Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Obama vs. Cheney; Erdoğan vs. Who is there?

-Published in Hurriyet Daily News on May 27th, 2009- 

-Hurriyet Daily News'te, 27 Mayis 2009 Tarihinde Yayinlanmis Makalem-

Following politics in America is always an exciting experience, though for the last two weeks, it has become more of a thriller. Since America’s new President Obama came to power, he has been trying to redefine America on many fronts. 

Whilst he sometimes is successful, he still receives more applause abroad than within America. It must be mentioned, he also holds a very high approval rating among the American people, despite the fact that the economy doesn’t have many positive signs, unemployment is rising and some of the most fundamental living luxuries of American people are about to disappear with no sign of coming back.

In the existent world of American politics in a post-9/11 world, Obama faces daunting realities of national security that he didn’t have to before. Consequently, to adjust to this real world, Obama has had to backpedal many of the campaigning promises he made on the road to the White House. Revising the military tribunals, extending the withdrawal timetable in Iraq, upholding the extra-rendition policies that are being applied to terror suspects abroad, and being shied away to rule out using the "enhanced interrogation techniques" that are hotly debated now, are just some of these reversals.

However, one campaign promise that Obama seems to be loyal to is closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center. Obama renewed that promise on his second day in office, and said he would close it down within one year. Though now it is apparent that this renewed promise was made without any kind of a grand plan. Last week, when Obama asked for $80 million from the Senate to close down Gitmo and transfer the detainees to other U.S. jails, he encountered unexpectedly sharp opposition from his own party. Now Obama has to bring a plan to explain what he wants to do with the detainees, and where they will be sent, to convince members of Congress within the next eight months to at least sustain that promise in the national security quarter.

Though Obama upset his extreme left base with these policy reversals, there still seems to be a fundamental difference with the previous administration when it comes to the policies of the "war on terror," or whatever the Obama administration calls it. And that difference became starkly clear when Obama and former Vice President Cheney gave speeches in a dueling fashion in Washington, on the same topic, the same day, to different audiences at about the same time.

In brief, the dispirited Republican supporters, although they lost the last two elections (2006 and 2008), and were disappointed by the last administration’s performance, they seemed to win a voice who can step up and explain the logic behind the much criticized actions that were taken for the last 8 years. For example, Cheney argued, the water boarding, much discussed "enhanced interrogation technique" was only used against on three people, who have been solid al-Qaeda militants. And they were applied after the period of the ruthless attacks of 9/11. So, in a way, he slammed the administration by saying, "get over it."

Need for an opposition 

In the past and now, there are many leaders from the Muslim world who protested the American administration for the awful treatment of terrorist suspects. Though the same leaders’ countries’ jails oversee those tortures to crush the opposition every day, not even on terrorists per se. I am not advocating anyone or any kind of harsh methods; however, this doesn’t prevent me seeing the real double standards that our Muslim world leaders display.

It is true, it is very popular today to attack and tear apart the previous American administration. The bar is too low as the Democratic speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, who was briefed on these harsh techniques and never opposed them at that time, can lead this slandering. All in all, under these terrible circumstances for being the opposition in America, this loser side is still able to receive an opposition leader who can shoulder their disappointments and give them something to fight for. These millions of people now have solid arguments, an unyielding ground and hence the power to defend their stances.

And, how about Turkish opposition? Who is there in Turkey to be trusted as an opposition leader to voice many irregularities and unjustifiable actions in these difficult times against the governing party? Where is that opposition that can come out and say: the Ergenekon case must be investigated and the end of it must be seen. Who is there that can defend the rights of the pious covered girls who want to go to college? At the same time, that somebody must be able to say to the most powerful religious movement of Turkey that they need to stay within the boundaries of the spiritual path if they still want to be untouchable, and stop getting involved in politics. Otherwise they, including their leader, deserve the same kind of harsh criticism as of any political movement. Somebody must add, the last centuries’ solidarity movements as seems to be that the praised model now cannot go hand in hand with a free and equal sytem of liberal modernity. That somebody also must tell the Turkish Military to stay outside of politics, once and for all.

