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Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

Molenbeek: Radicale Islam in België en een gesprek met Teun Voeten

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De oorlogsfotograaf en antropoloog Teun Voeten heeft tot 2015 in Molenbeek gewoond, maar op dat had hij er genoeg van en is weggetrokken. Toen had Voeten een gesprek met Christophe Degreef, gepubliceerd in het tijdschrift BRUZZ.1 Voeten begint zijn betoog als volgt: “De Marokkanen van Molenbeek hebben een sterk parochiale cultuur. Laag-Molenbeek is een etnische enclave van een zeer gesloten gemeenschap. Daarop heeft zich een toenemend islamisme gevestigd, een onderstroom die steeds belangrijker wordt. Vrouwen krijgen de raad een hoofddoek te dragen, en als ze dat niet doen worden ze geïntimideerd.” Vervolgen geeft Voeten wat meer uitleg: “De Duitse filosoof Friedrich Nietzsche had gelijk. De moderne geseculariseerde mens heeft de Sklavenmoral van de christenen behouden en wentelt zich in zelfhaat en capitulatiedrang. Wij vinden dat wij schuld hebben aan al het leed van de wereld. We hebben op een kortzichtige manier onze eigen godsdienst weggegooid en denken dat we vrij zijn. Aan de andere kant heb je nu vijftig tot zestig procent van de Europese moslims – volgens een recente studie uit Berlijn – die een zeer conservatieve invulling van de islam volgen. De rest niet, dus, maar een groot deel onder hen is wel vatbaar voor het verwijt dat ze dan niet vroom genoeg zijn. Net zoals meneer pastoor vroeger mensen ‘raad’ kwam geven, en heel wat mensen plots in een vlaag beseften dat ze niet vroom genoeg waren.” En dat is het probleem uiteraard, een probleem dat aangeeft dat het momenteel niet echt zo schuchtere percentage van 50 à 60% wel al te vlug zou kunnen opzwellen tot 75% zoniet 90%. Voeten vervolgens zegt dat de “meeste moslims die ik in mijn leven heb ontmoet zijn wel lieve, goede mensen, maar zeer beïnvloedbaar voor godsdienstige verwijten.”

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En dan neemt Voeten geen blad voor mond meer: de “Islamitische Staat is als een bliksemafleider waar alle spanningen en frustraties samenkomen. We leven in een goor neoliberaal tijdperk, en mensen worden door het economische systeem aan de kant gezet. Ze worden steeds overbodiger, kijk maar naar de berichten over de nieuwe golf automatiseringen die op komst is. De strenge islam biedt buitengesloten jongeren een sterke identiteit en groepsgevoel, en daarbovenop een staat die je de kans geeft om iemand te zijn, om avontuur te beleven, om te ‘leven’ tout court. In 2012 had je nog een soort idealisme bij jongeren die naar Syrië trokken. Ze gingen tegen dictator Bashar Al-Assad vechten. Naïef, maar begrijpelijk. Maar nu is Islamitische Staat puur fascistoïde geworden. Iedereen die zich daar nu nog bij aansluit is medeplichtig aan oorlogsmisdaden.” Terug naar het hier en nu, met andere woorden, Molenbeek in 2015, zegt Voeten: “Hier is een van die obscure moskeetjes waar ik dezelfde mannen heb zien lopen als in Syrië: jihadi-dresscode.” En terug naar een ietwat breder onderwerp zegt hij dat de “Islamitische Staat . . . de ideologie van de haat is [die] in de praktijk gebracht. Daarom dat het ook zo succesvol is: er is een grondgebied, een land waar je de haat tegen ongelovigen zomaar in de praktijk kan brengen. Niet alleen jonge mannen, maar ook jonge vrouwen vinden het best geil daar. Men zegt dat ze maar met honderden zijn, de Belgische Syriëstrijders, en dat dat niet veel is. Maar tel daar de actieve sympathisanten bij op, de complotdenkers, de conservatieve moslims die IS misschien niet steunen, maar ook niet afvallen, en je bent al met veel.” En ook brengt Voeten zijn eigen credo aan de man tijdens zijn gesprek met Degreef: “Ik ben een anti-imperialist,” zegt Voeten, als statement. “Ik vecht tegen Islam-imperialisme.”

