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Archive for the ‘Democracy’ Category

The Coup-that-was-no-Coup: Some Queries

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On twitter, an anonymous user calling himself “sakıncalı binbaşı” and using the handle “@NickTachon” posted the following interesting queries regarding the events of 15 July 2016.i

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i C. Erimtan, “The Failed Coup Attempt – or the Dawning of Sharia Law in Turkey?” The Duran (18 July 2016). http://theduran.com/failed-coup-attempt-dawning-sharia-law-turkey/.

Turkey: Post-Referendum Blues

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Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (aka the Prez) and his AKP henchmen rapidly declared victory in last Sunday’s referendum vote (16 April 2017), with only the slimmest of margins (51.3%). Subsequently, te CHP MP Selin Sayek Böke went on live television to make some remarkable statements: “Have no doubts that we are going to use all of our democratic rights in this regard. And, when we say ‘all rights’, this includes both continuing to work in the parliament or to withdraw from it! . . . What is stolen is the will of the people. There is a perception operation carried out with hurried up balcony speeches. We do not recognize this declared result of the referendum and we are not going to recognize it . . . This referendum must be renewed . . We are not going surrender to this fait accompli”.i

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CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark, for her part, adds that “Turkey’s top electoral board [or YSK] is considering objections Wednesday [, 19 April 2017] to the way the country’s referendum was run, according to Turkey’s semi-official Anadolu news agency . . . A narrow majority of voters in Sunday’s referendum backed the 18-article constitutional reform package, which will transform the country’s parliamentary system into a powerful executive presidency”.ii But, it remains to be seen whether the Prez and his AKP henchmen will pay much heed to the opposition and Sadi Güven‘s YSK . . . After all, the most powerful man in the world has already congratuled him over the phone as well as his best buddies from Hamas and Ahrar al-Sham.

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Turkey’s AKP has long been allied to the Palestinian reistance movement Hamas. And lest you’d be wondering about the latter and their intentions: ‘the group itself posits that “The Islamic Movement of Free Men of the Levant [or Ahrar al-Sham] is an Islamist, reformist, innovative and comprehensive movement. It is integrated with the Islamic Front and is a comprehensive and Islamic military, political and social formation. It aims to completely overthrow the Assad regime in Syria and build an Islamic state whose only sovereign, reference, ruler, direction, and individual, societal and nationwide unifier is Allah Almighty’s Sharia (law)”’.iii

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And there are those who would argue that the AKP’s long-term strategy goals for Turkey and its environs are remarkably similar to those entertained by Ahrar al-Sham for Syria . . .

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And then there is the other Islamic ally of the Prez and his AKP: “Talaat Fahmi, spokesman of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, told Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency that Turkey gave a lesson in democracy to the world”.iv

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i “Turkey’s main opposition party CHP signals consideration of withdrawal from parliament”BirGün (19 April 2017). http://www.birgun.net/haber-detay/turkey-s-main-opposition-party-chp-signals-consideration-of-withdrawal-from-parliament-156139.html.

ii Laura Smith-Spark, “Turkey referendum: Electoral body hears objections” CNN (19 April 2017). http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/19/europe/turkey-referendum/.

iii “AKP Turkey’s Favourite Terrorists in Syria: Ahrar al-Sham” The Erimtan Angle (12 Feb 2017). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2017/02/12/akp-turkeys-favourite-terrorrists-in-syria-ahrar-al-sham/.

iv “Islamic world congratulates Turkey – from Hamas to Ahrar al-Sham” KomNews (19 April 2017). https://komnews.org/islamic-world-congratulates-turkey-hamas-ahrar-al-sham/.

Caliphal Origins: THE ORIGINS OF DAESH IN ONE MINUTE

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On his facebook account the intrepid Roving Eye that is the world-renowned journalist and commentator Pepe Escobar posted the following interesting tidbit on Wednesday, 22 March 2017:

‘James Shea, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Emerging Threats at NATO – how lovely is that title? – recently gave a talk at the Liberal Club in London on Daesh. Shea, as you all remember, was NATO’s spokesman during the NATO war on Yugoslavia in 1999.

After his talk Shea engaged in a debate with a source I very much treasure. The source later gave me the lowdown.

