Secular Muslims

This amused:

Turkish President Recep Erdoğan has accused Israel of carrying out a “genocide” as more than 50 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in one day of protests.

Well, nobody could accuse the Turks of having a consistent understanding of the term “genocide”, so it’s unsurprising their president continues to struggle with it.

The Turkish president accused Israel of being a “terrorist state” and announced he would pull ambassadors out of Israel and the US. The announcement came as the US moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, inflaming protests on the Israeli border in Gaza.

This is also to be expected. As support for the Palestinians has waned in the Arab world, particularly among those countries on the Arabian Peninsula, Erdogan has stepped in to fill the void. In parallel, he seems keen to turn the once-secular Turkey into an authoritarian, low-level Islamist state along the lines of contemporary Iran. He may not go as far as the Mullahs but his reforms have seen Islam being shoved to forefront in areas such as education where it was previously absent, and I suspect it is a matter of time before women are unable to walk the streets in some areas without a headscarf. I note that Erdogan is in London at the moment on an official visit; strangely absent are protests over his jailing of journalists, persecution of political opponents, gutting of the judiciary, assault on civil liberties, and erosion of women’s rights. Let’s bear this in mind when Trump comes to visit. Personally, I’m disappointed that nobody from the British government has brought any of this up with Erdogan and the press don’t seem interested in doing so either, but between the current government and media it’s a toss-up between which is the more useless.

I was watching France 24 this morning and it showed a protest march through the streets of Istanbul in opposition to the opening of the new US embassy. They interviewed a woman decked out in a headscarf and carrying a plastic model of a mosque, who I suspect was Syrian rather than Turkish (a lot of refugees have crossed the border). She screamed that “Jerusalem was Muslim”, and if she had anything to say in addition, France 24 neglected to share it with us. However, before that they interviewed a man in his 50s who began with:

“As a Muslim, I…”

Us westerners are – correctly- encouraged not to lump all Muslims together as one homogeneous group, but these efforts are somewhat hampered by Muslims themselves.

A year or so back I met a Turkish lady here in Paris who was as westernised as it’s possible to get in terms of education, lifestyle, social relations, and political outlook. She ate pork, drank alcohol, and claimed she was totally secular. Having got to know her quite well, I believed her. And then Trump signed Executive Order 13769 prohibiting entry to the US for people coming from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. My friend bought wholesale into the notion that this was a “Muslim ban” and she was incensed, because she believed it a result of blatant Islamaphobia on the part of Trump and, sooner or later, these policies were going to effect her. I had several lengthy, heated arguments with her during which I pointed out the seven countries were not selected because they have Muslim majorities but because the civil infrastructure has collapsed in each to the point they cannot verify who is coming and going from their end (Iran being the exception). She was having none of it, and believed she had a right to be concerned and angry at what she saw as a blatantly Islamaphobic policy.

I went away and thought about this. What has someone from Turkey got in common with someone from Libya, Sudan, Yemen, or Somalia? Absolutely nothing whatsoever, and the Turks would be first to insist upon it, but with one exception: Islam. The one and only reason a Turk would oppose US visa restrictions on someone from Sudan is out of Muslim solidarity; there is absolutely no other reason which could apply. So my next thought was why somebody claiming to be secular would be loudly championing the rights of people from collapsed nations in a state of civil war on the grounds of Muslim solidarity?

When I tell people I’m secular, I don’t follow that up by denouncing Trump’s border wall on the grounds that Mexicans are Christian. Nor do I back the Philippines in their territorial disputes with China out of religious solidarity. When I say I’m secular, it means my nominal Christianity does not influence my political or social opinions in any way. But to my friend it seemed to mean something else, so I confronted her. Her first reaction was one of utter shock; she didn’t seem to have realised there was any contradiction in claiming to be secular one minute and raving about Trump’s “Muslim ban” the next. When it dawned on her, she got quite upset.

I realised then what I’d probably known since I lived in the Middle East all those years ago: a secular Muslim is quite different from a secular anything else, and often not very secular at all. I’d noticed back then how often I’d meet a very modern, westernised Lebanese, Egyptian, or Arab who would for all outward appearances be very secular. Then without warning they’d start raving about the Jews, or swearing the Koran represents the word of God. And I don’t know how many stories I’ve heard of western or Russian women getting involved with modern, secular Muslim men only to find they’re nothing of the sort.

