Sunday, August 8, 2010

Turkey and Anti-Semitism - It Could be Scary

I’ve never been one to spot anti-Semitism near and far. Nor to overlook it.

I was raised a secular Jew and remain one, married twice, each time to a shiksa, and my kids view themselves as half-Jewish, which you can be if Judaism is a nationality and a cultural heritage rather than a religion. I try to be dispassionate in matters concerning Israel, but I have to admit I feel a rush of nationalism with each war or skirmish. I do know where my loyalties lie, but I am critical of the political structure of Israel, their policies, the predominance of religious conservatives, personal arrogance of many Israelis, and cruelty towards Palestinians by troops and some policies, even given the obvious provocations. I support the Gaza incursion – rockets cannot be disregarded. So I tend to hang with J-Street, the alternative to the very conservative, very nationalistic AIPAC.

I’m just trying to locate myself as a reporter for what I have just found in our trip to the Black Sea and to Istanbul.

When traveling, I like to read the local English language press. It usually is boosterish, often amateurish and provincial, and I’m never sure where it comes from, but I read it. At least you get to hear what’s in the air. Last year I read the English language newspaper in Dubai, which were boosterish. Didn’t say much about sovereign funds, as I remember. Last week we were in Istanbul for a couple of days, and I read the Hürriet Daily News. They covered Recip Tayyib Erdoğan, Prime Minister since 2003, head of the Islamist Peace and Development Party. From his Wikipedia entry:

As prime minister, Erdoğan implemented numerous reforms within a period of time. After 45 years, the negotiations for Turkey's accession to the EU started during Erdoğan's tenure. A great deal was achieved in democratization, attaining transparency, and preventing corruption. Parallel to this, inflation, which had for decades adversely affected the country's economy, was taken under control and the Turkish Lira retrieved its former prestige through the elimination of six zeros. Interest rates for public borrowings were pulled down; per capita income grew significantly. The AK party won the elections of 2007 making it the first time in 52 years that a party in power has increased its votes for a second term.

Of course, what isn’t mentioned is that he was an apparent supporter of the very provocative Gaza flotilla last month that Israel botched so terribly, succumbing to the provocation. Where has that vaunted Israeli ability gone, anyway? On the way to becoming just another Middle East country, I hope not?

The Hürriet Daily News featured an apparent ongoing conflict between the government and the armed forces. Turkey it has often been said, is not a country with a military, but a military with a country. Since the time of Ataturk, the military has led in modernization and secularization – so I’ve always been for it. Now, however, the Hürriet Daily News reports that the government wants the military to be led by civilian government, which would be ho-hum in any other country. That’s the way it seemed to be treated by the Hürriet Daily News, but this is Turkey, and Turkish civilian-military relations cannot be treated that way. So it was curious that the Hürriet Daily News seemed to be treating it that way.

What, in fact, is Erdoğan’s deal? His party is Islamist. He won power partly because of the former ruling coalition’s incompetence and corruption, but there is an Islamist tide in the world. There is more Islamic dress observed in Turkey than previously, and more religious orthodoxy.

Is the Erdoğan government pushing for geopolitical advantage from its crossroads position and it’s 8% economic growth per year? Or is there some true ideology involved? Was the posing with Ahmadinijad and voting against UN Iranian sanctions geopolitical, internal political, or ideological? Or reaction to being turned down by the EU, especially by France, which is having its own Islamic problems now?

Nothing is simple. After all, A.J.P. Taylor, perhaps the greatest English historian of the past generation argued that Hitler was actually a traditional politician in his aims and means – minus the Holocaust, I would assume – I have to reread that book, which I just saw in my bookshelf yesterday, actually. So the best leaders mix their aims and goals for maximum advantage. As Aaron Wildavsky used to say, never do anything for one reason only, even though he was only talking about academics.

But here is what else I saw in the Hürriet Daily News. Erdoğan declared that Turkey, Hamas, and others could not get their true story told because the worldwide media is controlled by Jews. He also said that the PKK, Kurdish separatist guerillas which has resisted Turkish repression for years, are agents of their Jewish and Israeli paymasters.

This material is unreported in our press, as far as I can see. If it has some validity, that this is what he is really saying, this is really some serious anti-Semitic shit. Next thing we’ll be hearing is the Protocols of Zion, the notorious Russian forgery of the secret Jewish plot to take over the world. Next thing we’ll be hearing is Holocaust denial from him.

As I say, I’m a secular Jew, and I’m pretty assimilated. I don’t look for anti-Semitism under every stone. I support Israel but only with reservations. But I also know, anti-Semitism is always there, ready to be reinvigorated. It lives and thrives in the European Left Wing and academia. And I know you can’t let anti-Semitism just burn itself out, because it won’t. Just like in a political campaign, you have to hit back early and often.

There is always more than meets the eye. The Israelis sure know what is going on, and they are in negotiations with Turkey, their best partner in the Muslim world. If Turkey really wants to grow, being able to trade with Israel and benefit from that vibrant economy is a better deal than the stagnation in other places, such as Iran. So I’m not jumping to conclusions.

But if this is accurate reporting, and this is really what he said – isn’t this dangerous? If this is true, if he is really saying these things, if the Hürriet Daily News has any validity at all – this is very scary stuff.

Budd Shenkin

1 comment:

  1. Very unsettling. We can hope that growing exposure to western ideas of tolerance and human rights will take hold among the youth.