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Archive for the ‘Current Affairs’ Category

When I met Tony: No Reservations in Istanbul

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Back in 2010, when I was still living in İstanbul, or rather in the rundown area known only as Tarlabaşı, situated right next to yet worlds removed from the hip and fashionable area that was Beyoğlu, I used to frequent a small kebap place. A small establishment carrying the improbable name Dürümzade and quite well-known amongst those in the know, well-known as the premier spot to buy and eat a tasty dürüm or ‘Turkish wrap’ as called by the small yet immensely useful culinary guide Istanbul Eats. The spot is located at the very edge of Beyoğlu, right before you hit Tarlabaşı Bulvarı and is thus frequented by all sorts of clientele, ranging from hungry trannies over tough local strongmen to hipsters wearing small hats and the like. As such, I had been a regular ever since I moved to Tarlabaşı two years previously, and the guys knew me by name and invariably tried to get my advice for breaking into the international and preferably, American, market. One day, they asked me to come over as an American chef accompanied by a film crew was scheduled to visit them for a shoot. Quite naturally, I agreed to hop over and offer any kind of assistance I’d be able to provide . . . On the day, I went there at the appointed hour, thinking to myself, just imagine if Anthony Bourdain were to be the expected guest. I arrived, met and greeted the Dürümzade crew when I also bumped into the film crew, a cameraman accompanied by a whole host of other technical guys that make up a film crew. I overheard them saying that Tony should be joining them any minute now. And suddenly, there was Anthony Bourdain standing in front of me – a tall and skinny fellow with a typical New York attitude I imagine . . . I introduced myself, with him retorting that he already had a ‘guide’ to tell him all he needs to know, when I saw this bald geezer popping in addressing “Tony” in a friendly and familiar manner. The Dürümzade guys informed me that he was a cook (or aşcı) working at Swissotel and . . . he had arranged the whole thing for the No Reservations team in order to introduce Bourdain to the Turkish delicacy of offal (which is incidentally, the topic tackled by Istanbul Eats introducing the Dürümzade guys whom the booklet refers to as ‘Wrap Artists’). I was flabbergasted, Anthony Bourdain was visiting Dürümzade and not planning to have a ‘Turkish wrap’. I immediately went to Tony and told him that the one delicacy served by the establishment is dürüm, but the progamme was already made – the bald geezer was to sit down with Bourdain, introducing the various bits of offal on offer with Tony munching away, as per usual. Once the shoot was in the can, Anthony Bourdain proceeded to order dürüm for the whole crew, himself included. He then thanked me, as the ‘wraps’ were “excellent” and we chatted for a bit. A friend of mine who had also arrived on the scene after I’d informed her that Bourdain was in the house via my mobile next attempted to take a picture of me and the visiting Bourdain, standing shoulder to shoulder (yes, turns out, I was a bit taller) . . . Afterwards, it transpired, her attempts at photographic portraiture had been just that, namely attemtps that had come to naught. Hence, my fleeting meeting with the legendary Anthony Bourdain would become nothing but a memory locked in my mind with no visual memento available. We had not talked about anything amounting to much of anything, but it was abundantly clear to me that Tony was a cool guy, a real person with real convinctions and opinions . . . And now, he has apparenly taken his own life in France and the world will move along as it does. After all, every day hundreds if not thousands of people die across the globe – some in horrible ways and others under peaceful circumstances . . . yet, the unique person that was Anthony Bourdain will no longer be part of the human fabric populating the earth and contributring to its malfunctioning . . . Sic transit gloria mundi!!!

Ist Eats

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Easter Island as a metaphor: resource depletion, climate change and the word of God

Easter Island

Sunday’s Zaman, Sunday, 12 December 2010.

On the other side of the world lies Easter Island, located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at a distance of 3,747 kilometers west of Concepción, Chile. Its original inhabitants, the Rapa Nui, are now Chilean citizens (officially since 1966), and number about 3,000, confined to the island’s sheltered west coast, while some have migrated to mainland Chile over time.

In the past few months the island has been in the news occasionally. Since last summer, Rapa Nui activists have been occupying more than two dozen buildings in a “land dispute that dates back to 1888.” The Chilean Santiago Times reported in early August 2010 that “Rapa Nui clans have occupied close to 30 properties on the island, including museums, government-owned buildings, municipal buildings, the local tourism office and a hotel. The Rapa Nui Parliament is also working to increase the importance of Rapa Nui representatives in the Chilean government. Two weeks after Rapa Nui demonstrators began occupying properties on Easter Island, Chile’s government has sent more police [45 officers] to ‘monitor’ the situation.”

But rather than talk about indigenous rights, the vicissitudes of colonization and human rights’ abuses, I would now like to turn to the island’s pre-colonial history as a means to shed some light on our current global predicament. Giant monolithic statues called mo‘ai that can weigh up to 90 tons are Easter Island’s most striking feature (a total of 887 have been inventoried). They were made relatively recently, in the period between 1250 and 1500 CE.

When Europeans arrived on the island it was utterly treeless. Pollen analysis has revealed however that the island was “almost totally” forested until about the year 1200. But now the island is barren. A volcanic crater on the island’s eastern plain, Rano Raraku, provided the source of the sideromelane (basaltic) tuff from which 95% of the statues were carved. Some 250 mo‘ai are found in an almost unbroken line around the perimeter of the island, while 600 others in various stages of completion are scattered around the island. It is hard to imagine that this now barren island was once covered with trees and forests, but as wood and other tree materials were needed to transport the mo‘ai, trees had to be cut down and forests subsequently disappeared. In view of this rapacious resource depletion executed in the space of two and a half centuries, the locals devised narratives that managed to minimize the role of humans destroying the island’s abundant forests.

