Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The love triangle: AKP, pro-Islamic press and Ahmadinejad

-Published in Hurriyet Daily News on June 30, 2009-
-Hurriyet Daily News'te, 30 Haziran 2009 Tarihinde Yayinlanmis Makalem-

Though you still never know which way events in Iran will turn, it seems after two weeks of protests the first chapter of "change" in Iran is nearing an end, as many analysts predicted. Nevertheless, as I wrote right after the events started in Iran, today's Iran is not the same as the Iran we knew just a few weeks ago.

Amid the latest row between Obama and Ahmadinejad, Obama's supposed period of better relationships with Iran seems to have taken a big hit, even before they actually started. Obama, in the first few days of Iranian events, seemed to resist calls to take a more hardliner stance on Ahmadinejad; instead he wanted to see how the situation in Iran would "play itself out". In that sense, Obama went a little too far in saying that there was not much difference between the main candidates of the elections, Ahmedinejad and Mousavi. Even if this is a true statement in essence, the equalization imprisoned within this statement seemed to diminish the protestors' brave uprising against the repressive regime. Obama only changed this mistaken tone last Friday to say Mousavi did indeed capture the hope and imagination of an opening up and might in fact be different from Ahmadinejad.

With Obama's new tougher line on the events in Iran, Ahmadinejad, the chance grabber, did not miss the opportunity to lash back at Obama in the hope of defusing tensions on the streets. There is no doubt that he also wishes to return to the old days of playing the role of enemy. Though this time Obama is just too smart to let that trap haunt him. Obama will continue to do more to reach out to Iran; because he knows that the other way benefits the opponents and more chaos, rather than his country and peace.During these turbulent days in Iran, Turkey played its hands according to a "strategically deep" scenario. In this scenario, the West, with the irregularities of the elections in Iran on top of everything, will start working to place tougher sanctions on Iran. In the meantime, this "strategic thinking" foresees that Turkey, as a last resort, will grasp the opening to play the mediator role between these two sides. As many know, Turkey has been longing for this role for sometime. The question is what happens if the West does opt for tougher sanctions on Iran? What would Turkey do in that case? In the past most gamblers would have bet on Turkey to safely ally itself with the traditional Western alliances. Though now, nobody is so sure. Turkey has been looking for alternatives for some time and what kind of an alternative Turkey will come up with at such time is a big question that nobody dares to gamble on.

Beside this diplomatic thriller scenario, it seems the Turkish leaders are pretty happy with what they are seeing in Iran. Davutoğlu explained the situation best when he said: "The emergence of very different interpretations of results after the election [should be taken] as a sign that the political process in Iran is very healthy." Let's repeat that again, Davutoğlu's reading, since there are two completely different interpretations for the election results, in which one claims the votes were rigged and the outcome was not the peoples' wish, and the other, the Islamic regime claims everything was just fine. So Mr. Davutoğlu concludes, according to these interpretations, we can securely say that the election process was healthy! Is this a joke?

On the other hand, the press reports that, the person known as "the butcher of the Press" in Iran, was appointed to investigate the Iranian protestors. Maybe this is another sign that we should take as to how healthy the after-elections process in Iran is! Because now with the special interrogating techniques in his tool box, Mr. Butcher will find the real provokers to confess that indeed this uprising was planned by outsiders to bring a mischief in to their heavenly country. Iran's good-old confession tapes will top the charts again, as we see.

Another miserable fall out of Iran's election process in Turkey is to display the Islamic or pro-Islamic media's trouble with taking a stance when the ones that are deprived of their rights are not necessarily on their side. In other words, during this gloomy chapter of the Iranian people, the pro-Islamic Media of Turkey flunked the democracy test miserably amid not showing any mercy on people when the Islamic regime kept striking them. One of the very few outspoken writers of this media has been Mr. Andrew Finkel from Today's Zaman. By criticizing the Turkish officials as well as his own newspaper on how they reacted to what happened in Iran, he said: "I am not entirely sure that [Neda's] family shares this same high opinion [of Justice and Development Party, or AKP, officials]. It is one thing not to interfere. It is another to pretend to like what you see." The Turkish officials seemed from every angle that the occurrences in Iran suited their taste and did not bother them one little bit.