Sadly, there is nobody is there. Now Turkey has an administration, which governs the country with its good and bad policies without any credible opposition as safeguard. Here is the bottom line: today the opposition of Turkey has no reality check. Since the opposition cannot show any sign of capability in rotating governing power, they don’t face the realities of Turkey, as Obama and his party do, and keep lagging behind in a dream world with opportunistic leaders amid unrealistic policies. If the opposition has a leadership who has a chance of coming into power, then we have a better chance of reaching a consensus; thus, Turkey’s democracy and opposition can produce more answers and solutions than problems. This will not happen if only ’used leaders’ keep cropping back or never go away, as is the case now.

Turkey is looking forward to have its much-deserved opposition, who can be the voice of the voiceless masses that are quiet, sad, and aging now. They don’t want to lose hope. They are waiting to grab that alternative force that they can support and trust. Until then, we have a long way to go with the current uncontrollable administration. Or worse, the checks and balances will continue to come from those who are supposed to be outside of politics.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Is the American dream really ending?

-Published in Hurriyet Daily News on May 19th, 2009- 

-Hurriyet Daily News'te, 19 Mayis 2009 Tarihinde Yayinlanmis Makalem-

I am sitting in an upscale Italian restaurant in one of the rich suburbs of Virginia. There I met a 1.90-meter tall, bold waiter, Aldo Fabrizio Alianiello Chavez from Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

This young man, 28, after a short chat, tells me that he decided to leave America for good to go back to his country and with this statement he briskly captures my attention. I am surprised. After all, in this posh Italian Restaurant, he should be able to make an ideal living for an immigrant, and should be all right under these tough economic circumstances.

The current economic downturn in America makes many unhappy, especially the immigrants, who helped this country become what it is now. U.S immigration policy has been fairly open when it is compared with Europe, and historically this characteristic has given a big boost to the American Economy and its much-praised entrepreneurial spirit. Though the immigration rules have tightened since the 9/11 attacks, and recently, in many states, illegal immigrants started to face sudden deportations and harsher treatments. Therefore, "melting pot" America is not much of a pot; rather it is becoming a country with its increasingly hostile environment to its immigrants, especially the illegal ones.

I continue to talk with Aldo as I learn that he had his Bachelor’s in Agricultural Engineering from one of the best schools in Latin America. His coming to America story is also similar to many: "I wasn’t working at the time, a friend of mine who lives in the US told me to come here. A little after, I was convinced that this adventure might be it: my American dream that I can build my life on and start a family with. I flew here with $200 in my pocket, alone and the rest is history."

I immediately asked the question: So why are you leaving? What happened to the American dream? He pauses and looks out to window and continues: "The way of life here just didn’t work out for us. Since my wife couldn’t speak English, and we have three kids, I ended up doing all the work. It was just a never-ending nightmare. At times, I worked at 3 different jobs. I only had a chance to see my newborns once a week. This wasn’t the life I planned. Also, you just don’t make money here like you used to. Though, of course I know that going back is a very big decision because as you may know my country [Bolivia] is not in the best situation to be living in."

The political conditions are, indeed, very dicey in Bolivia with President Evo Morales, who was elected a couple years ago, and has nationalized its large natural gas and oil industry, and established strong ties with Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela. Aldo continues: "But you see, it is my country and I want my daughters and son to learn and experience our traditions. So we decided that we are going back! First I sent my two daughters with my mother-in-law, then my wife with my youngest. Now I just bought my ticket and I’m leaving too."

I asked if any other relatives or friends left America like his family. Aldo said: "manyÉ in my immediate family my wife’s sister and brother, whom both got married here. Any many more friends and neighbors." How about the American dream? Is it really ending? I questioned. He hesitates and then responds: "I can tell you that it might be getting there. There are not as many opportunities as before. Living comfortably and sending money back home, as most of the immigrants do, are getting harder as days go by. Immigrants see their chances dim to get legal documents. People realize instead of struggling with all those difficulties, they want to live a better life in their villages. You will have less money but certainly with a lot less worries and stress. It is true", Aldo continues, "in my country, I might never get a 70-inch flat TV, but I will see my kids everyday. I am sick of being afraid that I might get pulled over by the police and get deported, while just trying to make a living."