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The end of multiculturalism, Islamophobia and the role of NATO

Tuesday, 23 November 2010. 

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel was re-elected last year with a larger majority, which allowed her to form a coalition with the free-market party Free Democratic Party (FDP), or Freie Demokratische Partei in German, more in line with her own conservative political values.

Recently, Frau Merkel has managed to get noticed beyond Germany’s borders and occupy the internatifonal headlines — Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, a senior director at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, even spoke of a “global media tsunami.” In a speech she gave at a meeting of younger members of her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Frau Merkel namely said the unthinkable: “At the start of the ‘60s we invited the guest-workers to Germany. We kidded ourselves for a while that they wouldn’t stay, that one day they’d go home. That isn’t what happened. And, of course, the tendency was to say let’s be ‘multikulti’ and live next to each other and enjoy being together, [but] this concept has failed, failed utterly.”

In spite of the fact that she tried to balance these harsh words with subsequent statements stressing Germany’s openness and its willingness to give people “opportunities,” overnight Frau Merkel’s shrill condemnation of the multicultural experiment became an international sensation. Her words came in the wake of the controversy surrounding former Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin. His book “Deutschland schafft sich ab” (“Germany Does Away With Itself”), appearing at the end of August 2010, caused indignation nationally and internationally. At the time, the BBC reported that in his book “Mr Sarrazin has criticised German Muslims, suggested the existence of a Jewish gene, and warned of ethnic Germans being outnumbered by [Muslim] migrants.” These two high-profile outrages indicate that the guest-workers (gastarbeiter) of yesteryear, who used to do all the heavy and unpleasant jobs unfit for locals, have now assumed an altogether different identity. Whereas previously these immigrants were primarily seen as foreign nationals, mostly from Turkey, but also hailing from Morocco and Algeria, they have now become an altogether different group: They are now seen first and foremost as Muslims.

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Foreigners in Germany

So, how did these foreigners end up in Germany? Following the end of World War II in Europe (May 8, 1945) and the promulgation of the Marshall Plan (April 3, 1948), West Germany went through a time of bustling economic activity. In the ’50s and ’60s, Germany witnessed the so-called “Wirtschaftswunder” (economic miracle) which transformed the war-ravaged country into an economic powerhouse. In order to dispose of sufficient labor forces, the then-West German government signed a number of bilateral recruitment agreements with countries that could supply some much-needed workers to do the job. In 1955 Germany signed a deal with Italy; in 1960 with Greece; in 1961 with Turkey, and two years later with Morocco. But the reality was such that after 1961, Turkish citizens (largely from rural areas) soon became the largest group of gastarbeiter in West Germany. These Turks had at first arrived on their own, single men willing to work and eager to return home laden with money and luxury goods. But, as indicated by Frau Merkel in her notorious speech, these men were soon joined by their wives, established families and subsequently struck deep roots in German soil. Second and third-generation Turkish immigrants grew up in Germany facing racism and discrimination. These German-born Turks met with prejudice and intolerance, based upon their status as foreigners, foreigners from the backward East, speaking a different language and practicing a different religion. But the locals saw them primarily as “Turks,” as individuals belonging to a different ethnic or national group. Back in those good old days of overt xenophobia, brave investigative journalists like Günter Wallraff were able to report on the racism Turks were bound to encounter in the German workplace. In his 1985 book “Ganz unten” (“Lowest of the Low”) Wallraff describes how Turkish workers were routinely mistreated by employers, landlords and the German government. Back then, the racism encountered by the Turkish gastarbeiter was the plain and simple kind that discriminated against the outsider on account of his or her ethnic or national background.