With this flunked democracy test, the Islamic media didn't seem to realize that they are also losing moral credibility on the issues of human rights that they always seem to be so sensible, especially because of the headscarf issues. Instead of calculating "what kind" of people were protesting in the streets of Iran and whether these people could be identified with those that have taken to the streets in the Republican rallies in Turkey, or jumping on the bandwagon of the AKP as they always do, many wished to see they were with the people who were looking for their human rights and fair elections.

The period of the elections in Iran has given many lessons about our country. It taught us that Turkey still has self-confidence issues. The fears that come from our own problems makes Turkey remember and go back to the old days. Until Turkey solves its own problems it cannot step up to the plate when it comes to the human rights issues. And the media that supports this administration has also real issues with the notion of democracy.

If not, the other possibility, which I hate to say, is the Turkish administration and the administration's media really liked what they saw in Iran. Maybe they think Iranian democracy is something they could fit into in many ways and live happily ever after.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Davutoğlu, the architect, miserably fails to deliver

Published in Hurriyet Daily News on June 27-28, 2009-
-Hurriyet Daily News'te, 27-28 Haziran 2009 Tarihinde Yayinlanmis Makalem-
Ahmet Davutoğlu has been a forceful architect of Turkish foreign affairs as the top adviser to the prime minister since the first Justice and Development Party, or AKP, administration up until recently. With a PhD degree in his pocket and as the author of Strategic Depth, a book that has come to be known by the experts as a total sum of sense making and friendly policies for the immediate neighboring countries of Turkey, he has been a rising star for years. His role in the Armenian rapprochement, as well as diplomatic facilitator between Syria and Israel, and also his vision and familiarity with the wider region has been a great asset for Turkey. His many policies have benefited Turkey on many fronts. In brief, many thought that Davutoğlu has been on the way of becoming a statesman that Turkey has been longing for some time.

Up until two months ago, Davutoğlu was still kind of a behind-the-scenes man to fix and power the Turkish foreign affairs in recasting Turkey's role in the multidimensional political arena. Thus, many unbiased observers were happy without much reservation when Davutoğlu was appointed the new foreign minister at the beginning of May. Amid high expectations, he started his new post and with the same speed, he delved into the first crucial foreign relations test to prove that he indeed will live up to the expectations. Many, including myself, hoped that he was going to end the period of cheap shots and will bring our country to the same level of first class democratic nations.

There is no need to make the story longer. Davutoğlu failed to deliver miserably. To begin with, he let Turkey congratulate hurriedly Iran's Ahmadinejad as one of the first to do so, and subsequently backed up his stance. While the respected leaders of the world were releasing statements and giving press conferences to let people know how sorry they were with the shameful episode the people of Iran have been going through, Turkey, on the other hand, busied itself to support the merciless regime against its own people. I was curious to learn which other countries besides ours rushed to convey their good wishes to Ahmadinejad. The official Web site of the government of Iran informs us that, possibly according to calling order, the following list of countries cheered Ahmadinejad's reelection (!): Afghanistan, Turkey, Venezuela, China, Russia and Syria. Oh, and the leader of Hamas and a few "other" countries of kings and dictators. If nothing else, this list alone tells us and provides enough evidence to show in which and whose pattern our foreign official's mind works.

Notwithstanding that I still wanted to see and read what is the reasoning behind Davutoğlu's hurry and subsequent backing of Iran's Islamic regime, I must say that in my view it is a plain disgrace for Turkey and the people of Turkey. I thought after all Davutoğlu was a "deep" academic and might have some profound comprehension beyond our imagination. According to the interview Der Spiegel conducted with him this week, his reasoning is as follows: "It was politically important for the elections in Iran to have taken place dynamically and in competition among multiple candidates. When it came to the post-election discussions, [Davutoğlu] underlined that this is an internal matter for Iran, adding that they hoped for a strong base on which the security of the people of Iran can be achieved." Internal affairs of other countries, so Davutoğlu says while describing the events that are taking place in Iran after the elections, much like Russia's, China's and others' congratulating letters to Iran.

