The sick man of Europe (3): The rise of Recep

Landschlacht, Switzerland, St. Patrick’s Day 2017

I am a Turkey watcher.

Flag of Turkey

I have twice visited this beautiful country and I have rarely met a Turk I haven`t liked.

I began to talk about Turkey in this blog, because of the event that began 2017: the ISIS attack on a nightclub in Istanbul.

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Above: The Reina restaurant/nightclub, Istanbul

(See this blog’s No Longer My Country 1: Take Me Back to Constantinople and No Longer My Country 2: The fashionable dead.)

Four days later, a PKK car bombing in Izmir made me curious about exactly why the Kurdish people and the Turkish people have been at each other’s throats for decades and I have tried to be objective in writing about what my research has turned up.

I wrote of Turkey`s history from its ancient beginnings until the election of Turgat Özal in 1989.

Location of Turkey

I promised that I would explain why Turkish politics of today, especially the actions of its President, are affected by events of the past.

The events that followed the election of President Özal and all that has taken place in Turkey since 1989 I believe are instructive, for a number of reasons:

The location of Turkey as the crossroads of Asia and Europe, the meeting point of a predominantly Christian West with a predominantly Muslim Middle East, the crucible of secularism vs fundamentalism, makes Turkey one of the major countries I think the world cannot afford to ignore.

The political evolution of Turkey, especially since Recep Erdogan first assumed office as Turkey’s 25th Prime Minister (2003 – 2014) and then its 12th President (2014 – Present), runs very similarly to other nations’ histories and possible destinies.

(See this blog’s The sick man of Europe 1: The sons of Karbala and The sick man of Europe 2: The sorrow of Batman.)

To understand Turkish politics of today, we need to look at how His Excellency became ruler of Turkey and how his mind might work.

Recep Erdogan was born in the Kasimpasa neighbourhood of Istanbul, to which his family had moved from Rize Province.

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Erdogan spent his early childhood in Rize, where his father was a member of the Turkish Coast Guard.

His summer holidays were mostly spent in Güneysu, Rize, where his family originates from.

Throughout his life Erdogan has often returned to his spiritual home and in 2015 he opened a vast mosque on a mountaintop near his village.

His family returned to Istanbul when Erdogan was 13 years old.

See caption

As a teenager he sold lemonade and sesame buns (simit) on the streets of the city’s rougher districts to earn extra money.

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Brought up in an observant Muslim family, Erdogan graduated from Kasimpasa Piyale primary school in 1973, received his high school diploma from Eyüp High School, studied business administration at the Marmara University’s Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences – though several sources dispute the claim that he graduated.

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(To be President of Turkey, one must have graduated from a university.)

In his youth Erdogan played semi-professional football for the Kasimpasa football club, but when Fenerbahce Football Club wanted him to join their team his father prevented this.

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While studying business administration and playing football, Erdogan engaged in politics by joining the National Turkish Student Union, an anti-communist action group.

In 1974, Erdogan wrote, directed and played the lead role in the play Maskomya, which presented Freemasonry, Communism and Judaism as evil.

In 1975 Süleyman Demirel, president of the conservative Justice Party succeeded Bülent Ecevit, president of the social-democratic Republican People’s Party as Prime Minister of Turkey.

Demirel formed a coalition government with the Nationalist Front, the Islamist Salvation Party led by Necmettin Erbakan, and the far right Nationalist Movement Party.

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The 1970s were troubled times for Turkey: many economic and social problems, strike actions and political paralysis.

Turkey’s proportional representation system made it difficult to form any parliamentary majority and an ability to combat the growing violence in the country.

In 1976, Erdogan became the head of the Beyoglu youth branch of the Islamist Salvation Party and was later promoted to the chair of the Istanbul youth branch of the party.

In 1978, Erdogan married Emine Gülbaran of Siirt (a city in southeastern Turkey and capital of Siirt Province) and they have two sons (Ahmet and Necmettin) and two daughters (Esra and Sümeyye).

After the 1980 military coup, Erdogan followed most of Necmettin Erbakan’s followers into the Islamist Welfare Party.

Between 1984 and 1999, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish military engaged in open war.

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Above: Flag of the PKK

The Republic forced inscription, evacuation, destruction of villages, extreme harassment, tortue, illegal arrests, murder and disappearance of Kurdish journalists and executions of Kurds.

Since the 1970s, the European Court of Human Rights has condemned Turkey for the thousands of human rights abuses.

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Erdogan became the party’s Beyoglu district chair in 1984 and a year later became the chair of the Istanbul city branch.

Meanwhile, the military coup leaders under Kenan Evren appointed Turgut Özal state minister and deputy prime minister in charge of economic affairs.

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Özal formed the Motherland Party (ANAP) in 1983 after the ban on political parties was lifted by the military government.

The ANAP won the elections and he formed the government to become Turkey’s 19th Prime Minister at the end of the year.

When Özal became Prime Minister, the issue of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 was one of topics on his aganda.

Above: Remains of Armenians massacred at Erzinjan

In 1991, after a meeting with representatives of the Armenian community, Özal said in front of journalists and diplomats:

“What happens if we compromise with the Armenians and end this issue?

What if we officially recognize the 1915 Armenian Genocide and face up to our past?

Let’s take the initiative and find the truth.

Let’s pay the political and economic price, if necessary.”

Özal was reelected Prime Minister in 1987.

On 18 June 1988 Özal survived an assassination attempt during the ANAP party congress.

One bullet wounded his finger while another bullet missed his head.

The shooter, Kartal Demirag, was captured and sentenced to life imprisonment but was pardoned by Özal in 1992.

On 9 November 1989, Özal became Turkey’s 8th President elected by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey and the first president to be born in the Republic of Turkey rather than the Ottoman Empire.

(Demirag was later retried in 2008 and sentenced to 20 years in prison.)

Özal was born in Malatya to a Turkish family with partial Kurdish roots on his mother’s side.

Views from the city

Above: Scenes of the city of Malatya

In 1991 Özal supported the coalition of nations (France, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and the United States) against Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War.

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Above: Scenes from the 1991 Gulf War

In the early 1990s Özal agreed to negotiations with the PKK, the events of the Gulf War having changed the political dynamics in the region.

(Kurds make up 17% of Iraq’s population.

In 1974 the Iraqi government began a new offensive against the Kurds.

Between 1975 and 1978, 200,000 Kurds were deported out of oil rich Kurdistan.

During the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, the Iraqi government implemented anti-Kurdish policies: the mass murder of hundreds of thousands of civilians, the wholesale destruction of thousands of Kurdish villages, the deportation of thousands of Kurds.

The Anfal (spoils of war) genocidal campaign destroyed over 2,000 villages and killed 182,000 Kurdish civilians, using ground offensives, aerial bombing, firing squads and chemical attacks, including the most infamous attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988 that killed 5,000 civilians instantly.

Above: First Lieutenant of the US 25th Infantry on patrol in fron of Halabja Cemetery

After the collapse of the Kurdish uprising in March 1991, Iraqi troops recaptured most of the Kurdish areas and 1.5 million Kurds abandoned their homes and fled to the Turkish and Iranian borders.

It is estimated that close to 20,000 Kurds succumbed to death due to exhaustion, lack of food, exposure to cold and disease.

On 5 April 1991, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 688, which condemned the repression of Iraqi Kurdish civilians and demanded that Iraq end its repressive measures and allow immediate access to international humanitarian organisations.

Flag of United Nations Arabic: الأمم المتحدةSimplified Chinese: 联合国French: Organisation des Nations uniesRussian: Организация Объединённых НацийSpanish: Naciones Unidas

In mid-April, the Coalition established safe havens inside Iraqi borders and prohibited Iraqi planes from flying north of the 36th parallel.

Kurds held parliamentary elections in May 1992 and established the Kurdistan Regional Government.)

Apart from Özal, few Turkish politicians were interested in a peace process with the Kurds, nor was more than a part of the PKK itself.

In 1993 Özal worked on peace plans with former finance minister Adnan Kahveci and General Commander of the Turkish Gendarmerie Esref Bitlis.

Negotiations led to a ceasefire declaration by the PKK on 20 March 1993.

With the PKK’s ceasefire declaration achieved, Özal planned to propose a major pro-Kurdish reform package at the next meeting of the National Security Council.

On 17 April 1993 Özal died of a suspicious heart attack, leading some to suspect an assassination.

Özal died just before he had the chance to negotiate with the PKK.

A month later a PKK ambush on 24 May 1993 ensured the end of the peace process.

After Özal’s death, his policies of compromising with the Armenians in order to solve the conflict concerning the Armenian Genocide were abandoned.

Özal’s wife Semra claimed he had been poisoned by lemonade and she questioned the lack of an autopsy.

Blood samples taken to determine his cause of death were lost or disposed of.

Tens of thousands of people attended the state burial ceremony in Istanbul.

(On the 14th anniversary of his death, thousands gathered in Ankara in commemoration.

Investigators wanted to exhume the body to examine it for poisoning.

On 3 October 2012 Özal’s body was exhumed.

It contained the banned insecticide DDT at ten times the normal level.)

Under the new President Süleyman Demirel and Prime Minister Tansu Siller, the Castle Plan – to use any and all means to solve the Kurdish question using violence – which Özal had opposed, was enacted.

In the local elections of 27 March 1994, Erdogan was elected Mayor of Istanbul (1994 – 1998).

Many feared that he would impose Islamic law.

However he was pragmatic in office, tackling chronic problems in Istanbul, including water shortage, pollution and traffic chaos.

The water shortage problem was solved with the laying of hundreds of kilometres of new pipeline.

The garbage problem was solved with the establishment of state-of-the-art recycling facilities.

Air pollution was reduced by making public buses more environmentally friendly.

Istanbul’s traffic and transportation jams were reduced with more than 50 bridges, viaducts and highways built.

Erdogan took precautions to prevent corruption, using measures to ensure that municipal funds were used prudently.

He paid back a major portion of Istanbul’s two billion dollar debt and invested four billion dollars in the city.

Erdogan initiated the first roundtable of mayors during the Istanbul Conference, which led to an organised global movement of mayors.

In December 1997, while in his wife’s hometown of Siirt, defending his party from being declared unconstitutional by the Turkish government, Erdogan recited a poem from a work written by Ziya Gökalp, a Turkish activist of the early 20th century.

Above: The Ebul Vefa Mosque, Siirt

(To understand Turkey, one must never forget that this is a country that subscribes to the “great man” view of history and politics.

Travellers in Turkey find portraits of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881 – 1938) everywhere.

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Atatürk created modern Turkey, not only by reclaiming from the Ottoman Empire virtually all the territory that we call Turkey today but as well by lending his name to a series of reforms to demonstrate the uniqueness of living in Turkey – the elimination of the fez, the alteration of the calendar to make Saturday and Sunday the weekend, women encouraged to enter more fully into public life by no longer making veiling compulsory, the adoption of the Latin alphabet, to name just a few changes that led to genuine transformation of the most intimate moments of the Turkish people’s lives.

Mehmed Ziya Gökalp (1876 – 1924) was a Turkish sociologist, writer, poet and political activist whose work was particularly influential in shaping the reforms of Atatürk.

Above: Ziya Gökalp

Influenced by contemporary European thought, particularly the views of Émile Durkheim, Gökalp rejected the unity of the Ottoman Empire or unity through Islam, in favour of Turkish nationalism through the promotion of the Turkish language and culture.

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Above: Émile Durkheim (1858 – 1917)

Gökalp believed that a nation must have a “shared consciousness” in order to survive, that “the individual becomes a genuine personality only as he becomes a genuine representative of his culture”.

He believed that a modern state must become homogeneous in terms of culture, religion and national identity.

In an 1911 article, Gökalp suggested that “Turks are the ‘supermen’ imagined by the German philosopher Nietzsche”.

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Above: Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)

Gökalp differentiated between Avrupalilik (Europeanism – the mimicking of Western socieities) and Modernlik (taking initiative).

He was interested in Japan as a model for this, for he perceived Japan as having modernised itself without abandoning its innate cultural identity.

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Above: Flag of Japan

Gökalp suggested that to subordinate “culture” (non-utilitarian, altruist public-spiritedness) to “civilisation” (utilitarian. egotistical individualism) was to doom a state to decline.

“Civilisation destroyed societal solidarity and morality.”

(Many historians and sociologists have suggested that his brand of nationalism contributed to the Armenian Genocide.)

Gökalp’s poetry served to complement and popularise his sociological and nationalist views.)

Erdogan’s recitation of Gökalp’s work included verses which are not in the original version of the poem:

“The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.”

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Aboe: The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, or Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Under Article 312/2 of the Turkish Penal Code, Erdogan’s recitation was regarded as an incitement to violence and religious/racial hatred.

In 1998, his fundamentalist Welfare Party was declared unconstitutional on the grounds of threatening the secularism of Turkey and was shut down by the Turkish Constitutional Court.

Erdogan was given a ten-month prison sentence of which he served four. (24 March – 27 July 1999)

Due to his conviction, Erdogan was banned from participating in parliamentary elections.

As 9th President of Turkey, His Excellency Süleyman Demirel had four Prime Ministers rise and fall during his time in office:

Tansu Ciller

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(Turkey’s 22nd and first and only female Prime Minister (1993 – 1996), Ciller was responsible for the aforementioned Castle Plan, the persuasion of the United States to label the PKK as a terrorist organisation, the creation of a budget plan that led to a lack of confidence in her government and an almost total collapse of the Turkish lira, was alleged to have supported the failed 1995 Azerbaijan coup d’état, claimed Turkish sovereignty over the islands of Imia and Kardak almost leading to war with joint claimant Greece and was implicated in the Susurluk Scandal involving the close relationship between her government, the armed forces and organised crime.)

Necmettin Erbakan (1926 – 2011)

Necmettin Erbakan.jpg

(Turkey’s 23rd Prime Minister (1996 – 1997), Erbakan formed a coalition government with Ciller acting as Deputy Prime Minister and strongly promoted close cooperation and unity among Muslim countries.

He was the founder of the still-existent D8 (Developing Eight) Organization for Economic Cooperation, whose goal is increased economic and political unity between its members (Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey).

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Erbakan found his popularity wane when he made fun of the nightly repetition of demonstrations against his Deputy Prime Minister.

He was strongly encouraged by the military to resign over his perceived violation of the separation of religion and state as mandated by the Turkish Constitution.)

Mesut Yilmaz

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(Turkey’s 21st Prime Minister (June – November 1991, March- June 1996, 1997 – 1999), Yilmaz quickly began to fade for his 3rd and final time as Prime Minister.

In October 1998, he threatened “to poke out the eyes of Syria” over Syrian President Hafez  al-Assad’s (1930 – 2000)(18th President of Syria: 1971 – 2000) alleged support of the FKK.

Flag of Syria

Above: The flag of Syria

(During Assad’s presidency, Syria’s relations with Turkey were tense.

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An important issue between the countries was water supply and Syria’s support to the PKK.

Assad offered help to the PKK enabled it to receive training in the Beka’a’ Valley in Lebanon.

Abdullah Öcalan, one of the founders of the PKK, openly used Assad’s villa in Damascus as a base for operations.

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Turkey threatened to cut off all water supplies to Syria.

However, when the Turkish Prime Minister or President sent a formal letter to the Syrian leadership requesting it to stop supporting the PKK, Assad ignored them.

At that time, Turkey could not attack Syria due to its low military capacity near the Syrian border, and advised the European NATO members to avoid becoming involved in Middle East conflicts in order to avoid escalating the West’s conflict with the Warsaw Pact states, since Syria had good relations with the Soviet Union.

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Above: Logo of the Warsaw Treaty Organization of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance

However, after the end of the Cold War, Turkish military concentration on the Syrian border increased.

In mid-1998, Turkey threatened Syria with military action because of Syrian aid to Öcalan, and in October it gave Syria an ultimatum.

Assad was aware of the possible consequences of Syria’s continuing support to the PKK.

Turkey was militarily powerful while Syria had lost the support of the Soviet Union.

The Russian Federation was not willing to help; neither was it capable of taking strong measures against Turkey.

Facing a real threat of military confrontation with Turkey, Syria signed the Adana Memorandum in October 1998, which designated the PKK as a terrorist organization and required Syria to evict it from its territory.

After the PKK was dissolved in Syria, Turkish-Syrian political relations improved considerably, but issues such as water supplies from the Euphrates and Tigris rivers remained unsolved.)

In December 1998, in an attempt to privatise the Turkish Trade Bank, allegations of cooperation with Mafia boss Alaattin Cakici began to arise.

