GUEST BLOG: Alan Scott – Talking Turkey

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With world powers competing for the primacy of their differing ideologies having ignited a new cold war, the battle for the hearts and minds of men is hotting up. And the West’s well-oiled persuasion machinery is using all its tried and “true” tricks to convince its vassal states, just who the bad guys are and who are the good. And so, with the fate of the world in the balance, the stakes couldn’t be higher. 

As an ex-pat Kiwi living in Turkiye, I’m a lot closer to Donbas and Kiev, Syria and Armenia, Iran and Afghanistan, than to Wellington or Auckland. And so I take a close interest in how differently states are projected and, not least in respect of Turkiye, I question their assertions.   

Despite the clear need to find another way between ideological extremes, not forgetting that both China and Russia are now in the capitalist camp, the West’s worldview still seems set in the concrete of cultural and historical bias, and the political and economic dichotomy of socialism versus capitalism. 

Caught up in this charade, Turkiye, despite all its efforts to be an exemplary global citizen, seems nevertheless doomed to eternally be the victim of a thousand-year fear of and prejudice against Islam. 

This has resulted not only in a denial of the debt Western civilisation owes to Islamic culture and learning, but a persistent failure to accept that Islam could have anything to teach it. And the consequence of that is a failure of the West to accept the role that Christianity played in the development of Western capitalist imperialism. And, despite post-modern atheism and godlessness, it still plays a role in defining Western political strategy.

The UK, for example, has never been a secular state – the monarch is the head of state and the established religion. And as such, the monarchy and the Anglican Church continue to be powerful forces of social control.

Though less formalised in the United States, religious blocs there still exert disproportionate influence on government via their respective institutions vis: the Pope and Roman Catholicism, Israel and Judaism, Protestant and eastern orthodox Christianity (Greeks and Armenians), and Mormonism.

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There is also the development of Communist/socialist thought in the West in opposition to the unholy alliance of Christianity and oligarchic capitalism. An important pillar of this is atheism, based on the observation that religion is not only “the opiate of the masses,” as Marx described it, but also an active instrument of social control and enslavement.

Western thought tends to associate religion with right wing conservative political parties, because that’s the case in their societies. It can’t grasp the fact that Islamic-based parties like the Muslim Brotherhood (sibling-hood would be better gender-free Arabic and Turkishii translation) often fulfil the role that socialist/Communist parties do in the West. The big difference is that they tend to gain more widespread support because religion still plays an important part in the lives of ordinary people.

The West is also prey to the persistent and touching belief that allowing the people to vote for a “government” results in a democratic society. There’s some disagreement about who first said it, but that doesn’t make it less true: “If voting changed anything, they wouldn’t let us do it.” 

Douglas Adams summed it up perhaps more aptly when he wrote in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy: 

“The President [of the Galaxy] in particular is very much a figurehead — he wields no real power whatsoever. He is apparently chosen by the government, but the qualities he is required to display are not those of leadership but those of finely judged outrage. For this reason the President is always a controversial choice, always an infuriating but fascinating character. His job is not to wield power but to draw attention away from it. On those criteria Zaphod Beeblebrox is one of the most successful Presidents the Galaxy has ever had — he has already spent two of his ten presidential years in prison for fraud.”

So, why can’t Westerners of either the left or the right understand what’s going on in Turkiye? In answer to my own question I’d say, it’s because that long-standing inherited prejudice against Islam won’t allow them to accept that, for the following reasons, Islam in Turkiye is unique;

Turkish Islam is a result of its prophet’s teachings having been grafted on to the earlier shamanistic spirituality of the Turkic tribes.

It’s also important for the West to understand that Turks in Anatolia (Asia Minor) have a history of a thousand years of interaction with Christianity, and that a strong tradition of Sufi mysticism developed which downplays religious differences and emphasises common qualities and aims.

As to politics in Turkiye; – people in Turkiye expect to choose a leader, and then they expect him (sometimes her) to lead. And if they trust that leader, the majority will stick with him or her.