On the other hand, the American media mocked Turkey as a "friend of Mahmoud" and sadly describes us as a kind of low life country with the other countries mentioned above, that only looks after its own interests. It is true; each country pursues its own interests in the international arena; however, values and notions exist that reflect a country's stand within the international community. In other words, once the human factor is weighed, modern states tend to restrain themselves in many ways. Ours did not bother to do so.

This miscalculated congratulation of and embracing Iran's rulers is a "deep" blow for Turkey's image. It seems that Turkey somehow cannot go beyond this narrow-mindedness. In the past, Turkey failed to cope with its center parties' corruption practices and always with its never-changing opposition leaders. Either the nationalistic parties of the country corner Turkey and don't let Turkey open its arms to all of its people, or the ultranationalists stroke it with their endless gangs and scenarios. Though now, with the AKP, Turkey is going through another kind of disappointment. And the list does not end there.

Turkey needs a new generation of statesmen. Davutoğlu and his party's miscalculated reading of the occurrences will cost the people of Turkey so dearly and will be felt for years to come. The real statesman should be able to on the right side of the history, or with the people who are on the right side of the history. Davutoğlu misses both and chooses to gain some near term benefits in expense of bigger and longer ones. Davutoğlu could have taken care of this business if he wanted to do so. With doing so, he and Turkey would have won so many hearts and minds in the international arena and in the West. But again, maybe the target was a different kind of audience.Davutoğlu, the architect, starts to build the foundation of his legacy as a foreign minister on misread previsions and shallow seas, which are the direct opposite attributions of his perceived image. People of Turkey, who also watch what happened in Iran, will have grasped how their administration hugs the crushers of innocent people. The AKP will pay the cost of this misery. Alas, along the way, Turkey as well.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Iran is just coming along; which side is Turkey on?

-Published in Hurriyet Daily News on June 23th, 2009-
-Hurriyet Daily News'te, 23 Haziran 2009 Tarihinde Yayinlanmis Makalem-

On a personal note, in my American journey, Iranian-Americans have played a significant role. One of the best friends of mine in America happened to be an Iranian-American, a guy who was called Arya. I say ’was’ because this dear friend of mine was killed in a motorbike accident just a couple of years ago before seeing these turbulent days of Iran. He was a son of one of those last minute exiled Iranian families when the Islamic regime struck in 1979.

We used to have these long discussions on Iran and Iran’s history. It was apparent from his passionate arguments how mad he was at the Islamic regime that pushed his family far away from their home. Iran’s articulated and intellectual people always tell outsiders something about their enormous potential. Therefore the question in my mind has been why is it that this country has been under this oppressive regime for so long. If one carefully digs through this question, one can also come up with the answer. The answer is the rareness of Iranians amid bringing the Islamic state to life from its rhetorical status. They wanted to act upon something that they believed in so dearly to give it a chance. And this incomparable audacity alone grabs the attention of outsiders for the admirable courage of this nation.

The young and bookish Iranians must have figured out that the time of the ruling with divine revelations ends by now to get its place in the history books. Instead of abiding to the divine revelations, today’s Iranian youngsters are blogging, twitting and uploading to reveal what they are capable of. And this latter attitude is crushing the other in the streets of Tehran.

Now the Iran we know, which doubts and challenges and rises up. After all, the Shiite belief of Iranians exactly represents these very ideas of second guessing, longing for merit and justice starting from the beginning of their faith with the fourth caliphate Ali. The developments that are happening in Iran don’t have to decisively end the Islamic regime now. Though this uprising decisively diminishes or even concludes the legitimacy of the regime and starts the beginning of its closing stages. And we will all witness this historic episode in the coming days, weeks and years.

I called Said A., an Iranian-American who has lived in America since the 80s and truly symbolizes an immigrant success story. How do I know him is a long story and I wish to elaborate it one day, though I would like to talk about his cautious excitement and happiness here. Over the phone, he didn’t agree with me on the impact of Obama’s Cairo speech to these events. Though he claimed that what is happening in Iran today is about the people of Iran and their being fed up with the mismanagement of their country in so many aspects. He argued that his countrymen only want their votes to be counted. He was wary not to say in definitive terms about what happened and how the elections were rigged or not. Though he was raising the issue of fairness and justice, which is to say, people must be heard.