Mustafa Bülent Ecevit

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(Turkey’s 16th Prime Minister (January – November 1974, June – July 1977, 1978 – 1979, 1999 – 2002), Ecevit would try to bring economic reforms, aimed at stabilizing the Turkish economy, in order to gain full membership into the European Union.)

Circle of 12 gold stars on a blue background

(Despite lasting only ten months, Ecevit’s first government was responsible for the successful Turkish invasion of Cyprus, for which he is nicknamed the ‘conqueror of Cyprus’. (Turkish: Kıbrıs Fatihi) )

In 2000, Ahmet Necdet Sezer was elected as Turkey’s 10th President (2000 – 2007) after Süleyman Demirel’s seven-year term expired.

Ahmet Necdet Sezer.jpg

The Prime Ministers during Demiril’s term with their unstable coalitions, rampant corruption and lack of durability caused the Turkish people to become highly disillusioned with their government.

Their lack of faith would cause foreign nations to carefully examine any investment in Turkey.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Turkey relied heavily on foreign investment for economic growth.

The government was already running enormous budget deficits, which it managed to sustain by selling huge quantities of high-interest bonds to Turkish banks.

Continuing inflation and the enormous flow of foreign capital had meant that the government could avoid defaulting on the bonds in the short term.

As a consequence, Turkish banks came to rely on these high yield bonds as a primary investment.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 1996 warned the Turkish government of an impending financial crisis because of the deficit.

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Turkey’s unstable political landscape led many foreign investors to divest from the country.

As foreign investors observed the political turmoil and the government’s attempts to eleiminate the budget deficit, they withdrew $70 billion worth of capital in a matter of months.

This left a vacuum of capital that Turkish banks were unable to alleviate because the government was no longer able to pay off its bonds.

With no capital to speak of, the Turkish economy declined dramatically.

By 2000 there was massive unemployment, a lack of medicine, tight credit, slow production and increasing taxes.

In November 2001, the IMF provided Turkey with $11.4 billion in loans and Turkey sold many of its state-owned industries in a effort to balance the budget.

But these stabilisation efforts were not producing meaningful effects and the IMF loan was widely seen as insufficient.

On 19 February 2001, Prime Minister Ecevit emerged from an angry meeting with President Sezer saying:

“This is a serious crisis.”

This statement underscored the financial and political instability and led to further panic in the markets.

Stocks plummeted, interest rates reached 3,000%, large quantities of Turkish lira were exchanged for US dollars or euros, causing the Turkish Central Bank to lose $5 billion of its reserves.

Above: Symbol for the Turkish lira

The crash triggered even more economic turmoil.

In the first eight months of 2001, nearly 15,000 jobs were lost, the US dollar was equal to 1,500,000 lira, and income inequality was greater than ever.

Despite this, the government made swift progress in bringing about an economic recovery.

Nevertheless, almost half of his party in the parliament left to form the New Turkey Party(YTP).

Added to this economic crisis, allegations of corruption, as well as Ecevit’s poor health, made early elections unavoidable and the DSP faced an electoral wipeout in the 2002 general elections losing all of its MPs.

In 2001, Erdogan established the Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Justice and Development Party

The AKP won a landslide victory and Erdogan assumed office as Turkey’s 25th Prime Minister on 14 March 2003.

Erdogan inherited a Turkish economy just beginning to recover, unresolved issues with the Kurds and the Armenians, the need to improve democratic standards and the rights of minorities, the need to reform labour laws, the need to invest in education, the need to increase Turkey’s infrastructure, as well as the need to reform the Turkish healthcare system and social security.

Recep Tayip Erdogan, born 1954, had come a long way from selling simit in rough districts, or kicking a football, or sitting in a prison cell for speaking ill-chosen words.

He had shown he could rise above coups and his party being declared unconstitutional and dissolved and could improve the lives and the prospects of one of Turkey’s oldest and populous cities.

Erdogan would go on to be known by two, completely contrary to each other, titles:

  • the most successful politician in the Republic of Turkey’s history
  • the world’s most insulted president

Erdogan was Prime Minister for 11 years and has been President for almost three years with four more years to go in his mandate.

And he seemed to start off so well…

(To be continued…)

Sources: Wikipedia / Andrew Finkel, Turkey: What Everyone Needs to Know)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Slave to the Machine / One Flew Over the Internet

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 12 March 2017

I like Facebook.

Logo von Facebook

There I said it.

I like the variety of news items that appear, the exchange of ideas, the casual contact with friends and family close or far away, and I find Facebook gives me a forum to share my thoughts.

But a few days ago I began to notice a problem and I wrote about it in Facebook:

“Oh, Father Facebook, forgive me for I have sinned.

It has only been mere moments since I was online posting things that caught my eye and looking up from my phone screen I was embarrassed to realise that a morning went by without my noticing it.

I have become like those I once mocked and ridiculed for their electronic addiction.

I find myself spending too much time reading about life, instead of living life.

A to-do list goes undone.

Walking weather goes unused, literature unread, music unappreciated.

On Monday evening, Switzerland experienced a 4.5 on the Richter scale earthquake and I cannot honestly say whether it was felt here by the Lake of Constance and I was distracted by electronics, or whether there were no tremors this far north of its epicentre.

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And this is just….sad.

So, Father Facebook, we need to re-evaluate our relationship.

I value what I have read and am always intrigued by the new items that keep appearing.

But you are creating bad habits in me by capturing my curiosity.

You show me life while I am neglecting my own.

So, Father Facebook, we need to spend less time with one another.

So, one hour a day, six days a week is my new belated New Year’s resolution.

There is life out beyond the flat screen.

I will report in on what I find.

In the name of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and the Ghost in the Machine.

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Above: Steve Jobs (1955 – 2011)

Amen

Problematic Internet use, also called compulsive Internet use (CIU), Internet overuse, problematic computer use, pathological computer use, problematic Internet use (PIU) or Internet addiction disorder (IAD), all refer to excessive Internet use that interferes with daily life.

Above: The Internet Messenger, Buky Schwartz, Holon, Israel

IAD began as a joke.

Dr. Ivan Goldberg found the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to be overly complex and rigid, so as a combination hoax and parody he invented IAD, describing its symptoms: “important social or occupational activities that are given up or reduced because of Internet use”, “fantasies or dreams about the Internet” and “voluntary or involuntary typing movements of the fingers”.

Goldberg felt that to receive medical attention or support for every single human behaviour by giving each one a psychiatric name was ridiculous.

He felt that if every overdose behaviour can be labelled an addiction then this could lead us to have support groups for individuals that consistently cough or are addicted to books.

Goldberg took pathological gambling, as diagnosed by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, as his model for the description of IAD.

To Goldberg’s surprise, IAD receives coverage in the press.

The possible future classification of IAD as a psychological disorder continues to be debated and researched in the psychiatric community.

Online habits, such as reading, playing computer games, or watching very large numbers of Internet videos, are troubling only to the extent that these activities interfere with normal life.

IAD is often divided into subtypes by activity, such as gaming, online social networking, blogging, emailing, Internet pornography, or Internet shopping.

Internet addiction is a subset of the broader category of technology addiction.

Mankind’s widespread obsession with technology goes back to radio in the 1930s and television in the 1960s, but this obsession has exploded in importance during the digital age.

Above: Bakelite radio, Bakelite Museum, Orchard Hill, England

A study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking has suggested that the prevalence of Internet addiction varies considerably among countries and is inversely related to quality of life.

(Cecilia Chang and Li Angel Yee-Lam, “Internet Addiction Prevalence and Quality of Real Life: A Meta-Analysis of 31 Nations Across Seven World Regions”, Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking, Issue 17, December 2014)

A conceptual model of IAD has been developed based on primary data collected from addiction researchers, psychologists and health care providers as well as older adolescents themselves.

(Moreno/Jelenchik/Christakis, “Problematic internet use among older adolescents: A conceptual framework”, Computers and Human Behaviour, Issue 29, 2013)

(Kim/Byrne, “Conceptualizing personal web usage in work contexts: A preliminary framework”, Computers and Human Behaviour, Issue 27, June 2011)

These studies have identified seven concepts that make up IAD: psychological risk factors, physical impairment, emotional impairment, social and functional impairment, risky Internet use, impulsive Internet use, and Internet use dependence.

It is not just the amount of time spent on the Internet that puts people at risk, but how the time is spent is also important.

There is a problem if you are unable to maintain a balance or control over your Internet use in relation to everyday life.

It is difficult to detect and diagnose someone with IAD as the Internet is a highly promoted tool.

Addiction to cyber sex, cyber relationships, Internet compulsions, information and research and computer gaming are often considered to be related to IAD, but this variety of rewarding and reinforcing stimuli online might not be addictions to the Internet itself but rather the Internet is the fuel to other addictions.

A 1999 study discovered that over half the people considered to be Internet dependent were new users of the Internet and are therefore more inclined to use the Internet regularly.

Non-dependent users had been using the Internet for more than a year, suggesting that overuse of the Internet could wear off over time.

(Yellowlees/Marks, “Problematic Internet use or Internet addiction?”, Computers in Human Behaviour, Issue 23, March 2005)

What creates in some these compulsive behaviours?

Accessibility: Because of the convenience of the Internet, users now have easy and intermediate access to gambling, gaming and shopping at any time of the day, without the hassles of everyday life, like travelling or queues.

Control: Internet users are in control of their own online activity.  With the use of the latest technology, such as tablet computers and smartphones, users can go to the bathroom or another private place to engage with the Internet, without others knowing about it.

Excitement: Internet users often get an excited feeling of a rush or a buzz when they win an online auction, a video game or online gambling.  This positive feedback can result in addictive behaviour.  Some users use the Internet as a way of gaining this emotion.

The Centre for Online Addiction claims that IAD is a broad term that covers a wide variety of behaviours and impulse control problems, and categorises IAD into five specific subtypes:

Center for Online Addiction

  1. Cybersexual addiction: The compulsive use of adult websites for cybersex and cyberporn.  Internet pornography use is increasingly common in Western cultures and the mental health community has witnessed a dramatic rise in problematic Internet pornography use.  At present there is no widely accepted means of defining or assessing problematic Internet pornography use and the notion of Internet pornography addiction is still highly controversial.
  2. Cyber-relationship addiction: Overinvolvement in online relationships. A cyber-relationship addiction has been described as the addiction to social networking in all forms.  Social networking, such as Facebook, and online dating services, along with many other communication platforms create a place to communicate with new people.  Virtual online friends start to gain more communication and importance over time to the person becoming more important than real life family and friends.  Some people are attracted to the silent, less visually stimulating, non-tactile quality of text relationships, especially those who are struggling to contain the overstimulation of past trauma.  Text communication is a paradoxical blend of people being honest and close while simultaneously keeping their distance.  People suffering with social anxiety or who have issues of shame and guilt may be drawn to text relationships because people cannot be seen.  Text enables them to avoid the issue of physical appearance which they find distracting or irrelevant to the relationship.  Without the distraction of in-person cues, they feel they can connect more directly to the mind and soul of the other person. Cyber-relationships can often be more intense than real life relationships, causing addiction to the relationship.  With the ability to create whole new personas, people can often deceive the person they are communicating with.  Everyone is looking for the perfect companion, but the perfect companion online is not always the perfect companion in real life.  Although two people can commit to a cyber-relationship, while offline one of them could possibly not be the person they are claiming to be online.  There are people who deliberately create fake personal profiles online with the intention of tricking an unsuspecting person into falling in love with them.  These people are known as “catfish”. (The term “catfish” is derived from the title of a documentary film released in 2010, in which New York photographer Nev Schulman discovers the woman he had been continuing a cyber-relationship with had not been honest whilst describing herself.)Catfish film.jpg
  3. Net compulsions: Obsessive online gambling, shopping or day-trading. According to David Hodgins, Professor of Psychology at the University of Calgary, online gambling is considered to be as serious as pathological gambling.  The online gambler prefers to separate himself from interruptions and distractions. Online, the problem gambler can indulge in gambling without social influences swaying his decisions.  Online stock trading, like online gambling, gives the participant an addictive rush.  Traders have ownership towards when and how they trade stocks and distribute their money.  There are no second parties, no bosses, no schedules, so the trader feels a sense of empowerment in his own little world outside reality.LogoAbove: Logo of the University of Calgary
  4. Information overload: Compulsive web surfing or database searches
  5. Computer addiction: Obsessive computer game playing.  Video game addiction is a problem around the world.

IAD is usually linked with existing health issues, most commonly depression, and effects the addict socially, psychologically and occupationally.

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Above: Belgian singer Jonathan Vandenbroeck aka Milow, known for his hit single cover, Ayo Technology

Pathological use of the Internet can result in negative life consequences, such as job loss, marriage breakdown, financial debt and academic failure.

70% of Internet users in South Korea are reported to play online games, 18% of these are diagnosed as game addicts.

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Above: The flag of South Korea

The majority of those afflicted with IAD suffer from interpersonal difficulties and stress, while those addicted to online games specifically hope to avoid reality.

A major reason why the Internet is so appealing is the lack of limits and the absence of accountability.

“There were lots of reasons why we pulled the plug on our electronic media…My children don’t use media. They inhabit media…as fish inhabit a pond.  Gracefully and without consciousness or curiosity as to how they got there.  They don’t remember a time before email, instant messaging or Google.

The letters of "Google" are each purely colored (from left to right) with blue, red, yellow, blue, green, and red.

They download movies and TV shows and when I remind them piracy is a crime, they look at one another and laugh.  These are children who shrug indifferently when they lose their iPods, with all 5,000 tunes plus video clips, feature films and TV shows….

(Who watches TV on a television anymore?)

…”There’s plenty more where that came from.”, their attitude says.

And the most infuriating thing of all?

They’re right.

The digital content that powers their world can never truly be destroyed.

…I had always been an enthusiastic user of information technology, but I was also beginning to have doubts about the power of media to improve our lives – let alone make them “easier”.

I had noticed that the more we seemed to communicate as individuals, the less we seemed to function together as a family.

And on a broader scale, the more facts we have at our fingerprints, the less we seem to know.

The “convenience” of messaging media (email, SMS, IM) consumes ever larger amounts of our time.

As a culture we are practically swimming in entertainment, yet remain more depressed than any people who have ever lived.

We began “The Experiment”, a six-month period during which we stopped using much of our electronic media, such as computers, televisions, game consoles and mobile phones.

Our family’s self-imposed exile from the Information Age changed our lives infinitely for the better.

I watched as my children became more focused, logical thinkers.  I watched as their attention spans increased, allowing them to read for hours at a time.  I watched as they began to hold longer and more complex conversations with adults and among themselves.  I watched as they began to improve their capacity to think beyond the present moment.

They took the opportunity to go out more, to notice food more, to sleep more.”

(Susan Maushart, The Winter of Our Disconnect)

“And so it came to pass that in the winter of 2016 the world hit a tipping point…the moment when we realised that a critical mass of our lives and work had shifted away from the terrestrial world to a realm known as “cyberspace”… a critical mass of our interactions had moved to a realm “where we are all connected but no one is in charge.”

After all, there are no stoplights in cyberspace, no police officers walking the beat, no courts, no judges, no God who smites evil and rewards good…

If someone slimes you on Twitter or Facebook, well, unless it is a death threat, good luck getting it removed, especially if it is done anonymously, which in cyberspace is quite common.

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Above: Company logo for Twitter

Yet this realm is where we now spend increasing hours of our day.

Cyberspace is now where we do more of our shopping, more of our dating, more of our friendship making and sustaining, more of our learning, more of our commerce, more of our teaching, more of our communicating, more of our news broadcasting and news seeking and more of our selling of goods, services and ideas.

It’s where both the US President and the leader of ISIS can communicate with equal ease with tens of millions of their respective followers through Twitter – without editors, fact checkers, libel lawyers or other filters.

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Black Standard[1]

Even President Barack Obama was taken aback by the speed at which this tipping point tipped:

Obama standing with his arms folded and smiling

“I think that I underestimated the degree to which, in this new information age, it is possible for misinformation, for cyberhacking and so forth, to have an impact on our open societies.”, Obama told ABC News This Week.

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Alan Cohen, chief commercial officer of the cybersecurity firm Illumio, noted in an interview on siliconAngle.com that the reason this tipping point tipped now was because so many companies, governments, universities, political parties and individuals have concentrated a critical mass of their data in computers.

Illumio - Security That Works Anywhere

Work has to start with every school teaching children digital civics, that the Internet is an open sewer of untreated, unfiltered information, where they need to bring skepticism and critical thinking to everything they read and basic civic decency to everything they write.

