BACKGROUND & CHARACTER
JUDGES & COURTS
Turkish secularism on the ropes. “A Secular Turkish City Feels Islam’s Pulse Beating Stronger, Causing Divisions,” by Sabrina Tavernise for the New York Times, with thanks to Steve:
DENIZLI, Turkey — The little red prayer book was handed out in a public primary school here in western Turkey in early May. It was small enough to fit in a pocket, but it carried a big message: Pray in the Muslim way. Get others to pray, too.“The message was clear to me,” said a retired civil servant, whose 13-year-old son, a student at the Yesilkoy Ibrahim Cengiz school, received the book. “This is not something that should be distributed in schools.”
This leafy, liberal city would seem like one of the least likely places to allow Islam to permeate public life. But for some residents, the book is part of a subtle shift toward increasingly public religiosity that has gone hand in hand with the ascent of the party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The phenomenon is complex. The party has not ordered changes, but sets examples through a growing network of observant Muslim teachers and public servants hired since it came to power in 2002.
The shift goes to the heart of the question that has gripped this country for the past two months: As the party settles more deeply into the bureaucracy, will it leave its Islamic roots in the past and build a future that includes secular Turks, or will it impose its religion more rigorously?
“In a very quiet, deep way, you can sense an Islamization,” said Bedrettin Usanmaz, a jewelry shop owner in Denizli. “They’re not after rapid change. They’re investing for 50 years ahead.”
At the heart of the issue is a debate about the fundamental nature of Islam and its role in building an equitable society. Turks like Mr. Zeybekci contend that their country has come a long way since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s secular revolution in 1923, and that it no longer needs to enforce controls like preventing women from wearing head scarves in public buildings. “It’s like locking everybody in a stadium, when you know that only three are thieves,” Mr. Zeybekci said, in his office, which has pictures of Mr. Erdogan and Ataturk.
But secular Turks contend that Islam will always seek more space in people’s lives, and therefore should be reined in. They look to the military as secularism’s final defender.
“Islam is not like other religions,” said Kadim Yildirim, a history teacher in Denizli from an opposition labor union. “It influences every part of your life, even your bedroom.”…
According to a report to Parliament by the education minister, 836 people from the government’s Religious Affairs Directorate have been transferred to the ministry’s offices during Mr. Erdogan’s tenure. That has also led to changes in the habits of the bureaucracy. In Denizli, the lunchroom in the local Ministry of Education no longer serves food during Ramadan, based on an assumption that all workers are observing the religious fast, employees said….
All education material, once vetted centrally, is now checked in a far looser fashion, according to one senior Ministry of Education official in Ankara, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was afraid for his job. A point system to rate textbooks has been loosened. The red prayer book, illustrated with pictures of small children praying, would probably not have been distributed in past years.
It is still unclear where today’s changes will lead the country. Mr. Oran says that although the ideology of Mr. Erdogan and his allies “is inevitably Islam,” they are workers and tradesmen who are ultimately motivated by profit. “They are very rapidly becoming bourgeois.”
Mr. Yildirim draws hope from a recent exchange among his students he overheard. One posed a question: If you were rowing a boat with only one extra seat and passed by a deserted island with the Prophet Muhammad and Ataturk, whom would you save?
Another answered: “Ataturk is resourceful. He can save himself. Take Muhammad.”
So evidently Muhammad can’t save himself. He has to be zealously looked after, cf. Cartoon Rage, Pope Rage, etc
In his second decade of leadership, Khamenei is living in fear of just such a velvet revolution. Whereas his cultural invasion fears envisioned liberal, democratic values potentially subverting the cultural foundations of the Islamic Revolution, his current worries center on the notion that the revolution’s enemies could recruit people through nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) dedicated to humanitarian, child welfare, trade union, environmental, and antidrug issues. Accordingly, any social or cultural activity outside the regime’s supervision is subject to suspicion, especially in the wake of the “color” revolutions that led to the replacement of leaders in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan — countries close to Iran’s borders.
Several foreign scholars, including at least one affiliated with George Soros, have been recently arrested in Iran.
The Iranian regime arose from a mass revolution and has always claimed that it represents the Iranian people. But its actions show how afraid it is of the people. In the regime’s view, most Iranians could potentially act against it, whether by going unveiled, watching foreign satellite television stations, or following Western dress fashions. Consequently, control over every aspect of personal life — the hallmark of totalitarianism — becomes necessary to preserve the legitimacy and authority of the Shiite jurists. According to Iranian police officials, more than 150,000 women were arrested in Tehran just last month for “bad veils.” Many photos and films showing police beating women have been published on websites. Young men are also being targeted; last month, the regime sent instructions to barbershops regarding banned hairstyles.