Nowadays, however, commentators and politicians alike tend to forget national or ethnic identifiers, instead opting for religious markers, and thus speaking about the Muslim other present in Germany (and by extension, Europe), the Muslim other whose presence and actions are incompatible with Western civilization and alien to the Judeo-Christian tradition which provides the framework for much, if not all, of Europe’s culture and identity. The professor of sociology, scholar and expert in Islamic matters, Stefano Allievi rightly remarks that the “immigrant … has progressively become ‘Muslim,’ both in his/her perception by the host societies and in his/her self-perception.” Nowadays, Europeans express their dislike of the “other” in religious and/or cultural terms. This has led to the creation of a new term that is oftentimes not even associated with racist sentiments and/or reflexes: Islamophobia. But we should be clear about this: Islamophobia is nothing but a new name given to the age-old reflex of racism. I can already hear some people objecting and uttering the phrase, “But Islam is not a race.” In fact, some scientists have argued over the past years that the mere concept of race as a distinguishing factor between humans does not really exist. Scientists like C. Loring Brace, Steve Jones, Nina Jablonski and Norman Sauer have made their case on more than one occasion. Rather than claiming racial differences between individual humans, they suggest that the criterion of race is as much a cultural artifact and a social construct as it is reflective of real differences between individuals and/or social groups. In that sense, racism is the term we use to describe the act of discriminating against an individual or a group of people based on certain traits (held in common) that are seen as undesirable, unwelcome and alien. On the BBC World Service, Professor Jones declared that “races are really in the eye of the beholder” and not necessarily a biological reality. As a result, the term Islamophobia suggests that the trait held in common by the people deserving discrimination and exclusion is their religious affiliation rather than their skin color or physiology, and thus we could term Islamophobia a clear form of “cultural racism.”

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Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All’

In 1997, the Runnymede Trust, “the UK’s leading independent race equality think tank,” issued an influential report in this respect: “Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All.” In the report one can read that the term Islamophobia is “the shorthand way of referring to the dread and hatred of Islam — and, therefore, the fear or dislike of all, or most Muslims.” Additionally, the report claims that this “fear or dislike of all, or most Muslims” first appeared in the mid-’70s. Today, Islamophobia as a social phenomenon is all but commonplace all over Europe: in the UK, the racist British National Party (BNP) is steadily gaining in force and popularity; in the Netherlands, the Islamophobic hate-monger Geert Wilders has booked an expected electoral victory for his Party For Freedom (PVV), or Partij voor de Vrijheid; neighboring Belgium also recently saw a good showing for the separatist and xenophobic Flemish Interest (VB), or Vlaams Belang, while in Sweden, prior to last September’s elections, Björn Söder, a member of the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD), or Sverigedemokraterna, claimed that an “Islamic revolution akin to the one that swept through Iran in 1979 could easily take place in Sweden.” Söder’s statement is particularly revealing of the current mood not just in Sweden but in the whole of Europe. Let us put his statement into a bit of context. In 2009, a report on migration in Sweden established that there were about 450,000 to 500,000 Muslims in Sweden, which translates to around 5 percent of the total population. Yet Söder felt completely at ease to warn his fellow Swedes of impending doom and gloom, as these 5 percent of the total population were about to unleash an “Islamic revolution akin to the one that swept through Iran” in Scandinavia. Southern European countries are not immune, either. In Italy, the Northern League (LG), or Lega Nord, is particularly vociferous in its condemnation of Muslim immigrants. And now Germany’s centrist Christian-Democrat Angela Merkel also seems to be pandering to populist Islamophobic sentiment by declaring the death of multiculturalism.

How did this happen?

The continent of Europe had in the post-World War II era decisively moved towards a secular society, a society where one’s religious beliefs and cultural preferences were increasingly confined to one’s private life and where multiculturalism was thus allowed to bloom and prosper. Racism, xenophobia and sheer chauvinism were supposed to be traits of the past in Europe. In reality, however, the population of Europe has never really been able to suppress its covert “racist” instincts and distrust of the “other.” But nowadays these atavistic sentiments receive a religious label, which is no doubt linked with 9/11 and the subsequent “war on terror.” In fact, ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall religion has been making a comeback in Europe — at first in the former communist countries and now also in Western Europe. In Europe, more and more people appear to rediscover their Christian roots. The present pope, Benedict XVI, is currently cunningly tapping into that well of resurgent Christianity and has openly declared his hostility towards “aggressive forms of secularism” and “atheist extremism.” These trends feed into the age-old rivalry between Islam and Christianity. On a political level, such a development had been sanctioned as long ago as February 1995. Then, Willy Claes, NATO secretary-general from 1994-95, said, “Islamic militancy has emerged as perhaps the single gravest threat to the NATO alliance and to Western security” in the aftermath of the fall of communism. Claes added that extremist Muslims oppose “the basic principles of civilization that bind North America and Western Europe.” The then-NATO secretary-general was nevertheless diplomatic enough to remark that his declaration should not be seen as a call for “a crusade against Islam.” Nevertheless, Claes had let the genie out of the bottle, and here we are today, in a world where racism in the form of Islamophobia is rampant and on the rise. The situation has become even more volatile and combustible now, in the aftermath of 9/11 and the US-led “war on terror,” which some see as a thinly veiled “war on Islam.” Is it any wonder that Claes’ words have turned out to be prophetic? In view of Europe’s now sizeable Muslim population, it is imperative that the multicultural experiment be continued to achieve a future of peace and prosperity. But the fact that Germany’s chancellor can now recklessly declare the failure of multiculturalism in Germany (and Europe) appears to indicate the absence of the political will to oppose the creeping trend towards open hostility against Islam and Muslims. Instead, politicians increasingly pander to the whims of an electorate that has been manipulated into viewing Islam as a threat and danger to the “basic principles of civilization.” Will the future see a revival of open hostility between Islam and Christianity? Will Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” become a political and possibly even military reality in years to come? Only time will tell . . . 

