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Beijing 2008: A Painting and its Meaning

Facebook

I stumbled across this intriguing picture on Facebook, of all places. The image was posted by a certain Joel Ng, who appears to be living in Brunei, again of all places. And this what he said by way of accompaniment: “Amazing thought-provoking painting “Beijing 2008” by Chinese-Canadian artist Liu Yi. The woman with the tattoos on her back is China. On the left, focused intensely on the game, is Japan. The one with the shirt and head cocked to the side is America. Lying provocatively on the floor is Russia. And the little girl standing to the side is Taiwan. This painting, named Beijing 2008, has been the subject of much discussion in the west as well as on the internet. What’s interesting is that this painting is called Beijing 2008, yet it depicts four women playing mahjong, and conceals a wealth of meaning within . . . China’s visible set of tiles “East Wind” has a dual meaning. First, it signifies China’s revival as a world power. Second, it signifies the military might and weaponry that China possesses has already been placed on the table. On one hand, China appears to be in a good position, but we cannot see the rest of her hand. Additionally, she is also handling some hidden tiles below the table. America looks confident, but is glancing at Taiwan, trying to read something off of Taiwan’s expression, and at the same time seems to be hinting something at Taiwan. Russia appears to be disinterested in the game, but this is far from the truth. One foot hooks coyly at America, while her hand passes a hidden tile to China, both countries can be said to be exchanging benefits in secret. Japan is all seriousness while staring at her own set of tiles, and is oblivious to the actions of the others in her self-focused state. Taiwan wears a traditional red slip, symbolizing that she is the true heir of Chinese culture and civilization. In one hand she has a bowl of fruit, and in the other, a paring knife. Her expression as she stares at China is full of anger, sadness, and hatred, but to no avail; unless she enters the game, no matter who ends up as the victor, she is doomed to a fate of serving fruit. Outside the riverbank is darkened by storm clouds, suggesting the high tension between the two nations is dangerously explosive. The painting hanging on the wall is also very meaningful; Mao’s face, but with Chiang Kai Shek’s bald head, and Sun Yat-Sen’s mustache”.a

Beijing 2008

Ng continues that the “four women’s state of undress represent the situation in each country. China is naked on top, clothed with a skirt and underwear on the bottom. America wears a bra and a light jacket, but is naked on the bottom. Russia has only her underwear left. Japan has nothing left. At first glance, America appears to be most composed and seems to be the best position, as all the others are in various states of nakedness. However, while America may look radiant, her vulnerability has already been exposed. China and Russia may look naked, yet their key private parts remain hidden. If the stakes of this game is that the loser strips off a piece of clothing, then if China loses, she will be in the same state as Russia (similar to when the USSR dissolved). If America loses, she also ends up in the same state as Russia. If Russia loses, she loses all. Japan has already lost everything. Russia seems to be a mere ‘filler’ player, but in fact is exchanging tiles with China. The real ‘filler’ player is Japan, for Japan has nothing more to lose, and if she loses just once more she is immediately out of the game. America may look like she is in the best position, but in fact is in a lot of danger, if she loses this round, she will give up her position as a world power. Russia is the most sinister, playing along with both sides, much like when China was de-occupied, she leaned towards the USSR and then towards America; as she did not have the ability to survive on her own, she had to weave between both sides in order to survive and develop. There are too many of China’s tiles that we cannot see. Perhaps suggesting that China has several hidden aces? Additionally China is also exchanging tiles with Russia, while America can only guess from Taiwan’s expression of what actions have transpired between Russia and China. Japan on the other hand is completely oblivious, still focused solely on her own set of tiles. Taiwan stares coldly at the game from aside. She sees everything that the players at the table are doing, she understands everything that is going on. But she doesn’t have the means or permission to join the game, she isn’t even given the right to speak. Even if she has a dearth of complaints, she cannot voice it to anyone, all she can do is to be a good page girl, and bring fresh fruit to the victor. The final victor lies between China and America, this much is apparent. But look closely; while America is capable, they are playing Chinese Mahjong, not Western Poker. Playing by the rules of China, how much chance at victory does America really have?”.b And that is question, particularly now that America’s nominal figurehead is a buffoon like the Drumpf, who seems to be bumbling through life as much anything else. In fact, the artist also has a Facebook page, and I imagine that enterprising or merely curious onlookers might want to query Lui Liu.c Still, I would say that Joel Ng has done an excellent job at unraveling the various layers of meaning and decoding the iconography as well as iconology of the work.