But the experience with my Turkish friend was perhaps the most interesting. Here was the most secular Muslim you could ever hope to meet, and one would have thought she would have recognised the elected US government’s right to set visa policy and understood their security concerns. Yet when push came to shove, her being Muslim mattered and that came before anything else. It’s worth bearing this in mind over the coming years as Ataturk’s secular republic slowly gets replaced with something else. It’s also worth remembering when we’re told not to treat Muslims as a homogeneous bloc.

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Protests in Iran

There are numerous reports on Twitter that protests have broken out in several towns and cities in Iran. There is a video circulating of an astonishingly brave woman chanting “Death to Khamenei” in front of law enforcement officers, and another of posters of Khomeini and Khamenei being burned. There are other reports that the police are no longer enforcing the detested 1979 law compelling women to wear a headscarf in public, and one young woman has taken the opportunity to stand on a bollard, hair uncovered, and wave a flag. What is significant about these protests is that people on the streets are actively preventing the authorities from arresting their fellow protesters, and the police have so far declined to get heavy-handed.

From what I can tell, the protests are mainly about economics, with people asking why Iran is spending so much money on terrorism and political meddling abroad while things deteriorate at home. Apparently some are shouting “No Gaza, No Lebanon, our lives are devoted to Iran”. Interestingly, I recently heard some grumblings from Russians about Putin expending money and effort in Syria rather than improving living conditions at home.

The last time there were protests of this size in Iran was 2009 following elections, and Barack Obama declined to back the protesters, effectively siding with the regime. This time around we have Donald Trump in the White House and, surprise surprise, he’s not fucking about:

This is winning him support in unlikely quarters, with some centrist Democrats now referring to Obama’s silence in 2009 as an “error”. Others have pointed out that far from being an error, this was entirely consistent with Obama’s policy of sucking up to America’s sworn enemies in the hope of avoiding difficult foreign policy dilemmas on his watch, and in the case of Iran, signing that ludicrous nuclear deal in the hope of securing his “legacy”. It would be highly ironic if the despotic Iranian regime is overthrown by its own people while Trump is in charge: a constant refrain from his critics has been that his bellicose language towards the Mullahs is unhelpful and only serves to rally the people around their government. Turns out America throwing its moral support behind people trampled on by their governments actually gives them encouragement. Who knew?

Of course, this is giving a lot of people a headache, for two reasons. Firstly, it shows that Obama’s policy towards Iran was seriously ill-considered, but criticism of the Messiah is verbotten in media circles. Secondly, it makes Trump look good. This is why CNN has barely mentioned the protests, preferring instead to ask why Trump doesn’t own a pet. One would have also thought that certain American feminists might feel a little embarrassed about calling themselves brave while marching in Washington wearing pussy-hats in order to listen to sharia-supporting Linda Sarsour praise Islam, but I think we established long ago these morons are incapable of shame.

It also gives the usual conspiracy-mongers a problem. Normally when protests appear in a country whose population has suffered under decades of dysfunctional government, idiots from both sides of the political spectrum immediately blame the CIA or the Jews/Israel. It never occurs to them that maybe ordinary people can get fed up with a lifetime of misrule, but now they may be forced to. It’s going to be pretty hard to claim that the CIA has been active in Iran and paying Iranians to protest their government, and it’s going to be even harder to convince anyone that a nefarious cabal of Jews has done the same. That said, I expect we’ll still get the usual bollocks about a pipeline within a few weeks.

Personally, I’m glad the Iranians have taken to the streets. The Iranians are not stupid, bloodthirsty savages bent on the eradication of Israel and the US, by contrast they appear to be relatively sensible people ruled by theocratic despots who I’d like to see hanging from lampposts, upside down and on fire. I would love to see regime change in Iran, but it could only come from within, at the hands of the Iranians themselves; if it came about via external force it would be a disaster. Regardless of what happens now, and I expect the government will break up the protests and regain control before too long, the Ayatollah’s regime is now looking vulnerable. The people have shown the world they are not supportive of the bullshit their leaders spout, and I am confident they want a more modern, open society and less backward theocracy. In a brittle regime, protests like these taken on an importance which far outweighs their actual size and, unlike in the Arab springs, I am more confident what will follow the eventual collapse of theocratic rule in Iran will be an improvement.