A Stanford Graduate School of Education study published in November 2016 found…

…”a dismaying inability by students to reason about information they see on the Internet

Students had a hard time distinguishing advertisements from news articles or identifying where information came from.”

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Professor Sam Wineburg, the lead author of the Stanford report, said:

“Many people assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally perceptive about what they find there.

Our work shows the opposite to be true.”

In an era when more and more of our lives have moved to this digital realm, that is downright scary.”

(Thomas Friedman, “Our lives are digital. Be careful.”, New York Times, 12 January 2017)

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“Many men, women and children spend their days glued to their smartphones and their social media accounts.

No doubt you have seen the following scenarios many times:

  • Young couples out to dinner pull out their smartphones to check messages, emails and social networks before scanning the menu and check their phones repeatedly during the meal.
  • Shoppers and commuters standing in line, people crossing busy streets, even cyclists and drivers, have their eyes on their phones instead of their surroundings.
  • Toddlers in strollers playing with a digital device instead of observing and learning from the world around them.
  • People walking down the street with eyes on their phones, bumping into others, tripping over or crashing into obstacles.

Observations like these have prompted a New York psychotherapist to ask: “What really matters?” in life.

In her enlightening new book, The Power of Off, Nancy Colier observes that:

“We are spending far too much of our time doing things that don’t really matter to us.”

“We have become disconnected from what really matters, from what makes us feel nourished and grounded as human beings.”

The near universal access to digital technology, starting at ever younger ages, is transforming modern society in ways that can have negative effects on physical and mental health, neurological development and personal relationships, not to mention safety on our roads and sidewalks.

As with so much in life, moderation in our digital world should be the hallmark of a healthy relationship with technology.

Too many of us have become slaves to the devices that were supposed to free us and give us more time to experience life and the people we love.

Ms. Colier, a licensed clinical social worker, said:

“The only difference between digital addiction and other addictions is that this is a socially condoned behaviour.”

While Colier’s book contains a 30-day digital detox program, she offers three steps to help curb one’s digital dependence:

  1. Start by recognising how much digital use is really needed and what is merely a habit of responding, posting and self-distraction.
  2. Make little changes.  Refrain from using your device while eating or spending time with your friends.  Add one thing a day that is done without your phone.
  3. Become very conscious of what is important to you, what really nourishes you and devote more time and attention to it.The Power of Off: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World

Linyi, Shandong Province, China, 17 January 2017

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Above: The flag of the People’s Republic of China

Shandong Province is known for many things.

Map showing the location of Shandong Province

This stumpy peninsula jutting into the Yellow Sea, Shandong has a history that can be traced back to the origins of China itself.

Confucius, China’s great social philosopher, was born here and lived out his days here.

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Above: Confucius (551 BC – 479 BC)

His ideas were championed by the great Confucian philosopher Mencius who also hailed from here.

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Above: Mencius (372 BC – 289 BC)

Other local heroes include Wang Xizhi, China’s most famous calligrapher, and Zhuge Liang, a great military strategist.

Above: Wang Xizhi (265 – 420)

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Above: Zhuge Liang (181 – 234)

Film star Gong Li, who set new benchmarks for Chinese beauty, grew up in this province.

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Shandong has a firm foothold in China’s martial arts history: Wang Lang, the founder of Praying Mantis Fist –  one of the most distinctive of the Chinese boxing arts, emulating the movements of the stick-like insect famed for its ferocity and speed – called Shandong home.

Shandong is home to one of China’s four major schools of cooking.

It is here that the Yellow River, the massive waterway that began in the mud of Tibet and exists as part of the myths that form this mighty land, exits China.

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Above: Hukou Waterfall of the Yellow River (Huang He), 2nd longest in Asia, 6th longest in the world

Shandong is one of China’s wealthiest and most populous provinces, with much to attract the tourist.

Southern Chinese claim to have myriad mountains, rivers and geniuses, but Shandong citizens smugly boast they have one mountain (Tai Shan), one river (the Yellow River) and one saint (Confucius) – all that is needed.

Tai Shan is not only the most revered of China’s five holy Taoist peaks, it is the most climbed mountain on Earth.

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It is said that if you climb Tai Shan you will live to be 100.

In ancient Chinese tradition, the sun began its westward journey from Tai Shan.

Tai’an is the gateway town to the sacred Tai Shan and the hometown of Jiang Qing, Mao’s 4th wife, ex-actress and the leader of the Gang of Four, on whom all of China’s ills are often blamed.

Above: Jiang Qing (1914 – 1991)

The Dai Temple is in the centre of town.

The Temple is a magnificent structure with yellow tiled roofs, red walls and ancient towering trees.

It is one of the largest and most celebrated temples in China.

100 km south is the dusty rural town of Qufu, the birthplace, residence and final resting place of Confucius – a teacher largely unappreciated in his lifetime.

Apricot Platform in the Confucius Temple

Above: The Apricot Platform, Confucius Temple, Qufu, Shandong Province, China

Qufu is a harmony of carved stone, timber and imperial architecture, of airy courtyards, cypress trees and green grass, of twisted pines and mighty steles, singing birds serenade the seated souls upon quiet benches, unpolluted streets with little traffic, dusty, musty, home to the Confucius Temple, Confucius Mansions, the Confucian Forest…

To the south of the peninsula, the picture perfect town of Qingdao (also called Tsingtao)(Green Island) is called China’s Switzerland, which is surprising as its appearance is more reminiscent of a kind of Bavaria by the sea: cool sea breezes, balmy summer evenings, excellent seafood from dried fish shops, a Lutheran church, a German palace, and beaches of coarse sand covered in seaweed and bordered by concrete huts and stone statues of dolphins.

Clockwise from top left: Qingdao skyline, St. Michael's Cathedral, Qingdao harbour by night, a temple at the base of Mount Lao, and May Fourth Square

Above: Pictures of Qingdao

Jinan, the provincial capital is for most travellers a transit point on the road to other destinations, a city more famous for the celebrities it produced than for any virtues the city itself may possess: the film star Gong Li; Bian Que, the founder of traditional Chinese medicine; Zou Yan, the founder of the Yin and Yang five element school; Zhou Yongnian, the founder of China’s public libraries; and a number of nationally and internationally recognised writers.

Clockwise from top: Jinan's Skyline, Quancheng Square, Daming Lake, Furong Street, and Five Dragon Pool

Above: Pictures of Jinan

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Above: Bian Que (or Qin Yueren)(died 310 BC)

Among these writers is the Song Poet.

Above: Statue of Li Qingzhao (1084 – 1155), Li Qingzhao Memorial, Jinan

Li Qingzhao is famed for her elegant language, strong imagery and her ability to remain unpretentious in her poetry:

Above: Li Qingzhao Memorial, Baotu Spring Garden, Jinan, Shandong Province, China

“Alone in the night, the warm rain and pure wind have just freed the willows from the ice.

As I watch the peach trees, spring rises from my heart and blooms on my cheeks.

My mind is unsteady, as if I were drunk.

I try to write a poem in which my tears will flow together with your tears.

My rouge is stale.

My hairpins are too heavy.

I throw myself across my gold cushions, wrapped in my lonely doubled quilt and crush the phoenixes in my headdress.

Alone, deep in bitter loneliness, without even a good dream, I lie, trimming the lamp in the passing night.”

As I type these words I wonder whether 16-year-old Chen Xin ever read these words of the Song Poet and felt herself identify with this poem, when she was growing up 1,000 km north of Shandong in the sub-Siberian wilderness of Heilongjiang Province, or when she was involuntary a resident of Linyi, or later when she returned to Heilongjiang traumatised from her Linyi experience.

Linyi (“close to the Yi River”) is a city in the south of Shandong Province and though it is not far from Yellow Sea ports and it sits astride the G2 Beijing-Shanghai Expressway, and though it has a history of over 2,400 years and possesses an attractive Confucian temple, Linyi’s claim to fame lies in it being a major centre of human rights abuses in China.

Linyi Confucius Temple

Above: Lin Yi Confucius Temple

Though Linyi has been home to many historical figures, notably Zhuge Liang (former Prime Minister and considered to be the most accomplished strategist of his era akin to Sun Tzu, the author of The Art of War) and Wang Xizhi (considered to be the greatest master of Chinese calligraphy that ever lived), most modern Chinese might recall the names of Chen Guangcheng (the barefoot lawyer) and Yang Yongxin (the brain waker) and, as a result, feel some compassion for the sad tale of Chen Xin.

Chen Guangcheng is the youngest of five brothers of a peasant family from the village of Dongshigu, Yinan County, Shandong Province.

Chen Guangcheng at the US Embassy in Beijing on 1 May 2012

When Chen was about six months old, he lost his sight due to a fever that destroyed his optic nerves.

His village was poor, with many families living at a subsistence level.

Chen’s father worked as an instructor at a Communist Party school.

When Chen was a child, his father would read literary works aloud to him and helped impart to his son an appreciation of the values of democracy and freedom.

In 1989, at the age of 18, Chen began attending school at the Elementary School for the Blind in Linyi.

In 1991, Chen’s father gave him a copy of The Law Protecting the Disabled, which elaborated on the legal rights and protections in place for disabled people in China.

In 1994, he enrolled at the Qingdao High School for the Blind where he remained until 1998, where he began developing an interest in law and would often ask his brothers to read legal texts to him.

Chen first petitioned authorities in 1996, when he travelled to Beijing to complain about taxes that were incorrectly being levied on his family.

(People with disabilities, such as Chen, are supposed to be exempt from taxation and fees.)

The complaint was successful and Chen began petitioning for other individuals with disabilities.

Chen became an outspoken activist for disability rights within the China Law Society.

His reputation as a disability rights advocate was solidified when he agreed to defend an elderly blind couple whose grandchildren sufered from paralysis.  The family had been paying all of the regular taxes and fees, but Chen believed that, under the law, the family should have received government assistance and exemption from taxation.  When the case went to court, blind citizens from surrounding counties were in attendance as a show of solidarity.  The case was successful and the outcome became well-known.

Chen studied at the Nanjing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine from 1998 to 2001, specializing in acupuncture and massage – the only progrms available to the blind.  He also audited legal courses, gaining a sufficient understanding of the law to allow him to aid his fellow villagers when they sought his assistance.

While studying in Nanjing, Chen learned that a program the leaders of Chen’s home village – implementing a land use plan that gave the authorities control over 60% of the land, which they then rented out at high cost to the villages – was illegal, he petitioned central authorities in Beijing to end the system.

In 2000, Chen returned from his studies in Nanjing to his village of Dongshigu in an effort to confront environmental pollution.

A paper mill constructed in 1988 had been dumping toxic wastewater into the Meng River, destroying crops and harming wildlife, as well as causing skin and digestive problems among villagers living downstream from the mill.

Chen organised villagers in his hometown and 78 other villages to petition against the mill.  The effort was successful and resulted in the suspension of the paper mill.

In addition, Chen contacted the British Embassy in Beijing, informing them of the situation and requesting funding for a well to supply clean water to locals. The British government responded by providing funds towards a deep water well, irrigation systems and water pipelines.

After graduation from Nanjing, Chen returned to his home region and found a job as a masseur in Yinan County Hospital.

Chen met his wife, Yuan Weijing, in 2001, after listening to a radio show.  Yuan had called into the show to discuss her difficulties in landing a job after graduating from the foreign language department of Shandong Chemistry Institute.  Chen, who listened to the program, contacted Yuan and relayed his own story of hardship as a blind man.  Moved by the exchange, Yuan travelled to Chen’s village to meet him.

The couple eloped in 2003.  Yuan, who had been working as an English teacher, left her job in order to assist Chen in his legal work. Their son, Chen Kerui, was born later that year.

In March 2004, more than 300 residents from Chen’s village filed a petition to the village government demanding that they release the village accounts – which hadn’t been made public for 10 years – and address the issue of illegal land requisitions.  When Dongshigu authorities failed to respond and villagers escalated their appeals to the township, county and municipal governments without response, village authorities began to threaten the villagers.

In November 2004, Chen acted on behalf of the villagers.

In 2005, Chen spent several months surveying residents of Shandong Province, collecting accounts of forced, late term abortions and forced sterilization of women who stood in violation of China’s one-child policy.

(In 2005, Chen and Yuan had a second child, a daughter named Chen Kesi, in violation of this one-child policy.)

Though Chinese central authorities have sought to curb the coercive enforcement of the one-child policy since 1990 by replacing measures such as forced abortions and sterilisations with a system of financial incentives and fines, Chen found that coercive practices remained widespread, documenting numerous cases of abuse.

Chen’s survey, based in Linyi, found an estimated 130,000 residents in the city had been forced into “study sessions” for refusing abortions or violating the one-child policy, imprisoned for days or weeks and beaten.

The case garnered international media attention.

The local authorities in Linyi retailiated against Chen, placing him under house arrest and embarking on a campaign to undermine his reputation, portraying him as working for “foreign anti-China forces”.  The authorities threatened to levy criminal charges against Chen for providing state secrets or intelligence to foreign organisations.

Xinhua, the news agency of the Chinese government, stated that on 5 February 2006, Chen instigated others to damage and smash cars belonging to the Shuanghou Police Station and the Linyi government as well as attack local government officials.

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Time reported that witnesses disputed the government’s version of events and Chen’s lawyers argued that he couldn’t have committed the crimes as he was already on house arrest and under constant surveillance by the police.

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On the eve of Chen’s 18 August 2006 trial, all three of his lawyers were detained by Yinan police.

Neither Chen’s lawyers nor his wife were allowed in the courtroom for the trial.

Chen was sentenced to four years and three months for “damaging property and organising a mob to disturb traffic”.

Frank Ching, Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada) columnist criticised the verdict:

“Even assuming Chen did damage doors and windows, as well as cars, and interrupt traffic for three hours, it is difficult to argue that a four-year prison sentence is somehow proportionate to the offence.”

Amnesty International declared Chen to be a prisoner of conscience, “jailed solely for his peaceful activities in defence of human rights.”

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Above: The logo of Amnesty International

After his release in 2010, Chen was placed under house arrest against Chinese law and was closely monitored by security forces.  Legally, he was proclaimed by the government to be a free man, but in reality the local government offered no explanation for the hundreds of unidentified agents monitoring his house and preventing visitors or escape.

Chen and Yuan attempted to communicate with the outside world via video tape and letters, describing beatings they were subjected to, seizure of documents and communication devices, cutting off of electric power to their residence, placing metal sheets over their windows, harassing Chen’s daughter by banning her from attending school and confiscating her toys, harassing Chen’s mother while she was working in the fields…

In 2011, the New York Times reported that a number of Chen’s supporters and admirers had attempted to penetrate the security monitoring Chen’s home, but were unsuccessful and subsequently pummeled, beaten and robbed by security forces.  US Congressman Chris Smith attempted to visit Chen but was denied permission.  Actor Christian Bale (Batman Begins) attempted to visit Chen along with a CNN crew, but was punched, shoved and denied access by Chinese security guards.  Video footage showed Bale and the CNN crew having stones thrown at them and being pursued in their minivan for more than 40 minutes.

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Above: Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey

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Above: Actor Christian Bale

On 22 April 2012, Chen escaped from house arrest.  Under cover of darkness and with the help of his wife, Chen climbed over the wall around his house, breaking his foot in the process.

When he came upon the Meng River, Chen found it to be guarded, but he crossed anyway and was not stopped.  He fell more than 200 times during his escape, but reached a pre-determined rendezvous point where He Peirong, an English teacher and activist, was waiting for him.  Human rights activists then escorted him to Beijing.

Chen was given refuge at the US Embassy in Beijing.  On 4 May, Chen made clear his desire to leave China for the United States.  On 19 May, Chen, Yuan and their two children, having been granted US visas, departed Beijing for Newark, New Jersey.

Following his arrival in the US, the Chen family settled in a housing complex of New York University, in New York City’s Greenwich Village.

On 16 October 2013, Chen made his first public appearance, delivering a lecture at Princeton University.

Chen reminded the audience that even small actions undertaken in defense of human rights can have a large impact, because…

“Every person has infinite strength. Every action has an important impact.  We must believe in the value of our own actions.”

Chen’s memoir, The Barefoot Lawyer, was published in 2015.

In February 2016, a young girl, Chen Xin, was forcibly taken away from her home in northern Heilongijang Province by two strange men in a car and driven to Linyi.