According to Saudi intel, Daesh was invented by the USG – in Camp Bacca, remember? – to essentially get rid of the Shi’ite-majority Maliki government.

But then there’s the juicy issue of Daesh routing the Iraqi Army on its way to Mosul. The Iraqi Army fled. Daesh operatives then took over ultra-modern weapons that took US instructors from six to twelve months to train the Iraqis in and…surprise! They incorporated the weapons in their arsenals in 24 hours.

So yes, Shea frankly admitted that Petraeus had trained these Sunnis now part of Daesh in Anbar Province in Iraq.

Saudi intel still maintains that these Iraqi Sunnis were not US-trained – as Shea confirmed – because the Shi’ites in power in Baghdad didn’t allow it. Nonsense. The Daesh hard core is indeed a US-trained militia.

True to form, at the end of the debate, Shea went on to blame Russia for absolutely everything that’s happening today’.i

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“Jamie Shea is Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges” is what it says on his requisite NATO website.ii In 2015, at a conference entitled ‘NATO-Turkey relations’ in Bahçeşehir University, Mister Shea was able to pronounce the following with a straight face and full of conviction: “We need very good cooperation with Turkey . . . much better quality of dialogue between Turkey and Europe. That’s actually very critical [n the fight against Daesh or IS/ISIS or the Caliph and his Merry Men] . . . It is not just Turkey’s question. Everybody has to accept the responsibility . . . What we all have to do is do a better job by understanding the complexity of the situation in the reality“.iii

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ii “Jamie Shea” NATO. (Last updated: 27 Jul. 2012 16:00). http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/who_is_who_50159.htm.

iii “NATO, Turkey cooperation vital to tackle Daesh: official” AA (11 March 2015). http://aa.com.tr/en/turkey/nato-turkey-cooperation-vital-to-tackle-daesh-official/67758.

The Drumpf, as Chosen by God to Lead His People

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On 20 January 2017, before attending his inauguration ceremony as 45th POTUS, the Drumpf, accompanied by his wife and the Pence couple, attended a sermon delivered by the Southern Baptist Rev. Robert Jeffress at the St. John’s Episcopal Church in D.C. And the good Reverend did not mince his worlds on this occasion:

President-elect and Mrs. Trump, Vice-President-elect and Mrs. Pence, families and friends, it’s an honor to be with you on this historic day.

President-elect Trump, I remember that it was exactly one year ago this weekend that I was with you on your Citation jet flying around Iowa before the first caucus or primary vote was cast. After our Wendy’s cheeseburgers, I said that I believed that you would be the next President of the United States. And if that happened, it would be because God had placed you there.

As the prophet Daniel said, it is God who removes and establishes leaders.

Today─one year later─God has raised you and Vice-President-elect Pence up for a great, eternal purpose”.i

Rev. Jeffress thus appears to believe that his god, the Christian God of the Southern Baptist Convention, a congregation counting more than 15 million members in 2015, has a special plan for the Drumpf.

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The Reverend continued along, spouting more and more inanities and absurdities in the process:

When I think of you, President-elect Trump, I am reminded of another great leader God chose thousands of years ago in Israel. The nation had been in bondage for decades, the infrastructure of the country was in shambles, and God raised up a powerful leader to restore the nation. And the man God chose was neither a politician nor a priest. Instead, God chose a builder whose name was Nehemiah.

And the first step of rebuilding the nation was the building of a great wall. God instructed Nehemiah to build a wall around Jerusalem to protect its citizens from enemy attack. You see, God is NOT against building walls!

And the Old Testament book of Nehemiah records how Nehemiah completed that massive project in record time—just 52 days.

Why was Nehemiah so successful in building the wall and rebuilding the nation?”. ii

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In the next instance, Rev. Jeffress goes quite some way comparing the Drumpf to the Biblical leader of yesteryear, stating that “Nehemiah was a gifted leader”, a gifted leader who “knew he could not succeed without God’s divine help”.iii And eventually, the good Reverend ends his hyperbolic drivel in this over-the-top fashion:

When President Ronald Reagan addressed the Republican National Convention in my city of Dallas in 1984 he said, “America needs God more than God needs America. If we ever forget that we are “one nation under God,” then we will be a nation gone under.”