Another barrier to Westerners understanding Turkey better is because of cultural and historical brainwashing which, for instance, means they can’t accept that Turkiye may have perfectly valid reasons for its position on certain matters, such as the Armenian and Cyprus problem, Turkiye’s cross-border involvement in Syria, current difficulties with undersea drilling in the east Mediterranean and the purchase of air defence missiles from Russia. Just as they can’t (or won’t) recognise that Russia may have valid reasons for not wanting Ukraine to join the NATO “defence” club.

To sum up, because of its geographical location, standing with a foot in both Europe and The Middle East, and its unique cultural and ethnic composition, Turkiye is confronted by difficulties that few Western countries can appreciate. These force its government to face up to realities from which most Western countries can maintain a safe distance. Consequently, and since long experience has shown that Western powers cannot be trusted, a government has emerged in Turkiye that is pursuing domestic and foreign policies focusing on self-sufficiency and self-determination 

 

Alan Scott, a former teacher at Auckland Grammar who for the past twenty years has lived in Turkey. Alan has been a long-time campaigner for political change, not least monetary reform, and actually stood for Parliament back in the 70s representing Social Credit. An ardent Turkophile, the essay Alan has written is an attempt to make people a little more understanding of Turkey’s difficult position in the world.

 

14 COMMENTS

  1. “Progressive” apologists for Islam are amusing.

    “Turkiye, despite all its efforts to be an exemplary global citizen, seems nevertheless doomed to eternally be the victim of a thousand-year fear of and prejudice against Islam.”

    What exactly are these efforts to be an exemplary global citizen? Continuing to deny the Armenian genocide? Gratuitously reconverting the Hagia Sophia and the Chora Monastery back into mosques? (Mustafa Kemal had turned both into museums). And do you think those moves by Erdogan are likely to ease, or heighten, fear and prejudice against Islam?

    “It’s also important for the West to understand that Turks in Anatolia (Asia Minor) have a history of a thousand years of interaction with Christianity, and that a strong tradition of Sufi mysticism developed which downplays religious differences and emphasises common qualities and aims.”

    As a result of said “interaction”, Christians now constitute only 0.3-0.4 % of Turkey’s population. Little moire than a century ago, the corresponding figure was over 20-25% https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_in_Turkey

    Hmmm, how did that happen?

    “Western thought tends to associate religion with right wing conservative political parties, because that’s the case in their societies. It can’t grasp the fact that Islamic-based parties like the Muslim Brotherhood (sibling-hood would be better gender-free Arabic and Turkishii translation) often fulfil the role that socialist/Communist parties do in the West. The big difference is that they tend to gain more widespread support because religion still plays an important part in the lives of ordinary people.”

    “Progressive” apologists for Islam are blind to the reality that Islam is arguably more tolerant of inequalities than Christianity – though to be fair, this is more true of countries with Sharia law than of modern Turkey. But you’re stuck in an outdated worldview – nominally leftwing parties are no longer the parties of “ordinary people” in the West. Like Erdogan, Trump drew a lot of his support from “ordinary people” with no tertiary education. And have you already forgotten the British Conservative storming of the “Red Wall” of northern England?

    You might like to read “Submission” by Houellebecq, which imagines a future France under sharia law. Although it’s a coalition with the left that brings the Islamist party to power, some hardline French conservatives soon come to realize they’ve got most of what they had long wanted – reduction of the state’s role in people’s lives, massive reduction of welfare, restoration of patriarchy and the centrality of the family, curtailment of women’s role in public life.

    “The West is also prey to the persistent and touching belief that allowing the people to vote for a “government” results in a democratic society. There’s some disagreement about who first said it, but that doesn’t make it less true: “If voting changed anything, they wouldn’t let us do it.”

    Yes, yes we know Western democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others that have been tried. Try reading less Douglas Adams, and more George Orwell.

    • +1 Pope. That Sufi mysticism was certainly missing in action when the Ottomans went on their brutal rampages in the Mediterranean and Balkans for several centuries.