At the Internet Addiction Treatment Center, a boot camp at Linyi Mental Hospital, more than 6,000 Internet addicts – most of them teenagers – not only have their web access taken away, they are also treated with electro-shock therapy.

The boot camp is run by the “brain-waker” Yang Yongxin.

Yang, born in Linyi, graduated from Yishui Medical School, with a degree in Clinical Medicine in 1982.  After graduation, Yang was aasigned by the state to the Linyi Mental Hospital, where he specialises in treating schizophrenia, depression, anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Yang started to investigate Internet addiction in 1999, when his teenage son began to show “addictive behaviour”.  He began practicing electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in 2006.

Initially the Chinese media viewed Yang’s work with great enthusiasm, publishing a book called Fighting the Internet Demon and producing a documentary film of the same name.

Yang was awarded as one of 2007’s Top Ten Outstanding Citizens of Shandong Province “for protecting the minors of Shandong”.

Yang caused widespread controversy in China when China’s most viewed TV channel, state-run CCTV, aired a special coverage of Yang’s treatment centre in July 2008.  The program, Fighting the Internet Demon Who Turned Our Geniuses into Beasts, reported positively on Yang’s ECT and sharply criticised the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft (Blizzard Entertainment, Irvine, California), then popular in China, blaming the game for many teenagers’ Internet addiction.  The program caused an uproar in China’s World of Warcraft community, spreading to most of China’s Internet community.  Yang’s critics revealed Yang’s controversial practices…

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Yang claimed that patients with Internet addiction suffered from cognitive and personality disorders and he promoted electroconvulsive therapy as a means to remedy such disorders.

Yang’s patients ranged from 12 to 30 years old, most of whom were abducted by their parents or by “the Special Operation”, a branch of the treatment centre that would reward more senior patients to abduct new patients.  The parents (even those of adult patients) would then sign a contract with the treatment centre, in which the parents would place the patients into foster care by the treatment centre.

Qu Xinjiu, a law professor at China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing said that the belief that parents have supreme jurisdiction over their children, and that even police officers have no right to intervene in family affairs, is widespread in China.

“That’s why there are so many parents sending their kids for electroshock therapy, even when outsiders think it’s wrong to do so.”, Professor Qu said.

After they were admitted, Yang’s patients were placed into a prisonlike environment, where they were forced to give away all online accounts and passwords.  Yang managed his patients in a military style, where he encouraged the patients to act as informants and threatened resisting patients with ECT, as a means of torture.

In addition to electroconvulsive therapy, Yang used psychotropic drugs without the consent of the patients or their parents, claiming that the drugs were dietary supplements.  The centre also has mandatory sessions with psychiatric counselors, where patients were taught absolute obedience to Yang and forced to call him “Uncle Yang”. He also warned the patients against asking their parents to take them home, another offense punishable by electroconvulsive therapy.

(All of this reminds me of the movie, starring Jack Nicholson, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest poster.jpg

In 2009 China Youth Daily published the news of a patient who had escaped Yang’s treatment centre.  The escaped patient jumped out from a second floor window at the treatment centre.  Yang’s ECT / psychotropic medication treatment, which Yang dubbed xingnao (brain-waking), triggered cardiac arrhythmia (uneven heart palpitations or irregular heartbeats) in the escaped patient, questioning the safety of Yang`s treatment.

Also the same year, a 15-year-old boy from southern Guangxi Province died after being beaten by staff two days after arriving at a camp treating Internet addiction.

Yang claimed that 96% of the patients treated by his electric therapy had shown improvement.

In 2009, the Chinese Health Ministry issued guidelines against using electroshock therapy for Internet addicts, but despite the Health Ministry’s policy, “punitive practices continue to victimise China’s youth” in Internet detox camps”, said Dr. Bax, assistant professor of sociology at Ewha Women’s University in Seoul, South Korea.

In 2014, researchers from universities in Chian, Taiwan and Germany wrote in the journal Asia-Pacific Psychiatry that the highest prevalence of “problematic Internet use” had been observed in Asia.

A series of scandals have erupted in previous years over the treatment of patients at similar camps in China.

In 2014, a 19-year-old woman died at a treatment centre in Henan Province after being given treatment that involved being lifted off the ground and then dropped, the South China Morning Post reported, while another suffered head and neck injuries.  Staff suspected the woman was feigning injury and continued to kick her on the ground, according to a China National Radio report.

Chen Xin’s parents had become concerned about her behaviour after she dropped out of school.  On the suggestion of an aunt, the Chen family decided to send Xin to the camp, which had claimed to have cured 7,000 children of Internet addiction in the past two decades. The camp had become a last resort as they had become exasperated by their child’s habit of playing online games for hours.

Xin escaped the Internet Addiction Centre four months later.

In an online journal Xin complained that the centre’s trainers had beaten patients for no reason and ordered those who did not behave to eat in front of the pit latrine (sewer).

Thepaper.cn said it had received calls from several patients at the camp since they ran Chen’s story.  They complained of being beaten, cursed at and insulted, of being watched even when using the toilet.

One former patient told Thepaper.cn:

“When the toilets clogged up, we were asked to empty the toilets with our hands.  You get beaten up in the toilet and get beaten up again if you dare say no.  You get beaten up if you are found to be in a relationship.”

In a journal post published 25 August 2016, Xin wrote:

“When you mentioned it to your relatives, they all said: ‘Isn’t it all in the past?  We love you.  You should forget all those things.’

I am angry.  People point at my nose and call me unfilial (unloving daughter) and worse than a beast. 

It was them who sent me there.  It was them who cursed me and beat me.  It was them who sabotaged my life and libelled my character, but it was also them who said they loved me.

My friends here, if it were you, what would you do?

I will use their money to practice boxing and martial arts and ambush them later.  I will make them disabled, if not die.”

On 16 September 2016, Xin stabbed her father with a knife after they argued.  He was hospitalised.

She tied her mother to a chair, shot photographs and a video of her mother, demanding money from her aunt to release her so Xin could go to a physics school in Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang Province.

The money was sent the following week, but by then Xin discovered her starving mother was already dying.  She called an ambulance, but it arrived too late.

Xin’s mother died on 23 September 2016.

In January 2017, the Chinese government drafted a law that will crack down on the camps’ worst excesses.

Medical specialists welcomed the law.

“It’s a very important move for protecting young children.”, said Dr. Tao Ran, director of the Internet Addiction Clinic at Beijing Military General Hospital.

Dr. Tao has seen several Chinese teenagers return from Internet addiction boot camps showing signs of lasting psychological trauma:

“They didn’t talk, were afraid to meet people and refused to leave their homes.  They were panicked even to hear the word ‘hospital’ or ‘doctor’.”

The legislation also limits how much time each day that minors can play online games at home or in Internet cafés.  Providers of the games are obliged to take measures to monitor and restrict use.

Many users of Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, were even more critical, saying policing teenage behaviour online is impractical and ill-informed.

Sina Weibo.svg

Above: The logo for Sina Weibo

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 12 March 2017

As I read over what I have written I am struck by a memory of Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953.

Cover shows a drawing of a man, who appears to be made of newspaper and is engulfed in flames, standing on top of some books. His right arm is down and holding what appears to be a paper fireman's hat while his left arm is wiping sweat from the brow of his bowed head. Beside the title and author's name in large text, there is a small caption in the upper left-hand corner that reads, "Wonderful stories by the author of The Golden Apples of the Sun".

The novel presents a future American society where books are outlawed and “firemen” burn any that are found.  Bradbury described the book as a commentary on how mass media reduces interest in reading literature.

In Part One of the book, my mind’s eye can still recall Guy Montag, the book’s protagonist, and the other firemen ransacking the book-filled house of an old woman.  She refuses to leave her house and her books, choosing instead to burn herself alive.  Like Montag I am discomfited by the woman’s suicide.

Montag’s boss, Captain Beatty, personally visits Montag to see how he is doing.  Sensing Montag’s concerns, Beatty recounts how books lost their value, how over the course of several decades people embraced new media and sports and a faster pace of life.  Books were ruthlessly abridged or degraded to accommodate a short attention span.  Books were burned in the name of public happiness.

In Part Two, I recall Montag telling his wife that maybe the books of the past have messages that can save society from its own destruction. But Mildred is only interested in their large screen television.  She invites her friends over to watch TV with her. Montag tries to engage them in meaningful conversation, but they are indifferent to all but the trivial.

And I wonder:

Is this the future?

Above: A visualisation of a portion of the routes on the Internet

Have we become a society that has become addicted to distraction?

A society oblivious to everything, everyone, unconnected, disconnected to flat screens or headphones?

It is easy to condemn the acts of the Chinese state for attempting to gain control over its citizens seduced by technology and mass media, or for using technology or mass media to control its populace, but perhaps, both in the Orient as well as the West, it is the people, us, who are as much culpable as the state.

Perhaps the enemy we seek lies in the reflection cast by our flat screens?

Sources:

Wikipedia / Thomas L. Friedman, “Our lives are digital. Be careful.”, 12 January 2017, New York Times / Mike Ives, “China seeks to curb Internet addiction camps”, 17 January 2017, New York Times / Rough Guides China / Lonely Planet China

 

 

Behind the veil: Islam(ophobia) for dummies

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 1 March 2017

There are moments when the well runs dry, the fire is out, the spirit extinguished.

Moments when I look at this blank screen and ask myself:

What should I write about?

Regular readers of my blog (both of them?!) patiently wait for some blog series to continue and/or conclude – That Which Survives (Brussels/Brontes), The sick man of Europe and the sons of Karbala (Turkish/Kurdish relations), The Underestimated (Switzerland) – but I seek to find opportunities when writing upon these themes seems appropo for the current time and events of the moment.

On a regular basis, I buy daily newspapers and weekly newsmagazines in the hopes that they will generate ideas of themes to discuss, but these media must somehow move me to react strongly to provoke words and thoughts out of me.

This morning I was uninspired.

Completely.

Though President Trump (two words I never thought I’d see together / two words that just seem wrong together) and his first speech to Congress yesterday seemed to be all anyone could talk about – what did he say? what did he not say? what did it all mean? – I honestly could not decide what I could say in this blog that hadn’t already been said by professionals more cleverer than I.

Coat of arms or logo

I had worked hard on my last blog post Bleeding Beautiful, trying to bring to the reader a semblance of connectiveness to the shooting of an Indian IT specialist in Kansas, a sense of place and time to the incident and a sensory sensitivity to help the reader relate his/her own life to the incident.

From left: Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who died; Alok Madasani, who was injured; and Ian Grillot, also injured

From left: Srinivas Kuchibhotia, who died; Alok Madasani, who was injured; Ian Grillot, also injured

So my mind felt it had to take a step back and meditate for a time before finding, yet again, the passion and the patience it takes to weave words into worthwhile reading.

Then a visit to Konstanz generated three sources of inspiration: We Are The Change We Seek: The Speeches of Barack Obama, a back-ordered copy of Huston Smith’s The World’s Religions, and the latest edition of Foreign Affairs.

Then I knew what I wanted to share with you, my gentle readers…

America has become afraid.

Flag of the United States

9/11 was a wake-up call…

Americans could be attacked, not only in fields foreign or upon exotic embassies or military machines, but in US streets, in US fields, fury visited from the skies and visited from within.

Not even the Second World War, with its millions of lives destroyed, had shown Americans attacked on the soil of the continental United States, if one does not include war with neighbours or amongst brothers.

But the images of passenger jets striking the Twin Towers was so shocking, so powerful, that even Presidents on tour could only sit stunned with disbelief, trying to grasp the surrealness of such an unreal situation.

It has been established that credit has been taken by and blame leveled at al Qaeda, who killed 3,000 people on that day –  innocent men, women and children from the US and other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody.

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Above: Black standard of al Qaeda

al Qaeda chose to murder, claim credit for the bloodshed and state their determination to kill on a massive scale.

Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda, or Boko Borom, or ISIS/ISIL/Daesh to lay down their arms.

Many Muslims protest against and publicly condemn the twisted fantasies of extremists who commit acts of terrorism.

Others say that these types are not true Muslims.

“Those people have nothing to do with Islam.” is the refrain.

And no one seems to see the irony that, of all the non-Western religions, Islam stands closest to the West, both geographically and ideologically.

Despite Christian, Jew and Muslim all descending from the family of Abraham religiously and Greek thought philosophically, Islam remains the most difficult religion for the West to understand.

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 2 March 2017

“No part of the world is more hopelessly and systematically and stubbornly misunderstood by us than that complex of religion, culture and geography known as Islam.”

(Meg Greenfield, Newsweek, 26 March 1979)

Proximity is no guarantee of concord, of harmony.

More homicides occur within families than anywhere else.

Common borders have given rise to border disputes.

Raids lead to counterraids and escalate into vendettas, blood feuds and war.

There have been times and places Christians, Muslims and Jews have all lived together harmoniously, but for a good part of the last fifteen hundred years, Islam and the West have been at war.

People seldom have, and often do not want, a fair picture of their enemies.

It is easier to misunderstand while remaining faithful to our deepest values, but we need to discover through dialogue, observation and thought that there doesn’t have to be conflict between Islam and the rest of the world.

“As a student of history, I know civilisation’s debt to Islam.

It was Islam that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment.

It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra, our magnetic compass and tools of navigation, our mastery of pens and printing, our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed.

Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires, timeless poetry and cherished music, elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation.

Throughout history, Islam has demonstrated, through words and deeds, the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.

Islam has always been a part of America’s story.

The first nation to recognise the United States was Morocco.

Flag of Morocco

Above: The flag of Morocco

In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, President John Adams wrote:

Official Presidential portrait of John Adams (by John Trumbull, circa 1792).jpg

Above: John Adams (1735 – 1826)(2nd US President: 1735 – 1826)

“The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims.”

And since America was founded, Muslims have enriched the United States…

partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn’t.”

Obama standing with his arms folded and smiling

Barack Obama (born 1961)(44th US President: 2009 – 2017)

(Barack Obama, “A New Beginning”, Cairo, Egypt, 4 June 2009)

“Although I loathe what terrorists do, I realise that, according to the minimal entry requirements for Islam, they are Muslims.

Islam demands only that a believer affirm that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger.

Violent jihadists certainly believe this.

That is why major religious institutions in the Islamic world have rightly refused to label them as non-Muslims, even while condemning their actions…

…Even if their readings of Islamic Scripture seem warped and out of date, they have gained traction…

…As the extremists’ ideas have spread, the circle of Muslims clinging to other conceptions of Islam has begun to shrink.

And as it has shrunk, it has become quieter and quieter, until only the extremists seem to speak and act in the name of Islam.”

Above: United Arab Emirates Ambassador to Russia Omar Saif Ghobash (born 1971, Ambassador since 2009)(on the left) with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (on the right)

(Omar Saif Ghobash, “Advice for Young Muslims”, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2017)

“The very name of Islam means “the peace that comes when one’s life is surrendered to God”.

This makes Islam – together with Buddhism, from budh (awakening) – one of the two religions that is named after the attribute it seeks to cultivate.

In Islam’s case, life’s total surrender to God.

Successfully surrendering one’s life to God requires an understanding of what it is God wants.

Until the 20th century, Islam was called Muhammadism by the West, which to Muslims is not only inaccurate but offensive.

It is inaccurate, Muslims say, because Muhammad didn’t create Islam.

God did.

Muhammad was merely God’s mouthpiece.

The title of Muhammadism is offensive, because it conveys the impression that Islam focuses on a man rather than on God.

To name Christianity after Christ is appropriate, for Christians believe that Christ was/is God.

To call Islam Muhammadism is like calling Christianity St. Paulism.

Islam begins not with Muhammad in 6th century Arabia, but with God.

In the beginning God…

Islam calls God Allah by joining the definite article al (the) with Ilah (God)- literally Allah means the God, not a god, for there is only one.

The blend of admiration, respect and affection that Muslims feel for Muhammad is impressive.

They see him as a man who experienced life in exceptional range – shepherd, merchant, hermit, exile, soldier, lawmaker, prophet, priest, king, mystic, husband, father, widower – but they never mistake Muhammad for the earthly centre of their faith.

That place is reserved for the scripture of Islam, the Koran.

The word al-qur’an in Arabic means the recitation.

As discomfitting as it is for Christians to contemplate, the Koran is perhaps the most recited, the most read, book in the world.

The Koran is the world’s most memorised book and possibly the book that exerts the most influence on those who read it.

Muslims tend to read the Koran literally.

In almost exactly the way Christians consider Jesus to have been the human incarnation of God, Muslims consider the Koran to be the human recitation of God.