The immigration debate has never diminished in America, though now it seems it is getting even more complicated. 11.9 million illegal immigrants were present in 2008, up 42% since 2000 and the previous efforts at reform have been botched dreadfully. Now there are many talks in Washington, DC, as President Obama is to start a fresh debate on a new immigration reform. Though the terrible economy and some of the protectionist policies that have been injected into the latest stimulus bills, such as "Buy American," have made the environment even testier for the immigrants and for such a fundamental reform. For example, Bank of America Corp. has been forced to withdraw job offers to a small number of foreign-born business students recently because of the strings attached to the bailout money that it received from the Federal Government.

On the one hand, with a new African-American President for the first time in its history, America is trying to prove to the world that the American dream is still intact. On the other, America is making that very American dream even harder for its immigrants to fulfill. I am one of those lucky immigrants who never had any prejudice and unfairness while living my new life in America and even getting my first serious job after graduating with a Masters degree. I can confess that I have received the true spirit of the American melting pot experience. The interview I received, for example, by my boss, was filled with the questions to recognize my skills and fitness for the position. Neither my accent in English seemed to matter, nor have I been asked about my religion, political background and affiliation. And like me, the majority of the immigrants are willing to work hard and make sacrifices to achieve their dreams and this energy made America so much better than its other Western counterparts. It must be understood that the true Americanism may bond more to this spirit than a mere birth certificate. Being all for tougher rules and regulations on illegal immigration must be separated from being a fan of the racism it might prompt, as we witness in different forms in America more often now.

While I was leaving I told Aldo that I might see him back in the United States in a couple of years. He half turned back, smiled and said: "uh, no, never." We will see whether America will be able to preserve the tradition that it was made by, or if it is gone, and will come back "never."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Turkey needs more Ahmet Hakans

-Published in Hurriyet Daily News on May 12th, 2009- 

-Hurriyet Daily News'te, 12 Mayis 2009 Tarihinde Yayinlanmis Makalem-

Turkey is going through a rough patch. The people of Turkey with different ethnicities and backgrounds are fuming with one another. Kindness and acceptance, the words that are most commonly used while defining our country and people, are nowhere to be found.

Different camps do not trust each other, or each other's arguments, or sincerity. What we need urgently is a changed attitude to handle this gridlock. Heroes of these various camps have been crumbling. Writers, like my old-time hero Fehmi Koru, who were the defenders of the poor and weak once, amid the changing equation of Turkey, became the staunch protector of the "rulers," for any cost. The members of an Islamic movement, the Gülenists, who are supposed to be "the soldiers of kindness," became the accountants of the old books. The institution that is supposed to protect the country speaks more on political issues than its own professional matters.

At this state, it might sound a little ironic to say that Turkey needs more Ahmet Hakans, as it seems I am arguing we need more polemics, since the name-owner is also famous for his bickering and quarrelers. No, not polemics we need, we need Turkey's people, especially youngsters to rise against their old/new "masters" to start a peaceful togetherness and confront them when they are wrong. Defying them for the sake of conscience, not to appease any other sides, because they are not on anybody's side. They are just visiting wherever they are with an unknown amount of time until they find a freer atmosphere.

Let me break down what happens to those who want to rise and break the chains of all kinds of missionary stances and ideologies. They need to know that they will most probably be disappointed by what they encounter, hear and don't hear, said behind their backs, when the time comes to confront their superiors and be forced to abandon their comfort zones. This push-out will open a new, thorny and challenging quest, which will be without any directions, references and friends. However, they will discover their own consciences, skills and aptness. Once they start to swim in these uncharted seas, they will surely find this new challenge even more comforting. Knowing that they could have been embraced by their old neighborhood for all their life if they conformed to where they were, still, they are those who courageously change the lines.