Today, like Said, Iranian dissenters are playing the game with its rules and they are on the right side of history. This is why they will come out as victors from these difficult times, in one way or other, sooner or later.

When the ’zero problem’ policy falls short

The question is where Turkey is going. Starting with the Turkish media, why is it that we are so clumsy about covering the historic episode of Iran? While the-once-in-a-generation events are happening there, the Turkish administration is rushing to congratulate Ahmedinejad and his unmerited victory without hesitation. We do understand the importance of famous ’zero problem’ principle of Mr. Ahmet Davutoğlu, the foreign minister of Turkey, which is an approach that I think should be praised. However I do not agree if this policy also comprises overtly supporting the current Iranian regime’s ruthlessness to just get along with it. I can’t help but ask if this support finds its roots through the many energy contracts that have been signed between the two countries. Or even the scarier scenario is the question of whether our administration officials identify themselves more with Ahmedinejad than the dissidents of the regime? Maybe the Iranian police and security forces’ oppressive and unbalanced use of force seems friendlier to the AKP than the protestors who are believed to be secular? We should not kid ourselves and confuse the situations: not meddling in the internal affairs of another country doesn’t mean being dead-quiet on the issues of the human right problems. Even if, sadly, historically Turkey doesn’t have much moral authority over the subject.

Mr. Ibrahim Kalın, who has recently replaced Mr. Ahmed Davutoğlu as top foreign affairs adviser to the prime minister, writes weekly columns for a couple of newspapers, including, Today’s Zaman. Leave aside the problems with writing as high foreign affairs official in such a controversial newspaper, when we read Mr. Kalın’s latest article that appeared on June 19, we see that the most important problem of the week for Mr. Kalın is the "healthy dialogue between religion and science" and how to develop "an ethic of scientific inquiry and nourish a moral framework ... for dealing with the natural environment in a humane manner." After a week of uprising in Iran and many dead, Turkey’s top foreign affairs adviser sees no need to dwell on these incidents; instead he spends his time on how the scientific inquiry can be ethical. In fact, skipping to write and not advising his new boss of speaking up against the cold-blooded confrontation of the protests is a behavior that needs some ethical inspirations.

Iranians are just coming from the backwardness to catch up with the rest of the world, finally. Though I am not sure about approving these "unjust and violent acts" in a neighboring country, what it is that the Turkish administration wishes to accomplish? All in all, Turkey worries me more in these riotous days of Iran than Iran itself. Really, whose side is Turkey on?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Iran and US playing; the rest of the world is watching

-Published in Hurriyet Daily News on June 20th, 2009-
-Hurriyet Daily News'te, 20 Haziran 2009 Tarihinde Yayinlanmis Makalem-

The elections in Iran are turning out to be one of the historic episodes of our time, but we do not yet know whether this will be a once-in-a-lifetime event or a preparatory stage for another chapter. Undoubtedly, the elections in Iran gained much more weight after the change that occurred in the U.S. administration and the bold messages of that change that were subsequently reflected from Cairo. After U.S. President Barack Obama’s Cairo speech, I came to believe that some of the equations in the Middle East would be shaken by it.

If only one single reason needs to be spelled out to underscore why the Cairo speech made such an impact on the Iranian elections, it is because, as anyone who follows Iran knows, the country has a young, erudite and increasingly Internet-savvy new generation. And for them to hear words of respect from an American president might have done much to get to this day. Otherwise, there is nothing unusual happening in Iran. Iranians, like citizens of any other nation, wish to evolve with the global community, and to rise up against any kind of dogmas that have been levied against them for too long. But their national pride makes them do this historic unlocking at a time of their own choosing.

With these thoughts, I went to the Washington, D.C., campus of Georgetown University to witness the Iranian-American students’ protests and reactions to the election results. Banuo, one of students I met, told me that she was able to follow the latest protests and communicate with her cousin Faraz, who lives in Tehran, through Twitter, a new social-networking Web site. She also said that she and her cousin have been exchanging e-mails for years and that these chats made it clear that her cousin’s ideas about equality, freedom of (or from) religion and many other issues in world politics are very similar to those held by her and many other American college students.