Finally, the person who ought to be watching proceedings in Iran very closely is Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He seems keen on establishing in Turkey a theocratic Islamist regime similar to that of Iran, and the two countries are keen allies in the stand-off between the various Arab countries in the Gulf. If the Iranian regime falls the one that replaces it might not like him very much. The Turkish people might also get the idea that they have options to resist encroaching religious despotism after all.

All in all, this is encouraging. Let’s see what happens.

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Recep Erdogan, leader of Muslims

From the BBC:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has urged leaders of Muslim nations to recognise Jerusalem as the “occupied capital of the Palestinian state”.

The BBC’s Mark Lowen in Istanbul says the rhetoric at the start of the OIC summit was strong.

But the question is what in practice the grouping can do, he adds, given the fact some members are more pro-Trump than others.

Actually, the issue has little to do with Trump. Every generation a Muslim leader fancies himself as the leader of Muslims everywhere or, to begin with, regional boss: the Saudis, being custodians of the two holy sites, believe it should be their king; Egypt’s Nasser pushed his way to the front during the years when Arab nationalism was fashionable; Libya’s Gaddafi was always blathering about forming some pan-Arab-African union or other, headed by himself of course; the Iranians don’t shy away from the role of religious leadership especially among the Shia, but have now spilled into Sunni areas like Syria and Qatar where previously they weren’t welcome. Now we have Erdogan putting himself forward as the natural leader of the region and, he hopes, Muslims everywhere.

He might as well try putting himself at the head of the Combined Manchester and Liverpool Football Supporters Club while wearing a red shirt. If there is one thing Muslims in the Middle East hate more than Jews it is other Muslims from a different sect or tribe thinking they’re in charge. Erdogan probably lacks the self-awareness and sense of Arab history to understand that any attempt to rally Muslims under his banner will be met with suspicion as to his motives, and have the Saudis calling the Israelis for transcripts of his phone calls.

One of the main reasons Israel has survived for so long is because its enemies are more distrustful of one another than they are of Israel itself. Erdogan is probably going to find this out before too long:

Mr Erdogan instead urged a unified response by Muslim nations to Mr Trump’s Jerusalem decision.

“I invite all the countries that value international law and justice to recognise Jerusalem as the occupied capital of the Palestinian state,” he said.

Good luck with that.

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Trump is a Puppet of [Insert Country]!

From the Washington Post:

Erdogan’s government began cultivating Donald Trump’s team before the election. Michael Flynn, then a campaign aide, was hired as a pro-Turkey lobbyist, and his firm continued to receive Turkish money during the transition. After Flynn resigned as national security adviser in February, the Turks began working with Rudy Giuliani, a close Trump adviser.

So, having utterly failed to turn up a shred of evidence of collusion with Russia, those who don’t like Trump move the narrative effortlessly onto collusion with Turkey.

Is anyone sane still listening to this crap?

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Minorities and Trump

Via the comments at David Thompson’s place, I bring you this televised discussion from Australia’s ABC featuring our favourite Laurie Penny. Naturally, she kicks things off by pandering to whatever oppressed minorities she thinks are within earshot…

I’d like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land we’re meeting on. I’m really hoping I’m going to say this right! The Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, and pay my respect to their elders past, present and future.

…before addressing the global issues of the day by talking mostly about herself. So far, so Laurie, but this isn’t really what I want to write about.

What’s more interesting is this statement made by one of the other panelists by the name of Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, an American who is the founder and editor of MuslimGirl, an online magazine for Muslim women:

I think the problem is that people are voting for Trump in the first place. You know, I think THAT’S the problem that we have to address here, not the way that we choose to respond to that. If anything, we should make it so that there’s zero tolerance for those kind of attitudes to exist within our society. There’s no room for that type of intolerance. I mean, look at what happened, right? We started giving Trump air time in the media and giving him an opportunity to present his racist ideologies as a position on a policy platform.

It resulted in him actually getting elected. And now it resulted in white supremacist rallies in the streets, Neo-Nazis going like this again. You know, we really just regressed several generations backward. All this hard work for us to get to this point to make it unacceptable to be racist? Now it’s out in the open again.

Naturally, nobody challenged her on this, with the host preferring to lob soft questions at the panelists, who were all in agreement with one another.

Leaving aside the childish, cartoonish portrayal of Trump, his campaign, and his supporters that contributed to his being elected in the first place, Al-Khatahtbeh is saying that nobody who disagrees with her should be allowed to run for office and present their policies. Sure, it’s dressed up as anti-racism but the definition of racism is now so broad it basically means anyone who isn’t a Democrat or acting like one.