Willy Willy

 

 

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

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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

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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

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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”.

SECULARISM, BEER AND BIKINIS (2011-03-09)

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

 

SECULARISM, BEER AND BIKINIS

CAN ERİMTAN

Some time ago, the Turkish government made public that it planned to alter the way in which alcohol is being sold in the country. According to some, the current Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government has been waging a war against the consumption of alcohol in the country in a bold-faced attempt to bring Turkey more in line with Islamic rules and regulations.

Two vocal critics of the AKP and its government, Soner Çağaptay and Cansın Ersöz, researchers affiliated with the Turkish Research Program at the pro-Israeli Washington Institute for Near East Policy, categorically write that since “the AKP rose to power in Turkey in 2002, special taxes on alcohol have increased dramatically, making a glass of wine or beer one of the most expensive in Europe, and for that purpose anywhere in the world.” In June 2002, the AKP adopted the Special Consumption Tax, or ÖTV, which raised the tax on alcoholic beverages from 18 percent (the standard VAT rate) to 48 percent, and as time went by, the ÖTV rate increased more and more until it reached 63 percent in 2009. Subsequently, the government came under fire for its policy and in 2010, some ÖTV taxes were eliminated.

But now the Tobacco and Alcohol Market Regulatory Authority, or TAPDK, has issued new regulations restricting advertisements for alcoholic beverages as well as its sale tactics. The decree requires catering companies that organize events that serve alcoholic beverages to get a license before each event. While it also prohibits supermarkets and grocery stores from placing alcoholic products for sale near goods aimed at children and youngsters. In addition, the sale of alcohol will be banned at municipally owned establishments and along roads designated as highways and state routes in the traffic code. However, no such provision in the regulation will apply to the sale of alcoholic beverages at venues in coastal zones. Draconic measures which restrict access to a product which is already restricted as a result of its high price?

Çağaptay and Ersöz opine that in “2003, Turkey’s per capita alcohol consumption rate was 1.4 liters per year. For that same year, this amount was 10.9 liters in Belgium; and 11.5 liters and 9.0 liters in neighboring Cyprus and Greece respectively. Even, Qatar, which implements a rigid version of the Shariah under the Wahhabi school, had higher per capita alcohol consumption rates than Turkey, at 4.4 liras per capita.” In other words, Turkish citizens do not appear to partake of alcoholic beverages all that much to begin with.

Arguments claiming to protect the young are very popular when it comes to restricting access to “forbidden” products such as pornography and/or drugs the world over. Mehmet Küçük, the head of the TAPDK, has publicly said that the aim of the new decree was not to restrict individuals’ freedoms but to lessen alcohol’s incentive. In other words, Küçük merely wants to limit the availability of attractive seducers, arguably in a way somewhat similar to the effect of laws that eventually prohibited the Marlboro Man from riding into the sunset while willingly exposing his body to carcinogenic substances in Europe and elsewhere. Küçük is thus suggesting that Turkish citizens require a nanny-state that knows best what is right or wrong. Turkey, a country that straddles the Balkans and the Middle East with a population that is officially 99.9 percent Muslim, is arguably the only country with an Islamic population and culture that allows its citizens unrestricted access to alcoholic beverages. Are the new regulations regarding the sale of alcoholic beverages in Turkey a somewhat cynical ploy to increase the state’s tax revenues or is there more than meets the eye?

