Turkey is one of three finalists for the 2020 Summer Olympics. Its chief competitor is Tokyo. Madrid, because of Spain’s financial woes, remains a long shot. The Turkish press often reports endorsements of its bid, most recently by former London mayor Ken Livingstone and also by U.S. Ambassador Frank Ricciardone, whose unprofessional endorsement seemed motivated more by a desire to make himself popular in Turkey than by U.S. policy.
Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s European Union minister, has argued that bestowing the Olympics on Turkey would further Turkey’s European Union drive by undercutting European prejudice. This is ironic because, during a trip to Bulgaria in 2011, a senior aide to Bağış dismissed the Bulgarian Foreign Minister’s criticism of Turkish policy toward Hamas and Israel by questioning whether he had Jewish blood. Perhaps it is not Europe where prejudice is so ingrained.
According to JTA, the Israeli Embassy in Washington hosted the new Congressional Hellenic Caucus:
WASHINGTON (JTA) – The Israeli ambassador in Washington hosted the launching of a new congressional grouping dedicated to improving Israeli-Greek-Cypriot ties. Attending the launch Wednesday were the co-chairmen of the newly established Hellenic-Israel Caucus, Reps. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), as well as lawmakers including Reps. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the senior Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. Greek-Cypriot-Israeli ties have become closer in recent years as tensions between all three nations and Turkey have intensified for varying reasons. Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren in his remarks at the dinner at his residence touted shared economic and strategic interests among Greece, Cyprus and Israel.
The reception comes against the backdrop of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s declaration that Zionism—and, by extension, the existence of the State of Israel—is a “crime against humanity.” In response to that statement, Namik Tan, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States (and a former Turkish ambassador to Israel) said… Nothing. Requests by journalists for his reaction were ignored.
Speaking at a United Nations conference in Vienna, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared, “It is necessary that we must consider — just like Zionism or anti-Semitism or fascism — Islamophobia as a crime against humanity.”
Let’s put aside the fact that, when they argue for the criminalization of “Islamophobia,” Erdoğan and his fellow travelers seek to ban not discrimination against Muslims, but rather criticism of the more radical outliers of radical Islamism. Hence, pointing out that under Erdoğan, the murder rate of women in Turkey has increased 1,400 percent would be considered a hate crime. Erdoğan makes no secret of his antipathy of free speech: That is why the Turkish media has descended from relative openness to somewhere below Russia, Venezuela, Iraq, Burma, and Zimbabwe in terms of free press.
Word out of Turkey is that Roketsan—Turkey’s domestic missile manufacture—has just concluded a nearly $200 million deal with the United Arab Emirates. Turkey has made no secret of its desire to build up its arms industry. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has, for example, beseeched the Obama administration to provide Turkey with drones at the same time that a Turkish armament company was trying to develop Turkish drones for export.
Turkey has taken an increasingly activist approach to the Middle East. It has supported the radical al-Nusra Front, designated a terror group by the Obama administration, because it prefers violent jihadists over secular Kurds. (Last week, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu dismissed those who labeled the al-Qaeda affiliate “Jihadists” as little more than “American neo-cons and Israelis.” The fact that Turkey is willing to arm radical Islamists at odds with U.S. strategic interests certainly marks a new era.
You couldn’t make this up: The Palestinian Authority is furious that Israel and Hamas are reportedly holding indirect talks in Cairo to firm up their cease-fire, because “only the PLO was authorized to conduct such negotiations in its capacity as the ‘sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.’” Never mind that the PLO, aka the PA (both are headed by the same man, Mahmoud Abbas, and dominated by the same party, Fatah) has refused to hold talks with Israel for four years now; if Hamas had to wait for the PLO to discuss its pressing concerns with Israel, it might still be waiting when the Messiah comes. In the PA’s world, ordinary Palestinians’ real problems–of which residents of Hamas-run Gaza have plenty–always come a distant second to its own prestige. If it doesn’t feel like talking with Israel, then Gazans should just wait patiently until it does.