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aJoel Ng’s post in ’21SilkRd’ Facebook (01 July 2019). https://www.facebook.com/groups/947867908642430/permalink/2287003388062202/.

b Joel Ng’s post in ’21SilkRd’.

c“Lui Liu. @luiliupainter” Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/luiliupainter/.

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The Ottoman Tuğra: A Twitter Feed

Osmanlı Padişah Fermanları (1986)

When I was but a lowly undergrad studying in Brussels, I first encountered the Ottoman Tuğra in the summer of 1988. That chance meeting took place at the Türk-İslam Eserleri Müzesi in İstanbul.1 In fact, I became so enamoured with these samples of Ottoman calligraphy that I wanted to write my undergraduate thesis on them. Alas, due to lack of a qualified supervisor in the neighbourhood, that desire of mine remained unfulfilled. Needless to say, I have ever since always had a great love for Ottoman Tuğra‘s, but have in my academic career not been able to do anything about that. And, by sheer happenstance, nearly 31 years after my first exposure to the Tuğra, I just now stumbled across this quite wonderful Twitter feed, explaining nearly everything anyone would like to know about the delicate caligraphic flowers. The one doing the tweeting was Maryland-based historian who also happens to be a  PhD student Jonathan Parkes Allen, and here is a rendition. Dr Allen-to-be begins by saying these humble words: “And now a super-thread on the winding & complicated (pun intended) history of the tuǧra, a textual feature often defined as a ‘calligraphic emblem’ for ‘Turkic’ rulers, though that definition doesn’t capture the whole story. Let’s start with a ‘classic’ Ottoman tuǧra: That of Süleyman the Great. Here’s the entirety of the tuǧra I showed in detail view yesterday (LACMA M.85.237.17); it’s a good example of where the tuǧra would go under the Ottomans, with a fairly set form, lots of floral flourish, and a range of uses”.

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Continuing like this: “Use of the tuǧra goes back to at least the Great Seljuks. Exact origins are fuzzy (including the word’s etymology), but it seems like that the bow and arrow emblem visible on this gold dinar of Tughril Beg (d. 1063) represents an early tuǧra, or what would become the tuǧra”.

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Going on, “Our earliest textual attestation is from the Dīwān lughāt al-turk of Maḥmūd al-Kāshgarī (d. 1102), who gives this definition: ‘The tughra is the seal (ṭābiʿ) and signature (tawqīʿ) of the king; Oghuz dialect and not known to the [Western] Turks; I do not know its origin. The historian Bar Hebraeus (d. 1286) gives more context: ‘And from this time Sultan Tughril Beg began to inscribe the figure of a bow at the top of his seal, and inside it were these titles. And that sign was called ‘tughra’, and he who wrote [it] being commanded, ‘tughrai. No Seljuk tuǧras proper have survived, but Mamluk examples have, such as this one recorded by al-Qalqashandī (d. 1418) in his Ṣubḥ al-aʻshá. The basic form of the tuǧra is evident: soaring verticals (originally arrows?) with the rest of the letters interlacing (like bows)”.

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Moving along, “Al-Qalqashandī also discusses the administrative uses of and scribal practices associated with Mamluk tuǧras, which eventually fell out of fashion among the Mamluk rulers. From the Mamluks the tuǧra would go in two different directions: the Ottoman one and the Indian one. n India-especially in late medieval & early modern Bengal- Turkic Muslim rulers would employ the tuǧra style in spectacular fashion in inscriptions on architecture, such as this c. 1500 example from a west Bengal mosque built by Shahzade Daniyal (Met. 1981.320)”.

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And, “Or this one from 1487 from a mosque built by the Bengal Sultanate ruler Jalal al-Din Fath Shah (d. 1487), which beautifully displays the evolution from Mamluk tuǧra-as-calligraphic-signature to tuǧra-as-monumental-calligraphy (BM OA+.2299)”.