The international community has limited leverage with which to respond to the Islamic Republic’s violation of human rights accords that Iran has signed in the past. More can be done, however, to broaden and extend international condemnation of Iran’s human rights record. It was discouraging that, in March, the UN Human Rights Council decided to drop its examination of violations in Iran.
Instead of relying on the corrupt United Nations, the US must work with the newly-elected French leadership and Frau Merkel of Germany, and incoming PM Browne in the UK to enforce tough economic sanctions against Iran, while broadcasting to the Iranian people that they can quickly rejoin the community of nations by bringing down the mullahs.
Iran’s ally Hugo Chavez is tottering, with mass demonstrations increasing day by day. History shows that revolutions can be contagious.
Hat tip: Richard Baehr
What’s ailing contemporary Middle East studies? A symposium earlier this month at Stanford University provided a clue.
A paranoid fixation on imagined American and Israeli “empire”; the refusal to accept legitimate criticism; an insulated, elitist worldview; an inability to employ clear, jargon-free English; and a self-defeating hostility towards the West: these vices and more were made clear at “The State of Middle East Studies: Knowledge Production in an Age of Empire.”
Professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature at Columbia University Hamid Dabashi captured the symposium’s theme by asserting that the “Middle East is under U.S./Israeli imperial domination” and that America is an “empire without hegemony,” engaged in a “monopolar imperial project.”
Yet no one defined this “empire” or “imperialism.” Nor did attendees learn what events in the Muslim world precipitated a more expansive U.S. foreign policy in the region after Sept. 11, 2001, or why Israel might have legitimate concerns about its bellicose neighbors.
Only Nur Yalman, professor of social anthropology and Middle Eastern studies at Harvard University, made reference to Islamic terrorism. He also reported on the atmosphere of political unease in both Egypt and Turkey from whence he had just returned.
Also popular was equating criticism of Middle East studies with a U.S./Israeli/Jewish plot. Dabashi condemned Middle East scholar and critic Martin Kramer, calling his book, Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America, an agent of “U.S. and Israeli intelligence.” Yalman bemoaned a speech Kramer gave last year on the relatively stable geopolitical situation of Jews today, implying that such a condition represented a threat to Muslims. Dabashi denounced David Horowitz, Stanley Kurtz, Daniel Pipes, and Campus Watch for, as he put it, “helping Bush in his crusading war against Islamic terrorism.”
Dabashi also singled out Stanford’s Hoover Institution, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation, accusing them of acting, horror of horrors, in “the service of national security.” He was particularly aggrieved that with the ascendance of these think tanks, Middle East studies were no longer under the strict purview of the “academies.” He didn’t mention that higher education’s failure to adequately address the subject has been the cause of this evolution.
The late Columbia University English and comparative literature professor Edward Said was the undisputed godfather of the day, with countless references to his theories on post-colonialism and Orientalism. Like Said, several speakers rejected what they saw as Western condescension and hostility towards the Muslim world. Yet it was they who seemed mired in antagonism.
Discussion about the plight of women in the Muslim world was marred by anti-Western sentiment. Professor of gender and women’s studies at the University of California, Berkeley, Minoo Moallem, dismissed such concerns as being part of an “imperialist narrative.”
University of Washington anthropology and law professor Arzoo Osanloo picked up on this theme by decrying “Western, paternalistic attitudes towards Muslim women.” Osanloo was concerned that “Islamic liberalism” would be “obscured by Western involvement,” particularly in Iran.
Osanloo tried to focus on “Islamic feminism,” but her insistence that women had made great strides in post-Islamic revolution Iran through the use of Sharia law was a stretch. It didn’t help that she omitted any reference to the Iranian regimes’ current crackdown, including brutal beatings, on unveiled women and their arrest and detention of Haleh Esfandiari, the Iranian-American director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.
Osanloo’s stated desire to “move beyond the binarism of East vs. West” was belied by an attitude of stubborn opposition to everything Western. There was no acknowledgement by any of the women present that Western culture has given them lives that would be the envy of their counterparts in the Middle East.
Similarly, the willful blindness of a group of scholars and students denouncing the West from their positions of power and privilege in the favored surroundings of Stanford University came across as utterly hypocritical.
Hamid Dabashi and Minoo Moallem’s reliance on academic jargon added to the esoteric nature of the proceedings. Schooled on a philosophical foundation of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucoult, and the obsession with semantics over objective reality found therein, both speakers were largely incomprehensible.
Expressions such as “diasphoric cultural mediators,” “amphibian intellectuals,” “contextualization,” “performance of the self as its own other,” the “inability to handle the otherness of the other,” “Eurocentric partriarchy,” “imperialist masculinist,” “gendered Orientalism,” and the obscure statement, “regions are not facts but artifacts,” provide just a sampling.
