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October 23, 2014 / 29 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Arab Spring’

Turkey Warns Lebanon to Free Kidnapped Pilots

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

Turkey has warned Lebanon, that if the two Turkish Airline pilots kidnapped last week aren’t released, it will damage the ties between the two countries, according to a report in the Lebanese Daily Star.

The Turkish pilot and copilot were kidnapped near the Rafik Hariri International Airport from the bus they were riding in from the airport. The group that kidnapped them are demanding the release of 9 Lebanese citizens kidnapped by the Syrian rebels. Turkey is a backer of the Syrian rebels.

The nine Lebanese citizens are Shiites who went through Syria on their way back from Iran. The Syrian kidnappers claim the nine are Hezbollah fighters.

Turkey has also asked for Iran’s assistance in getting the pilots released.

Lebanese authorities have one person is custody who they claim is involved in the kidnapping, and they say he has given up the names of his accomplices. The man is the son of one of the Lebanese men kidnapped in Syria.

The Syrian rebels kidnapped the nine men in an attempt to get Assad to release a woman he kidnapped.

Hezbollah has denied they are involved in the kidnapping, but say they are watching the situation very carefully.

Yishai and Walid Schmoozing

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

By Doni Cohen

Yishai Fleisher and Walid Shantur discuss seeing eye to eye on a statehood solution in Israel and how Israel already has the government and infrastructure to support both Jews and Arabs. They discuss the ramifications of the Arab Spring for Arabs in Israel and end by talking about the role of the U.S. in the Middle East and how Americans truly do not understand the region.

Yishai Fleisher: Welcome to the Yishai Fleisher Show Walid. What brings you here to Jerusalem when you could be sitting in Ithaca?

Walid Shantur: I’m here visiting family in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

YF: I hear that you speak a perfect English. Where are you from originally and do you speak Arabic?

WS: My father came over in 1948, and was originally from a small town near Ramallah. I was born in Chicago, and stayed in Ithaca while attending Cornell. I do speak fluent Arabic.

YF: What is life like in your small town near Ramallah?

WS: My father built a house right across the street from a mosque. So at 3:45 in the morning, I would hear the “Allahu Akhbars” blaring right into my bedroom window. It was quite a culture shock coming from a secular place like Ithaca. My family does want me to be what they consider a “good Muslim” but I want to be what I consider a “good person.” However, my family accepts me nonetheless.

YF: I was sitting at a dinner earlier this evening, and I kept hearing this new term that was being thrown around called “inclusive nationalism.” I think you and I see eye to eye on this point. This is a Jewish State. We don’t deny that. We want to include our minorities. We want them to have fruitful successful lives with upward mobility, with a sense of empowerment and belonging without giving up their national identity. But at the same time they need to respect that this is an ethnic country called Israel. It was created primarily and originally as a safe haven for the Jewish people, and continues to be a homeland for the Jewish people. At the same time though, there are minorities, some who even predated the Jewish influx and return to the land of Israel, and many who have come afterwards. However, the situation in which we have a nation behind a wall living a kind of regressive and repressive life is not a situation which Israel should want. We want to see a situation in which Arabs would respect Jewish sovereignty but would also gain from that respect a normal life. There are Arabs right now on Ben Yehuda Street where we are sitting right now feeling very comfortable walking around and shopping.

WS: And they do look very comfortable. They really don’t look out of place at all. I recall in Genesis where Ishmael and Isaac came together to bury their father. I feel we kind of need another Ishmael and Isaac now. My dream utopia would be no wall with Arabs and Jews respecting each other’s existence and living together as brothers.

YF: One of the biggest obstacles to this movement is the need for the extremist Arab Jihadists to be reigned in so that this process can move along.

WS: Absolutely. That has been nothing but a hindrance for Palestinians.

YF: If we could rein these Jihadists in, this movement could move forward. A lot of these walls that were erected because of the terrorism that these Jihadists encourage. Israel really only put up these walls when it started feeling threatened. My friend Yehuda Cohen and I do believe thought that the walls say that we cannot control the bad guys, and that we don’t believe fully that this is our land. And in that way we sort of offered up our Arab brothers to the Jihadists to swallow up, because the walls say in a sense that Jihad has won, and that is very destructive for Israel. To reverse that feeling is not so simple.

YF: Let me ask you about your family. Are you able to say these kinds of things to them?

WS: Well, I do speak to them about this, but more in general terms. I do speak to them about the most ideal situation of Jews and Arabs being able to live together as brothers. I do tell them that Israel has a more ideal political structure and infrastructure such as hospitals and schools etc. that Arabs could benefit quite a bit from. There are a lot of Arab leaders that are still tied to 14th century Islam.