On the national level, the Obama administration has chosen to be surprisingly quiet about the events that are taking place in Iran. And this unfamiliar American tranquility is dividing politicians and commentators into two camps. One of these camps, which does not appreciate this stillness at all, claims that the American administration should openly defend the Iranian opposition and the street protests. For example, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal likened Obama to former President Jimmy Carter, an equation that strikes a heavy blow because Carter’s ineffective policies during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis in Tehran are still fresh in many Americans’ recollections.

Despite of the pressure, Obama and his cabinet have been able to restrain themselves from meddling in Iran’s internal affairs. Obama seems to have taken necessary lessons from recent history: As recently as 2002, the U.S.-Venezuelan relationship was thrown over a cliff when America recognized the interim Venezuelan President Pedro Carmona, who replaced Hugo Chavez for less than two days in a coup d’Žtat. Iranians, with many worse memories of the U.S. jumbling their internal affairs, would have had no stomach for such an attitude. Hence the Obama administration, by not lending support to either side, is able to keep up hope for better relations with Iran in any scenario. So far, the other significant result of the Iranian elections has been to show the country’s ever-increasing importance in the region. Since the elections took place, the world media has focused on the affairs between Iran and the United States. Both in Europe and in the Middle East, commentators and policymakers spent more time on Obama’s reactions than anything else. However, a chilling result of Iran’s nuclear ambitions has been to open a new thriller sequence for autocratic leaders or those who have autocratic aspirations.

To these leaders, appearing as an important player on the world stage, as Ahmadinejad appears now, is an irreplaceable attraction. You can bet that they will surely take the necessary lessons from this excitement.

When George Bush was elected for the second time in 2004, the majority of the world could not believe the results they heard. This second time around, Bush, his administration and his policies departed further from the American people's positions, taking them far from their comfort zones to next choose a completely different president whose election, in many aspects, could be considered world-shattering. Iran is also going through a set of changes. Ahmadinejad and the status quo in Iran might brush off the current tumultuous days and start another term. But Iran today is not the same Iran of just a couple of weeks ago, even if the Turkish administration has already, happily and hastily, congratulated the rigged elections, victory and presidency.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Who dares to call it the AKP?

-Published in Hurriyet Daily News on June 16th, 2009-
-Hurriyet Daily News'te, 16 Haziran 2009 Tarihinde Yayinlanmis Makalem-

Would you only wish to console the cheerleaders, backers and thus the liars, or to wrangle with the challengers and debaters, cavaliers? Today, sadly, powerful ones love to be surrounded by hollow-footed soldiers. The ones, who cannot tell the truth neither bellow the sappiness nor dare to object. However, leaders are one of us. Leader depends on us.

The one who speaks his/her mind anytime and anywhere. He/she is the one who can say "no," can stand up and argue. That is the one who can call it the way it is supposed to.

The other one, who always loves to abide, is willing to serve and please.

This one can disagree within only specified limits. S/he can only ask by the given length. This one can only call whatever name he or she is told to use.

Some can only follow the leader, love the leader, adore the leader.

Others watch the leader, question the leader, care for the leader.

Some only see the good sides, blind to perfection and strive to rationalize the leader’s inconceivable faux pas. Others, at least, weigh all sides, question the perfection and respect human nature with its fault lines.

Preferring one or the other makes you who you are.

You either desire to be with a ’yes’ man or to be challenged by a ’maybe’ man.

Would you only wish to console the cheerleaders, backers and thus the liars, or to wrangle with the challengers and debaters, cavaliers?

Today, sadly, powerful ones love to be surrounded by hollow-footed soldiers. The ones who cannot tell the truth neither bellow the sappiness nor dare to object.

If you have read it so far, you will recognize that I am not dwelling on leaders.

This is because,

Leaders are merely one of us.

Leader depends on us.

While fairly rarely, if we are lucky occasionally, and helped by extraordinarily,

We come across great leaders.

Those great leaders have no nationality, particular identity and ideology.

They might appear anytime and anywhere, may be from somewhere or nowhere, could be part of whatever religion or non-religion.

Though there is still much common ground: They may rise above us while respecting us; yet they are shaped by us and descended upon us.