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The tuǧra would also continue, sporadically at least, to develop in India into its better known usage among the Ottomans as the calligraphic emblem of the ruler, culminating in Mughal tuǧras, such as this one of Shah Jahan embedded in a illumined rosette (Met. 55.121.10.39)”.

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Dr Allen-to-be then says that the “Mughals would also use a blockier (to use the technical language) form of the tuǧra affixed to official documents, such as this c. 1645 instance, also from Shah Jahan, w/ that of his son Dara Shikoh, on a fermān responding to a request for aid (Met. 1997.205)”.

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Finally getting down to the nitty-gritty he says: “Now for the Ottomans: one of our earliest surviving tuǧra, on a coin minted by a şehzade (prince), Süleyman Çelebi (d. 1411), shows what would become the typical features of the O. tuǧra: three verticals going up & two ellipticals going left, name & titles inside”.

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Explaining then that the “tuǧra would become an emblem used especially by sultans but also by other members of the elite; with a few exceptions, calligraphers from the inner hierarchy would draft, write, & illumine the reigning sultan’s tuǧra, the process governed by an array of officials & steps. Besides fermâns, the tuǧra was affixed to deeds, endowed books, to coins, (eventually) architectural inscriptions, and various other substrates, such as this book of Islamic jurisprudence with Bayezid II’s gorgeous gold and floral bedecked tuǧra (Khalili Collections MSS 83)”.

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Or this set-on-its-side tuǧra of Selim III, added in 1802 to a book of fatwas (Khalili Collections MS 84)”.

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Coins continued to feature sultanic tuǧras, such as this lovely instance minted in 1703 under Ahmed III (BM 1947,0606.1567)”.

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Going into some more detail, Dr Allen-to-be explains that the “tuǧra made its way into other contexts, too, such as in the following analogy made by the sufi şeyh Ismail Hakkı (d. 1725) in his Kenz-i maḫfî: ‘All of the prophets with the divine books in their hands are like a fermân of the exalted Sultan, while the Messenger of God, with the Qur’an in his hand, is like the fermân’s ṭuǧrâ. Just as if a sultanic fermân is not marked with a ṭuǧrâ it is not in force, if all of the prophets [& their books] had not been revealed & made manifest within the Muhammadan form…they would not be in circulation’. Ahmed III helped usher in new developments in the tuǧra, by drafting a hadith (‘My intercession is for those in my community, who commit greater sins’) in tuǧra form, which would become extremely popular in coming years, like other material forms of devotion”.

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And on, “[m]any, many copies of this hadith-tuǧra, to use Philippe Bora Keskiner’s term for it, exist, such as this elegant 18th c. copy, which would have been mounted by itself, similar to a hily-i şerîf. Going to stop for now- other tasks call- but I’ll pick this thread up later with 19th and 20th century permutations of the tuǧra, and of course others’ contributions and/or questions are welcome!”. . . And you can tweet him at @Mar_Musa.

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1Osmanlı Padişah Fermanları (Kültür Bakanlığı Yayınları Ankara 1986 ).

The end of multiculturalism, Islamophobia and the role of NATO

Tuesday, 23 November 2010. 

tevhid kelimesi

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

 

 

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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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”.