Hunger Games

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013
Trust us on this: being the parents of a child who was murdered changes the way you look at things.
Others might glance at a report quoting this political figure or that official, but that lens of bereavement and the immense frustration and anger that accompanies it tends to make you look a little more deeply than others do.
The secretary general of the Arab League probably makes headlines whenever he issues a public pronouncement. Without wanting to be unkind, we don’t really care that much what he says or thinks under normal circumstances, and the feeling is probably mutual. Naturally, we  respect and defend his right to speak in the name of the people who appointed him, but Nabeel Elaraby‘s views are background noise so far as we’re concerned. For the record, he’s a professional diplomat who served as Egypt’s Foreign Minister of Egypt for four months in 2011 and before that was his country’s ambassador in New Delhi between 1981 and 1983. A lawyer, he has an Egyptian law school degree as well as a Masters in Law from NYU.
This morning, we noticed that he has some things to say that actually do intrude into matters about which we take a personal interest. Speaking about a group of convicted practitioners of terror who are serving long prison sentences in Israel, the jurist/politician is quoted yesterday (Tuesday) saying that he is

following with concern the suffering of the Palestinian prisoners who entered indefinite food strike under very serious health conditions, especially the captive, Abdullah Barghouti, who entered into a dangerous condition due to his continued food strike since last May… Elaraby called on the international community to put an end to arrogance of the Israelis who use violence against the Palestinian prisoners [Emirates News Agency/WAM]

In the name of the Arab League, this senior figure launches into an appeal to “the international community, particularly the United Nations, the International Committee of Red Cross and human rights organization [sic]” to get involved and to “save the lives” of the terrorists who are refusing to eat and “to stop the inhumane practices against them“.
It’s significant that the hungry terrorists are not named by Mr Elaraby except for one of them: Barghouti. (We have the other names here.)
Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt: Mr Elaraby may have said the things he said because his Arab League secretariat aides failed to give him a proper briefing ahead of his speech. So we will try to help. And we plan to send this posting to his office by mail right after it goes up on our site.
We have written about this dedicated killer several times in this blog. Most people who speak about him seem to know next to nothing factual, so allow us to share some basics.
Start with this: the judges who sentenced him expressed regret that condemning Abdullah Barghouti to the death penalty was not an option available to them.
If you have seen the award-winning CNN/CBC/Associated Producers documentary “Impact of Terror”, you will recall that it opens with an extreme closeup of a musical instrument, while an explosives expert explains its diabolical character:

The uniqueness for me was the guitar. Nobody was thinking that inside there is a bomb. He put inside the guitar something like four or five kilogram of explosives, four kilogram or five kilogram of nuts and nails. That’s enough. That’s enough to kill tens of people [CNN transcript]

Among the fifteen people, mostly children, killed by the work of Barghouti’s hands was Malki, our daughter. 130 others were maimed. The lives devastated by his evil amount to many times more than those awful numbers.
We noted here a week ago that Barghouti has done an oustanding job from his prison cell of highlighting the bestiality that underpins his psychopathic nature66 innocent people killedNot enough, he says without blushing. In the intimate setting of a 2006 interview beamed throughout the world by CBS television’s ’60 Minutes’ program, Barghouti clarifies things unambiguously:

“I feel bad because the number is only 66. This is the answer you want to hear? Yes, I feel bad because I want more.” [Quoted on a CBS site]
Speaking in an Israeli court in 2010, he again reiterated his dedication to killing more Jews once he is freed again.

