Sunday, January 30, 2011

Egypt: Sentiments vs. Advice

[Cross-posted with From the Field]

“Some may argue that the events unfolding in the Middle East now are too unpredictable to warrant a wholesale shift in U.S. foreign policy, that transferring support from loyal satraps to an untested popular opposition may backfire if that opposition fails or is put down, that the U.S. needs reassurances of friendly allies (often at the expense of democracy). But America is not simply a bystander in all of this -- its actions and words will affect the outcome. They will signal to opposition and regimes alike how far each can expect to go in challenging -- or repressing -- the other. Opposition movements (and would-be opposition movements) secular or Islamist are not only waging a battle against authoritarian oppression -- but a battle against the ways in which the U.S. manifests its quest to secure its geo-strategic interest."

I know and respect the three authors (Amaney Jamal, Ellen Lust and Tarek Masoud) of this piece, but I do not fully share their prognostication.  No doubt, the Obama administration like its predecessors has been complacent about the stability of Egypt, as a number of scholars and analysts have warned.  Nonetheless, despite a few misstatements along the way, including by VP Biden and SecState Hillary Clinton, the Obama administration has handled the Egypt crisis sensibly, if not deftly.  When the demonstrations began on January 25th, it was not clear how much momentum the protests would sustain.  It is unreasonable to expect the U.S. to turn its policy on a dime, and the administration would have been derelict to do so.

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Mubarak chooses a familiar general as the first Vice President in thirty years

“My analysis is, the government will leave them until they reach a level of exhaustion---Abdel Moneim Said, who heads the state publishing house al-Ahram.
Egypt is in a moment of enthusiasm when the people are propelled by adrenalin, coffee and anger.  Don’t stay up waiting for them to nod off to sleep in exhaustion.  The Mubarak regime has relentlessly worked to depoliticize society, but the people are now highly politicized, meaning that they share the view, many of them at least, that there is a political solution—Mubarak must go.
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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Fascism as a Family Affair

by Murat Cem Menguc

A September 2010 Turkish referendum on constitutional reforms was an occasion for Turkish people to also express their political opinions outside the official polls. Internet based social networks like Facebook were swamped with posts in favor of or against constitutional reform. Some Turks argued the reforms would undermine Turkish sovereignty, and the US/Israeli alliance was using the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Kurds and the European Union and promoting constitutional reforms to achieve its own ends. Some people on Facebook expressed even more radical opinions, showing that Turkish fascism is still a force to be reckoned with. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of these expressions was that they came from friends and family.

Internet-based social networks put us in touch with the people we already know. Unfortunately, people act more open and edgy on the Internet.[1] Since 2009, my Turkish friends and family started to embrace Facebook, along with, I discovered, some of their radical political tendencies.[2] During the aftermath of 9/11, many people became unreasonably critical of the US.[3]

According to some Turks, events like Ergenekon trials, which were almost exclusively about Turkish internal corruption, were also designs of outsiders like the US and Israel. When the Mavi Marmara incident occurred, and Israeli troops killed nine Turkish citizens, it was further explained in these premises.

Also, most Turkish nationalists saw the September 12, 2010 referendum as an attack on their secular-national identity. During the build up to the referendum, many changed their Facebook profile pictures to the Turkish flag, an image of Atatürk or to the simple word Hayır (no), indicating that they were against the reforms. For example, my aunt M began to spend hours on Facebook posting nationalist literature denigrated AKP’s credibility.[4] Another trend was inviting people to join Facebook groups against the reforms. Most popular among these had around half a million members, a remarkable number if one considers that most popular Facebook games like FarmVille had less than 60 million players.[5]

During this time my friend T also changed his profile picture to the Turkish flag and started posting anti-AKP propaganda. T cross-listed anti-Kurdish Facebook groups and argued that the referendum was designed by EU to free Abdullah Öcalan and give unlimited legal rights to the Kurds.[6] He shared derogatory images of the Kurdish MPs, like Emine Ayna.[7] One of his favorite videos showed a group of Turkish soldiers beating a Kurdish man.[8] T’s friends celebrated these posts. When one of his female friends wrote, “This is not the right way to treat these people. It is too violent,” she was quickly rebuked. I saw that she eventually gave up under peer pressure and decided that the best thing to do was de-friend T. Under the video, I wrote that T was a racist, and we could not be friends anymore. T was very angry, accusing me of not knowing anything about Turkish politics. Perhaps having lived in the US for so long, he argued, I had become a sympathizer of the US/Israeli alliance. T had clearly forgotten that it was the US/Israeli alliance that handed to the Turks the most valuable trophy of the war against Kurds: Abdullah Öcalan himself.