The Judeo-Christian Tradition and the Drumpf: Merry Christmas, ISIS

Abraham_Download

In 2014 Adam Zagoria-Moffet, currently Rabbi at the St Albans Masorti Synagogue, suggested that the concept of a Judeo-Christian tradition was actually coined in the course of the 1940s by none other than General Eisenhower (1890-1969). And in 1952, Eisenhower set out to connect his coinage with the historical figures of the U.S. Founding Fathers, Zagoria-Moffet continues reproducing part of a speech then delivered by Eisenhower: ‘“all men are endowed by their Creator.” In other words, our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is. With us of course it is the Judeo-Christian concept, but it must be a religion with all men created equal’.(1) In the same year, the German American Christian existentialist philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich penned a piece carrying the meaningful title “IS THERE A JUDEO-CHRISTIAN TRADITION?” . . . and he the goes on to pose the following query “[i]s it meaningful to say that Christianity is a Jewish or that Judaism is a Christian heresy?” only to then retort: “I answer in the affirmative”.(2) Tillich’s answer betrays the inherent problems of the coinage of a Judeo-Christian unity, given that anti-Semitism has been one of the important building blocks of Christianity, with the trope that Jesus was killed by the Jews functioning as the main justification for the many persecutions and progroms inflicted upon Jewish communities in Christian lands. Zagoria-Moffet, for his part, adds insightfully that the “Judeo-Christian value system that American political commentators love to reference has no precedent in history (in fact, quite the opposite), but it also has no basis in the theological and ethical systems of the two faiths. Advocates of the use of ‘Judeo-Christian’ as an acceptable adjective fail to acknowledge that the very core of their argument – that Judaism and Christianity share essential values – is simply untrue. It’s impossible to adequately compare two extremely developed theological systems – not even in a multi-volume work, much less in a blog post. For the sake of brevity, simply consider some basic principles of each faith. Law, salvation, afterlife, sin, hierarchy, ritual, monotheism – even belief, faith, and practice – nearly every component of an authentic Christian practice and an authentic Jewish one differ in an elementary way. If we wish to be precise (which we should), it simply doesn’t make sense to consider Judaism and Christianity as sharing the same outlook on God or the world”.(3)

God-creation

Still, it seems safe to say that the idea of a Judeo-Christian value-system has by now become nearly universally accepted in the West, meaning Europe and America, with such added components like Australia and New Zealand as well as Israel. In the 21st century, particularly following the tragic events cursorily known today only as “9/11”, the idea of a Judeo-Christian unity seems to have been superseded by the even more outlandish yet academically quite commonsense notion of Abrahamic religions sharing the same god, namely the God of Abraham. Thereby suggesting the existence of a kind of social corollary in the form a united fold of believers or the happy coexistence of Jews, Christians and Muslims – a coexistence that is supposed to act as a moral and social counterweight against sectarian violence, Islamist terrorism and Islamophobic outrages. The renowned religious scholar Aaron W. Hughes, however, suggests that “Abraham” as a “symbol of ecumicism” could “just as easily [also] function . . . as one of division and exclusivity. [A veritable] dialectic of history and myth, inclusivity and exclusivity, is the true progeny of Abraham as the three monotheistic religions have sought to define themselves and their relationsip to one another”.(4) Nowadays, the idea of an Abrahamic God is commonly used as a gateway to interfaith dialogue to counter a possible “Clash of Civilizations”, the proverbial Huntingtonian sword now threatening global peace, security and stabiltiy.

Clash-detail

In contrast, particularly now that the current US. President, Donald J. Trump aka the Drumpf, is regularly in the habit of invoking the notion of “Judeo-Christian values” ,(6) I would say that the trope of a “Clash of Civilizations” rather than interfaith dialogue has moved to the centre of attention again. He was recently speaking at ”an annual socially conservative conference”, the 2017 Values Voter Summit, and he did his best to dispell any notion that Christians are safe and sound today. The event took place on 13-15 October 2017 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel.(7) The dedicated website explains as follows: “Values Voter Summit was created in 2006 to provide a forum to help inform and mobilize citizens across America to preserve the bedrock values of traditional marriage, religious liberty, sanctity of life and limited government that make our nation strong. It has drawn over 3,000 plus attendees from around the nation and foreign countries. Garnering national and international media attention, CNN has called it ‘one of the top 10 political events of the year’ and ‘one of the conservative movement’s marquee annual events’. Sean Hannity called it ‘the premier conservative event now in the country’. VVS showcases the nation’s leading conservative voices including Republican presidential hopefuls. Previous speakers have included then-candidates Donald Trump and Mike Pence; Governor Mike Huckabee, Sam Brownback, Bobby Jindal and Rick Perry; Senators Ted Cruz, Lindsay Graham, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Tim Scott and former Senator Rick Santorum; Representatives Michele Bachmann, Steve King, Paul Ryan, Steve Scalise and former Representative Allen West; media personalities Glenn Beck, Dr. Bill Bennett, Erick Erickson, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Lt. Col. Oliver North, Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson; and Bill O’Reilly; Dr. Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Kirk Cameron, Star Parker, the Benham Brothers, national pro-life advocates including Lila Rose and David Daleiden, whose investigative work exposed the truth about Planned Parenthood; nationally recognized terrorism expert Brigitte Gabriel; and national best-selling authors Joel Rosenberg and Rabbi Jonathan Cahn. Mariam Ibraheem, the Sudanese Christian sentenced to death for her faith, was honored with the inaugural Cost of Discipleship Award in 2014, and in 2015, Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Kentucky Clerk, who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, was awarded the second inaugural Cost of Discipleship Award”.(8)

