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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 12/26/15

Turkey's Weasel Problem

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Though street walking is illegal in Turkey, prostitution itself is not. With some restrictions, the making of pornography is also legal, and anyone can buy it, there is no age limit. Homosexuality was legalized by the Ottoman in 1858, way ahead of other countries. Unusual for a Muslim nation, Turkey also makes a fine pilsner, Efes. Beer is sold widely.

Writing in 1963, Paul Bowles tied beer drinking to Westernization and perhaps even to democracy, "Alcohol blurs the personality by loosening inhibitions. The drinker feels, temporarily at least, a sense of participation. Kif abolishes no inhibitions; on the contrary it reinforces them, pushes the individual further back into the recesses of his own isolated personality, pledging him to contemplation and inaction. It is to be expected that there should be a close relationship between the culture of a given society and the means used by its members to achieve release and euphoria. For Judaism and Christianity the means has always been alcohol; for Islam it has been hashish. The first is dynamic in its effects, the other static. If a nation wishes, however mistakenly, to Westernize itself, first let it give up hashish. The rest will follow, more or less as a matter of course." Tellingly, the title of the essay is "A Man Must Not Be Very Moslem."

Until a month ago, Laleli was swarming with Russian tourists. Many shop signs feature Russian Cyrillic. Making up the second largest nationality to visit Turkey, Russians were second only to Germans, though many of the latter were just Turks returning home. Getting on the Turkish Air flight in Leipzig, I could clearly see elation on the faces of many Turkish passengers, and when the plane landed in Istanbul, I anticipated applause before it happened. I knew the phenomenon from seeing Vietnamese returning home. It's as if a weight had been lifted and they could jettison the double life of the immigrant. For the duration of their stay in Turkey, these folks could be fully themselves. There is no deception implied here, for the same dynamic affects all transplants, even a city-based country boy heading for the blue hills, corn rows, bayous, sticks or trailer park.

A displaced person knows that home is also a matter of degrees. Chanced upon the Goethe Institute in Istanbul, my heart gladdened because it made me think of my temporary home in Leipzig. When I lived in Certaldo, Italy, I took a train from Paris to Florence by way of Geneva. Hearing Italian at the Swiss train station, I also cheered up because I knew home was getting closer, and I would be there soon.

Just in 2014, 4.48 million Russians visited Turkey and spent nearly $4 billion. That cash spigot has suddenly gone dry thanks to Erdogan's hubristic insanity. Ninety-thousand Turkish workers will also be kicked out of Russia, and Turkish agricultural exports, chicken in particular, will have to find new markets.

Erdogan thought the war with Syria would be over by now. Foolishly, he didn't think the Kremlin would intervene, but a war against Syria is an attack on Russia.

Turks used to storm into Europe as conquerors, not treated as scorned immigrants or be rebuffed, repeatedly, as a European Union aspirant. Surely this rankles. Dissed by the West, Turkey could have retaliated by pivoting East and aligning itself with Russia, but Erdogan had to shoot that plane down.

Reacting to a Greek-sponsored coup in Cyprus, Turkey invaded it in 1974 and was accused by Greece of "Neo-Ottomanism." It was a hyperbolic tag flung by a war adversary. Ottoman glories, though, have served as a nagging reminder of what Turks used to be, how far they have fallen and, if only one would draw deeper from that shisha pipe, can become again. In 2012, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu declared, "Without going to war, we will again tie Sarajevo to Damascus, Benghazi to Erzurum and to Batumi." No ephemeral, fringe politician, Davutoglu is now the Prime Minister.

From January 2011 to September 2013, Turkish television viewers were mesmerized by 139 episodes of The Magnificent Century, a series focusing on Suleiman the Magnificent. It was also hugely addictive in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia. See, see, they're all coming back into the Ottoman folds! Even the Greeks were hooked, leading Bishop Anthimos of Thessaloniki to bark, "No one should watch The Magnificent Century. By watching the Turkish series, we are telling them we have surrendered."

Five centuries ago is like yesterday to a Turk. After seeing Suleiman's execution of his oldest son, Sehzade Mustafa as dashingly portrayed by Mehmet Gunsur, a 47-year-old man in Bursa went to the prosecutor's office and demanded that all of the murder's plotters be punished, and Mustafa's honor restored. Who wouldn't be outraged by the three-minute killing scene, much of it shown in slow motion? Employing some mean ass kung fu moves, Mustafa fought back gamely against six goons before two finally overwhelmed and strangled him. With fierce eyes, his father stonily watched. In death, Mustafa's handsome, bearded face filled the screen of practically every home in the former Ottoman Empire. Dude kissed the carpet, all right.

While using terrorists to do go after both his foreign and domestic foes, Erdogan poses as a shield against terrorism. A blood red poster announces, "LET'S UNITE AGAINST TERRORISM / REPORT TERRORISTS TO MAINTAIN PEACE AND SECURITY." Someone should turn in the President. At the Kale Outlet Center in Gungoren, I saw airport style security at each entrance. At the risk of starring in the next Midnight Express, I had to photograph the walk-through metal detectors with McDonald's advertising. Outside mall, a security guard peered into the trunk or rear hatch of each car before it entered the underground garage. At the touristy Grand Bazaar, cops waved metal detector wands at selected visitors.

Erdogan's charisma, working class background and even stint as a semi-professional soccer player have endeared him to ordinary Turks, but too many devious moves have exposed the weasel, and his terrorism sham has been called out very publicly, most noticeably by Russia. Inside Turkey, however, one can't state the obvious, for it's a crime to "insult" the Mad Man of Ankara.

A Turkish friend emailed me, "Erdogan is an absolute disaster. The great strength and beauty of Istanbul, and also Turkey in general, have been the subtle ways the secular and religious forces in the country have been held together in exquisite balance. It has always been a place that looked chaotic, but also was intensely alive. Erdogan is destroying this. He has become a megalomaniac with hopes of resurrecting the Ottoman Empire (in that way, his attempts are not unrelated to ISIS' idea of the caliphate). Erdogan's insanity is also similar to Trump's--a dream of grandiose power. Let them both rot in hell."

Thanks to the United States and Israel, one Muslim society after another, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, etc., has been fractured and ruined, but the unraveling of Turkey has been primarily accomplished by one of its own, and a duly elected leader, no less. In this, Turkey also resembles the United States. Perhaps it's not too late to save this still magnificent country.

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Linh Dinh's Postcards from the End of America has just been published by Seven Stories Press. Tracking our deteriorating socialscape, he maintains a photo blog.


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