By de-friending T, I realized that I had to be more careful on Facebook or I could lose access to my own words. When I cut myself off of his network, my words and name remained on his side of the conversation, but I could not see or edit them. Ironically, T could not erase my words either, unless he also erased the video and his friends’ celebratory remarks.

I was also disappointed for having lost my small window to Turkish racism.  Luckily, I soon became friends with my cousin K, who described himself as a ırkçı/faşist (racist/fascist). I decided to act cautiously. K was a true family member and M’s son. He had previously told me that he considered me a role model and wanted to move to the US. I asked him why he considered himself a racist/fascist. He boldly wrote that he was not a universal racist; he only hated Israeli Jews. I told him social networks were not safe places to declare radical political opinions. After all, you are in the tourism business and want to come to US, I told him; if you want to reap the benefits of US capitalism, you have to renounce your racism and fascism. To my surprise, K agreed. He cleaned his profile; however, he continued to post announcements promoting a no vote for the referendum. K believed AKP and the Kurds, along with the EU, were pawns of a larger conspiracy designed to destroy Turkish sovereignty.

In the end, Turkish people overwhelmingly voted Evet (yes) for the reforms. I was relieved that these friends and relatives were a minority. M went back to playing FarmVille, and K started posting Rhianna videos. Meanwhile, I accepted the friendship request of F, another cousin. As soon as I clicked on F’s profile, I discovered two pictures of Hitler. I asked him what he liked about Hitler in particular. He wrote that in Turkey, it was not a crime to like Hitler. I let this comment pass and pressed him: Why Hitler and not Atatürk? He wrote that he liked many people, along with Atatürk, but his real hero was Hüseyin Nihal Atsız, a valuable historian of the early Ottoman historiography. Unfortunately, he was also a leading voice of Turkish racism. I told F that Atsız and Hitler were shallow political thinkers who did not understand that hating ethnic groups destroyed the culture and economy of multi-ethnic societies like the Ottoman Empire and Turkey. Atsız, I wrote, disliked everyone, including Boşnaks like us. My suggestion that he had Boşnak origins made F furious. He wrote that he was the grandchild of Ottomans and a true Turk. He argued that because I lived in US, I probably had Jewish friends and liked them, but one day they would surely betray me. My conversation with F died after this post, and my comments just lingered beneath the image of Hitler.

Obviously these incidents do not constitute a large enough sample group to analyze contemporary Turkish fascism, nor do they mean that during the recent months Turkish fascism gained a new momentum. Nevertheless, they underlined one irritating fact: When we become members of social networks, we also expose ourselves to the opinions of others. In the discourse of my Facebook account, Turkish fascism emerged as a recognizable strain of what Ernst Renan called “the daily plebiscite,” and AKP and Kurds represented a union of collaborators serving under a larger conspiracy designed to undermine Turkish identity. The same discourse shared common elements with its historical brother, European fascism; it was anti-Semitic and admired people like Hitler. Nevertheless, the hatred of the Jewish people and admiration of Hitler came as a reaction to a so-called covert US/Israeli alliance against Turkey. Most unfortunately, this discourse belonged to people whom I considered friends and family.

[1] Although it focuses on intelligent humor, following website underlines some of the general personality disorders found in Internet users.
[2] Following website discusses the appeal and growth of Internet based social networks in Turkey.
[3] One interesting group in this respect was dedicated to accusing the leading pro-reform newspaper Taraf as an American spy organization.
[4] One of the most popular authors was Banu Avar.
[7] Following image depicted Emine Ayna with flies hovering over her backside, which was an obvious gimmick.
[8] A search of the phrase “PKK leşleri”, which means PKK corpses in derogatory form brings up around 95 entries. Almost all of these entries are accompanied with hate speech.

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