The environmentally concerned physicist Adam Frank, on the other hand, relates in a matter-of-fact voice that the “need for trees, rope, and food to maintain a population of laborers eventually led to the destruction of the very forests the islanders depended on. After the forests were gone erosion took the soil too. What followed was Easter Island collapsing into starvation, warfare and cannibalism. The chance of escape disappeared too as seafaring canoes require large trees for their hulls.”

A metaphor for the state of planet earth

The Easter Island story is truly a metaphor for the state of planet earth in the 21st century. It presents a bleak picture of the future awaiting our planet as a result of climate change: Resource depletion, soil erosion, desertification, ocean acidification, sea-level rise, habitat destruction, species’ extinction, in addition to overpopulation are some of the most salient problems humanity has ever faced. The Director of Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and Germany’s Chief Government Advisor on Climate and Related Issues Hans Joachim Schellnhuber declared publicly that “We are on our way to a destabilization of the world climate that has advanced much further than most people or their governments realize . . . In nearly all areas, the developments are occurring more quickly than it has been assumed up until now.” Action is urgently needed, and currently the Mexican city of Cancún is hosting the latest round of UN climate talks and negotiations (Nov. 29 – Dec. 10). But the event has so far not produced any positive results. Far from ushering in change we can believe in, President Obama is simply continuing his predecessor’s stance on the Kyoto Protocol and allowing the US Congress not to ratify this internationally binding treaty committing most of the world’s richest countries to making emission cuts. And now Japan has categorically stated its opposition to extending the Protocol.

Christiana Figueres, secretary-general of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, announced that “It is very clear that given the diversity of positions on the Kyoto Protocol it is not going to be possible for Cancun to take a radical decision one way or the other on the Kyoto Protocol.” In a surprising turn of events, Huang Huikang, a special representative for climate change negotiations at China’s Foreign Ministry, said that some nations “want to kill the Kyoto Protocol, to end the Kyoto Protocol . . . This is a very worrying movement.” Worldwide, the three largest emitters of greenhouse gases are China (17 percent), the US (16 percent) and the EU (12 percent). China is trying very hard to convince the world that it is going green, but its power plants remain largely if not primarily coal-powered. Surprisingly, the US also uses coal for about 50% of its energy. After all, the US has the largest coal reserves in the world, which makes for a cheap, though dirty, resource.

Debates deemed ‘unnecessary’

Last week the US House of Representatives’ Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, created by Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2007, held its final meeting. Pelosi set up the Committee to debate the latest developments on climate change issues and research, but following the recent success of Republicans during the mid-term elections, House Republicans deemed such debate “unnecessary.” Next there is the House Energy and Commerce Committee, headed since November 2008 by veteran Democrat Harry Waxman who is to be replaced shortly. One of the contenders to take over is Illinois Republican John Shimkus, a Lutheran by religion practicing climate change denial by vocation. Shimkus will now likely take over the US Energy Commission and has produced such memorable quotes as: “As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, will never cease”, adding, “‘I believe that is the infallible word of God, and that’s the way it is going to be for his creation. The earth will end only when God declares its time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth. This earth will not be destroyed by a flood. Today we have about 388 [carbon doixide] parts per million in the atmosphere. I think in the age of dinosaurs, when we had the most flora and fauna, we were probably at 4,000 parts per million.

There is a theological debate that this is a carbon-starved planet — not too much carbon. And the cost of a cap-and-trade on the poor is now being discovered”. This so-called ‘cap-and-trade’ bill refers to President Obama’s American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 that attempts to limit carbon emissions, and which Shimkus opposes vehemently. In view of such developments, what hope can there be for smaller countries to influence climate negotiations or to promulgate policies that could effect any influence upon the ever-accelerating pace of climate change?

Turkey’s Environment and Forestry Minister Veysel Eroğlu is also in Cancún, but in spite of Turkey’s recent pseudo-Ottoman stance in the world, its record on action regarding climate change is not very impressive. Still, last March, the country’s business leaders held a meeting to “brainstorm about how Turkey’s transition to a low-carbon economy” could be achieved. Emel Türker, spokesperson for Greenpeace Mediterranean, declared recently that the “meetings are continuing in Cancún. The Turkish government is taking part in the meetings without promising to reduce emissions. While climate change knocks at our door with all its disasters, the decision-makers continue to sleep. Taking 19th place in the world in greenhouse gas emissions, Turkey continues its long sleep, claiming that it is a developing country and has contributed little to climate change” — a rather bleak statement with a message that seems to be in line with developments worldwide. The failure of the Cancún talks does not bode well for planet earth’s chances of avoiding a fate similar to, or rather worse than, Easter Island’s and its vanity statues.

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Beyond Cambridge Analytica and Facebook