If Christ is God incarnate, the Koran is God inlibriate.”

Huston Smith.jpg

Above: Huston Smith (1919 – 2016)

(Huston Smith, The World’s Religions)

In my personal library here in Landschlacht I have a number of books on the topic of religion, including the scriptures of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism.

I have different versions of the Christian Bible and I also possess books that examine morality from secular and atheistic points of view.

But I am neither a practioner of, nor scholar of, religion.

Rather I seek to understand the power of religion upon so many people on this planet, in a humble quest to seek out a kernel of commonality and truth that might, in time, unite us in ways the conflict of faiths cannot.

The Koran, even in English translation, is not an easy read.

It is not the kind of book one can read in bed on a rainy day.

Nothing but a sense of duty could carry an agnostic Canadian through the Koran.

Flag of Canada

“The European will peruse with impatience its endless incoherant rhapsody of fable and precept and declamation, which seldom excites a sentiment or an idea, which sometimes crawls in the dust and is sometimes lost in the clouds.”

Edward Emily Gibbon.jpg

Above: Edward Gibbon (1737 – 1794)

(Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire)

“The language in which the Koran was proclaimed, Arabic, is the key.

Muhammed asked his people:

“Do you ask for a greater miracle than this, O unbelieving people, than to have your language chosen as the language of that incomparable Book, one piece of which puts all your golden poetry to shame?” “

(Huston Smith, The World’s Religions)

“No people in the world are so moved by the word, spoken or written, as the Arabs.

Hardly any language seems capable of exercising over the minds of its users such irresistable influence as Arabic.”

(Philip Hitti, The Arabs: A Short History)

“Crowds in Cairo, Damascus or Baghdad can be stirred to the highest emotional pitch by statements that, when translated, seem lifeless and banal.

The rhythm, the melody, the rhyme of Arabic produces a powerful hypnotic effect.

The power of the Koran lies not only in the literal meaning of its words, but in the sound of the language in which it is recited.

Translation cannot convey the emotion, the fervor, the mystery that the Koran holds in its original Arabic.

This is why, in sharp contrast to Christians, who have translated their Bible into every script known to man, Muslims prefer to teach others the language in which they believe Allah spoke finally with incomparable force and directness.

The language of Islam remains a matter of sharp controversy.

Orthodox Muslims feel that the ritual use of the Koran must be in Arabic, but there are many who believe that those who do not know Arabic should read the Koran in translation.

A paper Quran opened halfwise on top of a brown cloth

Language is not the only barrier the Koran presents to outsiders, for its content is unlike other religious texts.

The Koran is not explicitly metaphysical like the Upanishads, not grounded in drama like the Hindu epics, nor historical narrative like Hebrew scriptures.

Unlike the Gospels of the New Testament or within the chapters of the Bhagavid-Gita, God is not revealed in human form within the Koran.

The overwhelming message of the Koran is to proclaim the unity, omnipotence, omniscience and mercy of God and the total dependence of human life upon God.

The Koran is essentially naked doctrine –  doctrine stripped of chronological order, doctrine stripped of epic character or drama, doctrine stripped of commentary and allusion.

In the Koran God speaks in the first person, describing Himself and making known His laws, directly to mankind through the words and the sounds of this holy book.”

(Huston Smith, The World’s Religions)

“The Qur’an does not document what it is other than itself.

It is not about the truth.

It is the truth.”

(Kenneth Cragg, Readings in the Qur’an)

“Islam does not apologise for itself, try to explain itself or attempt to seduce others into its fold by altering its form.

And for the non-Islamic outsider, it is this nonconformity, this inflexibility, that makes compassion and comprehension of Islam so very difficult.

Certainly it seems that the message of the Koran proclaiming the unity, omnipotence, omniscience and glory of Allah is uncompromising, but outsiders miss and misinterpret that Islam is more than the recognition of the majesty of Allah, Islam is the mercy of Allah manifested as Peace.

The Koran, 4/5 of the length of the New Testament, divided into 114 chapters (surahs), cites Allah’s compassion and mercy 192 times and Allah’s wrath and vengence only 17 times.

Is this Koranic description of Allah as “the Holy, the Peaceful, the Faithful, the Guardian over His servants, the Shelterer of the orphan, the Guide of the erring, the Deliverer from every affliction, the Friend of the bereaved, the Consoler of the afflicted” anything else but loving?

“In His hand is good, and He is the generous Lord, the Gracious, the Hearer, the Near-at-Hand, the Compassionate, the Merciful, the Very-forgiving, whose love for man is more tender than that of the mother bird for her young.” “

(Huston Smith, The World’s Religions)

Is this the Allah of jihadists?

“We need to speak out, but it is not enough to declare in public that Islam is not violent or radical or angry, that Islam is a religion of peace.

We need to take responsibility for the Islam of peace.

We need to demonstrate how it is expressed in our lives and the lives of those in our community.”

(Omar Saif Ghobash, “Advice for Young Muslims”, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2017)

“The use of force is one aspect of Islam that is often misunderstood and maligned by non-Muslims.

The Koran does not counsel turning the other cheek or pacifism.

It teaches forgiveness and the return of good for evil when the circumstances warrant it.

Muhammad left many traditions regarding the decent conduct of war.

Agreements are to be honoured and treachery avoided.

The wounded are not to be mutilated, nor the dead disfigured.

Women, children and the old are to be spared, as are orchards, crops and sacred objects.

The important question is the definition of a righteous war.

According to the Koran, a righteous war must either be defensive or to right a wrong.

The agressive and unrelenting hostility of Islam’s enemies forced Muhammad to seize the sword in self-defence, or, together with his entire community and his faith, be wiped from the face of the Earth.

That other religious teachers succumbed under force and became martyrs was to Muhammad no reason that he should do the same.

Having seized the sword in self-defence Muhammad held onto it to the end.

This much Muslims acknowledge.

Above: The Umayyad Empire at its greatest extent

But Muslims insist that while Islam has at times spread by the sword, Islam has mostly spread by persuasion and example.

“Let there be no compulsion in religion.” (Koran, al-Baqarah 256)

“To everyone have we given a law and a way.

And if God had pleased, he would have made all mankind one people of one religion.

But He has done otherwise, that He might try you in that which He has severally given to you.

Therefore press forward in good works.

Unto God shall you return and He will tell you that concerning which you disagree.” (Koran, al-Ma’ida 48)

“Will you then force men to believe when belief can come only from God?” (Muhammed quoted by Ameer Ali, The Spirit of Islam)

How well Muslims have lived up to Muhammad’s principles of toleration is a question of history that is far too complex to admit of a simple, objective and definitive answer.

Objective historians are of one mind in their verdict that, to put the matter minimally, Islam’s record on the use of force is no darker than that of Christianity.

Every religion at some stages in its career has been used by its professed adherents to mask aggression.

Islam is no exception.

Muslims deny that Islam’s record of intolerance and agression is greater than that of the other major religions.

Muslims deny that Western histories are fair to Islam in their accounts of its use of force.

Muslims deny that the blots in their record should be charged against their religion whose presiding ideal Muslims affirm in their standard greeting:

As-salamu ‘alaykum. (Peace be upon you)”

(Huston Smith, The World’s Religions)

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, 1 March 2017

“Two attacks on Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis and Philadelphia last week have resulted in an outpouring of more than $136,000 in donations from thousands of Muslims and others, who have pledged to financially support Jewish institutions if there are further attacks.

636240774489231362-MS-030217-jewish-cemetery-A.jpg

Jewish organisations have reported a sharp increase in harassment.

The Jewish Community Center Association of North America, which represents Jewish community centres, said 21 Jewish institutions, including eight schools, had received bomb threats on Monday alone.

Jewish Community Center logo.png

Two Muslim activists, Linday Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi, asked Muslims to donate $20,000 in a crowdfunding effort to repair hundreds of Jewish headstones that were toppled nead St. Louis last week.

That goal was reached in three hours.

El-Messidi said on Monday that the money raised would most likely be enough to repair the graves near St. Louis and in Philadelphia, where about 100 headstones were toppled on Sunday.

Any extra money will be held in a fund to help after attacks on Jewish institutions in the future, which could mean removing a spray-painted swastika or repairing the widespread damage seen in the graveyards.

About 1/3 of the donations have come from non-Muslims, but El-Messidi said it was especially important for Muslims to support Jews as they deal with anti-Semitic attacks.

“I hope our Muslim community, just as we did last week with St. Louis, will continue to stand with our Jewish cousins to fight this type of hatred and bigotry.”, El-Messidi said.

Barbara Perle, 66, of Los Angeles said on Monday that several of her family members were buried in the vandalised Chesel Shel Emeth Cemetery near St. Louis.

In her eyes, an attack on one gravestone in a Jewish cemetery was an attack on them all.

Perle said she had reached out to thank El-Messidi and that she had “come to understand more about our shared humanity.”

"The Blue Marble" photograph of Earth, taken by the Apollo 17 mission. The Arabian peninsula, Africa and Madagascar lie in the upper half of the disc, whereas Antarctica is at the bottom.

(Daniel Victor, “Muslims pledge aid to Jewish institutions“, New York Times, 1 March 2017)

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 3 March 2017

I am not saying that Muslims should accept blame for what terrorists do.

I am saying that we can take responsibility by demanding a different understanding of Islam.

We can make clear to Muslims and non-Muslims, that another reading of Islam is possible and necessary.

We need to act in ways that make clear how we understand Islam and its operation in our lives.

I believe we owe that to all the innocent people, both Muslim and non-Muslim, who have suffered at the hands of our coreligionists in their misguided extremism.

Taking that sort of responsibility is hard, especially when many people outside the Muslim world have become committed Islamophobes, fearing and hating Muslims, sometimes with the encouragement of political leaders.

When you feel unjustly singled out and attacked, it is not easy to look at your beliefs and think them through.”

(Omar Saif Ghobash, “Advice for Young Muslims”, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2017)

“For Muslims, life has basically two obligations.

The first is gratitude for the life that has been received.

The Arabic word “infidel” is closer in meaning towards “one who lacks thankfulness” than one who disbelieves.

The more gratitude one feels, the more natural it feels to let the blessings of life to flow through one’s life and on to others, for hoard these blessings to only ourselves is as unnatural as trying to dam a waterfall.

The second obligation lies within the name of the religion itself.

“Islam” means “surrender”, not in the sense of miltiary defeat, but rather in the context of a wholehearted giving of oneself – to a cause, to friendship, to love.

Islam is, in other words, commitment.

The five pillars of this commitment to the straight path are:

  1. Confession of faith: The affirmation “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His Prophet.” said correctly, slowly, thoughtfully, aloud, with full understanding and with heartfelt conviction.

2. Constant prayer:  To give thanks for life’s existence, to keep life in perspective, routinely done five times a day when possible, publicly when possible, kneeling and facing towards Mecca

Masjid al-Haram and the center of Mecca

3. Charity: Those who have much should help lift the burden of those who are less fortunate.

4.  The observance of Ramadan, Islam’s holy month:

Welcome Ramadhan.jpg

From the first moment of dawn to the setting of the sun, neither food nor drink nor smoke passes the Muslim’s lips.

After sundown, these may be consumed in moderation.

Why?

Fasting makes one think.

Fasting teaches self-discipline.

Fasting underscores one’s dependence on God, reminding one of a person’s fraility.

Fasting sensitizes compassion: Those who have fasted for 29 days tend to be more sympathetic to those who are hungry.

5. Pilgrimage: Once during his/her lifetime every Muslim who is physically and economically in a position to do so is expected to journey to Mecca.

The basic purpose of the pilgrimage is to heighten the pilgrim’s devotion to God.

The conditions of the pilgrimage are a reminder of human equality.

Upon reaching Mecca, pilgrims remove their normal attire, which carries marks of social status, and don two simple sheet-like garments.

Distinctions of rank and hierarchy are removed.

Prince and pauper stand before God in their undivided humanity.

A pilgrimage brings together people from various countries, demonstrating that they share a loyalty that transcends nations and ethnic groupings.

Pilgrims pick up information about other lands and peoples and return to their homes with better understanding of one another.”

(Huston Smith, The World’s Religions)

“You will inevitably come across Muslims who shake their heads at the state of affairs in the Islamic world and mutter:

“If only people were proper Muslims, then none of this would be happening.”

Some Muslims will say this when criticising official corruption in Muslim countries and when pointing out the alleged spread of immorality.

Some Muslims say this when promoting various forms of Islamic rule.

“Islam is the solution.”

It’s a brilliant slogan.

Lots of people believe in it.

The slogan is a shorthand for the argument that all the most glorious achievements in Islamic history – the conquests, the empires, the knowledge production, the wealth – occurred under some system of religious rule.

Therefore, if we want to revive this past glory in the modern era, we must reimpose such a system.

This argument holds that if a little Islam is good, then more Islam must be even better.

And if more Islam is better, then complete Islam must be best.

The most influential proponent of that position today is ISIS, with its unbridled enthusiasm for an all-encompassing religious caliphate.

Black Standard[1]

Above: Black standard of ISIS

It can be difficult to argue against that position without seeming to dispute the nature of Islam’s origins: the Prophet Muhammad was not only a religious leader but a political leader as well.

And this argument rests on the inexorable logic of extreme faith:

If Muslims declare that they are acting in Allah’s name, and if Muslims impose the laws of Islam, and if Muslims ensure the correct mental state of the Muslim population living in a chosen territory, then Allah will intervene to solve all our problems.

The genius of this argument is that any difficulties or failures can be attributed to the people’s lack of faith and piety.

Leaders need not fault themselves or their policies.

Citizens need not question their values or customs.

But piety will take us only so far.

Relying entirely on God to provide for us, to solve our problems, to feed and educate and clothe our children, is to take God for granted.

The only way we can improve the lot of the Muslim world is by doing what people elsewhere have done, and what Muslims in earlier eras did, in order to succeed:

Educate ourselves and work hard and engage with life’s difficult questions rather than retreat into religious obscurantism (intentional obscurity and vagueness).

Today, some Muslims demand that all Muslims accept only ideas that are Muslim in origin – namely, ideas that appear in the Koran, the early dictionaries of the Arabic language, the sayings of the Prophet, and the biographies of the Prophet and his Companions.

Meanwhile, Muslims must reject foreign ideas such as democracy, they maintain.

Confronted with more liberal views, which present discussion, debate and consensus building as ancient Islamic traditions, they contend that democracy is a sin against Allah’s power, against His will and against His sovereignty.

Some extremists are even willing to kill in defense of that position.

But do such people even know what democracy is?

Another “foreign” practice that causes a great deal of concern to Muslims is the mixing of the sexes.

Some Muslim-majority countries mandate the separation of the sexes in schools, universities and the workplace.

Authorities in these countries present such rules as being “truly Islamic” and argue that they solve the problem of illicit relationships outside marriage.

Perhaps that’s true.

But research and study of such issues – which is often forbidden – might show that no such effect exists.

And even if rigorous sex separation has some benefits, what are the costs?

Gerichtshof für Menschenrechte: Schwimmlektionen sind obligatorisch

Above: Aziz Osmanoglu, father of two daughters with Sehabat Kocabas, recently lost a decision in Strasbourg’s European Court of Human Rights over whether sending his daughters to a mixed gender swimming pool was a violation of Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights respecting religious practices.

European Court of Human Rights logo.svg

(The court decided that in the interest of integration that his daughters were required to take swimming lessons in mixed gender groups, but they were permitted to wear burkinis (full body swimsuits).

Above: Islamic modest swimwear, known as a urqini or burkini

Basel Canton, the Islamic family’s residence, will fine parents CHF 1,400 should they not send their children to swimming pools for religious reasons.)

Could it be that rigorous sex separation leads to psychological confusion and turmoil for men and women alike?

Could it lead to an inability to understand members of the opposite sex when one is finally allowed to interact with thwm?

Governments in much of the Muslim world have no satisfactory answers to those questions, because they often don’t bother to ask.

Conservative readings of Islamic texts…the strict traditionalist view…presents women as fundamentally passive creatures whom men must protect from the ravages of the world.

That belief is sometimes self-fulfilling.

In many Muslim communities, men insist that women are unable to face the big, wild world, all the while depriving women of the basic rights and skills they would need in order to do so.

Other traditionalists base their position on women on a different argument:

If women were mobile and independent and working with men who were not family members, then they might develop illicit romantic or even sexual relationships.

Of course, that is a possibility.

But such relationships also develop when a woman lives in a home where she is given little love and self-respect.

The traditionalist position is based, ultimately, on a desire to control women.

