Thomas Friedman is an Op/Ed columnist for the New York Times. He writes on a variety of subjects, including the Muslim world. In a recent article “Letter From Istanbul,” he wrote about the much visited city in Turkey. In his June 15 column, he wrote, “I like the people, the culture, the food and, most of all, the idea of modern Turkey –” the idea of a country at the hinge of Europe and the Middle East that manages to be at once modern, secular, Muslim, democratic, and has good relations with the Arabs, Israel and the West.”
Yes, Turkey that has looked westward, often discarding and ridiculing its rich past since the overthrow of the Ottoman Empire, should appear endearing to anyone who is insensitive and, worse still, hostile to Turkey’s Islamic heritage. Not to be forgotten in this context is the opposition of Sultan Abdul Hamid, the last of the Muslim Caliphs to rule this once great empire, to the very idea of Zionism. When the Zionists offered to give him 150 million pounds of gold to buy up and then turn over the Ottoman debt to the Sultan’s government in return for an Imperial Charter for the Colonization of Palestine by the Jewish people, the Sultan told them, “If you offer me gold of the world adding it to your 150 man, I won’t agree to give you the land. I have served Islam and the people of Muhammad (S) for more than 30 years, and I won’t cloud the Islamic history, the history of my fathers and grand fathers –” Ottoman Sultans and caliphs.”
It is no secret that the Sultan’s uncompromising opposition to the Zionists and Freemasons, who by the early 20th century, have taken effective control of the Young Turks and the Committee of Unity and Progress, paved the path for his overthrow and the ultimate abolishment of the Ottoman Caliphate. They insisted on his agreement to form a national Jewish state in the sacred land of Palestine. But in spite of their obstinacy he strongly refused them. [For details, see this writer’s article: The Case of Jerusalem – The Holy City Between Zionist Claims and Justification of Apartheid, Palestine Media Center (2005).]
This part of the Ottoman history, although unfamiliar to many students of history, is not unknown to most Zionists, including Friedman. What happened to Turkey over the next hundred years since the fall of the Ottomans is actually a matter of celebration for them. Not only the modern and secular Turkey was able to disrobe its Ottoman heritage, ban Islamic dresses in public places, pass laws that were hostile to its Muslim population, and distance itself from its co-religionist neighbors to the south and the east, it became one of the most ardent supporters of the Jewish state. The way things turned around, the Sultan probably would have been better off relenting to the Zionists!
As a pro-Israeli Zionist, the cause of Israel has always been central to Friedman’s writings. In his praise or censure of a country or culture, he has a simple litmus test: is it for or against Israel? Thus, it is not difficult to understand his rather cynical comment “it is quite shocking to come back today and find Turkey’s Islamist government seemingly focused not on joining the European Union but the Arab League –” no, scratch that, on joining the Hamas-Hezbollah-Iran resistance front against Israel.” Tom is fully aware of his exaggerated claims and concerns, and thus admits swiftly that Turkey’s eastward tend in recent days owes in part to the failure of the European Union (E.U.) to embrace the Muslim country.
Nearly five years and a half ago, in an article — “What’s next for Turkey: the Marathon?” — I pointed out Christian overtone of the E.U., “The decision by the European commission shows that Europe is still not ready for pluralism and is worried about inclusion of a Muslim majority country. They can preach about the wisdom behind secularism, but religion still matters. So, the Turkish constitution can be the most secular on earth, and upheld doggedly by its military to the extent of even unseating its elected government, but is no guarantee for admission into the E.U. Pure and simple!” (Media Monitors Network, January 5, 2005)
Such clear cut E.U. hypocrisy, visible to any keen observer of modern Europe, was conveniently ignored by western pundits like Friedman. Now after all these years, Friedman admits that the E.U.’s rejection of Turkey was a hugely bad move, which has been a key factor prompting Turkey to move closer to Iran and the Arab world. He wrote, “After a decade of telling the Turks that if they wanted E.U. membership they had to reform their laws, economy, minority rights and civilian-military relations –” which the Erdogan government systematically did –” the E.U. leadership has now said to Turkey: ‘Oh, you mean nobody told you? We’re a Christian club. No Muslims allowed.'”
