by Demetrios Rhompotis*
It is kind of a bitter irony that President Recep Tayip Ergogan of Turkey wants to take to court a German comedian for reciting a poem that the Turkish leader found insulting beyond tolerance (as if there could be a bearable German joke!). Before becoming Prime Minister Mr. Erdogan had been incarcerated for reciting a poem which the Turkish authorities then deemed provoking beyond tolerance! It was a poem extolling the military prowess of the devout Muslims and how their faith could be used not only spiritually but militarily as well. Minarets, for example, would be the spears of the faithful and other similar primary school metaphors for his mostly parochial – which in Turkey is the majority – followers. In my humble opinion, he was rightly jailed, not for inciting religious violence, but for his poor taste in poetry! The all powerful Kemalist regime at the time was allergic, for a lack of a better word, to anything Muslim with the exception of the faith being a key element in the state’s nationalist identity. Erdogan played the persecuted then, victim of an all powerful state apparatus and although a “devout” Muslim, head of a Muslim party and movement, he appeared to be pro-European, pro-Western and promising freedom from persecution for all the peoples of Turkey, including Kurds!
Europeans were thrilled, including many Greeks who saw in him the possibility of a less threatening neighbor in the Aegean and a more honest broker for a just solution in Cyprus. President Barack Obama came short of going to …bed with him! In fact, his first international visit as President was to Turkey of all places! Erdogan was, in his mind, the Muslim leader who could reconcile traditional Islam and Western ideas of governing, a bright example for the failed Muslim states in the greater Middle East area and beyond. Turkey’s rapid economic development under the first years of Erdogan as Prime Minister proved the recipe successful and even non – not yet, that is – Muslim states such as Greece started seeing religion as good for business, besides being good for votes. A number of scandals, the Vatopedi Monastery case comes first to mind, shook the country and one minister after another were looking to establish connections with Mount Athos where money savvy monks were proving to be more entrepreneurial than most, mostly state subsidized Greek businessmen and of course more efficient than the government, good mainly to look for new loans in order to pay salaries and pensions to its voters.
Elsewhere nearby, Arab Spring came prematurely as a result of the successful combination of Islam and Western Capitalism that Ergogan applied. Unfortunately, the experiment failed throughout, including in Turkey proper, where economic setbacks have come hand in glove with the resurgence of authoritarianism by Erdogan this time who seems to have lost it but unfortunately his power is mostly unchallenged by a discredited political system that feels nostalgic not of democracy but of the secular authoritarianism that preceded him!
Turkey right now is in the verge of exploding and if that happens everybody in the wider area will be affected, her neighbors first. It’s this fear combined with the refugee problem, of which Turkey holds the key, that prompted Angela Merkel to go as far as to allow Erdogan’s case against the comedian to go ahead in the German courts. Freedom of expression and democracy are always secondary to politicians when power, security and of course victory in the upcoming election are at stake. Moreover, Merkel grew up in communist East Germany and her democratic credentials notwithstanding she can feel Ergogan the same way she can be Putinesque where the situation calls for a kinkier recipe. Democracy without stability is meaningless and that is something most leaders, not just dictators and brutes, know very well. And it’s also something most of nowadays Western consumers, aka citizens, have come to know and appreciate equally well …
Speaking of refugees, Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and Archbishop Ieronymos visited the GreekIsland of Lesbos a few days ago and united their voices with those of the migrants and also of the locals who go out of their way to help them. It was the first time in history that three top tier Christian leaders spoke so highly of …Lesbians and their humanitarian contribution!
*Demetrios Rhompotis is a journalist and Secretary General of the Central Committee of NEO magazine, published monthly in New York.
PS: It’s primary election here, in New York tomorrow and I’m a registered Republican who values enormously the right to vote! So, dear candidates, submit your offer (always in US dollars) and let the best win …me!
It’s common and reflexive to be anti-Turkey today, given the continuing deterioration in the country’s world standing that a seemingly demented leader names possible. The irony, underlined by the columnist, is palpable: victim of a previous intolerable regime, oppressing his artistic expression — however undistinguished — now the victimizer of all whose human rights are trampled upon; the nation’s minorities on the run in the face of persecution, even murderous assaults. However, one must step back to view a more comprehensive landscape, one that can be cultivated again one day under a more progressive regime, and ready to make a final offer to Europe — one that might be acceptable to their continental partners. Under its previous guise as the Ottoman Empire, though discriminating to the multitude of non-Muslims — paying more taxes, enduring humiliations of status — they nevertheless enjoyed an existence that only the diverse, multicultural United States has met and exceeded! Also worthy of note, such a tolerant Muslim polity existed for centuries, when Christian Europeans were engaged in fratricidal warfare to cleanse denominations of coreligionists not to their liking! This, of course, includes the condition of my People: Jews in the Pale (where the popular musical Fiddler on the Roof is set), or today’s Europe, most-depressingly, my native land, where anti-Semitism is a constant of daily life. Perhaps, I veered away from my dear friend’s, Demitris, topic, but the issues I raise are tied to all that can be said about Turkey and Erdogan!