With the election of Obama, the political classes and their lackeys thought the battle was won and their politics would prevail forever. They believed they’d silenced any opposing voices and they had the run of the place. Some may even have equated the silence for satisfaction, but most would be content just to keep the other side silent. As I have said many times, Trump’s election was a warning shot across the bows of the political class that there is no such consensus on the future of American politics and they’d better start listening to people. Having thought the other side had surrendered and laid down their arms, Trump’s election has shaken the likes of Al-Khatahtbeh to the core. This is why they’re lashing out with unhinged statements like the one above.

As I am fond of saying, Trump is a symptom, not a cause. And as I have argued recently, Americans are rather fortunate that the symptom came in the form of an elderly billionaire whose worst habit is shooting his mouth off. It could have been very much worse. What Al-Khatahtbeh and her ilk don’t realise is that it was precisely the shutting down of rational political discourse and putting topics such as immigration and Islam out of bounds for debate that prompted millions to vote for Trump. He said things that no-one else would, and it propelled him into the White House. If the political classes and lackeys like Al-Khatahtbeh succeed in their efforts to silence Americans, they will likely respond by voting in an absolute bastard who will ensure their side prevails in future – using exactly the same methods and laws that Al-Khatahtbeh’s lot used on them.

I’m not about to compare Donald Trump with Turkey’s Recep Erdoğan, but I still think it’s worth seeing how the latter came to power. Put simply, he had the numbers. While the Metropolitan chattering classes dismissed his supporters as uneducated peasants or religious fanatics, he slowly built a movement which catapulted him to almost unlimited power. His arguments didn’t need to be good, because he positioned himself as a man of the people, a leader of those who the elites had ignored and silenced for decades. Sure he preyed on ignorance, but which politician doesn’t? Clinton? Obama? Puh-lease.

Erdoğan’s biggest weapon was the establishment itself: they had neglected millions of rural-dwellers, they were dismissive of their concerns, and they did seem to be running things to benefit themselves in a way which could be argued (and was argued) was contradictory to the character and beliefs of the Turkish people. They also used the judiciary for political purposes: how do you think those suspected of Communist leanings fared in Turkey during the Cold War? It makes it an awful lot easier for the new guy to chuck his opponents in jail if his predecessors have been doing the same thing for years. It becomes a matter of degree, not form.

Again, I’m not endorsing Erdoğan’s policies or comparing him to Trump, I’m merely pointing out how he rose to power, i.e. by pointing to the failings of the established order, using their own techniques against them, and – crucially – having the numbers on his side. Anyone who doesn’t think a nasty bastard could take a similar route to power in the USA is woefully complacent, and people like Al-Khatahtbeh are borderline delusional. From Wikipedia:

Islam is the third largest faith in the United States, after Christianity and Judaism, representing 0.9% of the population.

That’s a rounding error. If I held such a minority status somewhere, I’m not sure I’d be on national television saying the majority should be banned from speaking their minds. I have an uncomfortable feeling that historians may come to view Trump as one of the most benign presidents of the 21st century. As I said, they’re lucky it’s him.

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Four Stories for a Saturday

Four completely unrelated stories caught my attention today.

The first:

Michelle Obama has launched a fierce defence of the healthy eating initiatives she championed as first lady.

In thinly-veiled criticism of the policies of the new administration, Mrs Obama told the audience: “This is where you really have to look at motives, you know.

“You have to stop and think, why don’t you want our kids to have good food at school? What is wrong with you? And why is that a partisan issue? Why would that be political? What is going on?”

You know, perhaps American parents don’t want to be told what to feed their children, adopting the rather old-fashioned view that maybe they are best placed to decide? And perhaps they don’t like being lectured by a woman whose sole reason for anyone knowing her name is that she happened to be the wife of a president whose policies were soundly rejected at the last election. Would it have been too much to ask that she maintain a dignified silence once her husband left office?

While in the White House, Mrs Obama championed the “Let’s Move” campaign, which encourages exercise and healthy eating among young people.

She being uniquely positioned to decide what constitutes healthy eating for millions of people, of course.

The second:

At least 20 people have died after a tourist bus fell from a cliff near the southern Turkey seaside resort of Marmaris.

Another 11 were injured when the driver lost control of the minibus and ploughed through a crash barrier.

Local media said no foreign tourists were among the passengers.

About 40 people were on board, according to Amric Cicek, governor of Mugla province, who suggested the brakes may have stopped working.