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All of a sudden people all around the wold have woken up to the fact that we are living in a surveillance state of our own making today . . . This time though, the culprit is not called Big Brother. No, this time the culprit is known as Social Media, with Zuck’s business at the forefront, apparently. Facebook has become a constant and usually unacknowledged presence in most of our lives, most if not all of the time . . . particularly, through the medium of the smartphone or iPhone. These devices have turned into men’s best friend, replacing dogs and cats, and arguably also spouses, lovers, and casual acquaintances. But now, Carole Cadwalladr has revealed that the rabbit hole goes way deeper, and that unscrupulous businessmen eagerly exploit voluntarily proferred personal information, colloquially referred to as data these days, which become Big Data when compiled, collated and aggregated: “Cadwalladr told BBC Radio 4’s Media Show [that the] resulting Observer scoop took more than a year to bring together”.1 The PressGazette‘s Charlotte Tobitt summarises neatly that the “investigation, which was first published in Sunday’s paper (18 March 2018), exposed Cambridge Analytica’s alleged harvesting of the data of 50m Facebook users to influence the US presidential elections. Cadwalladr said the Observer took the decision to share the scoop with Channel 4 News and the New York Times prior to publishing. She [furthermore] told the BBC that Facebook had made a ‘series of missteps’ in responding to the revelations and said it had issued legal threats to deter publication”.2 As a result, now the whole world is talking about the once obscure company called Cambridge Analytica (CA). In fact, already last year, Cadwalladr had broken the story about CA’s involvement in the Brexit vote. In her piece, she took the story back to the year 2013, when “London . . . was still basking in the afterglow of the Olympics. Britain had not yet Brexited. [And t]he world had not yet turned”.3 At the time, her source, ‘a former Cambridge Analytica employee’ whom she called ‘Paul’ told her the following: 2013, “[t]hat was before we became this dark, dystopian data company that gave the world Trump . . . It was back when we were still just a psychological warfare firm”.4

Brexit logo

In the course of her research, Cadwalladr spoke to Professor Jonathan Albright, from Elon University, North Carolina. Cadwalladr explains that Professor Albright “was the first person to map and uncover an entire ‘alt-right’ news and information ecosystem and he was the one who first introduced me to Cambridge Analytica. He called the company a central point in the right’s ‘propaganda machine’, a line I quoted in reference to its work for the Trump election campaign and the referendum Leave campaign. That led to the second article featuring Cambridge Analytica – as a central node in the alternative news and information network that I believed Robert Mercer and Steve Bannon, the key Trump aide who is now his chief strategist [, a position he held till he was dismissed on 18 August 2017], were creating. I found evidence suggesting they were on a strategic mission to smash the mainstream media and replace it with one comprising alternative facts, fake history and rightwing propaganda”.5 As such, Professor Albright had also penned a piece about his concerns in December 2016.6 But all that is neither here nor there. And already in 2015, the ‘writer/researcher’ Harry Davies had published a piece on the Cruz campaign and its links with CA: “Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign is using psychological data based on research spanning tens of millions of Facebook users, harvested largely without their permission, to boost his surging White House run and gain an edge over Donald Trump and other Republican rivals, the Guardian can reveal. A little-known data company, now embedded within Cruz’s campaign and indirectly financed by his primary billionaire benefactor, paid researchers at Cambridge University to gather detailed psychological profiles about the US electorate using a massive pool of mainly unwitting US Facebook users built with an online survey. As part of an aggressive new voter-targeting operation, Cambridge Analytica – financially supported by reclusive hedge fund magnate and leading Republican donor Robert Mercer – is now using so-called “psychographic profiles” of US citizens in order to help win Cruz votes, despite earlier concerns and red flags from potential survey-takers”.*

Professor Jonathan Albright

Back to Cadwalladr and Brexit: in February 2017, the journalist wrote that she “ended up in a Pret a Manger near Westminster with Andy Wigmore, Leave.EU’s affable communications director” in the second half of February 2017.7 Wigmore let Cadwalladr know that “Facebook was the key to the entire campaign” . . . explaining that a Facebook ‘like’ is a “potent weapon”. Wigmore then went on: “[b]ecause using artificial intelligence, as we did, tells you all sorts of things about that individual and how to convince them with what sort of advert. And you knew there would also be other people in their network who liked what they liked, so you could spread. And then you follow them. The computer never stops learning and it never stops monitoring . . . It is creepy! It’s really creepy! It’s why I’m not on Facebook! I tried it on myself to see what information it had on me and I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ What’s scary is that my kids had put things on Instagram and it picked that up. It knew where my kids went to school”.8 As for CA’s relationship with the Brexit vote and the Leave.EU campaign, Wigmore simply said that “[t]hey [meaning Cambridge Analytica] were happy to help”. And they were happy to help “[b]ecause Nigel [Farage] is a good friend of the Mercers. And Robert Mercer introduced them to us. He said, ‘Here’s this company we think may be useful to you.’ What they were trying to do in the US and what we were trying to do had massive parallels. We shared a lot of information. Why wouldn’t you?”.9

*COMPOSITE* CxGYElfW8AAU26A.jpg

Right from the horse’s mouth, as it were . . . Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, the Brexit vote and the Trump victory, they are all interconnected. Or, the real culprit is Facebook, or is it?!?!? Has Facebook become the proverbial Big Brother that has turned its awesome archive of social data into a lucrative commodity for the highest bidder available?!?!? Vladimir Duthier states that “Facebook has been named in a proposed class-action lawsuit accusing it of negligence and it has lost nearly $50 billion in market value. A movement to encourage users to delete their accounts, called #DeleteFacebook, has [also] received lots of attention”.10

Zuck 23

Now that the antics of Cambridge Analytica on Facebook have grabbed everyone’s attention, the intrepid journalist Greg Palast is here to remind us that there is more afoot than the mere monies wielded by the Mercers: “[i]n fact, the dark art of dynamic psychometric manipulation in politics was not pioneered by Cambridge Analytica for Trump, but by i360 Themis, the operation founded by . . . the Brothers Koch. Mark Swedlund, himself an expert in these tools, explained in the film The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, that i360 dynamically tracks you on 1800 behaviors, or as Swedlund graphically puts it . . . “They know the last time you downloaded porn and whether you ordered Chinese food before you voted.” Swedlund adds his expert conclusion: “I think that’s creepy.” The Koch operation and its competitor, DataTrust, use your credit card purchases, cable TV choices and other personal info — which is far more revealing about your inner life than the BS you put on your Facebook profile. Don’t trust DataTrust: This cyber-monster is operated by Karl Rove, “Bush’s Brain,” who is principally funded by Paul Singer, the far Right financier better known as The Vulture”.11

i360

i360 is a data analytics company that maintains “a database of over 250 million 18+ adults, including the 190 million who are registered to vote” sourced from “multiple consumer data compilers”.12