Do the people in the Arab League’s leadership know these things? Perhaps we will be able to let our visitors know when our letter gets answered. (We recommend to stay busy in the meantime.)
The wheels of justice caught up with Barghouti a decade ago. Convicted for the murder of dozens of ordinary people, he is serving a longer custodial sentence than anyone else in the history of this country. Yet, when parts of the Arabic press write about him, they call him “administrative detainee” and “captive”; bitter experience tells us their readers largely believe such nonsense.
Facebook Barghouti 10Jul13
The people who operate the world’s most influential social media website allowed an Abdullah Barghouti page to go up, and have permitted it to stay upDo they know the facts? We pointed this out two weeks ago [see "25-Jun-13: Dogs, psychopaths and the Internet"], when Barghouti’s active Facebook page had gotten 6,805 Likes; that’s more than a hundred for every one of the dead Israelis he murdered. Go visit his Facebook site this morning and notice that Barghoutti’s savagery now has 7,266 Likes. And of course rising.
What does the Arab League leadership think about such things? Who do they say to questions like these?
  • When you seek to put an end to what you call “arrogance of the Israelis“, is this part of a larger anti-arrogance plan? Is it arrogance when Barghouti boasts willfully proudly, openly about how good it is to kill Jewish children? Is it arrogance for him (and the others like him, and who Like him) to come out in favour?
  • How will the world know when the “arrogance of the Israelis” has come to an end? If Barghouti is allowed (heaven forbid) to leave his Israeli prison cell under pressure from you, would that be a sign in your value system that the Israeli arrogance is over?
  • When the woman who delivered Barghouti’s bomb to the door of the pizza restaurant on that awful summer afternoon on August 9, 2001 was freed in a tragically misconceived deal with the terrorists two years ago, did that demonstrate reduced Israeli arrogance?
  • When the proud, unrepentant Islamist murderers like Barghouti and Tamimi make speeches in public congratulating themselves on their great deeds, is that arrogant? Will you condemn it? Have you ever said one critical word in public – in Arabic – about the satanic hubris that it represents? Did any other Arab leader? Ever?
Why do we write about matters like this? Because so many people are interested in hearing what we think? Think again. Because we are obsessive? No, though others think we are. Because we’re vengeful? No; others have certainly told us we seek revenge, but we say and firmly believe this is about justice, and injustice, and about human rights in the original, honest, non-politicized sense of that term. And to be clear about this: it’s not for lack of constructive things to do with our time.
We are the parents of a child whose beautiful life, filled with constructive acts of goodness, was brutally ended by the guitar-case bomb engineered by Barghouti. Inside us, there is a burning sense of obligation – call it a hunger - to shake the apathy of people who fail to see that of the dozens of innocent victims of this despicable man, not a single one was caught in the crossfireThey were his target as Barghouti himself confessed. The same is true every time jihadists and other terrorists seek out civilian victims, as they invariably do.
His mission, his passion, was “to kill as many Israelis as possible”. That ought to be on people’s minds when the debate over how to think about the hunger-striking terrorist prisoners reaches the mainstream media’s headlines as it soon will. The imperative to understand this needs to extend in all directions – even into the lofty heights of the executive leadership suite at the League of Arab States.

Visit This Ongoing War.

The West Looks Forward, Muslim Immigrants Look Longingly Backward

Saturday, July 6th, 2013

Anat Berko is a criminologist and author who grew up in Israel, but whose parents and ancestors going back generations lived in Iraq.

Berko is best known outside of Israel for her books about suicide bombers.  Her first book, “The Path to Paradise: The Inner World of Suicide Bombers and Their Dispatchers,” was published in 2007.  Her second book, “The Smarter Bomb: Women and Children as Suicide Bombers” was published in 2012.

Berko is very familiar with the psychology of suicide bombers and those who play a role in the industry, such as the dispatchers, the drivers, and the recruiters.  She spent 15 years interviewing those involved in the industry of suicide bombings, especially the women who attempted to blow themselves up. She has many insights into what drives the kind of violence which is largely unique to Arab culture.  Some of what she describes in her books support general theories about violent cultures, while other insights are unique to this particular culture.

So Berko knows the Arab world very well, both because her family history is firmly rooted in the Arab world, and her professional work  brought her into almost daily, extensive, contact with Arabs who were willing to risk everything, or to induce others to risk everything, for an Arab nationalist cause.

In an article published in Gatestone this week, “The Arab Spring in Europe,” Berko explores several themes, but in her very matter of fact manner writes about the refusal of the west to talk directly about the problem of Islamic violence. She brushes aside that reluctance and, with her hand to the back of the head of the readers, reveals in plain language what should be obvious, but which isn’t, because the reluctance to see it is so great.

One would expect that Muslim immigrants, whose children were born in the West, would adapt, become part of the Western society and partake of its freedom — otherwise, why did they immigrate? What we see, however, is the opposite. The beheading of a British soldier in London, and the murder of a soldier in France, are only the beginning of a wave of violence and a dictatorship of fundamentalists who will call the tune. The wave of riots and vandalism carried out by Muslim immigrants in France in 2005 was just a hint at what is to come. The immigrants are brainwashed in the mosques, the madrasas [Islamic religious schools] and informal discussion groups, all of which represent the West as worse than Sodom and Gomorrah.

Did we really need her to explain that to us?  Why, yes, we did, because so few others will say those very obvious things out loud.  The idea that multiculturalism is one of the greatest goods and that it therefore places no demands of adaptation to one’s host country is wrong, is her message.