In my opinion, the whole debate surrounding the consumption of alcohol in Turkey is primarily about perception. Opponents of the AKP government accuse Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ministers of secretly planning to introduce Islamic codes and attitudes via the backdoor. They thus regard this new TAPDK decree as a direct attack on the country’s “secular constitution.”

Is this really the case, and if so, why? In my book, “Ottomans looking West?” I posited that the “proclamation of the Republic . . . liberated Turkish citizens from the restrictions of Islam and the Şeriat [Shariah].” As a result, Republican Turks were meant to enjoy this world and its delights to the fullest and the decision to let Turkish citizens “partake of the delights of the mortal world was arguably crystallized in the consumption of alcoholic beverages. A strict interpretation of Islam explicitly prohibits the drinking of intoxicants in this world.” Hence, the issue of unrestricted access to beer and other alcoholic intoxicants has now assumed political, if not ideological, importance.

Turkey’s Muslim citizens have had legal access to alcohol since 1926. Turkey’s Islamic neighbor states do not grant their citizens equally easy access to the forbidden delights of alcohol. As a result, some Turks regard the issue as critical to the definition of secularism in the country. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) also defines secularism as “Concerned with the affairs of this world, wordly; not sacred.”

But nowadays, the term, particularly in its French form of laicité (at the root of Turkey’s laiklik), denotes a strict separation of church (or religion) and state. And, the theory is that Turkey, as a result of the reform movement, known as the İnkılap, is a secular state. In reality, however, ever since the Turkish state abolished the Caliphate and the Ministry of Pious Endowments in 1924, the Turkish Republic has regulated its citizens’ religious life through the Religious Affairs Directorate, a branch of government attached to the office of the prime minister.

Consequently, proponents of secularism in Turkey quite naturally feel the need to attach a lot of importance to certain symbolic issues: the availability of alcoholic beverages springs to mind, as well as the thorny headscarf issue, or rather the notion that women possess the freedom to don more or less revealing outfits (arguably, to please the male gaze). Let us call these charged matters “beer and bikinis” as a shorthand for the contentious topic of Turkish secularism in the 21st century.

Ali Bardakoğlu, the president of the Diyanet until recently, publicly called for the establishment of an independent religious authority in Turkey in an interview he gave to the self-avowed atheist Ahmet İnsel of daily Radikal (Oct. 23-24, 2010). After he made these statements, Bardakoğlu was replaced by Mehmet Görmez as the head of the Diyanet (Nov. 11).

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Grenfell Tower Disaster: Diane Abbott and a Woman called Donna

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Diane Abbott, the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and shadow Home Secretary, has now come out to say that “Grenfell Tower is not just an accident; Grenfell Tower is not just an unfortunate incident. Those hundreds of people that died are a direct consequence of Tory attitudes in social housing . . . The Tories think people in social housing are second-class citizens. And, as we have seen from Grenfell House, they are offering them second-class standards of safety. So, a direct consequence of that. A direct consequence of outsourcing . . . and a direct consequence of deregulation”.(1) In contrast, the official narrative of the disaster holds that its death toll is limited to 79 . . . As Abbot points out though, “I think we are going to find that the numbers of people that have died will be in triple figures, just because it’s a 23-storey [sic] block”.(2)

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Adding insult to injury, as noted by the Independent‘s Greg Wilford, a “wealthy Kensington resident claimed she would leave her luxury block of flats if victims of the Grenfell Tower tragedy were given shelter there, telling a radio host the accommodation ‘shouldn’t be given for free’. The woman, called Donna, asked LBC listeners to ‘stand in my shoes’ as she complained that her council tax bill might increase if people were re-housed in her building, which she said has a £15,500 annual service charge. She told radio host Shelagh Fogart she would be ‘resentful’ if those who lost their homes in the recent fire were allowed to move in because she has worked ‘very hard’ to afford her property”.(3) Trying not to appear like the heartless bitch that she is, the woman called Donna explained that her “service charge bill, and this is a low one this year, is £15,500, and I would feel really resentful if someone got the same thing for free. I feel sorry for those people, but my husband and I work very hard to be able to afford this”.(4)