President-elect Trump, you had a campaign slogan that resonated with tens of millions of Americans because it spoke to their heartfelt desire: “Make America Great Again.”

Psalm 33:12 gives us the starting point for making that happen: “Blessed— great—is the nation whose God is the Lord.”

May God bless President-elect Trump, Vice-President-elect Pence, their families and advisers. And may God truly bless the United States of America”.iv

And this then brings me to consider the always insightful and inquisitive Chris Hedges, whose 2007 book American Fascists already ten years sounded the alarm, at the time arguably referring to the dirty deeds done dirt cheap by George W.v

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In his review of the book, Nicholas Lezard posits that the casual observer might very well think “that the term ‘American Fascists’ is a little inflammatory. But Hedges does not claim that the Christian right is a Nazi party, nor that America will inevitably become a fascist state, as we understand the term. The Christian right is, though, ‘a sworn and potent enemy of the open society’, which is just about as bad; and the book is a kind of checklist in which you can tick off their characteristics against those of their predecessors: implacable intolerance of others; manipulation of language; paranoia; lying on a grand scale; exploitation of people’s fears; the creation of leadership cults; hate-mongering; the creation of a state of mind in which adherents are perpetually at war, fighting a good fight against their enemies. And the language, cited by Hedges, is chilling. Pastor Russell Johnson, who leads the Ohio Restoration Project and is, not coincidentally, an unofficial campaigner for Christian Republican candidates for high office, stands against an enormous American flag with a cross superimposed on it, saying: ‘We’re on the beaches of Normandy, and we can see the pillbox entrenchments of academic and media liberalism . . . We’ll take our country back for Christ.’ Well-integrated and highly motivated elector-registration drives suggest that they may well do so. Some may say they already have; George W Bush’s links with these people are well established, and receive another airing here. Hedges is clear about the danger facing America and argues that part of the responsibility lies with a supine media and a church establishment too pusillanimous or namby-pamby to point out that you could hardly call the Christian right Christian in the conventionally accepted meaning of the term (a quick look at their attitude to enormous wealth should settle any doubts on that score)”.vi The Hedges book thus shows that the recent history of the United States has been shaped by their leadership’s adherence to the tenets of the Christian faith: from Ronald Reagan over the atheist-hating George H. W. Bush, with an arguably minor detour under Bill Clinton, reaching its full apotheosis under Bush, Junior and Obama, who was “much attached to the work of the American Protestant exponent of ‘Christian realism’, Reinhold Niebuhr”, as I pointed out as long ago as 2011.vii And now, the Drumpf is set to bring this whole evolution to its natural conclusion as the one U.S. President apparently clearly chosen by the Christian God to do his will . . . according to some.

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i“Read the Sermon Donald Trump Heard Before Becoming President” TIME (Jan 2017). http://time.com/4641208/donald-trump-robert-jeffress-st-john-episcopal-inauguration/.

iiRead the Sermon Donald Trump Heard Before Becoming President”.

iii “Read the Sermon Donald Trump Heard Before Becoming President”.

iv “Read the Sermon Donald Trump Heard Before Becoming President”.

v “Empire Files: Trump, Fascism & the Christian Right” The Erimtan Angle. http://apob.tumblr.com/post/157867661192/empire-files-trump-fascism-the-christian.

vi Nicholas Lezard, “Onward to the apocalypse” The Guardian (03 Feb 2007). https://www.theguardian.com/books/2007/feb/03/featuresreviews.guardianreview24.

vii Cfr. “Libya: A Just War???” The Erimtan Angle (29 March 2011). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2011/03/29/libya-a-just-war/.