Berko wants the west to recognize when tolerance moves from being a positive quality and instead endangers western countries, western identity and western freedoms.

If immigrants chose to move to a particular country, then they have decided it is a better place than the one from which they came.  And while pride in one’s origins is touching and sweet, a rigid demand that one’s new home adopt the foreign cultures of the homelands of its immigrants makes no sense.  And worse than that, it leads to an inevitable clash, one which need not have been inevitable.

As Berko explains in a lengthy interview with The Jewish Press, the values and the will of the west have become atrophied.

“What, Germany and France are unable to say that Hezbollah is a terrorist group for fear of offending Muslims,” Berko asks incredulously.  “And yet, Bahrain is able to say out loud: No! We do not want them here, that is a terrorist group.”

Once a country starts making excuses for the illegal acts of immigrants, and the excuse is that the people come from a different culture, the end is near.

“It has to be the same law for everybody, no excuses, no cultural justifications,” Berko says.  “Without clear boundaries, there will never be a rejection of the violence that is acceptable in their own culture.”

Savages of Socialism

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Originally published at Sultan Knish.

In Venezuela, savvy shoppers are hunting down scarce supplies of toilet paper with a smartphone app. The smartphones, compact packages of electronics, are several generations more advanced than the white square, but they are available when the toilet paper isn’t, because unlike the toilet paper they aren’t subsidized and price controlled.

While Hugo Chavez did at one point unveil a Chavezphone for the poor, he succumbed to the wonders of Cuba’s Socialist medicine before they could become as big as Obamaphones. But if Venezuela ever falls to the dumbphone, then there won’t be a smartphone app to find a smartphone with.

The sight of modern men and women hunting down toilet paper with smartphones seems like the Soviet Union as reimagined by William Gibson, but it’s a common enough outcome in an economy that is really a patchwork of uneven subsidies.

The Arab Spring was fueled by the social media apps of smartphones and anger over insufficient subsidies for staples such as bread and fuel. The smartphones may bring you the revolution, but it’s the toilet paper and bread shortages that set them off.

The problem is a commonplace one that Americans will shortly begin experiencing with the subsidized medicine of Obamacare.

Most governments subsidize or price control some necessities to win over the underclass… or at least keep them from burning down everything in sight.

The Arab Spring took place in countries where government subsidized food and fuel existed side by side with monopolies over nearly everything held by cronies if the ruling class. Bread was temporarily cheap, but nearly everything else was either substandard or nonexistent… except for the American-designed and Chinese-built smartphones being used to document the food and fuel revolution.

A society stuck somewhere along the way in the transition between Socialism and a free economy finds itself in these savage intersections in which high technology is available, but the basic needs which the underclass is bought off with aren’t.

Manhattan, that glittering island of towers rising between the waters of two rivers that are one, values real estate above gold. A square foot of dirt in Manhattan might as well be marble for what it fetches.

Finding an apartment in Manhattan is a challenge worthy of a treasure hunter and Bloomberg recently unveiled a plan for micro apartments that would be little more than closets with kitchen sinks.

Manhattan is a small and narrow strip of land which accounts for some of the high prices, but its real estate is also a crazy quilt of wildly overpriced market housing and subsidized housing projects. In some tenements rent-controlled apartments that cost less than anywhere else in the city coexist with 5,000 dollar a month pads and the only difference between them is regulation.

Downtown grim blocs of housing project towers crowd out riverfront views that would be worth hundreds of millions while the bankrupt city Housing Authority fights pitched battles with residents to sell a few scraps of empty land to developers to finance the welfare castles.

Uptown, large lots sit empty and bound to a covenant of affordable housing signed during the city’s lean years that now make the land worthless for anything except growing weeds.

A booming housing market in the city is built on runaway prices caused by artificial shortages. Manhattan is really two islands, one is being built up and torn down again every few years, while the other is stuck in a state of permanent slumhood since the seventies. One pays for its organic grapes with smartphone apps and the other buys everything with food stamp cards.

The gap between these extremes is where the shortages form and the Middle Class eventually falls into that hole between the extremes of the liberal poor who want to be subsidized and the liberal rich who want someone to do something about the poor. The welfare class is relieved not to be burdened with the slog to the Middle Class and the crony capitalists are not interested in more competition. Both agree on a static society managed with subsidies and monopolies. This system had more than a passing resemblance to the dysfunctional countries of the Middle East. The only difference is that America still has a Middle Class for the system to drink dry.

If You Liked the Arab Spring, You’ll Love ‘Palestine’

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

The disarray, ritual violence, rancor, intermittent anarchy, and seemingly endless cycle of replacing one tyranny with another that have characterized the Arab Spring is also the predictable future for “Palestine.”