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In a clear effort to convince the world that even moderately rich people are scum of the earth, the woman called Donna next went to great lenghts explicating her lack of humanity on the radio: “And for someone to get it free . . . I would move. Our council tax bill is very, very high, our service charge bill is very, very high, so why should someone get it for free? I know it sounds harsh, believe me I feel sorry for those people, but I work very, very hard and so does my husband . . . I’m not hard-hearted, but When I’m paying that kind of money and someone else is getting it for free, if you stand in my shoes you can say that because you’re not. It’s like paying a rent to stay in your house, £15,500 a year”.(5)

Donna May

(1) Shehab Khan, “‘Hundreds’ died in Grenfell Tower fire, says shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott” The Independent (24 June 2017). http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/grenfell-tower-fire-diane-abbott-victims-number-hundreds-labour-shadow-home-secretary-a7806106.html.

(2) Shehab Khan, “‘Hundreds’ died in Grenfell Tower fire, says shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott”.

(3) Greg Wilford, “Wealthy Kensington resident says Grenfell Tower victims shouldn’t be given shelter in luxury flats” The Independent (24 June 2017). http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/grenfell-tower-fire-victims-kensington-row-rehoused-lbc-luxury-flats-a7806026.html.

(4) Greg Wilford, “Wealthy Kensington resident says Grenfell Tower victims shouldn’t be given shelter in luxury flats”.

(5) Greg Wilford, “Wealthy Kensington resident says Grenfell Tower victims shouldn’t be given shelter in luxury flats”.

Turkey and the EU: Words of Warning?!??

PIRI, Kati (S&D, NL)

On 20 June 2017, the EU Rapporteur on Turkey Kati PIRI (S&D,NL) made the following remarks: “All the groups in this Parliament have a different position about what should be the future of EU-Turkey relations. While we see that the Commission and the Council are actually silent about what’s going on in Turkey I am proud and of course it was the toughest battle to make sure that Parliament speaks with one voice. One voice of concern about the human rights in Turkey and one voice that it will have consequence’s on the accession process. So, what we adopted today says, if the constitutional package will be implemented unchanged this means that we will have to lead to the formal suspension of the accession talks with Turkey . . . If there is a suspension of the accession process, automatically you also have a suspension of the so-called pre-accession funds. We also indicated that in case that scenario comes into reality, the money that is now allocated to Turkey should be spent directly on civil society in Turkey. So, not back to the EU budget but the money that was meant for the Turkish population should be directly also dispersed to the Turkish population . . . Turkey to be honest over the last 6 years, of course, have done a lot when it comes to hosting refugees. There is still 3.2 million refugees today in Turkey and we also urge in the report. The member states of the EU, they made a promise with the EU-Turkey deal to take more vulnerable refugees from Turkey to the EU. So, it is not just critical when it comes to the Turkish government but we also clearly insist that the EU sticks to its part of the deal”.(1)

European Commission: Daily News 20 / 06 / 2017

EU Syria Trust Fund: new assistance package to support Syrian refugees and host communities crosses €1 billion mark

The EU Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis adopted new projects worth €275 million that will support refugees and their overstretched host communities in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, the Western Balkans, and Armenia. Projects will focus on education, health care, support of local community, social inclusion, gender equality. The newly adopted assistance package brings the current overall volume of the EU Trust Fund up to over €1 billion which was the goal set by President Juncker on 23 September 2015 at the Informal meeting of the European Council on migration and in the Communication on Managing the Refugee Crisis. The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission, Federica Mogherini said: “We are giving a lifeline to millions of Syrians inside the country and across the region, helping create a future for Syrian refugees and host communities. By enabling girls and boys to access quality education, we are helping to prevent a lost generation of children whose lives have been devastated by the Syrian conflict […]”. EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn commented: “Thanks to the EU Trust Fund, children in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey are able to go to school and have access to safe spaces for non-formal education, protection and psycho-social care. […] The EU will continue to respond to the needs arising from the Syria conflict, as testified by the fact that more than €1 billion is being channelled to improve lives via this Trust Fund”. The full press release is available online as well as the dedicated factsheet. (For more information: Maja Kocijancic – Tel.: +32 229 86570; Alceo Smerilli – Tel.: +32 229 64887).(2)

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