Data Trust

“The Data Trust serves to continually develop a Republican and conservative data ecosystem through voter file collection, development, and enhancement while lowering the cost and barriers to access the data”.13

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Palast explains that the “Cambridge Analytica story was first reported by The Guardian and Observer in 2015. Did we listen? Did any US paper carry the story the British paper worked on for years? So, my first reaction reading this story was nostalgia — for the time when I was a reporter with The Guardian and Observer investigations team. We could spend a year digging deep into complex stories, working with crazy insiders. There, in 2000, I uncovered another cyber-crime: Using database matching to purge felons from Florida voter rolls. (None, in fact, were felons; most were Democrats). I moved back to America, but found I had to give up any hope of doing true, deep investigative reports for newspapers in my own country. US papers will sometimes re-report Guardian news, but American media almost never initiates deep investigation. And THAT, fear of digging out the truth, is a greater threat to America than Steve Bannon”.14

Davies

1 Charlotte Tobitt, “Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr: I became a ‘news slave’ in pursuing Cambridge Analytica data harvesting scoop” PressGazette (22 March 2018).

2 Charlotte Tobitt, “Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr: I became a ‘news slave’ in pursuing Cambridge Analytica data”.

Carole Cadwalladr, “The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked” The Guardian (07 May 2017). https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/07/the-great-british-brexit-robbery-hijacked-democracy.

4 Carole Cadwalladr, “The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked”.

5 Carole Cadwalladr, “The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked”.

6 Jonathan Albright, “Stop worrying about fake news. What comes next will be much worse” The Guardian ( 09 December 2016). https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/09/fake-news-technology-filters.

* Harry Davies, “Ted Cruz using firm that harvested data on millions of unwitting Facebook users” The Guardian (11 December 2015). https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/dec/11/senator-ted-cruz-president-campaign-facebook-user-data.

7 Carole Cadwalladr, “Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media” The Observer (27 Feb 2017). https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/feb/26/robert-mercer-breitbart-war-on-media-steve-bannon-donald-trump-nigel-farage.

8 Carole Cadwalladr, “Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media”.

9 Carole Cadwalladr, “Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media”.

10 Vladimir Duthie, “Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg admits ‘misthttps://www.cbsnews.com/news/facebook-data-cambridge-analytica-mark-zuckerberg-ceo-statement-today-2018-03-30/akes’ in Cambridge Analytica scandal” CBS News (21 March 2018). .

11 Greg Palast, “Cambridge Analytica Ain’t Nuthin: Look Out For i360 and DataTrust” Greg Palast (19 March 2018). http://www.gregpalast.com/cambridge-analytica-aint-nuthin-look-i360-datatrust/.

14 Greg Palast, “Cambridge Analytica Ain’t Nuthin: Look Out For i360 and DataTrust” .

Banksy’s Mural Support for Zehra Doğan

Zehra Dogan

On Thursday, 15 March 2018, the anonymous graffiti artist Banksy, in cooperation with another “graffiti artist [named] Borf“ unveiled a mural depicting Zehra Doğan behind bars on the Bowery in New York City. The anonymous artist even spoke to the New York Times in an attempt to draw public attention to the plight of the imprisoned Turkish artist. Banksy said the following: “I really feel for her. I’ve painted things much more worthy of a custodial sentence”, adding that Dogan had been “[s]entenced to nearly three years in jail for painting a single picture“.1

Zehra Dogan 2 (Banksy, March 18)

Last year, the London-based wrtie and photograpger Perwana Nazif explained that the Turkish-Kurdish painter and journalist Zehra Doğan has been sentenced to two years, nine months, and 22 days in prison for creating a painting which depicted the destruction caused by Turkish security forces in the Nusaybin district of Mardin province, a Kurdish region in Turkey . . . According to Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, the Mardin Second High Criminal Court in Turkey handed down the sentence because she drew Turkish flags on buildings destroyed by Turkish forces. However, according to Artforum, the court expressed that Doğan’s sharing of the image of her work, featuring current military operations, was the cause for her prison sentence“.2

Zehra Dogan (Banksy, March 18)

Doğan herself tweeted “I was given two years and 10 months [of jail time] only because I painted Turkish flags on destroyed buildings. However, [the AKP-led Turkish government] caused this. I only painted it”.3 The tweet has since apparently been deleted. There had been a two-year cease-fire in place between Turkish security forces and the PKK, when the negative election outcome in July 2015 led the Prez Tayyip Erdoğan and his AKP henchmen to renew hostilities in order for popular sentiment to become more amenable to a renewed AKP mandate . . . which was successfully delivered in a election re-run in November — Turkey’s so-called November Surprise. Since then, all-out war between the two parties has erupted anew, a war which has now also swept into Syria, where the AKP-led government is currently fighting the PKK-affiliated PYD with the help of its Jihadi terrorist warriors carrying the misleading moniker FSA or Free Syrian Army.

Zehra D

1Tom Powell, “Banksy unveils New York art mural as a protest against jailing of Turkish artist Zehra Dogan” Evening Standard (16 March 2018). https://www.standard.co.uk/news/world/banksy-unveils-new-york-mural-in-protest-against-jailing-of-turkish-artist-zehra-dogan-a3791411.html.