    • Certainly the RC Popes have no reason to love Islam or the Ottomans. On the other hand, given a choice, Eastern Orthodox Christians tended to prefer them to their treacherous western cousins. “we know Western democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others that have been tried”. It’s never too late to try something new, such as opening your eyes to what’s actually going on in the world rather than regurgitating age-old prejudices and distortions. You patronisingly assume I haven’t read Orwell. Reading Douglas Adams might actually bring your world-view a little more up-to-date.

      • Kindly show me which bits of my comment involve “regurgitating age-old prejudices and distortions”. If you make claims like that, you’d better be prepared to back them up.

        I didn’t assume anything about your reading – I suggested dusting off Orwell to remind yourself of the dangers of totalitarian regimes. It might help you appreciate what we take for granted in the West – free speech, a mechanism for non-violent changes of government, religious toleration etc.

        As for trying something new – I’m open to persuasion, but authoritarian Islamism doesn’t seem the most attractive option.

        Though I’m no fan of the Turkish state, I find plenty to love about the country and its arts. Especially Seljuk architecture, and recent Turkish literature and cinema. But Erdogan can take no credit for any of those charms of Turkish culture – quite the opposite, as his government has made a habit of prosecuting novelists for “insulting Turkishness”
        https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/nov/16/orhan-pamuk-charged-again-with-insulting-turkishness-nights-of-the-plague
        https://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/sep/21/turkey.books

        And you still haven’t got back to explain to readers what happened to the incredible shrinking Christian population of Turkey. 100% in 1,000 AD, 20-25 % in 1900, 0.3-0.4 % nowadays.

        • There’s none so blind, my old Scottish granny used to say, as those who will not see. Actually the AKParty government can take a lot of credit for the fact that contemporary Turkish cinema can now deal with issues such as military coups that were previously off-limits. Turkish cinema and TV is enormously popular in other Muslim countries, and perhaps surprisingly, South America.
          Re Orhan Pamuk, he is a spoiled child from old money who used political dissent to get himself a Nobel Prize. Once he had that he gave up any thoughts of political activism. The court case against him was brought by a private nationalist/Kemalist extremist, not the government, and it was thrown out. Pamuk received no punishment, and lives free and happy in his comfortable wealthy Istanbul existence.
          Re the Christians in Anatolia (there was no Turkey until 1923), maybe you can tell me first what happened to the Maoris in NZ: 1769, 100%; At 30 June 2021:New Zealand’s estimated Māori ethnic population was 875,300 (17.1 percent of national population). However, that probably doesn’t reflect the numbers who actually speak Maori as a first language and follow traditional culture and religious practices. Just curious.

          • Alan I never made any false claims about harmonious coexistence between peoples – you did. How does your whattaboutism redeem Turkish persecution of ethnic and religious minorities?

            • Love that word “whataboutism”. I can criticise you as much as I want and you have to defend yourself on my terms. You are absolutely not allowed to point out the beam in my eye.
              You may like to check my reply to Anne’s list of questions below.

  2. ‘Yes, yes we know Western democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others that have been tried’
    Singapore?

  3. “This has resulted not only in a denial of the debt Western civilisation owes to Islamic culture and learning,”

    This and other claims you make in regard to “Islamic” science and mathematics indicate you confuse or are willing to conflate the religion with regional cultural influences. The Middle East and India are cradles and birthplaces of much philosophical, scientific and mathematical thought. This was going on in the area well before Islam appeared on the scene.
    It is simply dishonest for the new religion to lay claim for existing cultural practises without clear evidence.
    If a case is to be made that Islam was a driving force for scientific thought and innovation then one has to explain why it virtually ceased in the area by the 12th century, as Islam certainly didn’t go anywhere.

    BTW, I found Turkey one of the nicest places I’ve ever visited, but that was decades ago, I’ve watched internal political developments there over the past 15 years with increasing dismay.