They are from us.

Here is the bottom line: I read last week that the prime minister of Turkey said his party should not be called the AKP.

And he went on to say that those who call the AKP as the AKP are the ones who have no shame and those are a shameless bunch.

My personal response

It is inexplicable and such a riddle: How can a leader call us "shameless" simply because we fail to meet his holy summon and fall short of naming a party as he wishes?

Moreover, why, in return, should people not slap him back or the intellectuals who ought to be the conscience of the masses remain silent?

The prime minister believes that thereby he brings the lexicon of the people to his own level!

How can one divide people so easily, yet so arrogantly and hurtfully, when his mission ought to unify the people very carefully and dutifully? Here is my response to those who wish to pigeonhole me, treat me as a slave and consider me an inferior being.

As long as I am mindful of the base lines, who can decide, I ask, what I may or may not say, what I believe in, what I can tell and yell?

If someone else decides, then why should I write?

Or why do all writers write,

And journalists ask?

I can only be loyal to my own writings and can rest easily, if I delve

Into what I think,

Hence, here I am daring to call it the AKP.

I slap back.

I can’t be hushed anymore.

I can’t be scolded anymore.

I can’t be pushed around anymore.

Times have changed.

We, the people, govern.

We, the people, question.

We, the people, slap back.

The prime minister made a grave mistake.

If he really wants to educate! People,

He better start with an apology.

Every day and all the time.

Simply by calling it the way as they wish.

For they know that "AKP" is just a name.

Whoever is a free man, with a free will, will call it as he wills.

It is easy, just three letters.

It is the AKP.

Though this call frees the soul,

Makes one calm and happy.

Integrity is such a virtue.

I swear I will protect it as long as I can write to you.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Obama’s Cairo pill: Too big to swallow?"

-Published in Hurriyet Daily News on June 9th, 2009-
-Hurriyet Daily News'te, 9 Haziraz 2009 Tarihinde Yayinlanmis Makalem-

We must say openly the things we hold in our hearts and that too often are said only behind closed doors. As the Holy Koran tells us, ’Be conscious of God and speak always the truth.’ That is what I will try to do --to speak the truth as best I can." Barack Hussein Obama,Cairo, June 4.

Before the Cairo speech, President Obama also gave a much-anticipated Commencement speech at a Catholic university, Notre Dame, on May 17. Preceding the speech, there was a good deal of debate in the American media and in public, since Notre Dame is a Catholic university and the positions on abortion, the divisive topic that has always been a subject of national debate, are very different between Obama and Notre Dame. Apart from the fact that the commencement speech was beautifully delivered, also the notion of tolerance was skillfully infused to flatter the institution that hosts this unlikely president. With overlooking the speech writers’ role, the most fascinating element of the speech was that it showed how well Obama is versed in the Catholic faith and way of life. Analysts agreed that the codes and rhythms of the Catholic faith that were applied in the speech so well punched the nerves of the audience that it seemed as if Obama spoke and "knew" fluent Catholicism.

As I watched it over again, he was defending the acceptance and patience for abortion supporters as a reflection of the tolerance to seek common grounds while talking at a Catholic institution, which by the way is administered by Catholic Church leaders. Obama also was raising another thorny issue, the race issue amid embracing the white, Midwest Catholic institution and its former president Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, who was one of the members of the 1964 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which played a grand role to grant the rights of blacks in America so opened the road for himself to be president.

So this was one of the reasons that I was very curious how, now, Obama can resonate with a Muslim audience, institution and way of life, after he just did it with a Catholic one a couple of weeks ago.

His mentioning extremism in his speech as the first issue was valiant. Defending America’s "unbreakable" ties with Israel and brusque reference of many cowardice violent acts, without naming them as "terrorism," in front of an Arab audience in a Muslim country was also forthright. His unequivocal rebuke of Israeli settlements as illegitimate in a roaring fashion was evenly daring. This ease left the Israeli government spinning and still couldn’t come up with a solid retort to this new American rhetoric. There were only some weak and tweak voices that tried to voice nationalist and religious sentiments without receiving much attention. By taking the Israel-Palestine issue as a priority, chanting two-state solution, Obama distinguished himself from all the other American leaders who seemed to insincerely want to do something in the past about this conflict at a time right before their terms were expired.