2Perwana Nazif, “Turkish Artist Zehra Doğan Sentenced to Prison for Painting of Kurdish Town Attack” Artnet News (24 March 2017). https://news.artnet.com/art-world/painter-zehra-dogan-sentenced-to-jail-for-artwork-902015.

3Perwana Nazif, “Turkish Artist Zehra Doğan Sentenced to Prison for Painting of Kurdish Town Attack”.

Islam in the New Turkey: What is Maududi-ism?!??

YT Marşı

On International Women’s Day, the Prez gave another speech in Ankara . . . Tayyip Erdoğan used his words to reprimand the exploits of a certain Islamic preacher who has garnered a lot of public attention lately. Though he did not mention his name, he verbally attacked Nureddin Yıldız, whose many pronouncements on women and sex have become quite infamous in the New Turkey. As a true exponent of what some have termed ‘Maududi-ism,’1 Yıldız employs the latest techmnologica innovations to spread the word – videos and various social media posting. His mos recent outrage dates back to 3 March, saying that [w]omen should be grateful to Allah because Allah allowed men to beat women and be relaxed”. And, in response, the Prez bluntly called the preacher an “illiterate”.2

Nureddin 1

Not content with just reprimding the wayward figure, Erdoğan next continued to make quite far-reaching and programmatic pronouncements: “We do not seek reform in religion, which is beyond our capability . . . Our holy Quran has and will always have words to say. Its commandments will never change. But the independent reasoning derived from them, the developed rules and their implementation will surely change according to the time, the conditions and the possibilities . . . You cannot implement provisions dating back 14 or 15 centuries . . . Carrying out the regulations and traditions of a specific society at a specific date can only spoil them“. Taking a few steps back in the next instance, specifically realising his own limitations as a mere believe (mümin) who is not an Islamic scholar (alim, plural ulamah or ulema, in Turkish), Tayyip Erdoğan added: “I do not have the authority to speak on such matters. But as a president, as a Muslim, and as a person who has responsibility, I cannot tolerate such discord brought to my religion . . . We cannot ignore the stain and the shadow that such people’s random words about women and youths have brought to Islam. Nobody has the right to cause such confusion and caricature our religion as such . . . The understanding that tries to depict Islam as a religion closed off to change and the understanding that attributes deviancies that have nothing to do with Islam to our religion only serve the same aim“.3

Maududi-ism

In this way, the New Turkey’s President seems to have made a public endorsement of what I have referred to as ‘Maududi-ism’, to use the phrase coined by the left-liberal Pakistani journalist, Nadeem Paracha. As a result, I would now like present some pertinent information: ‘the Pakistani writer Mawlana Abul Ala Mawdudi (1903-79) [wa]s a Muslim who witnessed the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the abject failure of the Indian Khilafat Movement, in his writings, Mawdudi “provided Islamic responses, ideological and organizational, to modern society,” as worded by American professor of International Affairs and Islamic Studies, John Esposito. In his analysis of the Pakistani thinker, Esposito explains further that Mawdudi saw “the West . . . [as] a political and economic but also a cultural threat to Muslim societies,” that Abul Ala Mawdudi was a thinker who “self-consciously reapplied Islamic sources and beliefs, reinterpreting them to address modern realities.” He put his thoughts into practice in 1941, founding the Jamaat-e-Islami in Lahore, in then-British India. Following independence and partition, Mawdudi and his Jamaat moved to West Pakistan. As an organization, the Jamaat maintains close ties with international Muslim activist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood. Mawdudi’s organization aims at the establishment of an Islamic state, governed by the Shariah, but maintains that democracy is understood as an integral part of Islamic political ideals’.4

Bacilar

1 C. Erimtan, “Will Turkey become the new Pakistan?” RT Op-Edge (21 Feb 2014). https://www.rt.com/op-ed/turkey-to-become-new-pakistan-099/.

“Don’t stain women in the name of Islam: Erdoğan” Hürriyet Daily News (09 March 2018). http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/dont-stain-women-in-the-name-of-islam-erdogan-128529.

3 “Don’t stain women in the name of Islam: Erdoğan”.

C. Erimtan, “Will Turkey become the new Pakistan?”

Drumpfian Attacks on U.S. Environmental Rules

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33 rules have been overturned
  • Flood building standards
  • Proposed ban on a potentially harmful pesticide
  • Freeze on new coal leases on public lands
  • Methane reporting requirement
  • Anti-dumping rule for coal companies
  • Decision on Keystone XL pipeline
  • Decision on Dakota Access pipeline
  • Third-party settlement funds
  • Offshore drilling ban in the Atlantic and Arctic
  • Ban on seismic air gun testing in the Atlantic
  • Northern Bering Sea climate resilience plan
  • Royalty regulations for oil, gas and coal
  • Inclusion of greenhouse gas emissions in environmental reviews
  • Permit-issuing process for new infrastructure projects
  • Green Climate Fund contributions
  • Endangered species listings
  • Hunting ban on wolves and grizzly bears in Alaska
  • Protections for whales and sea turtles
  • Reusable water bottles rule for national parks
  • National parks climate order
  • Environmental mitigation for federal projects
  • Calculation for “social cost” of carbon
  • Planning rule for public lands
  • Copper filter cake listing as hazardous waste
  • Mine cleanup rule
  • Sewage treatment pollution regulations
  • Ban on use of lead ammunition on federal lands
  • Restrictions on fishing
  • Fracking regulations on public lands
  • Migratory bird protections
  • Department of Interior climate policies
  • Rule regulating industrial polluters
  • Safety standards for “high hazard” trains
24 rollbacks are in progress
  • Clean Power Plan
  • Paris climate agreement
  • Car and truck fuel-efficiency standards
  • Offshore oil and gas leasing
  • Status of 10 national monuments
  • Status of 12 marine areas
  • Limits on toxic discharge from power plants
  • Coal ash discharge regulations
  • Emissions standards for new, modified and reconstructed power plants
  • Emissions rules for power plant start-up and shutdown
  • Sage grouse habitat protections
  • Regulations on oil and gas drilling in some national parks
  • Oil rig safety regulations
  • Regulations for offshore oil and gas exploration by floating vessels
  • Drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge
  • Hunting method regulations in Alaska
  • Requirement for tracking emissions on federal highways
  • Emissions standards for trailers and glider kits
  • Limits on methane emissions on public lands
  • Permitting process for air-polluting plants
  • Use of birds in subsistence handicrafts
  • Coal dust rule
  • Haze rule for national parks
  • Review process for forest restoration projects
10 rollbacks are in limbo
  • Wetland and tributary protections
  • Methane emission limits at new oil and gas wells
  • Limits on landfill emissions
  • Mercury emission limits for power plants
  • Hazardous chemical facility regulations
  • Groundwater protections for uranium mines
  • Efficiency standards for appliances
  • Efficiency standards for federal buildings
  • Rule helping consumers buy fuel-efficient tires
  • Aircraft emissions standards