In the Islamic Middle East, the recurrent myth of “democracy” has conveniently taken on its own twisted grammar and syntax. For the most part, in this tormented and tormenting region, irony has already been upstaged by oxymoron.

Even after being awarded elevated status last year by the UN General Assembly – “Palestine” is now officially a nonmember observer state – feuding Arab authorities in the West Bank and Gaza will continue to vie viciously for consolidated national power. Here, unsurprisingly, Hamas and Fatah killers will obligingly murder and torture one another as best they can. This is what they know best. Significantly, other known or still-unknown jihadist groups will also enter the frenzied struggle for individual and group primacy.

Nonetheless, the warring factions are apt to come together intermittently on the one point of “higher philosophy” that can still bind them together. This utterly consuming worldview, of course, is a ritualized and irremediably primal hatred of Israel. This prospectively genocidal antipathy has its conceptual and historic origins in an antecedent hatred of Jews.

How little is understood in the West. Palestinian opposition to Israel has never really been about land. It has always been about religion and about corollary assurances of immortality.

What, exactly, then, can we expect from “Palestine”? One could argue, it seems, that this new Arab state will inevitably share a sort of mutual vulnerability with Israel, and that it would therefore be well advised to adhere strictly to responsible policies of protracted peace and coexistence.

In reality, however, here is what we can expect. After early episodes of intra-Arab conflict and related war crimes, periods during which time the competing Palestinian factions will fashion crisscross alignments with willing elements in other parts of the Islamic world, the crushing war against Israel will resume. Newly endowed with unprecedented geopolitical advantages against a now diminished Israeli min-state, this newest Arab state will launch substantially advanced rockets against the Jewish state. More than likely, there will be renewed attacks on Israeli schools, buses, and hospitals. After all, there will be an expectedly mad scramble to join the next blood-soaked wave of Islamic martyrs.

To respond effectively, Israel will need to rely more heavily on its capable active defenses. As long as the incoming rockets from Gaza, the West Bank, and possibly Lebanon remain entirely conventional, the inevitable “leakage” from Iron Dome and (possibly) David’s Sling (aka Magic Wand), could still be judged “acceptable.” But once these rockets are fitted with chemical and/or biological materials, such leakage could prove unacceptable.

A particularly serious security problem posed to Israel by any new state of Palestine would be one involving collaboration with Iran. Nowhere is it written that the developing Iranian nuclear threat must somehow remain strategically and tactically unrelated to a seemingly discrete Palestinian threat. Should Iran be permitted to go fully nuclear, which now seems pretty much certain, it could plan, in the future, to fire advanced ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads against Israeli cities. Operationally, this could be undertaken in managed coordination with certain non-nuclear rocket attacks, launched simultaneously from Gaza, West Bank, and/or southern Lebanon.

To meet indispensable protective objectives, Israel’s primary ballistic missile defense system, the Arrow, would require a 100 percent reliability of interception against incoming Iranian missiles.

Achieving such a level of perfect reliability, however, is technically impossible.

The core strategic problem facing Israel, therefore, is one of critical “synergies” or “force multipliers.” Working together against the Jewish state, Palestine, Iran, and assorted other enemies could quickly pose a cumulative hazard that is tangibly greater than the arithmetic sum of its component parts. Perhaps in anticipating this dire prospect, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to speak hopefully of a Palestinian state that would be “demilitarized.”

This expectation is naive and unsupportable. Whatever else it may have agreed to in its pre-state incarnation, any presumptively new sovereign state is entitled to “self-defense.” Under authoritative international law, this right is fundamental, immutable, and (per Art. 51 of the United Nations Charter), “inherent.” Further, to use proper terminology from the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, it is also “peremptory.”

It Was Erdoğan’s Fault

Friday, June 7th, 2013

Translated to English by Sally Zahav

For about a week now, Turkey has been in an uproar. Tens of thousands of demonstrators have burst into the streets inf almost a hundred cities all over the country, in noisy, audacious protest against the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. A few people have been killed, about 1500 have been injured and about 2000 arrested. The spectacles from the streets of Turkey were reminiscent of the mass demonstrations of January 2011 in Tunisia that eventually caused President bin ‘Ali to flee, and in al-Tahrir Square in Cairo, which resulted  in the overthrow of Mubarak, and the demonstrations in the beginning of what was called the “Arab Spring” in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria. The question arises – is it now Turkish society’s turn to rid itself of Prime Minister Erdoğan and perhaps the religious “Justice and Development Party ” as well, which has governed the country since 2002 as a single party, without need for a coalition because it has a majority in parliament.