But the mayor of Marmaris, Ali Acar, told Turkish newspaper Hurriyet: “I think that the accident was a result of driver error.”

This is a reminder that, for all of Turkey’s recent economic growth and the emergence of a decent airline, its roads remain dangerous places. The government really ought to do something about this, if it can find time.

The third:

Prime Minister of Canada and internet darling Justin Trudeau has shown the rest of the world’s leaders how to do publicity once again – by bringing his three-year-old to the office.

Of course, it’s not the first time the 45-year-old internet-savvy politician has caught global attention.

The liberal politician has been applauded by his supporters for supporting Syrian refugees, marching at a gay pride parade, and openly declaring himself a feminist.

Naturally, the BBC fails to realise that these antics are precisely why much of the world think him a laughing stock.

“So precious … I’m old enough to remember seeing photos released of you and your dad [former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau] when you were little,” one Facebook commenter volunteered.

Would that be the one where he’s being held by family hero Fidel Castro?

If only we were able to get the view on Trudeau from Cuban Facebook commenters.

The fourth:

A Mexican businesswoman who headed a group of 600 families searching for their disappeared relatives has been killed.

Miriam Rodríguez Martínez was shot in her home in the town of San Fernando in Tamaulipas state.

She was known for successfully investigating the kidnap and murder of her daughter by a local drug cartel, the Zetas.

The information she gave the police ensured the gang members were jailed.

A brave, brave woman indeed.

The group she established was part of a wider trend which mushroomed after the October 2014 disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa in the southwestern state of Guerrero.

Frustrated by a lack of government help, groups of families began their own searches for people who had disappeared in their areas, taking courses in forensic anthropology, archaeology, law, buying caving equipment and becoming experts in identifying graves and bones.

There are now at least 13 of these groups across the country.

One of the points overlooked by those who oppose Trump’s immigration policies is that the current practice of allowing Mexicans to move to the USA and remit monies back home is that it drastically reduces the pressure on the ruling elites to sort the place out. The USA acts as the safety valve for Mexican governmental fecklessness, and short of an incentive to do anything other than keep themselves wealthy and protected, the country is rapidly becoming a failed state. The fact that relatives of murdered citizens have had to form their own forensic teams because the police can’t or won’t do the job shows just how bad things have got. When the Mexican government started squawking about the wall, Trump should have slapped their president around the face with a strong right hand (or perhaps got Mattis to do it) and put these feckless parasites firmly in their place. Although there is the argument that American drug laws is what has created this situation, but if that’s the case then let’s hear the Mexicans make it.

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The US to arm the Kurds

From the BBC:

US President Donald Trump has approved supplying weapons to Kurdish forces fighting so-called Islamic State (IS) in Syria, the Pentagon says.

Well, why not? They seem to be the only bunch out there that don’t completely hate us. If we’re going to insist on giving people weapons, might as well be the Kurds.

The US was “keenly aware” of Turkey’s concerns about such a move, she said.

Turkey views the Kurdish rebels as terrorists and wants to stop them taking more territory in Syria.

Turkey? Presumably they mean the nation whose president recently said:

“If Europe continues this way, no European in any part of the world can walk safely on the streets.”

And whose interior minister said:

“If you want, we could open the way for 15,000 refugees that we don’t send each month and blow the mind of Europe”

And the same Turkey whose pro-government newspapers say things like this:

President Erdoğan is totally right to compare the situation to a struggle between the cross and the crescent. And so is Minister Çavuşoğlu arguing that holy wars will soon begin in Europe. The refusal by the West to accept the equality of Muslims and Muslim nations is the sign of a clash of civilizations.

If you have decided to clench your fists, you are getting ready for a fight; if you hit, you will be hit back.

President Erdoğan and other government officials are raising their voices since Western governments have aggrieved Turks and Muslims.

Turks are warning one last time. They are asking: “Are you aware that you are playing with fire? What on earth is going on? Are you insane?” The rest is up to the Western governments.

Turkey has chosen sides, nailing its colours firmly to the mast. And now the US is arming its enemies.

Pentagon sources told the BBC that the equipment would include ammunition, small arms, machine guns, heavy machine guns, construction equipment such as bulldozers and armoured vehicles.

And if the threats keep up, maybe a MANPAD or two. Over to you, President Erdoğan.