As the above list amply illustrates, “[s]ince taking office last year [2016], President Trump has made eliminating federal regulations a priority”.1 

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1“67 Environmental Rules on the Way Out Under Trump” NYT (31 Jan 2018). https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/10/05/climate/trump-environment-rules-reversed.html.

Deniz Baykal: The Man who Made the Prez?!??

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The erstwhile leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (or CHP), Deniz Baykal, was taken to hospital over a blood clot in a major artery going to his brain early on 16 October 2017. Somewhat surprisingly, “President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan [aka the Prez] reportedly visited the hospital” on the same day. Even “meeting Baykal’s son Ataç Baykal and his daughter Aslı Baykal Ataman,” as reported in the Turkish press. Baykal has been in critical condition since, and following three operations is being kept in a medically induced coma. But why did the Prez himself visit the veteran politician, even instructing prominent brain surgeon Uğur Türe to personally look after the patient?!?? In fact, following his 51-day treatment in Turkey, Baykal was flown to Germany where he entered an Emergency Hospital in the vicinity of the Bavarian city of Munich (Unfallklinik Murnau). And, even more amazing, on 2 January 2018, the Prez made a telephone call to talk to the opposition leader and convey his well-wishes. This telephonic interference was even reported on Turkish television. Is there a special link between these two men, between Tayyip Erdoğan and Baykal?!?? A link the general does not seem to know about?!??

Turkey’s political life has been dominated by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan throughout most of the 21st century . . . Before stepping on the national stage in 2003, his political career had been stopped short due to his imprisonment between 26 March and 24 June 1999. By law, this criminal record would have been the end of his public life . . . but as we know, from being Mayor Istanbul (27 March 1994–6 November 1998), Erdoğan went on to found the Justice and Development Party (or AKP, on 14 August 2001) to subsequently lead the country first as Prime Minister (14 March 2003-28 August 2014) and then, as President (28 August 2014-) . . . and over the years, he has been able to radically alter the country and its people in such a way that today’s Turkey hardly resembles the nation state founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1923. The link between being a mayor and becoming prime minister and president was formed by one man, Deniz Baykal.

Necmettin Erbakan’s Protégé

Tayyip Erdoğan entered Turkey’s national consciousness with a bang on 27 March 1994, when Necmettin Erbakan’s Refah Partisi (or RP, erroneously translated as Welfare Party) somewhat unexpectedly made major gains in nationwide regional elections – even sweeping the mayoral seats of Ankara and Istanbul along. Erdoğan, as the Istanbul-born son of parents hailing from Turkey’s Black Sea town of Rize, became the incumbent of the latter as Erbakan’s chosen candidate. The RP was founded in 1983, and Tayyip Erdoğan had been a member of the party’s Istanbul establishment since 1984, when he became the chairman of the Beyoğlu district party organisation and in the following year, even rising to the chairmanship of the RP’s Istanbul provincial department. In order to strengthen his personal ties with the legendary figure of Erbakan, Erdoğan organised a meeting with the Afghani Mujahid and ‘politician’ Gulbuddin Hekmatyar on 30 November 1985. As such, Erbakan had been actively trying to revive the power of Islam in Turkey since 1969 when he penned a manifesto entitled Millî Görüş (or ‘National Vision’). And he subsequently also set up a number of political parties, beginning with the MNP (National Order Party, founded on 26 January 1970) – numerous political vehicles of which the RP (1983-97) was to be the most successful incarnation (even allowing him to become PM in the period 28 June 1996-30 June 1997). Erbakan was known internationally as an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hekmatyar, then, had been an important warlord fighting against the Soviets in the 1980s, receiving liberal support from Pakistan, the UK and the United States. In the 1990s he even received the gruesome sobriquet “Butcher of Kabul,” on account of the widespread destruction and the many deaths he caused in Afghanistan’s capital. Ideologically, he is also known ot have been influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood and Sayyed Qutub in particular. The meeting between these two Islamic champions (in Turkey, Erbakan’s followers used to refer to their leader as Mücahit or Mujahid) organised by Erdoğan was a great success and no doubt raised his standing in the party’s circles as well as the eyes of the RP leader himself. In 1989, Erdoğan unsuccessfully participated in the mayoral contest for the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul. But, five years later, upon receiving Erbakan’s approval he ran for the position of metropolitan mayor of Istanbul. Erdoğan ran a savvy campaign, managed by Nabi Avcı, who was to serve as Education Minister (2013-6) and Culture Minister (2016-7) in two separate AKP governments, which ensured his victory with a handsome 25.1% share of the vote. In 2003, Deborah Sontag gave this assessment of his stint at the mayoral offices in Istanbul’s Saraçhane district: “[a]s mayor, Erdogan adopted modern management practices and proved singularly adept at delivering services, installing new water lines, cleaning up the streets, planting trees and improving transportation. He opened up City Hall to the people, gave out his e-mail address, established municipal hot lines. He was considered ethical and evenhanded,” as a devout Muslim who made no bones about publicly proclaiming his faith.