From the End of History to the End of Democracy

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When the Cold War was at a supposed end and the West was in a triumphant mood, the American philosopher Francis Fukuyama penned the book The End of History and the Last Man (1992). As such, a book carrying such an hyperbolic title should have been met with derision but was instead celebrated across the world. Fukuyama’s thesis was couched on “a belief that, after the fall of communism, free-market liberal democracy had won out and would become the world’s final form of human government”, as articulated by the journalist Ishaan Tharoor.1 The book starts out as follows: “[t]he distant origins of the present volume lie in an article entitled ‘The End of History?’ which I wrote for the journal The National Interest in the summer of 1989. In it, I argued that a remarkable consensus concerning the legitimacy of liberal democracy as a system of government had emerged throughout the world over the past few years, as it conquered rival ideologies like hereditary monarchy, fascism, and most recently communism. More than that, however, I argued that liberal democracy may constitute the ‘end point of mankind’s ideological evolution’ and the ‘final form of human government,’ and as such constituted the ‘end of history.’ That is, while earlier forms of government were characterised by grave defects and irrationalities that led to their eventual collapse, liberal democracy was arguably free from such fundamental internal contradictions. This was not to say that today’s stable democracies, like the United States, France, or Switzerland, were not without injustice or serious social problems. But these problems were ones of incomplete implementation of the twin principles of liberty and equality on which modern democracy is founded, rather than of flaws in the principles themselves. While some present-day countries might fail to achieve stable liberal democracy, and others might lapse back into other, more primitive forms of rule like theocracy or military dictatorship, the ideal of liberal democracy could not be improved on”.2

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Fukuyama’s words are literally bathing in a pool of hybris and American Optimism and Exceptionalism . . . a philosophy book acting like a cheerleader for the ‘Greatest Nation on Earth’. The social scientist Selcen Öner wrote a critique of the book, analysing the thesis and its ramifications, starting off by stating that “[t]he victory of the West and Western idea is evident firstly with the collapse of systematic alternatives to Western liberalism. [Fukuyama] states that, in the past decade, there have been important changes in the intellectual climate of the world’s two largest communist countries (Russia, China) and reform movements have begun in both. Also it can be seen in the spread of consumerist Western culture. As a result of these indications, he reaches to his main idea: ‘What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War or the passing of a particular period of post-war history; that is the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.’ But as we see from the beginning, [Fukuyama] states his arguments without a strong basis [in fact-based reality] and with a lack of evidence. After expressing his main argument, he makes some references to Marx, Hegel and Kojeve. He says that his main concept ‘the end of history’, is not an original concept. This concept was firstly used by Hegel. According to Hegel, history is a dialectical process, with a beginning, a middle and an end. On the other hand, Marx, believes that, the direction of historical development was a purposeful one and would come to an end with the achievement of a communist Utopia that would finally resolve all prior contradiction”.3

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Öner concludes that Fukuyama “tried to make a long-term civilizational analysis, but with only analysing short-term indicators. So he [should have rather used] the term ‘civilizational transformation’, instead of ‘end of history’. The era which was tried to be analyzed and defined by Fukuyama was only one of the turning points in the world history. As we can see . . . history is within an ongoing transformation process which needs further analysis. Consequently we can say that, Fukuyama wanted to give a name to the situation after the collapse of [C]ommunism. He [coined] the [phrase] ‘the end of history’, with one-dimensional, ethno-centric perspective. He was too quick to claim such an assertive thesis. Probably he did this to legitimize and formulate the theoretical framework of the New World Order. Because to create a new world order, the old one must have an end. To legitimize US’s leader role, he uses Hegel. Because he also ends history with the victory of one state. To show US’s ever lasting victory, he had to create a very optimistic perspective. His main contribution is, after his article [and subsequent book]’s [publication] there has been an acceleration in critiques about the post cold war world”.4

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And now, the philosophical cheerleader of American Optimism and Exceptionalism has apparently had a brush with reality, as he told Ishaan Tharoor during a telephone interview that “[t]wenty five years ago, I didn’t have a sense or a theory about how democracies can go backward,” adding insightfully, “[a]nd I think they clearly can”.5 In the next instance, Fukuyama turns to the current U.S. President, Donald J. Trump (aka the Drumpf),6 stating apparently in a somewhat dejected voice: “I have honestly never encountered anyone in political life who[m] I thought had a less suitable personality to be president . . . Trump is so thin-skinned and insecure that he takes any kind of criticism or attack personally and then hits back“.7 Taking developments in Europe and beyond into consideration, Fukuyama muses philosophically that “We don’t know how it’s all going to play out“.8 It now seems that the the philosophical cheerleader of American Optimism and Exceptionalism has now become resigned that his earlier predictive utterings turned out to be fallacious . . . in fact, in his famous book published more than two decades ago now, Fukuyama did say that “this very prospect of centuries of boredom at the end of history will serve to get history started once again”.9

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1 Ishaan Tharoor, “The man who declared the ‘end of history’ fears for democracy’s future” Washington Post (09 Feb 2017). https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/02/09/the-man-who-declared-the-end-of-history-fears-for-democracys-future/?utm_term=.dd78f5d1fa73.