But women do not need to be controlled.

They need to be trusted and respected.

Treating women as inferior is not a religious duty.

It is a practice of patriarchal societies.

Within the Islamic tradition, there are many models of how Muslim women can live and be true to their faith.

There is no hard-and-fast rule requiring women to wear the hijab (the traditional veil that covers the head and hair) or a burqa or a niqab which cover far more.

Woman wearing a niqab with baby

Islam calls on women to be modest in appearance, but veiling is actually a pre-Islamic tradition.

The limits placed on women in conservative Muslim societies (mandatory veiling, rules limiting their mobility, restrictions on work and education), have their roots not in Islamic doctrine but rather in men’s fear that they will not be able to control women – and their fear that women, if left uncontrolled, will overtake men by being more disciplined, more focused, more hard-working.

The Prophet spoke about the ummah – the Muslim community – but the concept of the ummah has allowed self-appointed religious authorites to speak in the name of all Muslims without ever asking the rest of Muslims what they think.

The idea of an ummah also makes it easier for extremists to depict Islam – and all of the world’s Muslims – as standing in opposition to the West, or to capitalism or to the cause de jour.

In that conception of the Muslim world, the individual’s voice comes second to the group’s voice.

(Omar Saif Ghobash, “Advice for Young Muslims”, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2017)

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 4 March 2017

People have been trained over the years to put community ahead of individuality.

Dialogue and public debate about what it means to be an individual in the world would allow us to think more clearly about personal responsibility, ethical choices, and the respect and dignity that attaches to people rather than to families, tribes or sects.

Dialogue and public debate might lead us to stop insisting solely on our responsibilities to the group and start considering our responsibilities to ourselves and to others, whom we might come to see not as members of groups but rather as individuals regardless of our backgrounds.

We might begin to more deeply acknowledge the outrageous amount of people killed in the Muslim world in civil wars and in terrorist attacks carried out not by outsiders but by other Muslims.

We might memorialize these people not as a group but as individuals with names and faces and life stories – not to deify the dead but rather to recognize our responsibility to preserve their honour and dignity, and the honour and dignity of those who survive them.

The idea of the individual might help us improve how we discuss politics, economics and security.

If we start looking at ourselves as individuals first and foremost, perhaps we will build better societies.

Take hold of your fate and take hold of your life in the here and now, recognizing that there is no need to return to a glorious past in order to build a glorious future.

Our personal, individual interests might not align with those of the patriarch, the family, the tribe, the community or the state, but the embrace of each person’s individuality will lead to a rebalancing in the world in favour of more compassion, more understanding and more empathy.

If you accept the individual diversity of those inside your own faith, you are more likely to do the same for those of other faiths as well.

We can and should live in harmony with the diversity of humanity that exists outside of our faith, but we will struggle to do so until we truly embrace ourselves as individuals.

(Omar Saif Ghobash, “Advice for Young Muslims”, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2017)

It is said that we fear what we do not understand.

To conquer fear, we must first try and understand that which we are afraid of.

Only then will peace be unto you.

The sick man of Europe (2): The sorrow of Batman

Istanbul, Turkey, 10 September 2016

In Istanbul, extraordinary experiences are found around every corner.

See caption

Here, dervishes whirl, müezzins call from minarets and people move between continents multiple times a day.

Bosphorus Bridge.jpg

Istanbul is home to millenia-old monuments and cutting edge art galleries – sometimes on the same block.

It is an utterly beguiling city full of sumptous palaces, domes and minarets, cobblestone streets and old wooden houses, squalid concrete apartment blocks and graceful Art Nouveau apartments, international fashion shops cheek and jowl next to bazaars and beggars, street vendors and stray dogs and wild cats, the beauty of the Bosphorus and the promising spell of the Orient.

Dolmabahçe Palace.JPG

Vast labyrinths of narrow covered passageways and wide boulevards lined with superb fin-de-siecle architecture, the breathtaking interior of the Blue Mosque, the smells and sounds of the markets, tiny boats vying with huge tankers for a piece of the waterfront, street hustlers and people bum-to-bum striving to navigate alleyway and passage…

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This is the Istanbul I fell in love with, the Istanbul that remains with me as poignant as one´s memories of former intimates.

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Istanbul attracts millions of tourists every year but as well it draws into itself many who have come in search of work, of a new life, for a chance to thrive here where fortune is denied elsewhere.

It is my last day in Istanbul and my heart feels as sad as the inevitable farewell that must be said to a loved one leaving whose return is uncertain.

I am in the Sultanahmet district where tourists congregate and the locals bend over backwards to accommodate to their every whim no matter how unreasonable these whims might be.

This is a neighbourhood where one stands beneath magnificent domes or inside opulent palaces, where history is experienced by all one´s senses, where one can explore the watery damp depths of the Basilica Cistern then surrender to the steam of a hamam.

Wander through the produce markets, then join the locals in smoking nargiles, drinking tea and playing backgammon.

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I stand outside the Metropolis Hostel, on a quiet side street awaiting my shuttle bus to the airport and talk quietly to one of the co-owners of this very friendly, very comfortable, very clean, home away from home.

He is a Kurd and he talks about his life in Istanbul and what transpired to lead him to this city so very distant from his home in Batman in faraway southeastern Turkey.

A view of city center in Batman.

Above: City centre, Batman, Turkey

I have no political feelings towards either the Kurds or the Turks, except sadness that neither side sees a possibility of peace and cooperation with one another.

He speaks of battlefields where Kurd has fought ISIS warrior and Turk has bombed Kurd despite their common enemy.

AQMI Flag asymmetric.svg

He speaks of devastation and death, of friends and family forever affected by loss and injury.

There are no words of comfort I can give him, for I am an ignorant foreigner, on a mini-visit to Istanbul before attending a friend´s wedding in Antalya the very next day.

He speaks of how the Syrian civil war has driven many Syrians into Turkey competing for the same jobs as those already resident here.

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Above: Map of the Syrian Civil War

He tells me of how bombings and attacks of ISIS upon Turkey and Kurd upon Turk and Turk upon Kurd have drastically reduced tourism in Istanbul to a third of what it once was.

I leave Istanbul and this Kurd with much of his pain unspoken and distract myself with the Antalya events that await me.

But it is nonetheless an uneasy departure filled with helplessness and sadness.

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 23 January 2017

I often wish I were a wiser man, more knowledgeable in the ways of politics and psychology.

I find myself uncertain of whether I should hate those who have caused  indescribable sorrow, for the Turks I have met both within and outside Turkey have always been friendly towards me, as have the few Kurds I have met as well.

I am rational enough to know that those who murder in the name of Allah are not true followers of Muhammed or Islam, so the gullible who have followed the infidels of ISIS have done so either out of ignorance or hope that those governments that failed them will be supplanted by a new order, albeit a dark order, that offers some sort of security through fear and intimidation.

"Allah" in Arabic calligraphy

I refuse to hate all the individuals caught up in forces unleashed by those that wield power without compassion, but instead find fault with those who claim to serve their fellow man yet use their fellow man for power, gain and profit.

Now, it is a fair question for any reader to ask:

Why should I care?

And why the history lessons?

We are all human beings, a few saints and monsters amongst us, but most of us are decent basic human beings in the pursuit of happiness.

I think we tend to forget this.

We are all so focused on what makes us different and in our fear use these differences to do unspeakable acts towards one another.

But I firmly believe that there is more that connects us than divides us.

We are bound by love and compassion, by conscience and will, by strength and weakness, by morality and mortality.

In looking at the complexities and tragedies of the ongoing saga of Turkey, or any other part of the world for that matter, I hope to understand the mindsets of both sides of this conflict and hope, in my own humble and naive fashion, to offer a possible idea that might help.

We are all interconnected and what happens in faraway places eventually find its way –  by sometimes subtle, sometimes powerful means – to our own doorsteps.

I explore history, because by trying to understand what leads people to where they are now, why they think and act the way they do, helps to comprehend who they are and, perhaps, as well, avoid some of the mistakes people make in this ongoing, neverending process of life and time.

In part 1 of this blog post I wrote of events in Kurdish / Turkish history – from ancient times until the Sixties – including the 9 January bombing in Izmir –  that compelled me to discuss the problems that plague a country I love.

Prior to the Sixties, the record shows again and again brutal violence towards and suppression of the Kurdish people by the Turks, responded to by armed Kurdish rebellion when it appeared that all attempts at negotiation were impossible:

“Thousands of Kurds, including women and children, were slain.

Others, mostly children, were thrown into the Euphrates, while thousands of others in less hostile areas, who had first been deprived of their cattle and other belongings, were deported to provinces in central Anatolia.

It is now stated that the Kurdish question no longer exists in Turkey.” (British Council, 1938)

In Part One, we examined the Kurdish perspective.

But what has led the Turkish people, especially its governments, to respond to the Kurds in the manner in which they have?

Why has President Recep Erdogan reacted to events both domestic and international in the manner that he has?

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan June 2015.jpg

To understand His Excellency, to understand the Turkish point-of-view, (not always the same) we need to travel back in time once more:

27 May 1960:

A coup d’ état is staged by a group of 38 young Turkish military officers.

It is a time of socio-political turmoil and economic hardship as US aid from the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan is running out.

Prime Minister Adnan Menderes plans a visit to Moscow in the hope of establishing alternative lines of credit.

Above: Adnan Menderes (1899 – 1961), 9th Prime Minister of Turkey (1950 – 1960)

Colonel Alparslan Türkes orchestrates the plot and declares the coup over radio to announce “the end of one period in Turkish history and usher in a new one.”

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Above: Alparslan Turkes (1917 – 1997)

The Great Turkish Nation:

Starting at 3 am on 27 May, the Turkish armed forces have taken over administration throughout the entire country.

This operation, thanks to the close cooperation of all our citizens and security forces, has succeeded without loss of life.

Until further notice, a curfew has been imposed, exmept only to members of the armed forces.

We request our citizens to facilitate the duty of our armed forces and assist in reestablishing the nationally desired democratic regime.”

In a press conference held on the following day, General Cemal Gürsel emphasizes that the “purpose and the aim of the coup is to bring the country with all speed to a fair, clean and solid democracy.”

Above: Cemal Gursel (1895 – 1966), 4th President of Turkey (1960 – 1966)

I want to transfer power and the administration of the nation to the free choice of the people.”

The coup removes a democratically elected government while expressing the intent to install a democratically elected government.

235 generals and more than 3,000 commissioned officers are forced to retire.

More than 500 judges and 1,400 university faculty members lose their jobs.

The chief of the General Staff, the President, the Prime Minister and other members of the administration are arrested.

General Gürsel is appointed provisional head of state, Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense.

Minister of the Interior Namik Gedik commits suicide while he is detained in the Turkish Military Academy.

President Celal Bayar, Prime Minister Adnan Menderes and several other members of the administration are put on trial before a court appointed by the ruling junta on the island of Yassuda in the Sea of Marmara.

The politicians are charged with high treason, misuse of public funds and abrogation of the Turkish constitution.

16 September 1961:

Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, Minister of Foreign Affairs Fatin Rüstü Zorlu and Finance Minister Hasan Polatkan are executed on Imrali Island.

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(Imrali Island Prison is known as the place where American Billy Hayes was incarcerated later telling his story in Midnight Express and where PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan has been imprisoned since 1999.)

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Above: Poster of the film adaptation (1978)

A month later, administrative authority is returned to civilians.

In the first free election after the coup, Süleyman Demirel is elected in 1965.

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Above: Suleyman Demirel (1924 – 2015), 9th President of Turkey (1993 – 2000)

As the 1960s wear on, violence and instability plague Turkey.

Economic recession sparks a wave of social unrest marked by student demonstrations, labour strikes and political assassinations.

On the left, worker and student movements are formed.

On the right, Islamist and militant nationalist groups counter them.

The Revolutionary Youth Federation of Turkey (DEV-GENC) is founded in 1965 and it will inspire various other organisations, including Devrimci Yol, the Revolutionary Workers and Peasants Party of Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers´ Party.

DEV-GENC members set US Ambassador Robert Komer´s car on fire in 1969 while he is visiting an Ankara campus, participate in the protests against the US 6th Fleet anchoring in Turkey from June 1967 to February 1969, and also play an active role in the workers´ actions on 15 – 16 June 1970.

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Above: Robert Komer (1922 – 2000) (left) in meeting with US President Lyndon Johnson

CIA agent Aldrich Ames is able to unveil the identity of a large number of members.

Above: Aldrich Ames (b. 1941), CIA – KGB double agent, presently incarcerated in Allenwood Penitentiary

The Grey Wolves, a Turkish nationalist paramilitary youth organisation, often described by its critics as an ultra-nationalist or neo-fascist death squad, are responsible for matching and surpassing the left´s violent activities, engaging in urban guerilla warfare with left-wing activists and militants.

Grey Wolves logo.png

On the political front, Prime Minister Demirel´s center-right Justice Party government is experiencing trouble.

Various factions within the Party defect to form groups of their own, gradually reducing the Party´s parliamentary majority and bringing the legislative process to a halt.

By January 1971, Turkey is in a state of chaos.

Universities have ceased to function.

Students rob banks and kidnap US servicemen and attack American targets.

University professors critical of the government have their homes bombed by neo-fascist militants.

Factories are on strike and many workdays are lost.

The Islamist movement becomes more aggressive and openly rejects Atatürk and Kemalism, thus infuriating the armed forces.

The government, weakened by defections, seems paralysed, powerless to curb campus and street violence and unable to pass any serious legislation on social and financial reform.

12 March 1971:

The Chief of the General Staff Memduh Tagmac hands the Prime Minister a Memorandum – an ultimatum by the armed forces – demanding “the formation, within the context of democratic principles, of a strong and credible government, which will neutralise the current anarchical situation and which, inspired by Atatürk´s views, will implement the reformist laws envisaged by the constitution”, putting an end to the “anarchy, fratricidal strife, and social and economic unrest.”

If the demands are not met, the army would “exercise its constitutional duty” and take over power itself.

Demeril resigns after a three-hour meeting with his cabinet.

The coup doesn´t surprise most Turks, but what direction will the coup take the country?

Who is in charge?

The “restoration of law and order” is given priority.

The left is to be suppressed in an attempt to curb trade union militancy and the demands for higher wages and better working conditions.

The public prosecutor opens a case against the Workers’ Party of Turkey for carrying out Communist propaganda and supporting Kurdish separatism.

All youth organisations affliated with DEV-GENC are to be closed, as they are blamed for the left-wing youth violence and university and urban unrest plaguing the country.

Police searches in offices of teachers’ unions and university clubs are carried out.

Such actions encourage the right who target provincial teachers and Workers’ Party supporters.

The commanders who have seized power are reluctant to exercise it directly, so the regime rests on an unstable balance of power between civilian politicians and the military.

It is neither a normal elected government nor an outright military dictatorship which can entirely ignore parliamentary opposition.

In April, a new wave of terror begins, carried out by the Turkish People’s Liberation Army, in the form of kidnappings and bank robberies.

27 April 1971:

Martial law is declared in 11 of Turkey´s 67 provinces, especially in major urban areas and Kurdish regions.

Youth organisations are banned, union meetings are prohibited, leftists publications are forbidden, and strikes are declared illegal.

After the Israeli consul is abducted on 17 May, hundreds of students, young academics, writers, trade unionists and Workers’ Party activists as well as people with liberal-progressive sympathies are detained and tortured.

The consul is shot four days later.

For the next two years, repression continues, with martial law renewed every two months.

Constitutional reforms repeal the essential liberal fragments of the constitution.

The National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) uses the Ziverbey Villa as a torture centre, employing physical and psychological coercion.

Interrogations, directed by CIA-trained specialists, result in hundreds of deaths or permanent injuries.

Among their victims is journalist Ugur Mumcu, arrested shortly after the coup, later writes that his torturers informed him that not even the President could touch them.

Ugur Mumcu Cumhuriyet 24cu01.jpg

Above: Journalist Ugur Mumcu (1942 – 1993), assassinated 24 January 1993 in a car bomb outside his Ankara home (Cumhuriyet, 24 January 2003)

By the summer of 1973, the military-backed regime has achieved most of its political aims.

The constitution has been amended so as to strengthen the state against civil society.

Special courts are in place to deal with all forms of dissent quickly and ruthlessly.

Universities, their autonomy ended, have been made to curb the radicalism of students and faculty.

Radio, TV and newspapers are curtailed.

The National Security Council is much more powerful.

In October 1973 Bülent Ecevit wins the election and the problems that plagued the pre-coup government return.