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The Imam of Istanbul

Though his record might very well appear largely positive in hindsight, Sontag adds that an anonymous “building-trade professional, however, told [her] that the corruption endemic to Istanbul City Hall persisted under Erdogan and that donations of equipment and vehicles were still solicited in exchange for building permits.” After all, politics is a dirty business, but rather than deal with Erdoğan’s failings to keep his personal avarice in check, which is a most deserving topic in is own right, for present purposes it seems more at hand to deal with the then-mayor’s faith. Even though the period we are dealing with is not even 25 years removed, at that stage in Turkey’s history, Tayyip Erdoğan was a “pious man in a country where secularism [wa]s worshiped,” as worded by Sontag. As a result, at the time, many inhabitants of Istanbul were highly upset and visibly worried by the fact that a man hailing from the district of Kasımpaşa and visibly attached to his religion and at the same time, clearly opposed to the modernzing reforms introduced by Atatürk (known as İnkılap, in Turkish) headed the biggest city in the country that was and continues to be the cultural and economic heart of the nation. In fact, about eight months after his electoral victory, Erdoğan made this pronouncement: “I am the Imam of Istanbul” (reported in the daily Hürriyet, on 8 January 1995). Islam has no priesthood, as there is not supposed to be an intermediary between the Creator (or Allah) and his creature (or man). As a result, in Sunni Islam, the honorific Imam is given to prayer leaders of a mosque, a person that is morally outstanding and therefore able to lead the believers in prayer. And by proclaiming himself to be the city’s prayer leader, Erdoğan at that stage attempted to transform his elected post into a quasi-religious office. At that stage, the notion of ‘Turkish Secularism’ was still very much alive, and “proponents of secularism in Turkey” attached a “lot of importance to certain symbolic issues [, such as] the availability of alcoholic beverages . . . as well as the thorny headscarf issue,” to quote an earlier piece of mine that has since been censored on the internet (but now still available here). And on both counts, Tayyip Erdoğan did not disappoint his detractors, for he “banned alcohol from municipal establishments,” but proved unable to expand that ban to either restaurants or bars. Two years into his term, he even made the pronouncement that “[a]lcoholic drinks must be banned” (reported in the daily Hürriyet, 1 May 1996). As for the then-still thorny and volatile headscarf issue (nowadays probably better known by the Arabic term hijab), following his inauguration as mayor, Erdoğan proclaimed that he would make the (Islamic) headscarf fashionable in years to come.

Reading a Poem, Going to Jail & Returning to Politics

In December 1997, the RP leadership dispatched the Mayor of Istanbul to a political rally in the southeastern city of Siirt, the hometown of his wife’s family (known as her memleket, in ordinary Turkish parlance). On that day, Tayyip Erdoğan, as he had done several times previously, recited a quatrain written by Ziya Gokalp (1876-1924), the primary ideologue of Turkish nationalism: “The minarets are our bayonets. The faithful are our soldiers. God is great. God is great.” In 2002, TIME magazine evaluated this so-called “flight of fancy” as tantamount to political suicide. The Atlantic‘s Uri Friedman states that the timing had been off, as Gokalp’s lines spoken by Erdoğan “provoked Turkey’s secular military leaders and civilian elite, who had just forced the country’s first Islamist prime minister from power and who viewed Istanbul’s popular, Islamist-leaning mayor as a threat.” Earlier that year, Turkey’s secular elite had namely belatedly undertaken a serious counter-measure against what they saw as the growing threat of Islamic fundamentalism, at that stage still known in Turkey as İrtica or ‘reactionary atavism’ or simply ‘religious reaction.’ The politcal scientist Şaban Tanıyıcı explains: “[i]n a regular monthly National Security Council (NSC) meeting on 28 February 1997, the military leadership demanded from the leader of the [RP] and prime minister at the time, [Necemetin] Erbakan, that his government implement a number of measures that would prevent [the] Islamization of Turkey. After that meeting, the military elite closely followed the implementation of these decisions and started a campaign that included some societal organizations, the media and the opposition parties, and led to the removal of the government. This process of de-Islamization continued after Erbakan was ousted from power. It became known as the ‘28 February Process’, which included . . [a total] ban on the party [RP] and a total campaign against religious social forces.” And in this climate, reciting Gokalp’s lines during an election rally had been a most imprudent thing to do, it had been nothing but a provocation really.

At that stage in Republican history, the Turkish Penal Code’s Article 312 was notorious and its original wording meant to stifle even the smallest hint of İrtica (or ‘religious reaction’): “Anyone who openly incites the public to hatred and enmity with regard to class, race, religion, religious sect or regional differences shall be punished” by means of a jail term between 1 and 3 years. With regard to the reciting of one of Gokalp’s poems by Istanbul’s Mayor, Human Rights Watch had this to say: “Turkish courts show an eccentric understanding of what constitutes “incitement”. The former mayor of Istanbul Recep Tayyip Erdogan was stripped of political rights and sentenced to a year’s imprisonment for reading lines from a poem that not only contained no advocacy of violence or hatred, but was written by a celebrated republican poet and had actually been approved by the Ministry of Education for use in schools. In fact, in common with some other prosecutions under Article 312, the conviction of Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared to be no more than straightforward political manipulation.” On 6 February 2002 a so-called “mini-democracy package” altered the wording of the infamous article. At the time, the country was led by the veteran politician Bülent Ecevit, whose coalition government was supported from the outside by Deniz Baykal’s CHP.