But this story also highlights just how irrelevant the PA’s refusal to talk with Israel is making it. Hamas would prefer going through Egypt rather than the PA for many reasons, but one is the simple fact that Egypt can deliver the goods. Egyptian officials are still willing to talk with Israel; that’s how they brokered the Israel-Hamas cease-fire in November, and why they can mediate between the parties now. In contrast, Abbas can’t.
İslam Dünyası or “Islamic World” is the Turkish language edition of Al Qaeda’s magazine. I had previously referenced it here when, late last year, the magazine called for attacks on the United States. The latest edition is now available, at least in Jihadi chat rooms. What is most interesting is that it provides biographies for three slain Turkish fighters, two of whom were killed fighting against NATO in Afghanistan, and the third of whom was killed fighting for radicals in Syria.
According to SITE monitoring, which translated the biographies, one of the three grew up in Istanbul, and two grew up in Ankara. All were from poor families and began taking Islam classes in Turkey.
The reason why this is important is simple: The Turkish government has long acknowledged that Turks were active in Al Qaeda and its affiliates (under the group Taifetul Mansura), but always claimed that Turkish Jihadists were Diaspora Turks radicalized in Germany. Now it looks like this isn’t the case, and the real problem is in Turkey itself.
Evelyn Gordon wrote yesterday about the strange silence of the Western media on the threats made by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to attack Israel. It was no misspeak; later that the day, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—whom President Barack Obama has called one of his top foreign friends—essentially repeated the warning.
Turkey’s hypocrisy is growing. Over the past decade, Israel struck Syria unilaterally on three occasions:
This weekend, a NATO member threatened to attack one of America’s major non-NATO allies–and nobody in Washington even appears to have noticed. According to the Turkish daily Hurriyet, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu lambasted Israel’s reported airstrike on an arms convoy inside Syria and warned that “Turkey would not stay unresponsive to an Israeli attack against any Muslim country.” He also lambasted Syrian President Bashar Assad for failing to launch retaliatory strikes against Israel himself and charged that Assad must have “made a secret deal with Israel.”
Granted, Turkey isn’t really going to attack Israel, nor is Assad likely to do so in response to Davutoglu’s taunts–which is why most Western media outlets, even had they noticed the story, would have dismissed it as non-newsworthy. But they’d be wrong. The failure to report this constant drumbeat of anti-Israel incitement–not just in Turkey, but also in other countries–may be the biggest single reason why so many Americans, including senior policy-makers, consistently misread the Middle East.
According to the Hurriyet Daily News:
Security cameras were not recording at the moment of the blast due to a power outage in the area, according to claims. It is not clear whether or not the embassy building was the only building experiencing the outage, Hürriyet reported on its website. Officials from the company that is responsible for the the capital’s power are reportedly at the scene as well.
It is surprising–and a significant vulnerability–that security cameras would be dependent upon the local power supply, rather than an independent source. Benghazi revealed serious flaws which had developed in embassy and consulate security during the past four years and perhaps before. It seems, however, that Benghazi exposed only some of the complacency which has developed.
Last week, I noted that Turkey may soon find itself on the Financial Action Task Force’s black list alongside Iran and North Korea because of its failure to take action against terrorist financing. Adam Marx, an avid reader of COMMENTARY and an informal student of Turkey, was kind enough to point out that a new law on Turkey’s books may not be enough, given Turkey’s recent trend not only to finance terrorists in Libya, Syria, and elsewhere, but also to arm radical Islamists. If everyone—Chuck Hagel and Obama’s CIA pick John Brennan—agrees that Hamas and Mohamed Morsi represent the worst, most bigoted aspects of the Muslim Brotherhood, then there should no longer be any illusion regarding Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose political roots are in the same movement. Eric Trager’s essay asking why so many Western analysts got the Muslim Brotherhood wrong and addressing the myths which so many still grasp is a must read. But while there is a reckoning with regard to Egypt, Erdoğan and his Western supporters have gotten away with murder.
