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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arab nations have made a living by using international organizations to do their bidding. The UN, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are just a few of the bodies who have shown an unequivocal bias towards the Islamic bloc. The UN’s Human Rights Council is the star of the show. In its brief history, it has only found cause to condemn Israel. Many times.
What happens when the tables are turned? Here are two examples from just the past two days.
Monday in Saudi Arabia: “‘We Don’t Need Foreign Groups to Come and Teach Us Human Rights,'” by Raid Qusti for Arab News:
Maj. Gen. Ali Al-Harithy, the director general of prisons, said yesterday that prisoners in the Kingdom were not tortured or beaten on a large scale, and that beatings were “individual cases,” which should not be generalized.Al-Harithy was referring to a report released last week by the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) in Saudi Arabia. “Regulations, directives and the constitution state clearly that there should not be any violations against prisoners. … There are, however, individual mistakes, but that rarely happens. And if it does happen, then prisoner rights are fulfilled by punishing offenders,” he said.
Al-Harithy criticized visits by foreign human rights groups to the Kingdom, which recently included prison visits by Human Rights Watch. “We do not need foreign organizations to come here and teach our sons and daughters human rights. We are obliged to protect human rights by ourselves without anyone coming from outside and implying that we have to care about human rights in ‘the land of humanity’,” he said.
So much for that. Human Rights Watch is only good for condemning Israel.
Tuesday in Iran: “Talks Can Bolster Iraq Sovereignty,” from Iran Daily:
The European Union should make efforts to improve its own human rights situation instead of focusing on conditions in Iran.Reacting to recent statements of the European Union rotating president, Jose Manuel Barroso, who expressed concern over human rights conditions in Iran, Mohammad Ali Hosseini said Barroso’s remarks constitute interference in Iran’s internal affairs, Fars News Agency reported.
“Barroso should better concentrate on social maladies in EU member-states and evident cases of human rights violation in many EU countries” he said.
Hosseini opined that the EU should focus on human rights violation in their secret prisons, the use of European airports for transferring CIA prisoners and violation of the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, particularly Muslims, immigrants and asylum-seekers.
The EU can investigate others, but don’t meddle in our private affairs.
Crossposted from The American Israeli Patriot.