Francis Fukuyama, “By Way of an Introduction” The End of History and the Last Man. https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/us/fukuyama.htm.

3 Selcen Öner , “A BRIEF ANALYSIS OF FUKUYAMA’S THESIS “THE END OF HISTORY?” Istanbul Journal of Sociological Studies, 27 (2003). www.journals.istanbul.edu.tr/iusoskon/article/download/1023005867/1023005391.

4 Selcen Öner , “A BRIEF ANALYSIS OF FUKUYAMA’S THESIS “THE END OF HISTORY?” .

5 Ishaan Tharoor, “The man who declared the ‘end of history’ fears for democracy’s future”.

6 “Make Donald Drumpf Again, #2” The Erimtan Angle (08 March 2016). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2016/03/08/make-donald-drumpf-again-2/.

7 Ishaan Tharoor, “The man who declared the ‘end of history’ fears for democracy’s future”.

Ishaan Tharoor, “The man who declared the ‘end of history’ fears for democracy’s future”.

9 Ishaan Tharoor, “The man who declared the ‘end of history’ fears for democracy’s future”.

The War in Afghanistan (2011)

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Originally published on 25 January 2011

A Frontline in the New Cold War against Islamic Extremism or

Crucial Part of the oddly shaped Eurasian chessboard?

Last week, the new U.S. Congress convened for its first session. The newly-elected Republicans and Tea Party favourites started the new year with a stunt: reading the complete U.S. Constitution, that semi-sacrosanct document of yesteryear many swear by but few appear to know . . . On the sidelines, another somewhat overlooked speech took place as well. California Democrat Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey took the floor for a short address. Woolsey is the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and gained notoriety as a result of her outspoken stance on the war in Iraq. She was one of the 133 members of the House who voted against authorizing the invasion of Iraq on October 10, 2002. Since then Woolsey has taken an active role in urging U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, and has been a vocal critic of the Bush administration’s foreign policy. Last week, however, Lynn Woolsey showed that she was beyond party politics in criticising America’s active military involvement in the Hindu Kush mountains and Afghanistan: “This war represents an epic failure, a national embarrassment, and a moral blight on our nation”.

In contrast to Woolsey’s words, the White House appears to view the war in Afghanistan in quite different terms. In the first half of December 2010, it released a new report on America’s war in the Hindu Kush mountains, publishing a 5-page summary for public consumption: Overview of the Afghanistan and Pakistan Annual Review. The short document shows that the Obama administration remains beholden to the Bush rationale for the war saying that the “core goal of the U.S. strategy in the Afghanistan and Pakistan theater remains to disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat al-Qa’ida in the region and to prevent its return to either country”. Repeating President Obama’s alliterative mantra, the White House presents the hostilities in Afghanistan as part of the War-on-Terror meant to safeguard the U.S. homeland as well as the rest of the Free World. Rather than taking account of the reality on the ground that sees U.S. and ISAF troops battling “insurgency” or rather resistance fighters known as Taliban, the White House document continues to portray the enemy as al-Qa’ida, a shadowy network of Islamist terrorists bent on destroying the Free World. But already in December 2009, a senior U.S. intelligence official told ABC News that there were only about 100 al-Qa’ida members left in Afghanistan, basing himself on the conclusions of American intelligence agencies and the U.S. Defense Department. In June 2010, CIA director Leon Panetta went a step further, telling ABC News: “I think at most, we’re looking at maybe 50 to 100, maybe less. It’s in that vicinity. There’s no question that the main location of al-Qaeda is in tribal areas of Pakistan”. As a result, the Overview of the Afghanistan and Pakistan Annual Review now confidently talks of the “Pakistan-based leadership and cadre of al-Qa’ida”, thereby offering justification for the U.S. drone attacks in Pakistani territory. But the Pakistani army has for the past years been fighting the Pakistani Taliban (TTP or Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan) in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan who, in response, have unleashed a campaign of terror throughout the whole country.