The answer to the question is “probably not,” that is, the rule of Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party does not seem to be in immediate danger, for several reasons:

The first and principal reason is that, after all, Turkey is a democratic country, even if its democracy is not perfect, and in a democratic country, the prime minister is replaced by means of elections, not demonstrations. In contrast to the Kurdish minority, the Turkish nation, in all of its sectors, sees Turkey as its country, and the government is considered legitimate, despite the substantial criticism about how it functions. There is not an overwhelming desire to overthrow the government, but rather to improve the way it functions and correct the direction in which it is pulling Turkish society. The slogans heard in the demonstrations express the  demonstrators’ rage  over the behavior of Erdoğan, and actually, it is his personality that is the focus of the demonstrations. One of the signs in the demonstrations showed Erdoğan next to Hitler, both giving the Nazi salute, and for anyone who didn’t understand the image, “Erdoğan = Hitler” was written.

The second reason is that the regime truly wants to turn down the flames, and therefore, on most days of the demonstrations and in most places, there were no policemen positioned near the demonstrations, in order to minimize as much as possible the contact with officials and to minimize the potential for people to be injured, and indeed,  by mid-week only a small number of fatalities, about five, was reported, hundreds of injured and about one thousand arrested. Compared to Egypt or other Arab countries that have been afflicted by the “Arab Spring,” the situation in Turkey is much better, at least in this phase.

The third reason that Erdoğan will remain in power is that the larger the demonstrations against him, the more justified he will be — if he wants — to bring out millions of Turks to demonstrate to support him and his performance. His supporters as well as his opposition know well that during the past eleven years he has brought Turkey to a position of economic power, certainly compared with Europe, which gave him a slap in the face when it refused to allow Turkey to join the European Union. He — the Islamist — took the refusal hard, because the real reason that Turkey was not accepted to the Union is because Turkey is an Islamic country, and Europe does not want to grant membership to 80 million Muslims. For these past five years, since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008, Erdoğan has been smiling at Europe all the way to the bank. If Turkey had been a member of the European Union it would have had to support — among others — Greece, and there is nothing the Turks want less than to support the Greeks.

For the sake of comparison: In Turkey the GNP per person is about $14,000 per year, while in Egypt it is less than half of that — about $6,000. The distribution in Egypt is much worse than in Turkey; that’s why there are millions of Egyptians who live on 2 dollars per day, while in Turkey the economic success pervades many strata of the population. True, there are pockets of poverty in Turkey as well, but they do not have the critical mass and they are not so severely  impoverished — as in Egypt — to bring millions into the streets to demonstrate against the regime because of their poverty and hunger.

Dissatisfaction

The demonstrations against Erdoğan stem from a sense among his opposition that he has crossed the line in Turkey too, on a number of matters.

The first matter is cultural. Turkey is an arena in the battle between Islamic tradition and the secular-nationalist heritage of Mustafa Kemal “Atatürk” (the father of the Turks) who founded modern Turkey after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War. With his rise to power, toward the end of 1923, he imposed a secular nationalist agenda on the country, encouraged the drinking of alcohol and made “raki” the national drink, despite its being alcoholic. He did away with  compulsory compliance with Islamic Shari’a, imposed on the Turks civil marriage and divorce, changed the written language from Arabic characters to Latin characters, closed madrassas, dismissed imams, forbade the wearing of turbans, encouraged women to walk in the streets without a head covering–like the women in Europe–and promoted the political and civil rights of women. His successor, President İsmet İnönü, continued in his path until 1950. Thus, for almost 30 years, the citizens of Turkey underwent a difficult “educational program” intended to strip them of “Islam” and garb them in a modern secularism that would be liberal in every way, except for its treatment of religion.

In parallel, the bazaar — the shuk -- developed as a result of several factors. These factors include economic stability, an air of “business first,” European markets and travelers who came in hordes to enjoy the pleasant climate, the inviting beaches and the “everything is included” service. The military, the parliament, the presidency and the high court all comprised a system that was expected to “adhere to the constitution,” meaning the secular aspect of the state.

This reeducation worked well in the cities, because there the regime had an effective presence, and the various branches of the regime could monitor the application of the anti-Islamic laws and principles. In the cities, a cultural elite developed that included people of the theater, authors, poets, journalists, politicians, lawyers and doctors, as well as economists and accountants, with an impressive representation of women among this modern, “European” elite. As is the way of the elite in the world demographically, this group has a low birth rate, mainly because women usually have plans in addition to being a wife and a mother.