Greece, for example, last month intercepted a Turkish ship that apparently was part of an effort to arm either Libyan jihadists or, even worse, transit weaponry to al-Qaeda affiliates in northern Mali. Likewise, Yemeni authorities twice last month reportedly seized Turkish arms bound for al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen. Syrian Kurds regularly complain that Turkey is shipping weaponry to the al-Qaeda elements in Syria like the Nusra Front, because Erdoğan would rather have a radical Islamist entity on Turkey’s border than a secular Kurdish canton.
Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracy and an expert on the confluence of money laundering and terrorism, drew my attention to an important story getting lost in the shuffle of confirmation hearing and more violent stories from the Middle East:
The Turkish parliament is scrambling to avert action by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international body meant to combat money laundering and terror financing, which would place Turkey on its blacklist if it does not adopt legislation preventing terror finance within a month.
Last week, while participating at a conference on Afghanistan at Fort Hood, I met some U.S. officers who served in Turkey a bit over a decade ago. While they clearly loved their time in Turkey, they noted how many of their Turkish counterparts had quietly fled the army and Turkey itself over the past few years. Many disagree with the Islamism which Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoǧan, and fear his arbitrary justice, as well as the blind eye so many in Europe and our own Foggy Bottom who care little so long as the victims are soldiers.
The flight of old guard Turkish officers reminds me of the flight of Pakistani officers in the wake of the 1971 loss of East Pakistan/Bangladesh when Gen. Zia ul-Haq, who came to power in 1978, accelerated Islamization as a means to build an overarching Pakistani identity. Many high-ranking Pakistani veterans, uncomfortable with religious radicalization, fled Pakistan. Whereas the Turkish military, at least until a few years ago, served as the bulwark against Islamic radicalism in society, the Pakistani military—under which Pakistani intelligence falls—became the catalyst for radicalization. Several decades later, Pakistani is a state sponsor of terrorism in all but name.
Far from being a model “Muslim democracy,” Turkey has grown progressively more illiberal under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist government. A bit over a year ago, the Turkish government blocked a website discussing Darwin in an Internet children’s filter. At the time, the head of Turkey’s Scientific and Technological Research Council downplayed the incident, telling Hürriyet that the ban was not against the theory of evolution. “If that was the case,” he said, “every website that used to word would have been banned. This one may have been banned for containing harmful material to children.”
Evidently, his downplaying of the incident was just nonsense for the gullible masses. Now, the Council is banning books which discuss Darwin. According to Hürriyet Daily News:
Sometime in the afternoon or evening of January 9, three Kurdish activists were assassinated in their office in Paris, France. To enter the office required being buzzed in and the office was not marked by signs. This was no random mugging or robbery: Whoever entered and shot dead Sakine Cansiz, a co-founder of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK); Fidan Doğan, a representative of the Brussels-based Kurdistan National Congress; and Leyla Söylemez was deliberate. French Interior Minister Manuel Valls visited the site of the murders and called the slaughter “intolerable.”
There are two main suspects: Turkey and Iran. Many Kurds are pointing the finger at Ankara. After all, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan feigns moderation toward the Kurds only when it suits him, but embraces a hardline approach when he wants to whip up Turkish nationalists. In recent years, the PKK has been winning its insurgency: The Turkish army has effectively lost control of much territory which the PKK now administers in far southeastern Anatolia.
Like Lenny in James Steinbeck’s classic Of Mice and Men, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan doesn’t understand much about how the world works. He does understand, however, how to lead a slow motion social and religious revolution in Turkey and transform a once vibrant if dysfunctional democracy into a strongman dictatorship. In his first decade in power, Erdoğan’s animus has been strongest toward the press. Turkey now ranks below Russia and Zimbabwe in press freedom; Reporters Without Frontiers labels Turkey “the world’s biggest prison for journalists.” Indeed, Erdoğan strokes journalists like Lenny strokes rabbits.
Now it seems that the Turkish government is beginning to turn its animus toward classic literature. According to Hürriyet Daily News, “The İzmir Education Directorate’s books commission is seeking to ban certain parts of John Steinbeck’s classic ‘Of Mice and Men’ for several “immoral” passages, according to daily BirGün.” This should be especially worrying because Izmir is not some provincial Anatolian town, but in the heart of the Europeanized Mediterranean.