Leaving your old neighborhood doesn't mean you betray them. You can and should, still, gratefully admit the good things and memories that have been given to you. Even going further, one should not forget the roots that he/she came from. Those roots are yours now, not theirs, and if anyone threatens you with the divine calculations, tell them to get lost.

The Gülenists, a movement that has been riding on the chords of tolerance and dialogue, whose leader has been teaching forgiveness and brotherhood for decades, and giving hope, as being devout Muslim doesn't prevent one to be a modern, lately, became one of the most aggressive segments of society, since the balance of power in Turkey has been tilted to their side. Therefore, these circumstances tell us that either the teachings were not true, or the followers are getting lost. It is apparent that, in these triumphant days, they, too, need their own Ahmet Hakans who can come in and remind of "things." This reminder can start as, "No, we didn't start this venture to crush others." Or, they need to hear that their newspapers were supposed to be the voice of the weak and poor, not necessarily of the mission and ends.

Mr. Hüseyin Gülerce, for one, apparently seemed to confuse himself with Britain's 16th century king, Henry the VIII, who thought that he, himself, could deal out "the divine responsibilities." Otherwise, how can we explain that, once Mr. Gülerce sees the criticism for the movement, he lashes back to say, "Those who criticize the movement have severe responsibilities and produce tools for other side." What happened to the Prophet Mohammed's hadith (admittedly with a weak chain of transmission): "He, who for no good reason doesn't speak up against blatant wrong is but a silent devil." How is it that someone who tries to follow this trail can be accused of carrying the "great responsibilities?" Last time I checked, "abiler" (elders) did not "seem" to have that license to designate anybody's Muslim identity.

The institution that created this country's history, and preserved it for centuries, it turns out, became a force to steer the country in illegal ways. If there were no one else, the soldiers of this country would have been loved forever, just because of letting the visionary Mustafa Kemal live and blossom within. But why is it that this institution still, in this age and time, attempts to meddle with civilian affairs? We also need youngsters in the army to change the culture to adjust to these new times quickly. Every division of Turkey needs to have its Ahmet Hakans to hear harsh criticism to be reminded of the pure roots with which those camps were started once. At the same time, they have to be hopeful that the encouraging futures are within reach. They have to have a vision of simple-equals who will ascent Turkey once more. That Turkey will not be combined with the identities from the past, but present and future. And that identity is to love this country and respect others, not only the ones with us, possessing open minds and inclusiveness. In this new Turkey, people will have the private sacred and heavenly atmosphere. But the "others," too, will have and teach their beliefs. Meaning, there won't be an oppression of only one segment or a distorted secularism. There will be a real separation.

The current economic slump will end sooner or later. And if the people of Turkey pass the current twilight zone successfully, there will be a whole new chapter that can be thriving, excited and, most importantly, happy again. Turkey is not the Turkey of the past. We can knob this historic recreation moment if we are united. Turkey's youngsters must start reckoning their elders, imams and untouchables to set aside the dogmas and old scores to prepare a dynamic terrain for these new times. And only they and their supporters can read between these lines. If there are many, Turkey is lucky.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Is There a Game Plan for Kurdish Conundrum?

-Published in Hurriyet Daily News on May 5th, 2009- 

-Hurriyet Daily News'te, 5 Mayis 2009 Tarihinde Yayinlanmis Makalem-

Is there a game plan for the Kurdish conundrum? And the second question mark needs to be inserted after the next statement: is there a plan at all (?) Lately, it feels like we are in the 1990s all over again. The top military brass of Turkey seems to have more to say than the civil administration officials. We, once more, hear more ‘killing’ than ‘talking’, ‘bombing’ than ‘investing’.

Why are there so many contrasting and competing policies flying around? Do we really want our Southeast to be a part of the modern Turkey that still desires to be a member of the EU? Then why is it that our gutsy government can draw a roadmap to make the relations better with Armenia, but cannot pencil in a handlist to do with its own citizens in the region? Few years ago the Prime Minister of Turkey intrepidly exclaimed Turkey needs to recognize the Kurdish reality and behave accordingly, except the same Prime Minister now impetuously thunders back to the same people to say, “love this country or leave it.” Which one is the strategy that the AKP government is yearning to pursue: start broadcasting a TV channel in the Kurdish language and spread out sudden glimmers of hope; or do the good-old populist politics to look just nice before the local elections? Otherwise, we are the same narrow-minded people that would not let the most popular Kurdish singer Rojin fancy to invite her own guests. 