The Obama administration seems adamant to stay the course, having recently committed “1,400 more Marine combat forces to Afghanistan”, as reported by the Associated Press on 6 January. In a way, the War-on-Terror, renamed the Overseas Contingency Operations, is the 21st-century incarnation of the 20th-century Cold War that saw many proxy conflicts and an escalating nuclear arms’ build-up (the could only have led to MAD or Mutually Assured Destruction). As I have indicated in an earlier piece, the NATO establishment already predicted, or maybe rather presaged, such a development in the mid-1990s. Then-NATO secretary-general Willy Claes at the time said that “Islamic militancy has emerged as perhaps the single gravest threat to the NATO alliance and to Western security”.

In the absence of a Soviet threat, the Obama administration has now declared al-Qa’ida and its by now more than legendary and possibly defunct leader Osama bin Laden to be America’s main military adversary. While making sure not to declare an outright Crusade against Islam and Muslims worldwide, President Obama continues Cold War policies that ensure that the “military-industrial complex”, to use President Eisenhower’s famous 1961 phrase, is kept busy, happy, and well-fed. Quite some time ago, the independent journalist Pepe Escobar declared that “Osama bin Laden may be dead or not. ‘Al-Qa’ida’ remains a catch-all ghost entity”. In other words, his contention is that the name al-Qa’ida is used by the U.S. to suggest the presence of a threat that is then employed to justify military intervention. The flipside of that stance is now that terrorists and like-minded individuals opposing U.S. dominance and interventionism equally cite the name al-Qa’ida to gain credibility, notoriety, and media exposure.

But does al-Qa’ida as a worldwide terrorist network aiming to deceive, disrupt and destroy the Free World really exist? Already in 2004, the British film-maker and writer Adam Curtis suggested in his documentary The Power of Nightmares that al-Qa’ida as an international terrorist network was basically an American invention to secure the prosecution and conviction of guilty parties and individuals in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. As such, even the guilt of Osama bin Laden, as the true instigator of the “9/11” attacks, arguably also remains a somewhat open question. On 28 September 2001, Bin Laden was interviewed by the Urdu-language Pakistani daily Ummat: “I have already said that I am not involved in the 11 September attacks in the United States. As a Muslim, I try my best to avoid telling a lie. I had no knowledge of these attacks, nor do I consider the killing of innocent women, children and other humans as an appreciable act. Islam strictly forbids causing harm to innocent women, children and other people. Such a practice is forbidden even in the course of a battle . . . Whoever committed the act of 11 September are not the friends of the American people. I have already said that we are against the American system, not against its people, whereas in these attacks, the common American people have been killed”. Was Osama bin Laden merely trying to deflect attention and building up an alibi against a possible U.S. attack? As for the famous video confession so conveniently stumbled upon in the Afghan city of Jalalabad in November 2001, the theologian-turned-9/11-debunker Prof. David Ray Griffin maintains that “bin Laden experts have called this later video a fake, and for good reasons. Many of the physical features of the man in this video are different from those of Osama bin Laden (as seen in undoubtedly authentic videos)”. The fact that the FBI last year used an image of the Spanish lawmaker Gaspar Llamazares to create an up-to-date picture of an aging Osama bin Laden proves that U.S. institutions do indeed dabble in creating fakes and make-believes. The incredible story of the digitally enhanced image of Bin Laden using Llamazares’ “hair and facial wrinkles” was broken by the Associated Press.