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The Drumpf addressed the gathered Christians, off-handedly remarking, “[a]nd we stand united behind the customs, beliefs and traditions that define who we are as a nation and as a people”, arguably keeping his six bankrupcies and two divorces in mind. Unperturbed by his own apparent moral failings, going on to say that “George Washington said that ‘religion and morality are indispensable’ to America’s happiness, really, prosperity and totally to its success. It is our faith and our values that inspires us to give with charity, to act with courage, and to sacrifice for what we know is right. The American Founders invoked our Creator four times in the Declaration of Independence — four times. [Applause] How times have changed. But you know what, now they’re changing back again. Just remember that. [Applause] Benjamin Franklin reminded his colleagues at the Constitutional Convention to begin by bowing their heads in prayer”.(9) In the next instance, the Drumpf states that “[r]eligious liberty is enshrined in the very first amendment of the Bill of Rights. And we all pledge allegiance to — very, very beautifully — ‘one nation under God’. [Applause] This is America’s heritage, a country that never forgets that we are all — all, every one of us — made by the same God in Heaven. [Applause] . . . To protect the unborn, I have reinstated a policy first put in place by President Ronald Reagan, the Mexico City Policy. [Applause] To protect religious liberty, including protecting groups like this one, I signed a new executive action in a beautiful ceremony at the White House on our National Day of Prayer — [applause] — which day we made official. [Applause] Among many historic steps, the executive order followed through on one of my most important campaign promises to so many of you: to prevent the horrendous Johnson Amendment from interfering with your First Amendment rights. [Applause] Thank you. We will not allow government workers to censor sermons or target our pastors or our ministers or rabbis. These are the people we want to hear from, and they’re not going to be silenced any longer. [Applause]”.(10)

MCP

Leaving the provision of abortion in foreign lands, the Drumpf turned homeward at a later point, exclaiming that “[w]e are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values. [Applause] Thank you. Thank you very much. And something I’ve said so much during the last two years, but I’ll say it again as we approach the end of the year. You know, we’re getting near that beautiful Christmas season that people don’t talk about anymore. [Laughter] They don’t use the word ‘Christmas’ because it’s not politically correct. You go to department stores, and they’ll say, ‘Happy New Year’ and they’ll say other things. And it will be red, they’ll have it painted, but they don’t say it. Well, guess what? We’re saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again. [Applause] and in another instance, turning his gaze outwards again: “In protecting America’s interests abroad, we will always support our cherished friend and partner, the State of Israel. [Applause] We will confront the dangers that imperil our nation, our allies, and the world, including the threat of radical Islamic terrorism. [Applause]”.(11)

Santa ISIS

(1) Adam Zagoria-Moffet, “The Myth of a Judeo-Christian Tradition” State of Formation (07 April 2014). http://www.stateofformation.org/2014/04/the-myth-of-a-judeo-christian-tradition/.

(2) Paul Tillich, “IS THERE A JUDEO-CHRISTIAN TRADITION?” Judaism, 1.2 (01 April 1952), p. 106. http://search.proquest.com/openview/96dcfb348d31a59c7d2b7817a57a2582/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=1817128

(3) Adam Zagoria-Moffet, “The Myth of a Judeo-Christian Tradition”.

(6)  Dan Merica, “Trump: ‘We are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values’” CNN (13 Oct 2017). http://edition.cnn.com/2017/10/13/politics/trump-values-voters-summit/index.html.

(7) 2017 Values Voter Summit. http://www.valuesvotersummit.org//.

(8) “VVS17 ★ ABOUT VVS” 2017 Values Voter Summit. http://www.valuesvotersummit.org/about.

(9) “Remarks by President Trump at the 2017 Values Voter Summit” The White House. https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/10/13/remarks-president-trump-2017-values-voter-summit.

(10) “Remarks by President Trump at the 2017 Values Voter Summit”.

(11) “Remarks by President Trump at the 2017 Values Voter Summit”.

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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