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Friedman relates in 2016 that in “1999, thousands of supporters escorted him to jail, where his popularity only grew. Erdogan seemingly emerged from prison a changed man, committed more to Western-style democracy than Islamism.” But his prison sentence meant that he was barred from political office. “Erdoğan’s political career is over,” the Turkish press wrote at the time. Unperturbed, in the summer of 2001, though he set up the AKP as his chosen political vehicle. In those very summer months, as related by the British Dr Haitham Al-Haddad, variously described as ‘Sunni Muslim scholar and television presenter of Palestinian origin,’ in true hadith stye, a “brother that I know, Dr Saleh al-Ayid, wrote the following just a few minutes after Turkey’s electoral authorities announced that Recep Tayyip Erdogan won the general Presidential Turkish Election . . . [namely that he on a visit to Istanbul] “in the summer of the year 1421 AH, 2001 CE“ paid a visit to the “great scholar Mohammed Ameen Siraaj at his home in Istanbul“ – otherwise known as Mehmet Emin Saraç, a graduate of Cairo’s Al-Azhar and known in Turkey as the last Ottoman âlim who has been teaching Islamic sciences since 1958, and who at that time in 2001 was entertaining none other than the ambitious former mayor of Istanbul. In the course of the social call, it is reported that Saraç stated that “[i]t is neither our Ambition nor Recep Tayyip Erdogan‘s to succeed in leading a province even if it is the size of Istanbul, instead we are training him to be a successful President, and you will see him soon become the President of Turkey by the will of Allāh.”

Baykal or Turkey’s Von Papen

By the time the next election cycle came along in 2002, the newly-founded AKP literally swept to power, gaining “34.2 percent of the vote, winning 363 of the 550 seats in the Turkish parliament [or TBMM].” All together eighteen parties had participated in the electoral contest on 3 November, but only the AKP and the Republical People’s Party (or CHP) were able to breach the 10% threshold – the latter receiving 19.4%. As a result, the AKP was able to form a government on its own, but given that the party’s founder and leader was banned from political life, the post of Prime Minister went to Abdullah Gül, a close personal friend and ally of Erdoğan’s. Gül had also been active in the RP during the 1990s, even uttering quite shocking words at the time. In the run-up to the December 1995 elections, when he was acting as the RP’s deputy leader, he told the Guardian‘s Jonathan Rugman that “[t]his is the end of the Republican period.“

At this stage, the now-gravely ill Baykal made his intervention. In fact, even before the elections, the CHP leader had been vocal in his support for Tayyip Erdoğan. Both party leaders participated in a televised debate chaired by the well-known journalist Uğur Dündar. And right from the start, Baykal expressed his concern with the situation, saying that the ban imposed on his rival was proof that Turkish democracy had still not matured properly. As a long-time-and-particularly-ineffective chairman of the CHP (2000-10), Baykal’s erstwhile defense of democratic values appears virtuous and brave, albeit utterly counter-productive, in hindsight. According to politician Zülfü Livaneli, Baykal was the one to secure Erdoğan’s return to the poitical fold. About a month and a half following the election, a number of CHP MP’s (Livaneli included) held a meeting at fellow MP Mehmet Sevigen’s Ankara house (19 December 2002). At the meeting Baykal vehemently insisted that “Tayyip Erdoğan will become prime minister!“ In spite of serious objections, Livaneli adds, Baykal persisted, even saying “you will see, [Erdoğan] won’t even last two months.“ In response, Livaneli claims to have stated that “Erdoğan is not just anybody, he is the politician chosen to replace Erbakan by all [religious] brotherhoods [or tarikat, in Turkish] combined; he has America’s. Europe’s support behind him, his programme is to turn Turkey into a moderate Muslim republic. He won’t go in just two months, like you’ve said, quite to the contrary, he will end the political lives of everybody [gahtered] in this room.“ In due time, then-President Ahmet Necdet Sezer eventually confirmed the lifting of the ban and approved Erdoğan’s election as MP, an election which enabled him to become PM on 14 March 2003. A few days later, on 17 March, then-CHP Chairman Deniz Baykal, while addressing a crowd in the central Anatolian town of Tokat, apparently proudly declared that “we made Erdoğan PM!“

And now, approximately fourteen and a half years later, Livaneli’s words appear to have come all but true, and, rather than improving Turkish democracy Baykal appears to have been the one who drove the decisive nail into its coffin: Deniz Baykal was “the key figure in steering the course of events toward the disastrous outcome, the person who more than anyone else caused what happened,” as written by the historian Henry Ashby Turner (1932-2008) in 1996. Turner’s words actually deal with the figure of Franz von Papen and his role in securing Adolf Hilter’s rise to power, but seem extraordinarily apt in characterising the part played by Baykal in Tayyip Erdoğan’s ascent to his current lofty spot in his palatial residence in Ankara. And now, this tragic figure appears to hover on death’s threshold, yet his actions have paved the way for the current post-Kemalist reality which will persist into the future . . . And, as reported by the Turkish press, Baykal is expected to make a full recovery in Germany and return to Turkey following a 56-day treatment of physical rehabilitation.

Thirty Days