The trend toward secularism was problematic in the villages, because there the regime had a small, even marginal footprint, and tradition remained the name of the game. The farther a village was from an urban center, the more traditional were its residents, and, as a result, the birth rate in the villages remains high. Thus, for 90 years–four generations–since Atatürk began the cultural revolution, the secular citizens have become a minority in Turkey and traditionalists have become the majority. This fact was expressed in parliament when Necmettin Erbakan’s religious “Welfare Party” won the elections in 1996. The secular sector did not accept their defeat and demanded the high court–a secular stronghold in those days–to outlaw the religious party. The court did so, and Erbakan was forced to quit in 1997.

About six years afterward, in 2003, Erbakan’s student, Erdoğan, assumed power after winning a majority in parliament with his “Justice and Development” Party. Most of the secular sectors were left out of the loop politically, and for Erdoğan and his friends it was a sort of revenge  for the decades when the religious were sidelined and oppressed. Since the Islamic party rose to power it has made changes in the Turkish public arena: the Islamic courts were brought back to deal with matters of divorce, women were allowed to enter universities with head covering, and attempts were made to forbid abortions and the drinking of alcohol. Military  officers were replaced with the Islamic regime’s faithful, and parallel changes were made in the high court following a referendum that called for such changes.

The secular sectors object to these pro-Islamic trends, and for the past 11 years they have been trying to stop the process by which Islam is gradually resuming the position it occupied before the defeat of the Ottoman Empire. The restless youth who burst into the streets a week ago carried  banners that were red, the color of the Turkish nation; in contrast, the banners that the adherents of Islam carried in their demonstrations against the war in Iraq in 2003 were green. The red Nationalist versus the green Islamic, and in the struggle for dominion in the Turkish culture, color indicates your cultural identity.

Dictatorial Traits

The second matter that brought the demonstrators out into the streets was Erdoğan’s dictatorial behavior: in recent years he has sent almost a hundred journalists to prison because of their criticism of him. The government of Turkey, under his leadership, monitored what Turkish Internet users put on social networks, mostly Facebook and Twitter. The police take liberty in putting down demonstrations against Erdoğan ruthlessly and mercilessly, using gas mixed with water, and even rubber coated bullets that cause much pain–even though they’re not lethal. In recent demonstrations, one protester lost his eye as a result of being hit by a rubber coated bullet. Erdoğan’s crude and raucous style angers many, many Turks, who feel degraded by his arrogance.

The agreement that Erdoğan reached lately with the Kurdish leader, Abdullah Öcalan, also angered many of those who see the Turkish nation and its rights as overriding principles. They see this agreement as a surrender to Kurdish terrorism, and from their point of view any surrender to the Kurds harms the Turkish character of the country.

Erdoğan’s foreign policy also gets a significant amount of criticism: his involvement in Syria has worsened the chaos there, and Turkey has lost out in Arab world markets where Syria served as a bridge to Turkey. The Syrian refugees in Turkey–approximately 200 thousand, possibly more–are a burden on the Turkish budget, and the tension on the border between Turkey and Syria does not contribute to the quiet necessary for economic prosperity. Many secular Turks view unfavorably Erdoğan’s support for the Syrian rebels, who identify with al-Qaeda, just as they object to his blatant sympathy with the Hamas movement in Gaza, and they accuse him of creating the Mavi Marmara affair. They do not agree with the Israeli response, which was, in their opinion, unreasonably brutal, but, in parallel, there are more than a few among them who think that the event began as an unjustified provocation by Erdoğan.

Erdoğan’s raucous style of speaking, the dismissive way he treats his political opposition, his attention to religious trappings and his activist foreign policy in the Middle East arouses concerns among his opposition that he is trying to restore the Ottoman Empire and become a modern-day sultan. These concerns have increased in the past two years as he began to transfer authority from the prime minister to the president, with the intention of being elected president in 2014, and having the authority to rule like the presidents of the United States, France and Brazil, who serve as executive heads of their countries.

The Taksim Events

The Taksim Quarter is in the heart of Istanbul and it is the stronghold of the modern nationalist state. At the center is Ğezi Park, with hundreds of ancient trees, among which Atatürk liked to stroll. Plans to improve the place include building a mosque and uprooting trees, which seemed to secular citizens like an Islamic blow to the symbols of secularism and Turkish nationalism. This blow was the straw that broke the camel’s back, the spark that ignited the secular public and sent it into the streets, to defend Taksim Square with their bodies, to defend the symbols of the nation, the culture, the arts, democracy and the right to speak out and voice criticism.