    • No problem, however, for Christianity to take the credit for the Renaissance and the rise of capitalism. I’m sure you will find reasons to disparage his work (eg he’s Turkish so what would he know?), but you might like to check out a historian by the name of Fuat Sezgin: http://www.fuatsezginsempozyumu.org/en/home/

      BTW, like you, many Westerners preferred Turkey in the days when they were experiencing a CIA-sponsored military coup every ten years or so.

  4. You need to write a follow-up to this Alan so we understand the valid reasons for Turkey’s position on those matters of concern to the west which you cited as
    1) the Armenian and Cyprus problems
    2) cross-border incursions into Syria
    3) problems with drilling in the eastern Mediterranean
    4) the purchase of air defence missiles from Russia
    5) a reluctance for Ukraine to join NATO
    Numbers 1-3 of course are intimately connected to Ottoman imperialism, Islamic supremacism and Turkish nationalism.
    And that thousand year fear of and prejudice toward Islam. You think maybe the history of conquest, the humiliating dhimmi status forced upon the conquered for centuries, the determination to return Israel and Kashmir to Dar-al-Islam and the troubling separatism and demand for changes to our values and customs when migrating to western countries might have something to do with it?

    • Dear Anne – Well, more knowledgeable people than I have written on all these subjects. The problem with most Western media is that they focus on a limited self-interested view of the story, eg Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi etc are horrible dictators oppressing their people and the USA needs to step in to bring salvation and democracy. I don’t need to tell you about the current situation in Iraq and Libya I’m sure. For the Cyprus question you could try Rauf Denktaş https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9824809-the-cyprus-triangle. For the Armenian issue, Professor Justin McCarthy: Turks and Armenians: Nationalism and Conflict in the Ottoman Empire.
      Books have been written addressing all of your questions but a quick reply:
      1. Prof.McCarthy puts the events of 1915 in the context of a century-plus tragedy of imperialist expansion and ethnic cleansing. There’s no denial, just contextualisation.
      The island of Cyprus was granted independence from Britain in 1960 with its bicultural constitution guaranteed by Britain, Turkey and Greece. When the Greek military regime (Yes, look it up!) tried to annex the island in 1974, Britain refused to get involved so the government of Turkey took the law into their own hands. Wrong, maybe, but understandable in the circumstances.
      2. The US government, for its own selfish interests (mostly focusing on oil) has been supporting Kurdish separatists in Iraq and Syria for 20 years or more. YPG (NOT SDF!) and PKK in no way represent majority Kurdish opinion in Turkey, but US support in Syria encourages cross-border terrorism. For 11 years, Turkey has been dealing with a flood of refugees from Syria, currently numbering over 4 million. Many of them would be happy to return (since Europe won’t accept them) and they are ok with Turkey working to create a safe zone in northern Syria.
      3. Greece, by virtue of having been gifted most of the islands in the Aegean and the east Mediterranean by Western powers (by what right?) currently insists that gives them control over the entire seabed and whatever resources lie beneath it. Turkey says, we have the longest mainland coastline of any Mediterranean country – let’s work out an equitable arrangement. Who’s right? You be the judge.
      4. Turkey wanted to purchase the Patriot air defence missile system but the US refused, just as it is currently refusing to sell F35 and F16 planes. If you ask me, US policy is forcing Turkey towards Russia and China, who, I’m told, sell very serviceable military hardware with no strings attached.
      5. NATO has been gradually taking all former Soviet East European countries into its “defensive” alliance, and building military bases with missiles etc targeting Russia right on its border. Russia has been saying for years, Please stop doing this. Especially we can’t accept you guys doing it in Belarus and Ukraine. Of course Turkey is a member of NATO, but Russia is its next-door neighbour and important trading partner. Again, US policy is forcing Turkey to make a difficult choice.
      None of these issues have anything to do with Ottoman imperialism or Islamic supremacism. If by Turkish nationalism you mean a strong desire to do what’s best for their country and their people, you may have a point. Turkey calls it national sovereignty. The US frowns on that kind of independent thinking.
      I’ll save my comments on histories of conquest, forcing humiliating status on conquered peoples, and imposing values and customs on others for another day.