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Erdoğan Tackles the Major Issues

Fresh off the back of his referendum victory and becoming the next Ottoman Sultan, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gets to work:

The Turkish government has sacked almost 4,000 more public officials in what appears to be the latest purge related to a failed coup last July.

They include more than 1,000 justice ministry workers, a similar number of army staff and more than 100 air force pilots, officials said.

Which comes as no surprise. This does, though:

In a separate decree, Turkey banned TV dating shows – a move previously mooted by the government.

I have it on good authority that nobody who has ever watched a Turkish TV dating show could possibly object to this on any grounds whatsoever. But what is ironic is that the bulk of the audience for these sort of shows would have most likely voted Yes in the recent referendum. The UK equivalent would be chavs voting Labour thus handing them victory, and then finding the incoming government wants to ban Jeremy Kyle.

I wonder how long before online dating sites are banned, too?

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Turkey and the Armenian Genocide

Yesterday I noticed there was a lot of chatter on the internet about the Armenian genocide which took place in 1915. Denial of the Armenian genocide is a criminal offence in France, and I’m not about to get myself chucked in jail, deported, or ceremoniously guillotined in front of the offices of Turkish Airlines by doing any such thing. And the same goes for the comments: when the blade is about to be dropped, my bleatings that “It was my commenters!” will fall only on the deaf ears of the man about to cut the rope, so behave you lot. (Especially you, TNA!) Besides, regardless of the law I am woefully ill-informed to comment on the matter of what occurred, when, and how.

What I want to say is that the issue has come down to a solitary word – genocide. Armenia and a good few other nations want Turkey to acknowledge that genocide took place, whereas the Turks themselves take issue pretty much only with the use of this particular word. The problem is, even moderate Turks aren’t much in the mood to concede on this point, it’s not just the raving, ultra-nationalist fans of Erdoğan who are being stubborn. From what I understand, the issue holds such significance that any politician willing to concede on this particular word would be committing political suicide: Turkey has staked its national pride on it, and it’s not going to budge.

Part of the problem is there isn’t really a solution. In the case of other seemingly intractable issues (Northern Ireland, Crimea, etc.) there is always a compromise involving power sharing, land swaps, etc. as well as formal apologies and acknowledgements. On the issue of the Armenian genocide and the use of that particular word there is not much room to compromise. No acknowledgement from Turkey that does not include the word “genocide” will be accepted, and Turkey won’t acquiesce to using the term. There is no more room to meet in the middle.

Often these things are solved with the passage of time. I am reliably told that the animosity between Greeks and Turks has lessened considerably as the older generations died out and the younger ones weren’t sure what all the fuss was about. But a hundred years on and the Armenian genocide isn’t going away, in part because Armenia defines itself so much on this issue and they have a powerful lobbying ability (I’m not saying these are bad things, I’m simply pointing out facts). The Armenians aren’t going to drop the subject, and the Turks aren’t going to concede.

Perhaps in a few more generations Turks will have evolved politically and socially to the point where they no longer consider this a trench worth fighting to death in, but the way things are moving with Erdoğan I expect things to get worse before they get better. Either way, it’s not going to be resolved any time soon.

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The Referendum in Turkey

So Turkish citizens at home and abroad have decided they want a presidential system of government rather than a parliamentary one. This makes them more like France than Britain. So far so meh.

The change has been pushed by the incumbent president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who spent eleven years as prime minister. The change has been sold on the basis that Turkey is facing various threats – terrorism, separatists Kurds, refugees, a civil war next door – and without these changes things will only get worse. The campaign for change was run not merely on the basis that an executive president will be able to better manage these issues, but that Erdoğan was uniquely placed to deal with them personally. The result was not so much a reflection of Turkey’s desire to be ruled by a president as much as a desire to be ruled by Erdoğan himself.

I say this because the result surprised me. Erdoğan has always polled around the 51-52% mark and because of this many people believed the same split would occur in this referendum. But referenda are not elections. Elections are between two or more candidates and one must make a choice, often while holding one’s nose. A referendum usually has nothing to do with the individuals involved, and a fine example of this was Brexit: nobody wanted Nigel Farage as a Prime Minister and UKIP did not poll particularly well in General Elections. But people still voted to leave anyway, because the issue of EU membership was detached from ordinary party politics and the individuals who represent them. Initially I thought this might be the same in Turkey, only to be proven quite wrong when the results came out. It is looking obvious that the constitutional changes being voted on were inextricably linked to Erdoğan himself.