One of the country’s most prominent Armenian-American lobbying groups said today that it is “troubled” by potential defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel’s position on the Armenian genocide.
“We remain troubled by former Senator Hagel’s acceptance of Ankara’s gag-rule on American honesty about the Armenian Genocide – the still unpunished crime against a Christian nation that continues to define Turkey’s present-day policies toward Armenia and much of the region,” ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian said in an emailed statement.
In comments to the press following an incident last week at the Middle East Technical University in which police attacked students protesting his appearance, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared, “We have a problem with the media. It is their mission to announce good things to my people. This is what I want.”
Reporters without Frontiers has dubbed Erdoğan’s Turkey “the World’s Biggest Prison for Journalists.” Many Turkish journalists are bold and at the forefront of honest reporting but when it comes to press freedom, alas, Turkish journalists have at times been their own worst enemies. Taraf, often described as a liberal, pro-democracy paper, behaved as a Turkish version of Lyndon LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Review, breathlessly reporting stories regarding fantastic conspiracies and alleged plots against elected officials. They cheered as their opponents were rounded up by an increasingly power-hungry Erdoğan, never mind that the evidence was dismissed as fraudulent by every independent expert that has seen it. As Harvard Professor Dani Rodrik explained:
Writing in Al-Monitor, Tulin Daloğlu—an experienced Turkish journalist and easily that online publication’s best writer—highlights an unfortunate development from Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government is apparently using Turkey’s intelligence service to monitor Turkey’s Jews. She explains:
The deteriorating relationship between Turkey and Israel has generated unprecedented and disquieting accusations against Turkey’s Jews. There is a growing tendency in this country — encouraged by the ruling Islamist government — that demonizes Jews and triggers anti-Semitism, consciously or not… Turkish papers reported that the prosecutor’s office in Istanbul that tried the Israeli soldiers involved in the Mavi Marmara incident asked the Turkish National Intelligence Service (MIT) for a listing of Turkish Jews who traveled to Israel two weeks before and after the Mavi Marmara incident. These were put under surveillance.
For both COMMENTARY MAGAZINE and here at Contentions, I’ve written a lot about Turkey in recent years. The reason is two-fold: First, Turkey is an important country, and its support was crucial to the United States during the Cold War; and, second, as an ostensibly democratic, Muslim-majority country spanning continents, Turkey is often upheld as a model for the region.
Alas, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is accelerating Turkey’s backslide from democracy. His target now is separation of power. There were earlier hints of this, for example the 2005 threat by Bülent Arınç, at the time speaker of the parliament, to dissolve the constitutional court if it continued to find AKP legislation unconstitutional. Erdoğan subsequently promoted Arınç to be his chief deputy, but he still had plausible deniability since it was his proxy rather than himself who uttered the threat.
Now, however, Erdoğan is attacking separation of power directly. According to the Hürriyet Daily News:
Another brick is falling in the fiction that Turkey seeks to remain a democratic, pluralistic, Western-leaning society: The head of the Turkish body which oversees placement tests and university admissions has announced that it will soon include religious questions in its placement tests. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government has previously reconfigured the exam formula to benefit those who had attended Imam Hatip schools—Turkey’s equivalent of a madrassa—over those who had had a traditional, liberal arts education. While religion is in the state curriculum, there has been recent controversy over forcing non-Sunnis (20 percent of Turkey’s Muslims are Alevis, not Sunnis) into religious classes which indoctrinated Sunnism.
Turkey, despite its problems, thrived in comparison to the non-oil rich Middle East over the decades precisely because it refused to allow religious populism to become the basis of government. Alas, Erdoğan seems intent not only on becoming a Vladimir Putin-style autocrat but also radicalizing society and the bureaucracy for the long-term. None of this should surprise. It has been less than a year since Erdoğan himself declared his goal to be to Islamize a generation. How unfortunate it is that so many in the U.S. Congress lend their blanket endorsement to Erdoğan’s agenda.