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Archive for the ‘Pop Culture’ Category

When I met Tony: No Reservations in Istanbul

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

Ist Eats

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

Easter Island

Sunday’s Zaman, Sunday, 12 December 2010.

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

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

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

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

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

A metaphor for the state of planet earth

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

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

Debates deemed ‘unnecessary’

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

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

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

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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

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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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Jihad goes to School in Turkey

Hamdi

AKP member Ahmet Hamdi Çamlı, who used to be a driver of Turkey’s President but at present seems to be a member of the Youth, Sports and Culture Commission of the Ministry for National Education,(1) has now also made the news in Turkey.

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And this driver-turned-official has namely made a number of remarks relating to the Ministry for National Education’s decision to include the teaching of the concept of Jihad in Turkey’s schools. On Friday, 21 July 2017, Çamlı told the press the following: “[w]hen you look at the Ottoman sultans, almost none of them performed the pilgrimage in order not to take a break from jihad . . . There is no use in teaching math to a kid who does not know the concept of jihad”.(2) While it is true that no Ottoman Sultan has ever undertaken the holy pilgrimage to Meccah, the reasons were more likely practical that concerned with upholding jihad. The Ottomans did not see themselves as mujahids (practitioner of jihad or striving in the way of God), and did not employ the concept of jihad in their war efforts till the late 18th century. Quite some years ago now, I talked about the concept of jihad (Originally published on 18 September 2010): “[n]owadays the term jihad is much bandied about and used and/or abused at will by Muslims as well as non-Muslims the world over. The historian and Islam specialist Mark Sedgwick maintains that the concept of jihad was developed in the 8th century, when it basically functioned as a ‘mixture of the Army Regulations and the Geneva Conventions, appropriate for the circumstances of the time’. At the time of the Islamic conquests (7-8th centuries), the world was divided between a House of Islam (Darülislam) and the House of War (Darülharb) and international relations between both spheres were primarily military in nature. But as the centuries progressed and relations between Muslims and the outside world achieved a quasi-peaceful status quo, punctuated by commercial exchanges and trade links, the idea of jihad changed as well. There is the well-known distinction between the greater jihad (al-jihād al-akbar) and the lesser jihad (al-jihād al-asghar), between a personal struggle in the way of Allah (crf. Surah 29:69) and an armed struggle to protect believers against oppression and violence perpetrated by unbelievers. In other words, jihad evolved from a code of war into a defensive mechanism, tantamount to a religious duty leading to religious rewards”.(3)

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Ghaza not Jihad

Back in the 1930s, the Orientalist Paul Wittek ‘proposed his Ghazî thesis to explain the sudden and apparently inexplicable emergence of the Ottoman state at the end of the 13th century. The Austrian historian and Orientalist argued that the Ottomans, [had been] imbued with a Ghazî spirit, meaning a zealous warlike attitude brimming with a glowing fervour for Holy War [or Ghaza, in Wittek’s wording], necessarily carried the day at the time. Wittek thought that Ottoman Ghazîs possessed a clear advantage over their contemporaries as members of a polity that had always been inspired by a fanatic enthusiasm for conquest, booty, and expansion’. Ghaza and not Jihad had been the Ottomans’ raison d’être acccording to this Orientalist. And this opinion was adopted by historians and Ottomanists alike. In due time though, authors like Rudi Lindner and Cemal Kafadar offered a somewhat different perspective, basically debunking the whole Ghazî ethos and spirit, but popular opinion still seems largely beholden to this interpretation. With regards to the application of the concept of jihad in an Ottoman context, we have to wait till the year 1774. At that stage, Sultan Mustafa III (1757-74) was waging war against Catherine the Great (1762-96) and the Ottomans were on the losing side. As a result, Mustafa III had his Sheik-ul-Islam issue a call for jihad to defend the Ottoman Empire against a victorious infidel, the Russian Empire. After all, according to Islamic theory jihad is a defensive mechanism . . . following the Prophet’s death in 632, the first time Muslims declared a jihad was in the year 1099. The Crusaders besieged the city of Jerusalem in the period 7 June – 15 July 1099 before conquering the third holy site in Islam. In response to this calamity, Muslims rulers called for a universal jihad to liberate Muslim lands from the hands of Christian infidels . . . but the reconquest of Jerusalem did not take place until 2 October 1187.(4)

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(1) ‘Mil.Eğit. Genç. Spor ve Kültür Kom. Üyesi’ “Ahmet Hamdi ÇAMLI” Twitter. https://twitter.com/ahmethamdicamli.

(2) “Ruling AKP’s Deputy: Useless To Teach Math To A Kid Who Does Not Know Concept Of Jihad” SCF (22 July 2017). https://stockholmcf.org/ruling-akps-deputy-useless-to-teach-math-to-a-kid-who-does-not-know-concept-of-jihad/

(3) “The War in Afghanistan: Jihad, Foreign Fighters and al Qaeda” The Erimtan Angle (04 Feb 2017). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2017/02/04/the-war-in-afghanistan-jihad-foreign-fighters-and-al-qaeda/.

(4) Cfr. Wikipedia.

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)

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(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”.