There’s nothing new here, and the number of parallels that can be drawn between Erdoğan and others is long. The most obvious is with Russia’s president Vladimir Putin. He managed to sidestep presidential term limits in 2008 by moving to prime minister, taking his powers with him and installing a puppet in the form of Dmitry Medvedev as president, before the two swapped positions again in 2012. Since at least 2007, Putin has drummed up fears of Russia facing terrible threats, mainly in the form of alleged Western plots to encircle and then dismember Russia (possibly massacring all its people in the process), that he is uniquely placed to deal with. Putin has positioned himself such that Russia is Putin and vice versa, and without him the entire nation will be at the mercy of nefarious foreigners who (for some reason that is never quite explained) hate Russia and Russians. This sort of rhetoric plays well in Russia, and Putin is genuinely popular as a result (although how much, in the absence of a free press and a decent opposition, is open to question). Russians have always been ready to buy into the idea that foreigners want them destroyed and throughout their history they have been happy to be ruled by an authoritarian strongman and adopt a siege mentality, eating raw potatoes and shivering in the dark in defiance of their enemies who, if we’re honest, barely know they exist.

Erdoğan seems to be adopting a similar approach. He has ramped up the rhetoric against the West, promoting himself as the natural leader of the Islamic world and determined to make Turkey a force to be reckoned with. While Putin fancies himself as the next Catherine the Great, Erdoğan wants to be seen as the next Ataturk (or possibly an Ottoman Sultan). In other words, he’s a man in search of  a legacy, and I’ve written about this before:

So what of Putin’s legacy? If Russia hangs onto Crimea, which it probably will, it might warrant a note in a history book somewhere (offered as much prominence as Khrushchev’s transfer of the peninsula in 1954, which few knew about until recently). But it’s hardly the stuff to warrant a mention alongside Katherine the Great or Ivan the Terrible. As I said at the beginning of this post, the modern-day politician (of which Putin is one, no matter how much he wishes he belonged to another era) just doesn’t think big enough to create a proper legacy. In the grand scheme of things, the annexation of Crimea is mere fiddling, and expensively at that.

Like his predecessors, Putin found even with seemingly unlimited political power, plenty of popular support, and no opposition that Russia was fiendishly difficult to change. It has not become the great power that he wanted, feared and respected by all. Addressing the issues of corruption, collapsing demographics, alcoholism, an economy dependent on oil and gas exports, and a largely conscripted military have all proven to be beyond Putin’s capabilities and probably anyone else’s as well. With the exception of the Crimean land grab, very little has changed in Russia since 2008 that is not directly attributable to the waxing and waning of the global economy and the oil price. There is a lot of inertia in a nation and they are often resistant to change (ask the French): Putin has proven that it takes a lot more than an authoritarian strongman with plenty of angry rhetoric to take a country in a new direction in the twenty-first century.

I suspect Erdoğan will find much the same thing. Indeed, I’d say his job is only just beginning. He’s put himself forward as the man who will solve the twin issues of Kurdish separatism and jihadist terrorism single-handedly and the nation has given their approval for him to do so. Well, good luck with that. All eyes on you, old chap. And unlike Putin he doesn’t have anywhere near the popular support that his Russian counterpart enjoys: his referendum scraped through 51% to 49% and the three largest cities voted No. If he isn’t delivering results soon he might find himself somewhat under siege himself. Sure, he can crack more heads and throw more people in jail and increase the hyperbole against the West and the half of the country that don’t support him, but that will only make his job more difficult. And he also faces the challenge of keeping Turkey’s economy growing while all this is going on. I suspect foreign investors are already nervous of putting money into a place where an all-powerful president is now railing against the EU and banging the Islamist drum ever-louder. Like Putin, much of his popularity will depend on how much he can keep ordinary Turks convinced their lives are getting better under his rule, and that for most people means jobs and money. It is true that much of Turkey is shit-poor and this will not be a difficult feat to pull off, but Turkey has no real history of hunkering down for a lengthy siege against imaginary outside enemies bent on their destruction and taking the lifestyle hit that this entails. By contrast, one would be forgiven for thinking Russians have to adopt this pose in order to feel fully alive.