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Above: Mustafa Bulent Ecevit (1925 – 2006), 16th Prime Minister of Turkey (1974, 1977, 1978 – 1979, 1999 – 2002)

As the 1970s progress, the economy deteriorates, violence by the Grey Wolves escalates and intensifies, and left-wing groups as well commit acts aimed at causing chaos and demoralisation.

In 1975 Suleyman Demeril succeeds Ecevit as Prime Minister.

Demeril´s Justice Party forms a coalition with the Nationalist Front, the Islamist National Salvation Party and the Nationalist Movement Party.

There is no clear winner in the elections of 1977.

Demeril continues the coalition.

Ecevit returns to power in 1978, but Demeril regains it the following year.

By the end of the Seventies, Turkey is in turmoil, with unsolved economic and social problems, facing strike actions and political paralysis.

Since 1969, the proportional representational system has made it difficult to find any parliamentary majority.

Politicians are unable to combat the growing violence in the country.

The overall death toll of the Seventies is estimated at 5,000, with nearly ten assassinations per day.

16 March 1977, Istanbul

The University of Istanbul is attacked with a bomb and gunfire.

7 die, 41 injured.

1 May 1977, Istanbul

Labour Day has been celebrated in Istanbul since 1912.

500,000 people gather on Taksim Square.

Shots are heard coming from the building of the water supply company Sular Idaresi and the Marmara Hotel (in 1977, the tallest building in Istanbul).

Security forces intervene with armoured vehicles making much noise with their sirens and explosives.

They hose the crowd with pressurized water.

Many casualities are caused by the panic that this intervention creates.

42 people killed, 220 injured, most crushed.

None of the perpetrators are caught or brought to justice.

The CIA is suspected of involvement.

9 October 1978, Ankara

7 university students, members of the Turkish Workers’ Party, are assassinated by ultra-nationalists.

Ankara University Logo.png

27 November 1978, Diyarbakir

The left-wing organisation is mostly made up of students led by Abdullah Ocalan in Ankara and focused on helping the large oppressed Kurdish population in southeast Turkey.

The violence of the times, especially the attacks on the University of Istanbul, the Taksim Square massacre and the assassinations in Ankara, compel the group, meeting here inside a teahouse, to adopt the name Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and a Marxist ideology to counter violence with violence.

Flag of Kurdistan Workers' Party.svg

19 – 26 December 1978, Kahramanmaras

Kahramanmaras is a city in the Mediterranean region of southern Turkey close to the Syrian border.

Above: The minaret of the Grand Mosque of Kahramanmaras

Kahramanmaras lies on a plain at the foot of Ahir Mountain and is best known for its production of salep (a flour made from dried orchids) and its distinctive ice cream.

It all starts with a noise bomb thrown into a cinema popular with right-wingers.

Rumours spread that left-wingers had thrown the bomb.

So, the next day a bomb is thrown into a coffee shop frequently visited by left-wingers.

The following evening known left-winger teachers Haci Colak and Mustafa Yuzbasioglu are killed on their way home.

While a crowd of over 5,000 people prepares for Colak’s and Yuzbasioglu’s funeral, right-wing groups stir up emotions saying that the Communists are going to bomb the mosque and massacre many Muslims.

On 23 December, things turn ugly.

Crowds storm the quarters where left-wingers live, destroying houses and shops.

The offices of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey, the Teachers’ Association of Turkey, the Association of Police Officers and the Republican People’s Party are destroyed.

Over 100 people are killed and more than 200 houses and 100 shops destroyed.

“They started in the morning, burning all the houses, and continued into the afternoon.

A child was burned in a boiler.

They sacked everything.

We were in the water in the cellar, above us were wooden boards.

The boards were burning and falling on top of us.

My house was reduced to ashes.

We were with 8 people in the cellar.

They did not see us and left.” (Meryem Polat, one of the victims)

Martial law was declared across Turkey the following day.

Court cases, opened at military courts, lasted until 1991.

A total of 804 defendants, mostly right-wingers, were put on trial.

The courts passed 29 death penalties and sentenced 328 people to prison.

11 September 1979

General Kenan Evren orders a hand-written report on whether a coup is in order or the government merely needs a stern warning.

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Above: Kenan Evren (1917 – 2015), 7th President of Turkey (1980 – 1989)

21 December 1979

The War Academy generals convene to decide a course of action.

The pretext for a coup is to put to an end the social conflicts plaguing the country as well as the political instability.

12 September 1980

The Turkish economy is on the verge of collapse with triple digit inflation, large scale unemployment and a chronic foreign trade deficit.

The National Security Council, headed by Evren, declares a coup d’etat, extending martial law throughout the country, abolishing the government and Parliament, suspending the Constitution and banning all political parties and trade unions.

The Council invokes the Kemalist tradition of state secularism and in national unity, presenting themselves as opposed to communism, facism, separatism and religious sectarianism.

The Council aims to unite Turkey with the global economy and give companies the ability to market products and services worldwide.

“A feeling of hope is evident among international bankers that Turkey’s military coup may have opened the way to greater political stability as an essential prerequisite for the revitalisation of the Turkish economy.” (International Banking Review, October 1980)

During 1980 – 1983, the foreign exchange rate was allowed to float freely, foreign investment encouraged, land reform projects promoted, export vigourously driven and wages frozen.

The Council rounded up members of both the right and left for trial by military tribunals.

  • 650,000 people were under arrest.
  • 1,683,000 people were blacklisted.
  • 230,000 people were tried in 210,000 lawsuits.
  • 7,000 people were recommended for the death penalty.
  • 517 persons were sentenced to death.
  • 50 of those given the death penalty were executed (26 political prisoners, 23 criminal offenders and 1 ASALA militant).
  • The files of 259 people, which had been recommended for the death penalty, were sent to the National Assembly.
  • 71,000 people were tried by articles 141, 142 and 163 of Turkish Penal Code.
  • 98,404 people were tried on charges of being members of a leftist, a rightist, a nationalist, a conservative, etc. organization.
  • 388,000 people were denied a passport.
  • 30,000 people were dismissed from their firms because they were suspects.
  • 14,000 people had their citizenship revoked.
  • 30,000 people went abroad as political refugees.
  • 300 people died in a suspicious manner.
  • 171 people died by reason of torture.
  • 937 films were banned because they were found objectionable.
  • 23,677 associations had their activities stopped.
  • 3,854 teachers, 120 lecturers and 47 judges were dismissed.
  • 400 journalists were recommended a total of 4,000 years imprisonment.
  • Journalists were sentenced 3,315 years and 6 months imprisonment.
  • 31 journalists went to jail.
  • 300 journalists were attacked.
  • 3 journalists were shot dead.
  • 300 days in which newspapers were not published.
  • 13 major newspapers brought to trial
  • 39 tonnes of newspapers and magazines destroyed
  • 299 people lost their lives in prison.

The Council begins a program of forced assimilation of its Kurdish population.

The words “Kurds”, “Kurdistan” or “Kurdish” are officially banned.

The Kurdish language is prohibited in both public and private life.

People who speak, publish or sing in Kurdish are arrested and imprisoned.

(Even now in 2017, Kurds are still not allowed to get a primary education in their mother tongue and still don´t have a right to self-determination.

Above: Kurdish boys in Diyarbakir

Even now, there is ongoing discrimination against Kurds in Turkish society.)

The Council pushes the PKK to another stage…

PKK members have been executed, imprisoned and forced to flee to Syria (including Abdullah Ocalan).

10 November 1980, Strasbourg, France

Strasbourg Cathedral Exterior - Diliff.jpg

Above: Strasbourg Cathedral

The Turkish Consulate is bombed causing significant material damage but no injuries.

In a telephone call to the office of Agence France Presse, a spokesman said the blast was a joint operation and marked the start of a “fruitful collaboration” between the ASALA (Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia) and the PKK.

(Armenia has been officially independent since 1991.)

After the Council’s approval of the new Turkish Constitution in June 1982, General Evren organizes nationwide general elections, to be held on 6 November 1983.

This results in the one-party government of Turgut Ozal’s Motherland Party.

Turgut Özal cropped.jpg

Above: Turgat Özal (1927 – 1993), 8th President of Turkey (1989 – 1993)

The Özal government empowers the police force with intelligence capabilites.

Beginning in 1984, the PKK initiates a guerilla offensive with a series of attacks on Turkish military and police targets.

Since 1984, 37,000 people have been killed.

The three coups of 1960, 1971 and 1980 revolutionized modern Turkey.

So, His Excellency Recep Erdogan´s instinct to (over)react to the 2016 attempted coup becomes somewhat understandable, for soldiers can overthrow governments.

(More about this later…)

Yesterday, Turkey´s Parliament in Ankara adopted a package of 18 amendments placing all executive powers in His Excellency’s hands.

His Excellency believes he has learned from these coups and his administration has revved up nationalist rheotric to justify a mounting crackdown against the Kurds, socialists and the press.

I believe His Excellency is mistaken.

Violence creates violence.

Rebellion incites suppression and suppression incites rebellion.

Revolution encourages revolution.

There is much that I see about Turkey that saddens me.

Like anyone not resident in Turkey I am limited to what I receive second-hand so I try to find as many sources of information as I can and hope through the complexity to find and share as unbiased and complete a picture as I can.

I am left with a few questions I will try and address in the third part of this essay on Turkey and the Kurds:

Is change possible without bloodshed?

How can change without bloodshed be realisable?

Surprisingly, hope will begin with the Özal government…

(To be continued…)

Flag of Turkey

Sources: The Economist, 21 – 27 January 2017 / Wikipedia / Andrew Finkel, Turkey: What Everyone Needs to Know

 

 

 

 

 

No longer my country 2: The fashionable dead

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 3 January 2017

The scene outside my window seems worlds apart and away for the world I am about to describe…for the streets here in this wee Swiss hamlet by the Lake of Constance are covered in snow both magical and mysterious.

Image may contain: outdoor and nature

You could spend days explaining to me the science behind snowfall and yet the boy inside the man will always find snow to be a marvel of nature unworthy of description but deserving of awe and praise.

Yesterday, St. Berchtold´s Day in Switzerland, a day celebrated since the 14th century, mostly in Protestant regions where Epiphany had been abolished and replaced by a second day off after New Year´s Day.

Some say that the holiday is named after Blessed Berchtold of Engelberg Abbey.

Others claim that the holiday celebrates a hunting trip in 1191 by Duke Berchtold V of Zähringen who decided to name his new city after the first animal he killed on that trip, a bear, this giving us Bern.

Wappen von Bern

Different folks believe that the name is associated with the verb “berchten”, which means “to walk around, asking for food”.

The name may also relate to Perchta, the female guardian of animals and leader of the Wild Hunt, featuring visits from humans transformed into animals.

Or the name could come from the German berhttac, the High German translation of the Greek epiphanias.

Who knows?

Who cares?

In some German-speaking cantons, families celebrate the holiday with meals at pubs or offered by traditional socieities.

In Hallwil, Canton Aargau, residents hold a mask parade with folks dressed up as symbols of fertility, age, ugliness, wisdom, vice, etc.

The Bärzeli occurs on this day when 15 Bärzeli (specifically costumed figures) march though the Hallwil village streets granting luck to all they meet.

In French-speaking Canton Vaud, children celebrate Berchtold´s Day with neighbourhood parties involving folk dancing and singing.

Nuts are involved.

Nuts are both eaten in a nut feast and used for games.

So considering snow-covered streets and animal figures marching through Swiss streets granting good fortune and then finding parallels to events in Turkey is a bit of comparative shock, but this morning I learned the name of the sole Canadian victim of New Year´s Eve in the attack on an Istanbul nightclub.

Istanbul has long be known as a city where East meets West, and its cosmopolitan makeup is reflected in the nationalities of revellers killed in Sunday’s attack:

The dead included a Russian, a Belgian, three Lebanese and seven Saudis, as well as eleven Turkish nationals, among others.

At least 25 of people killed in the attack were foreign nationals.

Nationals of Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Morocco, Libya, Israel, India, Canada, a Turkish-Belgian dual citizen and a Franco-Tunisian woman were among those killed at the nightclub on the shores of the Bosphorus waterway.

Flowers have been laid in front of the Reina night on January 1, 2017 in Istanbul, after a gunman killed at least 39 people, including many foreigners, in a rampage at an upmarket nightclub in Istanbul where revellers were celebrating the New Year.

A Toronto-area mother of two has been identified as one of the 39 people killed in the early morning terrorist attack in Istanbul on New Year’s Day.

Alaa Al-Muhandis, a resident of Milton, Ontario, in the Greater Toronto Area, was killed in the attack, which was executed by a lone gunman in a luxurious Istanbul nightclub a little more than an hour after revellers celebrated the start of 2017.

Ms. Al-Muhandis operated an events-planning business, specializing in weddings.

Her Facebook page also identified her as an employee of her husband’s Milton car dealership, a business – Looloo Auto Sales – that was named after her.

“We used to call her Looloo,” said Ghada Saad, a friend who also works as an events planner.

Ms. Al-Muhandis, a Canadian of Iraqi heritage, leaves two children, one youngster around two years old, as well as a six-year-old, friends said in interviews.

One friend said that Ms. Al-Muhandis’s children were not with her in Istanbul and were staying with a relative.

A spokesman for Global Affairs Canada confirmed on Monday evening that Ms. Al-Muhandis was the Canadian citizen who was killed in the nightclub attack.

A relative told a Globe and Mail reporter that the family was in mourning.

According to her public Facebook posts, Ms. Al-Muhandis had last shared a posting from her events-arrangements business in April, then posted “Bye bye Canada” on 23 June as she prepared to fly from Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport to Amman, Jordan.

Flag of Canada

Two months later, on 22 August, she indicated she was flying back to Montreal, but she subsequently posted twice in November from the Iraqi city of Erbil, according to those entries that were geotagged on Facebook.

In early December, Ms. Al-Muhandis posted a prayer on Facebook in Arabic asking God to help her overcome despair.

Ms. Al-Muhandis launched her event business a few years ago as a “new start” to her professional life, said Ms. Saad, her friend from the events industry.

“She was a fashionable woman, full of life. … Every time you see her it was a new style,” Ms. Saad said.

One friend of Ms. Al-Muhandis, who asked not to be named, said that it was common for Iraqis to travel to Turkey as a way to leave behind the violence and conflict that has ravaged the region.

Istanbul was seen as an escape, he said.

“You never know what cities you’re going to get killed in now,” the friend said.

The Reina nightclub was a symbol of a cosmopolitan Istanbul…a dazzling nightclub where people from around the world could party together, free from the mayhem and violence gripping the nation.

It was there, at the Reina nightclub on the Bosporos – a hot spot for soap opera stars and professional athletes, Turks and well-heeled tourists – that those hoping to move past a particularly troubled year…died together.

Canada´s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, issued the following statement on the terrorist attack that took place at the Reina nightclub in Istanbul, Turkey:

“It is with deep sadness that I learned of the deadly terrorist attack on a nightclub in Istanbul that killed and injured innocent people celebrating the New Year and claimed the life of a Canadian citizen.

“On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends of all of the victims of this horrible act, and we hope and pray that those injured have a rapid and complete recovery.

“We mourn with the people of Turkey today and with all countries who lost citizens in this vicious attack.

Flag of Turkey

“We also grieve the senseless loss of a Canadian citizen and remain steadfast in our determination to work‎ with allies and partners to fight terrorism and hold perpetrators to account.”

Nuts are involved.

Islamic State claimed responsibility on Monday for a New Year’s Day mass shooting in a packed Istanbul nightclub that killed 39 people, an attack carried out by a lone gunman who remains at large.

AQMI Flag asymmetric.svg

It described the Reina nightclub, where many foreigners as well as Turks were killed, as a gathering point for Christians celebrating their “apostate holiday”.

The attack, it said, was revenge for Turkish military involvement in Syria.

The attack had been carried out “in continuation of the blessed operations that the Islamic State is conducting against Turkey, the protector of the cross”.

“The apostate Turkish government should know that the blood of Muslims shed with airplanes and artillery fire will, with God’s permission, ignite a fire in their own land,” the Islamic State declaration said.

At a news conference in Ankara, Turkish government spokesman Numan Kurtulmus made no reference to the claim, but said it was clear Turkey’s military operations in Syria had annoyed terrorist groups and those behind them.

“This attack is a message to Turkey against its decisive operations across the border,” Kurtulmus said, adding that the offensive in Syria would continue until all threats to Turkey were removed.