It was excruciatingly boring at times, and the fact that they read straight from their own work only made it worse. The young man nodding off in his chair during Moallem’s talk was an indication that the audience may not have been entirely engaged.
Thankfully, the other speakers spoke in plain English and Yalman even stated at one point that he was “uneasy with the abstract nature of the conversation.”
Indeed, those concerned with the negative influence such academics may be having on future generations should be comforted by the very real possibility that their students rarely understand a word they’re saying.
Cinnamon Stillwell is Northern California Representative for Campus Watch. She can be reached at email@example.com.
By James Lewis
Unlike a football game, progress in the Arab-Israeli conflict comes in inches, not yards. But in the midst of all the pessimism there is genuine movement on the Gordian Knot of the entire seven decades of struggle: The Arab refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Because that knot is now slightly unraveling under the pressure of the Iranian threat to Sunni Arab nations (which is all Arab nations minus half of Iraq).
With a looming nuclear Iran fifty miles away, the Saudis cannot afford war with Israel. Tehran has already stirred up riots during the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, and Saudi legitimacy rests on protecting the holy places.
Specifically, the Arab League, led by the Saudis and Jordanians, has now publicly offered to recognize Israel. That offer comes with conditions that make it unworkable on the surface, although it may provide a basis for further negotiation. But the big breakthrough is implicit, as usual in the complex maneuvering characteristic of that part of the world. When the United States recognized Communist China after many years of passionate refusals, all the preliminary negotiations were conducted in secret between Henry Kissinger and Chinese Foreign Minister Chou En-lai. Nixon’s public trip to China just put the official stamp on well-established secret understandings. There are now many reports of secret conversations between Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel.
Remember that Anwar Sadat was assassinated by the Muslim Brotherhood after Egypt openly recognized Israel. No other Arab nation dared to follow Sadat’s example. Twenty years later, Yasser Arafat told Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak that he, Arafat, would be assassinated if he agreed with the generous Israeli peace proposal that would have established a Palestinian state. So the peace agreement never occurred. Offering recognition of Israel involves a great personal risk for all the Arab leaders involved. The terrorists are always out there, ready to kill any peace makers.
But the Arabs do not want a nuclear Iran trying to control the holy places of Mecca and Medina, with the ultimate possibility of radioactive fallout drifting across the Persian Gulf. For the Sunnis, Ahmadinejad represents a deviant strain of Islamic heresy, which cannot be allowed to control the two holiest cities of pilgrimage. Saudi preachers make worse denunciations about the Shi’a than they do about the infidels.
The implicit message in the Arab League proposal comes in the very use of the word “Israel” and in the public goal of diplomatic recognition. Tehran and its puppets, Hezb’allah and Hamas, won’t even use the name “Israel” — it’s still the “Zionist entity” for them. In international diplomacy, using a nation’s name is to recognize it implicitly. And the open goal of the Arab proposal is public recognition. You can’t do that unless you are implicitly granting Israel’s right to exist in peace, and you can’t do that unless you are willing to terminate the de facto state of war that has existed since 1948. So this proposal breaks the logjam in public, even while posing unworkable preconditions. Inch by inch.
Israel has publicly rejected the Arab League proposal. But that’s only the cover story. Prime Minister Olmert has also praised the “great wisdom” of Saudi King Abdallah, without giving any details. News leaks of phone conversations between the sides are common.
So — it’s agonizingly slow, but progress. Underneath, there is very likely to be selective intelligence sharing on Iran and the common terrorist threat from Hezb’allah and Al Qaeda. There may be talks about giving Israel overflight permission in any attack on Iranian nuclear facilities — on condition that it be successful. When Israel knocked out Saddam’s nuclear reactor in 1981, the French, who had built the reactor, secretly provided blueprints and work schedules to the Israeli Air Force. When the strike occurred, it had pinpoint accuracy and French technicians were sleeping at home and in no danger. (Surprise!).
Some of that is probably going on right now among the players who do not want an Iranian nuke — which is all of them. Nobody but nobody wants a psychotic regime armed with nukes next door.
So there are grounds for cautious hope. This is a dangerous time. But Arabs have lived with Israel’s nuclear program for decades, and they don’t feel threatened by it. Like America’s nuke program, it is carefully designed never to be used except in extremis. Don’t attack Israel, and Israel will never use its nukes.
That kind of rationality does not apply to Tehran, with its Armageddon martyr complex
If Iran were fifty miles from our shores, even the Denial Demagogues would have to get worried. Ironically, the new threat from Iran has made the Arab world more prepared for peace than ever before.
James Lewis blogs at http://www.dangeroustimes.wordpress.com/.