Obama, happily, disappointed me
My expectation before the speech was either Obama was going to pass over the notion of democracy, or be too soft on Arabic dictators. He either was going to make a U-turn on the Israel-Palestine conflict or try to appease radical and extreme elements of the region. Obama, happily, disappointed me in all points. I didn't think he could stop blaming Bush for everything that happened, and could warn Iran’s nuclear weapon ambitions and also explain and defend the policies of the 9/11.Hosni Mubarak is a detested dictator figure, and giving a speech in his country, I thought, would have given his policies and way of an air of legitimacy. While I can’t trust him, the possible alternative to Mubarak was the Muslim Brothers and there are also serious concerns about their maturity to respect and stomach the minorities of Egypt. To his credit, Obama voiced the respect for the rule of law and democracy ingenuously, slapped the Egyptian leader with not thanking or referencing him directly and did not fall short of pre-empting and warning those Muslim groups who might fancy to ’use’ and ’abuse’ democracy until they manage to come to the power.

With the speech, Obama, once more, stocked the expectations high. There will be many upshots of this speech: it might fracture the new Right-wing coalition in Israel which has given tough promises to their own radical groups to get where they are now. Those promises cannot be broken easily, just as the unyielding American position and demands cannot be shrugged off simply.

The Cairo rapprochement also might help to bring down Ahmedinejad as soon as in two weeks when the Iranian general elections will be held. Obama said Iran and any country in that respect has a right to have any kind of energy, including nuclear. Thus the Iranian position or pretense from the beginning for acquiring the nuclear energy now out there and can be attainable. If the right process is set for Iran to reach peaceful nuclear energy in coming times, then the people of Iran will start asking tough questions more loudly such as why they should continue to pay the price for their government’s self-serving chauvinistic stance while being deprived from modern days’ comforts. Or even if the current Iranian administration is still able to cling to power, the new times will not be as black and white easy as has been the case.

The speech will push Hamas for more forbearance and moderation, would negate Osama and Al Qaida further to their "Cosmic World", and drive for more women, religious and human rights in the Muslim world. However one more result of this speech is the possibility to crack America’s institutions’ patience. Though, so far the Cairo speech was less provocative in America than the Notre Dame speech. This constructive outcome also shows that the speech reverberated well with the American public as well.

At the end, the Cairo pill seemed too big to swallow for parties, including Obama himself. Obama is going to either walk to the destination to bear the pain and fruit of digesting his own medicine, or choose to join fence-sitters and to be flushed away. There were many American presidents who did the latter and got away with it. Though this time around, this US President cannot get away with being motionless, because that will definitely wipe out the United States’moral authority from the Mideast for the unforeseeable future. It all depends how the words will be replaced by the deeds.

At any rate, the power of the Cairo medication numbs the parties for the time being. When all are awakened, and the effects of the promised deeds are started to be felt, we will witness colossal consequences.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Will and can the reformation come to Islam?

-Published in Hurriyet Daily News on June 2th, 2009- 

-Hurriyet Daily News'te, 2 Haziraz 2009 Tarihinde Yayinlanmis Makalem-

A few weeks ago, Fehmi Koru/Taha Kivanc wrote about how he happened to sit next to "Islam expert" Reza Aslan at some gathering, as another lucky encounter. 

While Koru was mentioning Aslan, he described him as someone a "little confused." I am not sure how much Koru is familiar with his writings, but his "little confused" remarks urged me to read his long overdue book. I know it seems as if I, somehow, suggest that if there is something Mr. Koru disdains, it becomes worth paying attention to because I will likely find some jewels. I do not mean that necessarily. What I mean is, I remembered the book again.

I know Reza Aslan from his writings in the Daily Beast, also from talk shows and news hours on American TV that he joins occasionally. His sharp-witted humor with quick and intellectually superb arguments and jokes made him kind of a star.

So as I started to read Aslan’s "No god but God" book from 2006, first it seemed the book was one of those books which talks about the miraculous history of Islam and the flawless life of the Prophet Mohammad that I have read over again. Though, at some point in my life, I realized that whenever I read about the Prophet’s life and his wonderful actions, I was usually getting disappointed, because he was always so faultless and perfect and that comparison usually crushed my faulty life.