Who is in charge with respect to the Kurdish conundrum in the administration? Is there a minister? Is there a wise men committee that would know the region and the pulse of the people, and guide the administration during the edgy times? Because the high officials of Kurdish origin in the administration have been in the same positions for decades and apparently they don’t know the answers.

            These questions are being asked over and over again by average Turkish citizens who are either sensible to the nerve-racking-deteriorating circumstances or originated from the region. The people who love Turkey so much but just do not figure out the whims behind many of the recent actions. The people who see Turkey as their eternal land but are sick of seeing blood everywhere.

The Kurdish people, the longest partner of this undiminished brotherhood, are puzzled. The young people of Turkey are getting killed everyday and people ask why is it that the Prime Minister can talk to the leadership of Hamas but not the ones with Democratic Turkey Party, or DTP? As days go by, the mothers of these young soldiers are filled with an eternal sorrow and become disaffected with the Turkish Government forever which hasn’t able to protect their son. And this disenchantment certainly doesn’t work in favor of Turkey, but for PKK, a terror organization. How it is possible that we do not use everything in our disposal to put a stop on the grief of those heartrending mothers?

            Recently it seems that the government’s best idea to stop this bloodshed is to raid DTP’s offices. One wonders what is it there that we just discovered now that we already didn’t know. Or if there is a sudden feel of urgency to itch the wound, so the solution we seem to resort, once more, like never, with a new fortitude while expecting different results, is to arrest, force and shell more.

            On the other hand, AKP seems to spend those very few so precious political capitals in Europe to stop some Kurdish TV channels from broadcasting. How can we not see that these TV stations are just flies! What needs to be done is to instigate course-changing policies to dry up the swamp. And to do that, we first need to recognize that the swamp is in our borders, probably somewhere in Ankara that produces all of those hollow policies and gravitates the good wills. Turkey with its newly discovered regional inspirations, tries to meddle through about every conflict in the region. Though the only discord that it cannot generate solutions to is in its own borders. Our politicians seem to try to rediscover America, although if actually they study America’s recent history, they would come across many useful lessons for our problems.

            Once more: what is the grand strategy in the Kurdish question?  What is it that we want to accomplish? The situation has become very thin-skinned now after decades of mistaken and miscalculated policies. Poverty continues to be a real problem in the region, as we know, for example, half of the villages of Diyarbakir, supposedly the most advanced amongst the region’s cities, are still yearning for electricity!

            The latest developments with the judicial investigation into an ultranationalist group known as Ergenekon made Turkish democracy stronger than ever. Though in today’s world, different formats of democracy are everywhere from Iran to Venezuela, Russia to Egypt. Therefore the debate should be: What kind of a democracy do we wish to have, as opposed to the having one. Or, is the Turkish democratic escapade going forward to catch up with the liberal Western peers, or going backward to low-level like the above countries which also hold elections regularly? Nevertheless having democratic systems doesn’t do much good for people of those countries as they continue to live with the majority oppressed and a one-man style of democracy because the social structures are not ready to balance the populist power that comes with moderately free elections. 

Today, in the wake of a new constitution debate, a constitutional liberalism with expanded cultural and human rights, expression that is free from any illiberal forces, fully accountable and transparent government and other basic principles of liberal democracy are urgently needed in the discussions, as I strongly believe many of today’s problems can be worked through in such an atmosphere. 

            Recent shuffling of the ministers’ cabinet, and bringing in more conservative profiles into the administration, unfortunately doesn’t seem to draw a hopeful picture for a liberal democracy in Turkey. Another way to tell the story is to underscore that today’s people are very easy. People want to laugh, love, travel and have a quality of life. Shelling and fighting do not work anymore. The alternatives are simple. And the consequences are as well.