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President Obama entered the world stage on an unprecedented wave of goodwill and optimism, relying on his message of “change we can believe in” to affect a serious alteration in the way the U.S. conducts foreign policy and treats other nations. Now that he has been in office for two years, disappointment and disillusion in his actual track record seem widespread. Obama’s continuation of the Bush administration’s championing of the TAPI pipeline project, that would Turkmenistan and India, and his seeming reliance upon Brzezinski’s legacy in pursuing the New Great Game on the “oddly shaped Eurasian chessboard” have transformed him into a proponent of a New Cold War against Islamic Extremism, as personified by al-Qa’ida. Even though many Conservative and Tea Party Obama opponents have cast doubt upon the U.S. President’s religious and political affiliation, referring to him variously as a Nazi-Socialist-Communist-Muslim, his grounding in the Christian faith remains beyond doubt. In particular, Barack Obama is much attached to the work of the American Protestant exponent of “Christian realism,” Reinhold Niebuhr’ (1892-1971). Back in April 2007, then-Candidate Obama told the New York Times columnist David Brooks: “I take away [from Niebuhr’s work] the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away . . . the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they are hard, and not swinging from naïve idealism to bitter realism”. And now in 2011, Obama is not wavering in the face of evil as personified by al-Qa’ida, present in the Af-Pak Theatre and providing the U.S. with a pertinent reason to stay the course.

During the Cold War, Niebuhr was a public intellectual, or rather theologian, who took an active part in the fight, as a virulent defender of the U.S. and an outspoken opponent of the Communist threat. He regarded Communism as a position claiming “to embody a social system in which [the] miracle [of achieving an ideal society] has actually taken place”, a society where a “’vanguard’ of ‘class-conscious’ workers, the members of the Communist Party, whose purposes were so identical with the very purposes of history that every weapon became morally permissible to them and every vicissitude of history was expected to contribute to the inevitability of their victory”. Niebuhr’s words appear easily applicable to the 21st century, one would only need to replace the words Communist Party and Communism with the terms al-Qa’ida and Muslim extremism. Politicians and newscasters alike continuously remind the public that al-Qa’ida wants to turn the world into an Islamic welfare state ruled by a new and all-encompassing Caliphate, “a social system in which [the] miracle [of Islamic providence or Shariah] has actually taken place”. Al-Qa’ida operatives are 21st-century versions of “members of the Communist Party”, who were bent on undermining and ultimately destroying the Capitalist world in the 20th century.

President Obama proves to be a crafty proponent of ‘Niebuhrianism’, which Harry R. Davis and Robert C. Good define as a “constellation of perspectives, Biblically derived and validated by experience”. As a Christian Realist, the U.S. President is fighting the “good fight” in the Af-Pak Theatre, while keeping a close eye on China, the new superpower in the making. On Monday, 10 January, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates went to Beijing to “begin regular strategic security talks” between the U.S. and China, a year after the latter cut military ties in protest to American arms sales to Taiwan. Gates stated that military relations between the world’s two biggest economies shouldn’t be “subject to shifting political winds”. Even while the U.S. is busy opposing China on the “oddly shaped Eurasian chessboard”, pitching the TAPI natural gas pipeline project against the Kazakhstan–China oil pipeline connecting the Caspian shore to Xinjiang in Wild West China, President Obama is easing the climate for Chinese President Hu Jintao’s planned trip to Washington, D.C. later this month.

<> on January 19, 2011 in Washington, DC.

 

Forging an Absolute Presidency: Moving towards a Referendum

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The whole world at present is experiencing a shift towards authoritarianism, with Donald Trump’s formal inauguration as the 45th U.S. President arguably acting as an ominous portent of things to come. Trump, or the Drumpf, as I like to call him in reference to his “grandfather Friedrich Drumpf [who] came to the United States in 1885”,has a clear counterpart in the figure of Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s first popularly elected President, whom I like to refer to as the Prez.Since about the year 2010, Erdoğan has been arguing that Turkey’s parliamentary system should be replaced by a presidential one and the day following the Drumpf’s inauguration, on Saturday, 21 January 2017, he seems to have overcome yet another hurdle blocking the way: Turkey’s “parliament voted 339-142 to make the president the head of the executive and abolish the job of prime minister, triggering a referendum on the proposal and putting Erdogan one step away from building a power center unrivaled since the days of parliamentary founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. In Turkey’s system, amendments to the constitution need to be approved by 367 of 550 members to become law. Proposals that receive between 330 and 367 votes can be referred to a plebescite”.3