There are rumors that among those who stood to benefit from the changes in Taksim Square were two real estate agents who are personally close to Erdoğan. This kind of rumor creates the impression that the regime is corrupt, giving away national symbols to the prime minister’s cronies.

Erdoğan blames foreigners for stirring up the masses against him, and uses conspiracy theories in his defense. “Communists,” he calls them, and his spokesmen claim that those who are stirring up demonstrations are no more than a handful of people on the fringe, who belong to  the radical Left. The Turkish media minimized their coverage of the events of last week so as not to give free publicity to the initiators of the demonstrations and so that the public would not be encouraged to join them. Erdoğan himself transmits a “business as usual” attitude–he went out this week on a tour of North African countries. He is also supposed to go to Gaza this month, in clear defiance of the president of the United States, whose Secretary of State John Kerry tried to dissuade him from going there.

What’s  Next?

As things appear now, the demonstrations do not endanger the government in Turkey, and don’t significantly damage Erdoğan’s image. There are analysts who claim that the demonstrations even strengthened his position among the religious groups, because they fear the resurgence of the secular and their return to power. Here I share with my readers what I heard myself, when I visited Turkey last summer and met with senior people from the ruling religious party. There were those among them who expressed considerable resentment regarding the crude style of the prime minister, his impulsiveness, the arrogant way he relates to anyone outside of his inner circle, and the raucousness that he has brought into the country’s political discourse. They also disagree with the way he relates to Israel. Some of them even claimed that they are embarrassed by him, but they have no choice but to support him, because he knows how to excite the masses; a different leader might be pale and unattractive and the result would be the return of the secularists to power.

Erdoğan will have to draw conclusions from the demonstrations even if they stop, because if he continues to behave as he has done so far, the demonstrations might continue and even intensify. If this happens, Turkey’s economy would pay a high price because of reduced tourism, since tourists don’t set foot in unstable countries (Look at Egypt, Tunisia and, of course, Syria).

It is reasonable to assume that in the near future Erdoğan will be more responsive to people from his party who disagree with his style of speaking and his micromanagement style. He may even free some of the jailed journalists. In the situation created following the demonstrations it will be difficult for him to continue with his changes to the constitution that are intended to strengthen the position of the president at the expense of the prime minister, because the public is more aware today than in the past of his ambition to amass power and perhaps become the sultan of the Neo-Ottoman Turkish Empire.

Can Erdoğan make a basic change to the country, to his behavior, to his personality? It is reasonable to assume that he cannot, and, therefore,  in the future, the streets of Turkey will probably see more demonstrations, violence, wounded and killed, and each time the questions will arise: is Turkey really a democracy? Do the ruling elite know how to protect the civil rights of those who are not part of it? Doesn’t this country have more peaceful and orderly ways to influence the regime’s behavior through legitimate action?

It seems that more than a few years will pass before Turkey becomes an inseparable part of European culture, and by the time that happens, Europe will likely become an integral part of Islamic  culture…

An Alternative Opinion

Those who research Islam have differences of opinion about whether there can be a nexus between the requirements of Islam and democratic values. Islam is divine law, while democracy is based on laws created by a legislative body. Divine law is permanent, while parliamentary law is relatively transitory. Islam determines punishments such as cutting off the hand of a thief while democracy tries to rehabilitate him. In Islam the state is the main mechanism for imposing the commandments of religion (Shari’a) while democracy prefers a separation of religion and state. In Islam the religious figure rules in the name of Allah (as in Iran) and democracy is led by a group of elected individuals in the name of the people.

Despite this, Turkey is an example that shows, especially after 2002, that there is a nexus between Islam and democracy, and the proof is Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party.


It could be that the events of the past week shatter the Turkish example too, because difficult questions do arise from them: Is the rage of the secular citizens directed against Erdoğan personally or against the Islamic culture that he represents? And if he is so democratic, why does his opposition equate him with Hitler and the Nazis? And why does he need to use such violent and undemocratic means to break up the demonstrations that should be allowed in a democracy? And perhaps all this “democracy” of his was only a means to take control of the state and then to impose Islam upon it? And if he puts journalists in prison because they criticized him, will he allow politicians to criticize him when it is time for the next elections?


All of these doubts are an expression of the fear that actually a nexus
between Islam and democracy is not possible, and even the Turkish example worked for only a limited time period. Meanwhile, an Israeli has written a book on Turkey entitled “Demo-Islam” and it will be interesting to see if the theory will stand up to the test of reality.

Originally published at Israel and Terrorism.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/it-was-erdogans-fault/2013/06/07/

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