a third time, except perhaps against the backdrop of a fight.

Herein lies the problem: If Erdoğan makes good on his reforms to the Kurds, then it sets Turkey down the path toward federalism, the way-point for independence. Turks must also prepare for Öcalan’s release. They may consider Öcalan a terrorist, but Erdoğan has made him the indispensable man. There is simply no outcome that won’t see Öcalan released first from isolation, and then from prison entirely, at which point Kurds and many others will celebrate him as a Kurdish Mandela.

Demography, too, is in the Kurds’ favor. Erdoğan may hope that religious solidarity will trump nationalism, but this is a naïve hope. Turkish Kurds can smell a state, and with Iraqi Kurds on the verge of achieving that dream, there will be no denying Anatolian Kurds the same outcome. The map is changing. Turkey is celebrating its 90th anniversary. When it marks its centennial, however, expect the map of Turkey to be much different. When that happens, perhaps Turks can celebrate Erdoğan as their Sultan. The new Kurdistan, however, should put Erdoğan on their currency alongside Öcalan and Barzani as a man who made it happen.

Read Less

Turkey’s Last Chance?

Turks will go to the polls on August 10 to elect a new president, the first time that office will be filled by direct election. This weekend, incumbent Abdullah Gül, a Justice and Development Party (AKP) acolyte, has announced he will step down and the AKP will determine its nominee on July 1. The party’s nominee will likely be Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Islamist, corrupt, and increasingly authoritarian prime minister.

Read More

Turks will go to the polls on August 10 to elect a new president, the first time that office will be filled by direct election. This weekend, incumbent Abdullah Gül, a Justice and Development Party (AKP) acolyte, has announced he will step down and the AKP will determine its nominee on July 1. The party’s nominee will likely be Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Islamist, corrupt, and increasingly authoritarian prime minister.

Rather than roll over and accept Turkey’s slide into autocracy or kleptocracy without a fight, the center-left Republican Peoples Party (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have nominated a joint candidate, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, the former head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Turkish history reflects the significance of such a choice: For decades, the CHP and MHP were at each other’s’ throats. Gangs affiliated with each targeted supporters of the other. The heightened political polarization in Washington today is nothing compared to what the CHP and MHP wrought. What happened in Turkey is as if Valerie Jarrett and Karl Rove suddenly decided to mount a joint candidate against a greater threat.

I spent the last week in Turkey, talking to several CHP and MHP officials as well as contacts who aren’t involved in politics about the İhsanoğlu choice and Turkey’s way forward. Admittedly, many CHP and MHP members are uneasy: İhsanoğlu’s credentials are primarily because of his Islamic scholarship. While members bend over backwards to say he is not an Islamist, he is far different from the typical CHP and MHP candidate, and their respective bases suggest as much. Some outside the parties suggest that the choice of İhsanoğlu effectively acknowledges the end of secularism in Turkey, although party leaders hotly deny this.

What there does appear to be consensus about, though, is that an Erdoğan presidency will permanently end the Republic of Turkey as anyone knows it. Erdoğan is increasingly blunt in his desire to remake Turkey and Turkish society, hence his declaration that “We will raise a religious generation.” Some politicians even suggest Erdoğan sees himself more as a caliph responsive to the Islamic umma (community) rather than simply a leader for Turks. The autocracy under which Turkey now suffers was reflected in the debate about which “Medvedev” might succeed Erdoğan as prime minister.

If Erdoğan wins the presidency—either in the first round on August 10 or, if he receives less than 50 percent, in the second round on August 24—then Turks believe he will increasingly rule as a dictator, remaking the once more ceremonial presidency even as his old party withers under his thumb or falls apart. Indeed, given accusations that the AKP has fiddled with ballot boxes, some Turkish politicians suggested that Erdoğan would automatically gain a fraud bonus of perhaps five percent, which the opposition will have to overcome.

Under Erdoğan, Turkey has shifted its diplomatic posture away from Europe and toward the Middle East. Rather than even align with the more secular dictators of the Middle East, Erdoğan has aligned instead with religious radicals, whether in Qatar, the Muslim Brotherhood, or Hamas. Elections matter. But after 12 years of electoral wins, the August polls might mean the end of meaningful elections in Turkey, for an Erdoğan victory would likely mean years more of using the institutions of state to attack anyone in politics, business, or society who dares to stand in his way.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.