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In the wake of this momentous parliamentary vote, Tayyip Erdoğan gave another televised speech: “It’s still early to call a referendum date, we will share it when we pick up some momentum . . . We see that our people favour a constitutional referendum and a president with party ties. We wouldn’t attempt this otherwise”.Ever since he emerged on Turkey’s political scene in the early 1990s, it has been Erdoğan‘s fervent desire to stifle and eventually obliterate the seeming secularization of society and the personality cult surrounding the figure of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. And his favoured line of reasoning in this respect has always been referencing the fact that the Turkish population-at-large had been largely left untouched by Atatürk‘s reforms that had transformed the religion of Islam into the state’s obedient handmaiden via the Directorate of Religious Affairs (or Diyanet, in Turkish) and propagated a lenient and permissive attititude towards the Prophet’s many rules, regulations and restrictions. As I wrote in 2014, “Tayyip Erdogan is . . . determined to re-introduce an overt Islamic discourse into the country’s public and political life . . . Turkey’s original 1924 Constitution also contained the phrase that that Islam constitutes the religion of the state’ (Article 2), which was subsequently removed four years later and might very well be set to return now that the AKP is ruling the land” and Tayyip Erdogan is set to become the nation’s first Absolute President. After all, “Erdogan also appears determined to fashion his own personality cult”.His ultimate goal thus appears to be replacing the figure of Atatürk in the hearts and minds of the Turkish citizenry.

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Bloomberg’s Hacaoglu and Kozok explain that “even before Saturday’s vote, Erdogan had already arrogated to himself powers unusual for his ceremonial post [of President of the Republic]. He’s led sessions of the policy-making cabinet, and forced out the previous prime minister, [his erstwhile advisor and mentor] Ahmet Davutoglu, after he tried to assert his authority as head of the executive branch. While the AK Party [or AKP] lacks enough seats to carry parliament alone, the package was approved with backing from the nationalist opposition MHP. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Jan. 17 that his party was making the changes together with the nationalist MHP . . . If the legislative package is approved in a referendum, Erdogan’s ties to the ruling AK Party will be immediately restored while most of the measures, including powers granted to Erdogan to call elections or declare a state of emergency, will go into effect when the presidential and parliamentary elections are held Nov. 3, 2019. The legislative package, meanwhile, limits the parliament’s oversight over the executive branch and allows the president’s office to issue decrees with the force of law . . . Bulent Turan, a [parliamentary] whip from the Islamist-rooted [AKP], which Erdogan co-founded, rejected opposition claims that the amendments would create an elected dictatorship, saying they sought to allow for greater government oversight and to speed up decision making”.Turan also told the Anadolu Ajansı that parliament has fulfilled its task. Now it’s the people’s turn. Whatever decision our people take, we will all accept that decision“.7

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In contrast, the scholar of constitutional law Prof. Dr. İbrahim Özden Kaboğlu opines matter-of-factly that the proposed amendment effectively “phases out the parliament and takes power away from the hands of the government. The president moves to the center of executive power, reshaping the country’s regime around one man”.8

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1 “Make Donald Drumpf Again, #2” The Erimtan Angle (08 March 2016). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2016/03/08/make-donald-drumpf-again-2/.

2 C. Erimtan, “The Gezi anniversary and Turkey’s future under ‘President’ Erdogan” RT Op-Edge (04 June 2014). https://www.rt.com/op-edge/163620-turkey-future-gezi-anniversary/.

3 Selcan Hacaoglu and Firat Kozok, “Turkey Parliament Triggers Referendum on Presidential System” Bloomberg (21 Jan 2017). https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-01-21/turkey-parliament-triggers-referendum-on-presidential-system-iy6kd8n6.

4 Selcan Hacaoglu and Firat Kozok, “Turkey Parliament Triggers Referendum on Presidential System”.

5 C. Erimtan, “The Gezi anniversary and Turkey’s future under ‘President’ Erdogan” .

6 Selcan Hacaoglu and Firat Kozok, “Turkey Parliament Triggers Referendum on Presidential System”.

7 Hatice Özdemir, “AK Parti Grup Başkanvekili Turan: Milletimiz ne karar verirse hepimiz o karara razı olacağız”AA (21 Jan 2017). http://aa.com.tr/tr/politika/ak-parti-grup-baskanvekili-turan-milletimiz-ne-karar-verirse-hepimiz-o-karara-razi-olacagiz/732157.

8  Selcan Hacaoglu and Firat Kozok, “Turkey Parliament Triggers Referendum on Presidential System”.