Here, however, Aslan brings an authentic look to the Prophet Mohammed’s life. We see that Mohammad’s pre-Islamic life wasn’t watertight. For example, his participation in pagan rituals, something that unheard of, actually is not contrasting with Koranic verses. Aslan is also analyzing the political aspects of the Islamic movement, with many checks and balances that Prophet Mohammed was paying attention to while he was constructing his religion. 

As the book flies by, one feels like reading a real history, rather than some fairy tales. However, Mr. Koru can be relaxed, Mr. Aslan is still making the case ’for’ Islam, though a new Islam that is clean from its new idolsÑbigotry and fanaticismsÑthat have replaced Mohammed’s original vision of tolerance, against hatred and discord.

Mr. Aslan claims Prophet Mohammed was a social reformer before anything else. The Prophet’s first message was simple: the Day of Judgment was coming and those who did not "free the slave" or "feed others in times of famine" would be surrounded in fire. Mohammed was demanding economic justice, and trying to attract plebs, before challenging the leadership of Mecca. The messages of social and economic reforms were coming before monotheistic teachings.

With the unprotected of Mecca, whose rights he first started to advocate, Mohammed was also going after the "elite young men," from "the most influential families in the most influential clans," who felt the same discontent with Meccan society as Mohammad did. And this majority of less than thirty-year-old was relatively an easy target. 

Not directly challenging the leadership of the Meccan society, and bringing a new religion to the already crowded religious field of Mecca, Mohammad was not making the powerful angry. After all, religion was what Mecca was making money out of. Therefore the more religion there was, the more merrier/money for them.

One of the most courageous assertions of Aslan is his challenge of the history and of the seemingly "strong" hadiths, or Mohammed’s sayings. Many of the hadiths, Aslan explains, even the ones that have been narrated by the Muslim and Bukhari, the most trusted two books, contrast with Mohammed’s own behavior and actions. The egalitarian (male-female equality) face of the early Islamic teaching and rituals seem to have taken the biggest beating by the male-dominated Orthodox Islam hadith transmission exercise throughout Islamic history. 

Although Mohammad’s biographers present him as repeatedly asking for and following the advice of his wives, even in military matters, many hadiths have been transmitted intentionally to enable men to be superior and care for women as if they, with much-celebrated Koranic commentator Fakhr ad-Din ar-razi’s words, "were created like animals and plants and other useful things [not for] worship and carrying the Divine commands."

The reason of the huge difference between Mohammad’s approach and orthodox Islam, Aslan says, is that for fourteen centuries, the science of Koranic commentary has been the exclusive domain of Muslim men. Even the "untouchable" Omar, the second Caliph, was evidently ready to destroy this equality of Prophetic view. 

Omar’s misogynist tendencies were apparent from the moment he ascended to the leadership of the Muslim community. He tries (and fails) to confine women to their homes, and institutes segregated prayers and forces women to be taught by male religious leaders, which all are an apparent and direct violation of the Prophet’s exercise. Incredibly, Omar also instituted a series of severe penal ordinances aimed primarily at women; "chief of among these was the stoning to death of adulterers, a punishment that has absolutely no foundation in the Koran."

Today, it is clear that Islam needs a reformation with a daring and unyielding interpretation for the modern world. 

Today’s Islam can be enough for many who live in their backyard and haven’t changed their environment for centuries; however Islam feels stretched and falls short for those who are struggling to merge their values and beliefs with contemporary life. 

Like other religions, Islam has encountered many historical and social adaptations on the way, and it also needs a course of elucidation. 

As Aslan claims, and I believe, the voice of moderation, contrary to the common belief, is winning against the voice of extremism. Though this is not sufficient. The voice of moderation also needs tools to prove Islam has answers to many of today’s challenges that it can participate and live together with modern life that desperately lacks currently. When can the reformation come to Islam and who will lead the charge to reinterpret it more courageously to make it open its arms all humanity? And can it really make this historic leap forward? These are the questions.

I am curiously following Fehmi Koru about what to read, who to follow and not. It has been very useful so far.