My guess is not much will change in Turkey. Sure, opposition politicians will find their heads cracked and journalists will be chucked in jail and the state institutions will become thoroughly corrupted. But it’s not like this wasn’t happening before. What sort of freedom of expression did Communists or Islamists enjoy under the old regime? Not that I like either group, but there’s not been a fundamental shift here, merely the targets of the police batons have changed. The more Erdoğan tries to build his “legacy”, the more he will get bogged down in intractable problems that lie deep within Turkish society and he will begin to make a serious of blunders which, thanks to his lofty new position, will have his name all over them. Erdoğan doesn’t even have the luxury of being a new face that can expect a honeymoon period of a few years. As I said before:

There are limits to what people can do in office, and that is often driven by time. A two-term president in the US is usually in charge of a very tired administration in the final couple of years, regardless of how good they’ve been beforehand. Even New Labour’s supporters were glad to see the back of Tony Blair after 10 years as Prime Minister; Margaret Thatcher left Downing Street a tired shadow of the vibrant woman who had entered almost 12 years previously; and despite the economic boom and rise in living standards Australia enjoyed under 11 years of John Howard, the population felt they were in need of a change when they kicked him out. The optimum period in office for a leader in a modern democracy is approximately 7-8 years, after which their administration is plagued by various scandals, stumbling policies, tired rhetoric, and a population that has gotten tired of seeing the same damned face on the TV every night and could use a change. Even the Soviet leaders eventually departed, unable to fulfill any more promises or bring about change in the way they could when they first took over. With the exception of Stalin, few missed them.

Personally, I think he’s got a mountain to climb, one of his own making. If his current politics are anything to go by, he’ll do extremely well not to destroy the economy and usher in a lengthy period of stagnation and decline making him a figure in the vein of Hosni Mubarak. His idea that Turkey can adopt a belligerent attitude to the EU, US, as well as its regional neighbours such as Iran and Russia are delusional: a combination of any of those could make life extremely difficult for him, and if they really wanted to they could crush him pretty quickly. A mischievous foreign power could start arming the Kurds, for example, something nobody has been willing to do – yet. God knows what thoughts run through Trump’s head on any given day, but Turkey’s membership of Nato – even assuming the alliance survives – is becoming ever-more questionable, and if the country lurches towards Islamism some senator might find a bill to cease supplying Turkey with weapons to be a vote winner. Who will Erdoğan buy his equipment from then? Russia? China?

There is a chance Erdoğan turns Turkey into the next Venezuela or Iran, but frankly, who cares? Since the end of the Cold War Turkey’s strategic importance has dwindled, and other than the refugee issue (which can easily be solved if politicians so desire) the future of the West is not in any way dependent on Turkey. Sure, it’s a bit shit for the 49% who didn’t want this but it’s up to them to get themselves out of this mess. One of the big mistakes I think people are making, including a lot of Turks themselves, is believing Erdoğan’s support is made up exclusively of backward, conservative, uneducated peasants in the centre of the country. We heard the same remarks levelled at Leave voters after Brexit and Trump voters after the US presidential election. I suppose it is comforting to say that all of those who are educated, intelligent, and have been exposed to international systems all voted No in the Turkish referendum, but I have a hard time believing that 49% of the oh-so-clever part of the population lost to the 51% who are farmers who can’t read or write. The truth is that, like Trump and Leave voters, there will be plenty of Turks who are smart, educated, and well-travelled who – for various reasons – support Erdoğan. The Turks who voted No might want to find out who those people are and understand those reasons before throwing their toys out of the pram.

For me, the real danger lies in what I’ve written about before:

I hope I’m wrong about this, but Erdoğan may well have made the mistake moderate left wingers made time and time again: they purged the opposition of right-wingers but failed to notice the hardcore Communists sneaking up on their left flank, and by the time they realised the danger they were being stood against a brick wall facing a machine gun. In his hurry to neuter his political opponents and boost his support, Erdoğan may have done away with the very people he now needs to tackle extremism within Turkey and allowed extremists elements to infiltrate those institutions on which the survival of the Republic depends.

By far the biggest problem facing Turkey in the wake of this referendum is not Erdoğan but the one who succeeds him. It might be that, if people are fed up with him and want things to go back to how they were, all of these changes will be undone by the next guy who will reinstate the parliamentary system. That is the best thing that can happen. The worst thing that can happen is extremists think Erdoğan has not gone far enough in turning Turkey into an Islamist basket-case and get rid of him, and a headcase takes over with all these shiny new powers to play with. Then you’ll start seeing even Yes voters tossed in jail (or worse) by the thousand and they’ll learn a harsh lesson about the limits of presidential power. They’d not be the first ones.

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