      • Your account of the 1974 Cyprus issue is fair. The mess is mostly the fault of the delusional and criminally irresponsible Greek colonels. Greeks have been their own worst enemies since … since the Peloponnesian War? Mind you, Turkey continues to behave badly in northern Cyprus, making life unpleasant for Greek Cypriots and settling Anatolian Turks on the island https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkish_settlers_in_Northern_Cyprus

        But that’s Alan Scott and the truth part company. You ask “by what right” was Greece “gifted” most of the islands in Aegean and eastern Med? Surely you know that nobody gifted most of the Aegean islands to Greece – the Greeks wrested them back from the Ottomans during the 1st Balkan War. And who do you think has lived on those islands for thousands of years? And surely you also know that Italy occupied the Dodecanese Island during the 1911-12 Italo-Turkish war, and that Turkey then relinquished its claim to them in the Treaty of Lausanne, and that Greece was given them back after WWII (pretty reasonable considering they were on the winning side, and Italy was part of the fascist Axis that started the war). So the idea of an “equitable” sharing of the resources of the Aegean has no legal or historical basis. Has Turkey shown any interest in giving Greece and Armenia an “equitable” share of the considerable mineral resources of Anatolia, formerly home to many Greeks and Armenians? Greece’s militarization of the Dodecanese is (a bit like the Turkish invasion of northern Cyprus) wrong and illegal, but perhaps understandable considering Turkey’s track record and current designs on the seabed near those islands.

        Here’s the Treaty of Lausanne: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Lausanne

        Surely Turkey would make more friends if it took a more conciliatory attitude towards Greece and Armenia – after all, Turkey is by far the strongest power in the region. It’s hardly conciliatory to reconvert iconic Byzantine monuments to mosques and to continue to deny the Armenian genocide.

        As for your criticism of NATO, I’m with you entirely. The USA has continued an anachronistic Cold War attitude to Russia, as highlighted by Bill Clinton’s stated intention to push the frontiers of NATO right to Russia’s western border. Bear-baiting, you might call it. Is it any surprise, then, that The Bear would like to push said frontier a bit further west? Again, the invasion of Ukraine is wrong, but perhaps understandable.

      • Thanks for the replies Alan. There is much that needs to be unpicked from them as the Pope’s comment above illustrates. But it’s rather confusing, and a little contradictory, to suggest that none of the issues (1-3) have anything to do with Ottoman imperialism when you’ve previously claimed Prof.McCarthy puts the events of 1915 in the context of “a century-plus tragedy of imperialist expansion and ethnic cleansing”. Certainly this is the official position of the Turkish government which conveniently allows them to keep the world focus on the Palestine issue whist avoiding their own illegal annexation of northern Cyprus and the subtle encouragement of illegal migration into Europe through this and other porous boundaries.

        In any event the Armenian genocide had specific anti-Christian symbolism and atrocities associated with it, many of which are seen in previous military clashes between the two religions and in the brutalities inflicted by ISIS on the Christians over which they ruled and those they enslaved. And current intimidation of Armenians suggest attempts to ethnically cleanse the population carries on. https://www.barnabasfund.org/nz/news/historic-church-service-in-mardin-turkey-marred-by-attack-on-christian-f/

        A case for the Kurds to have their own state is just as viable as is the clamour for a Palestinian state in the Levant. If the UN had any teeth it would be pressuring Turkey, Iraq and Iran to negotiate a pathway to Kurdish statehood; both for humanitarian reasons and as recompense for their valour in containing ISIS – their efforts for this goal continuing to this day. If Trump were to return to the White House in 2024 as is rumoured he, also a strong advocate for national sovereignty might set the wheels in motion. Certainly he owes the Kurds a few favours after pulling the plug and leaving them to Erdogan’s tender mercies last time around.

        Agree entirely with your comments on 4 & 5 and with the Pope’s replies. And yes please let’s have your thoughts on Islamic conquests, imperialism, dhimmitude, separatism and push for Sharia law in western countries in a future article.

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