The authorities are close to fully identifying the gunman, Kurtulmus said, after gathering fingerprints and information on his basic appearance, and had detained eight other people.

NATO member Turkey is part of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State and launched the incursion into neighboring Syria in August to drive the radical Sunni militants, as well as Kurdish militia fighters, away from its borders.

The jihadist group has been blamed for at least half a dozen attacks on civilian targets in Turkey over the past 18 months,  but, other than assassinations, this is the first time it has directly claimed any of them.

It made the statement on one of its Telegram channels, a method used after attacks elsewhere.

All of those killed died from gunshot wounds, some of them shot at a very close distance or even point-blank range, according to a forensics report quoted by Milliyet newspaper.

The attack at Reina, popular with Turkish celebrities and wealthy visitors, shook Turkey as it tries to recover from a failed July coup and a series of deadly bombings, some blamed on Islamic State, others claimed by Kurdish militants.

Around 600 people were thought to be inside when the gunman shot dead a policeman and civilian at the door, forcing his way in then opening fire with an automatic assault rifle.

Some at the exclusive club jumped into the Bosphorus after the attacker opened fire at random just over an hour into the new year.

Witnesses described how he shot the wounded as they lay on the ground.

The attacker was believed to have taken a taxi from the southern Zeytinburnu district of Istanbul and, because of the busy traffic, got out and walked the last four minutes to the entrance of the nightclub, newspaper Haberturk said.

He pulled his Kalashnikov rifle from a suitcase at the side of the road, opened fire on those at the door, then threw two hand grenades after entering, Haberturk said, without citing its sources.

It said six empty magazines were found at the scene and that he was estimated to have fired at least 180 bullets.

Security services had been on alert across Europe for New Year celebrations following an attack on a Christmas market in Berlin that killed 12 people.

Terroranschlag-Berlin-Breitscheidplatz-2016 (2) (31731061626) (square crop).jpg

Only days ago, an online message from a pro-ISIS group called for attacks by “lone wolves” on “celebrations, gatherings and clubs”.

In a statement hours after the shooting, President Tayyip Erdogan said such attacks aimed to create chaos and destabilize the country.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan June 2015.jpg

“They are working to destroy our country´s morale and create chaos by deliberately targeting civilians with these heinous attacks.

We will retain our coolheadedness as a nation, standing more closely together, and we will neve give ground to such dirty games.”

Four months into its operation in Syria, the Turkish army and the rebels it backs are besieging the Islamic State-held town of al-Bab.

Erdogan has said he wants them to continue to Raqqa, the jihadists’ Syrian stronghold.

Turkey has also been cracking down on Islamic State networks at home.

In counter-terrorism operations between 26 December – 2 January, Turkish police detained 147 people over links to the group and formally arrested 25 of them, the interior ministry said.

The New Year’s Day attack came five months after a failed military coup, in which more than 240 people were killed, many of them in Istanbul, as rogue soldiers commandeered tanks and fighter jets in a bid to seize power.

Above: US General Joseph Dunford examines ruins of Turkey´s Parliament on 1 August 2016.

More than 100,000 people, including soldiers and police officers, have been sacked or suspended in a subsequent crackdown ordered by Erdogan, raising concern both about civic rights and the effectiveness of Turkey’s security apparatus.

The government says the purges will make the military, police and other institutions more disciplined and effective.

In my second journey to Turkey, on the Turkish Airways flight from Antalya to Istanbul, I was surprised and shocked to find amongst the travel literature the airline offered a full-colour Turkish Airways souvenir album of the events of 15 – 16 July (15 – 16 Temmuz) and the coup d´état attempt.

The photos are powerful, the coup is shown almost minute by minute in glorious splendor, the reader is captivated by photos of civilians seizing a tank, anti-coup demonstrations filled with Turkish flags, bombed buildings and bullet-ridden vehicles, President Erdogan on TV advocating calm, blockades of bridges and arrested militia, shots of protestors worldwide supporting the Turkish government (including demonstrations in Geneva, Toronto and Zürich among others), the descriptions exclusively in Turkish.

Did the airlines assume only Turkish people would fly between Turkish cities?

The attempted coup, the subsequent mass arrests of 40,000 people, (including 10,000 soldiers and 2,745 judges) (15,000 teachers suspended and 21,000 teachers´ licenses revoked), ongoing attacks on Turkey by ISIS and Kurdish nationalists, do leave me wondering…

This Turkey, a country tearing itself apart amid terrorist attacks and political instability…

A nation engulfed by the dark and destabilising forces gripping the Middle East, where everything seems to converge: terrorism, the migrant crisis, the rise of authoritarianism…

If I were Turkish, how would I be feeling about my country now?

Would I still feel it was a place to comfortably call home?

Would it still feel like my country?

“I don´t know what to say.

I don´t want to say anything political, but this can´t be accepted as the new norm.

Terrorism is everywhere now and the government has no control.

Something needs to be done.

There is no life left in Istanbul.”(Zeynep Ozman, brother to one of the injured in the nightclub attack)

 Above: The Bosporos Strait

Sources: The Globe and Mail / The International New York Times / Wikipedia

No longer my country 1: Take me back to Constantinople

Romanshorn, Switzerland, 2 January 2017

Hafeneinfahrt Romanshorn 2.JPG

Slow start to the day and to the week finds us, the wife and I, having a late breakfast, then walking along the shores of the Lake of Constance.

Here at least it has been a green Christmas season.

In fact, yesterday´s Sonntag Zeitung remarks that Switzerland had never seen a December with so little snow as 2016, one of the ten hottest winters in the past 150 years.

I immerse myself in Café Panem´s newspapers – Sonntags Zeitung and Ostschweiz am Sonntag – as Ute, my wife, drinks tea and reads some light-hearted literature.

A few items grab my attention…

Swiss fashion photographer Hans Feurer, age 77, informs the world that it has been a long time since he has slept with supermodels!

Hans Feurer.JPG

The chimney sweepers of Canton Thurgau are about to be “liberalised”, leaving the reader wonder whether this liberalisation is a bad or a good thing.

Profiles are done on revolutionary Swiss journalist Hans Konrad Sonderegger and Swiss athlete Ferdy Kubler, praising their past glories and accomplishments.

Ferdi Kübler 1954.jpg

Psychologist Sigmar Willi of the Fachhochschule (university of applied studies) St. Gallen informs the world that happiness is learned and that even lottery winners are happy for only an average of two years.

Google, Facebook and Twitter are called “Orwellian child´s play”, while cross-border shopping Swiss – “the dream of Singen, the nightmare of Konstanz” – are accused of “cannibalism in shopper´s paradise” depriving Switzerland of 12 million Swiss francs leaving the economy annually.

Coat of arms of Switzerland

Canada retains its dominance in the annual ice hockey Spengler Cup championships in Davos and my home and native land is named the #1 travel destination for 2017 due to its 150th anniversary celebrations.

2012 Spengler Cup logo.jpg

Pretty cool, eh?

Women´s rights remain a strong topic of debate in the newspapers´ articles as Jacqueline Sauvage and Nora Illi are mentioned.

(Jacqueline Sauvage killed her abusive husband who had beaten and raped her consistently over their 50-year relationship.

Jacqueline Sauvage

She was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2014, but was pardoned of her crime by the French President in January 2016.

Jacqueline is a 68 year old French national.)

(Nora Illi, a Swiss woman who converted to Islam when she was 18, appeared last year on a German talk show on ARD station dressed in a niqab, generating much controversy both in Germany and in Switzerland.)

Nora Illi: Von der gelernten Polygrafin aus Uster ZH kennt die Öffentlichkeit nur die ungeschminkten Augen – und ihren Ganzkörperschleier: Nora Illi (30) konvertierte mit 18 Jahren zum Islam. Heute ist Illi die wohl umstrittenste Muslimin der Schweiz. Die Frauenbeauftragte des Islamischen Zentralrats der Schweiz ist verheiratet und hat vier Kinder.

But what caught my attention was an article about how more and more Turks no longer feel that Turkey is their home since Erdogan has been in power.

Flag of Turkey

(This has coincided with reading on Facebook how many Canadians don´t “feel Canadian” as the 150th anniversary of Confederation approaches.)

Flag of Canada

(Of course, the native Original Peoples of Canada have legitimate complaints as to how their land was stolen from them by marauding Europeans…)

Which has led me to think about…

What does one´s country actually mean and when does one consider a country no longer their own?

I have had the pleasure and privilege of visiting Turkey on two separate occasions, back in 2004 and last year.

The first trip was a Thomas Cook type venture with my wife, vacationing along the Turquoise Coast in Pamukkale, Antalya, Kemer, Alanya, Side and Myra.

Clockwise from top left: 1. Düden Waterfalls, 2. Yivliminare Mosque, 3. Konyaaltı, 4. Hıdırlık Tower, 5. Hadrian's Gate and 6. Falez Park at night.

A view of the beach and marina of Kemer

Sunrise apollo side.jpg

Myra theatre.jpg

The second trip, on my own, had me visit Istanbul, Antalya (for my friends´ wedding) and Egirdir.

See caption

Lake Egirdir.jpg

Questions that seemed to dominate in 2004 are now front and centre in 2017…

Where does Turkey fit into the world?

What sort of a country should Turkey be?

What role should Islam play in Turkish life?

"Allah" in Arabic calligraphy

What sort of future does Turkey have?

Before 2004 I thought little about Turkey.

In my role as an English teacher I occasionally had Turkish students but somehow I thought of the Turkish people, not as founders of a great modern nation, but as kebab dealers and taxi drivers and carpet sellers in German cities where I resided.

Though Canada does have its own Turkish ex-patriate communities I somehow failed to see them during my days back home.

Turkey was a faraway place, which seemed to me then to be named for a bird eaten at Christmas!

I was more prone to having mental images of “take me back to Constantinople” and St. Paul wandering around the Ephesians, then knowing even the basics of who Kemal Atatürk was or that the Turkish capital is Ankara.

The Four Lads 1969.JPG

Above: Canadian singing group The Four Lads, famous for their hit single “Take Me Back to Constantinople”

Above: Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II “the Conqueror” enters Constantinople, 29 May 1453

One must never forget Turkey´s location – where West meets East, Europe meets Asia – the lynchpin of the world, its crossroads, its crucible.

Location of Turkey

So its vulnerability is its strength and vice versa.

Turkey is Europe – over 5 million ethnic Turks live in Europe and Turkey craves membership in the European Union…

Circle of 12 gold stars on a blue background

Yet Europe sees Turkey as Asian.

Turkey is an Islamic country yet remains stubbornly secular…a complicated situation, for though Turkey would like to be known as a bridge between faiths, a post 9/11 world forces Turkey to realise that this secularism exposes it to dangers from perils like ISIS.

Turks take pride in their democratic freedom of religion and conscience but wonder if the integrity of their values and traditions is not being undermined by this liberty of thought.

Though the Turkish Constitution guarantees this freedom, it also recognises that faith is one of the bonds of citizenship, so religious and ethical instruction remains mandatory in primary and secondary schools.

Osama bin Laden, in one of his infamous post 9/11 video appearances, exclaimed that he was out to avenge “eight decades of pain, humiliation and shame”.

Osama bin Laden portrait.jpg

Turks knew he was talking about them, for it was the creation of the Turkish Republic in 1923 and the decision of Atatürk to remove religious law from state bureaucracy and replace this with a Swiss-inspired civil code which abolished the Caliphate – the leader of the world Islamic community and the role enjoyed by the Ottoman sultan – for believers like Bin Laden that had led to the demoralisation and corruption of Islam and its followers.

Above: Ottoman Sultan Abdulmecid II, the last Caliph of Islam

So let´s look at the fellow that caused the Caliphate to collapse…

Portraits of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881 – 1938) are everywhere in Turkey: in schools, public offices, private businesses and many many homes.

Ataturk mirror.png

Atatürk is George Washington, Winston Churchill and FDR…soldier, statesman, a Great Man, in the eyes of many Turks.

At the end of the First World War, when the Ottoman Empire was being carved by the Allies and Istanbul occupied, Atatürk led a movement of national resistance and reclaimed much of what is today´s modern republic.

Atatürk then gave the new state a determinedly modern look.

The capital was moved from Istanbul to Ankara, the fez was forbidden, women were encouraged to enter more fully into public life with the veil becoming less common, the calendar was altered wherein Saturday and Sunday became the weekend and the Latin alphabet replaced Arabic script.

Though Atatürk was chosen as president by the National Assembly, he held the post dictatorially until his death in 1938, purging his enemies and brutally supressing rebellions.

Atatürk, for all his many faults, gave Turkey its pride and established it as a nation.

The Turks are proud of their country and what they have accomplished, but…

Even today one senses the country in a state of permanent revolution…

To be continued…

Hagia Sophia Mars 2013.jpg

Sources: Sonntags Zeitung, 1 January 2017 / Ostschweiz am Sonntag, 1 January 2017 / Lonely Planet Turkey / Andrew Finkel, Turkey: What Everyone Needs to Know / Wikipedia

Fireworks in the fog

Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany, 1 January 2017

No automatic alt text available.

Fireworks in the fog.

As we stood on Schlossberg overlooking the city this morning many things sprang to mind.
Another year survived.
Considering the grimness of 2016, to be still standing at its end feels like an accomplishment in itself.


The best barometer of a person’s alcohol consumption seems to be measurable by the frequency and volume of their repeated use of the words “woo hoo”.


Every year the frequency of ambulances seems to be matched by the decreasing age of those using fireworks.


New Year’s Eve is also a night of fear…not because climbing the side of a mountain or navigating dark streets shrouded in fog makes the heart be faster…but for animals the sounds of fireworks terrifies and hurts their sensitive hearing and for the survivors of war these sounds are frighteningly similiar to battle and attack.


The fog also seems prophetic.

2017 is uncertain and worrisome.


But we remember to be grateful for our lives.

Count our blessings such as they are.

Hope illogical for fate being kinder in future and that we learned something from times past.

Istanbul, Turkey

At 01:15 this morning (or 22:15 Greenwich Standard Time) a gunman opened fire, using an AK-47 rifle, in the Reina nightclub in Orataköy, a suburb of Istanbul, Turkey, killing at least 39 people, (including 15 foreigners – one of whom was a fellow Canadian), injuring at least 69 people.

map and satellite shot

It shouldn´t have happened.

First aid officers carry an injured woman at the site of an armed attack on Sunday in Istanbul. At least 35 people were killed in an armed attack at a nightclub where people were celebrating the New Year.

There was heightened security throughout the city, with 17,000 police officers on duty.

AFP_JI894

According to the Reina´s owner, security measures at the nightclub had been increased over the previous 10 days after American intelligence officials warned about an attack over the holidays.

Staff of the Reina nightclub in Istanbul nightclub pose for a picture (file photo)

The US Embassy later denied this.

At the time of the attack, about 700 people were at the Reina to celebrate the New Year.

Reina restaurant Istanbul.JPG

Last year, on 28 June an attack at Atatürk Airport killed 48 people.

On 10 December 2016 a bombing at a stadium outside of Istanbul killed 44 people.

Happy “New” Year.

It seems the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Why bother?

Every once in a while a discouraged little voice inside my head whispers this question.

One reads the headlines….

Death to the left of me, corruption to my right, here I am stuck in the middle of nowhere…

So, why bother?

Countries collectively acting against their best interests…

Madmen thinking murder and violence will somehow ease their pain, speed their cause or intimidate princes and powers and principalities who care little for the people they claim to represent…

Folks we carefully choose to trust who after gained that trust show us up to be the gullible fools they knew we were…

Why bother changing the lights on the Eiffel Tower or the World Trade Center?

Will coloured lights and prayers to a God whose existence can’t be proven or who has decided that Mankind must continue to pay for choosing free will actually help?

Will this take away the sorrow of families whose loved ones have lost their lives senselessly?

Will voting change anything, especially in America?

Why bother expressing thoughts that no one reads?

Crying tears that no one dries?

Reading the news that the average person feels powerless to change?

Why bother?

For the same reason that Winston Smith in George Orwell’s 1984 keeps a journal that no one will read.

1984first.jpg
Because we exist.
We pray, we love, we express our thoughts, we show our humanity…
To ourselves, for ourselves…
And if in this expression we find we are not alone this confirmation bolsters us.
But even if no one reads these words the act of expression is needed to remind ourselves of the importance of thoughts and feelings.
No matter how much they take from us…our possessions, our loved ones, our very lives…while we live, it is this expression that makes us feel alive…

Don’t go into eternity quietly.

Feel and express it loudly.

They may kill the dancers, but never the music.