I believe if it were not for Turkey’s criticism of Israel in recent months, beginning with Prime Minister Erdogan’s lambasting Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, over the Israeli military’s brutal tactics in the Gaza campaign and the IDF’s cold-blooded murderous orgy of Turkish activists in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, and dissenting vote against the Iran-sanction in the UN Security Council, we probably would not have seen Friedman’s remarks in the New York Times. He now bemoans Turkey’s south and eastward drift to patch up relationship with the Muslim world. However, as usual, he belittles Israel’s savagery or its accountability to souring relationship with the secular Turkey, and instead blames the latter for, what he calls, “loudly bashing Israel over its occupation and praising Hamas.” He is troubled by the fact that Mr. Erdogan has decried Israelis as killers. To him, the killers can only be the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah, and not the Zionists, even though they have been committing worse crimes since the establishment of the Jewish state.
Such reactions from one of the most vociferous supporters of the rogue state of Israel should not surprise anyone.
In his second part of the ‘Letter from Istanbul’ (June 18), Friedman is upset about Prime Minister Erdogan’s accusations that the Israelis are behind the PKK terrorism inside Turkey. If he is serious to unearth the truth, Tom would learn that Israel has been financing the Kurdish separatist groups, not only inside Turkey but also inside Iraq, for many years. It is all part of a very calculated strategy on the part of the rogue state to better position itself as the only trusted friend of the USA in the region, let alone to weaken those Muslim majority countries with internal strife.
It was all part of this scheme of doing things which led to the 9/11 when, as many credible analysts have shown, the Israeli leaders did not share intelligence information with their American counterparts. They knew the plan and the planners, and yet to extract maximum gains out of evolving situation in the aftermath of 9/11 chose not to share such critical information with the USA.
Friedman believes that the ruling party (AKP) is getting unpopular inside Turkey. His observations belie ground realities inside Turkey. Under Erdogan’s leadership, the Turkish nation has been able to clearly see what has been so obvious to many outside observers in that it need not run the extra miles on Marathon to prove its case for joining the E.U. It is better off today than ever before in its Republican history. Turkey is now a vibrant, competitive democracy with an economy that would rank as the sixth largest in Europe. It has become the center of its economic space, stretching from southern Russia, all through the Balkans, the Caucasus and Central Asia, and down through Iraq, Syria, Iran and the Middle East. In 1980, Turkey’s total exports were worth $3 billion. In 2008, they were $132 billion. There are now 250 industrial zones throughout Anatolia. Turkey’s cell phone users have gone from virtually none in the 1990s to 64 million in 2008. If that is not an economic success story, what is?
While Friedman is all agog to find faults with the Turkish Prime Minister today, he should know that like most Turkish leaders of the past, Mr. Erdogan was not unfriendly to Israel either when he began his official duty as the prime minister. He encouraged closer ties with Israel, and even took a planeload of businessmen to Tel Aviv in 2005. The first sign of unease probably can be attributed to the reign of Ehud Olmert, then Israel’s prime minister. Mr. Erdogan was mediating talks between Israel and Syria when Israel began without warning the bombing of Gaza. This was seen by many analysts as a sign of Israeli arrogance that cares less about its benefactors just as it did a few months ago with vice president Biden’s visit to Israel. The flotilla attack was another such scheme by the Israeli policy makers to test America’s unwavering allegiance to the pariah state and breed tension and uneasy relationship between the USA and Turkey. As the UN debate later revealed, the Obama administration was not willing to chastise Israel for her heinous crimes. No punitive measures will be taken against Israel! To president Obama and secretary Clinton, Israel is once again more important than Turkey, a NATO partner.
In my 2005 article on Turkey, I asked, “Wouldn’t it be better for them [the Turks] to look south and eastward and reclaim their leadership position as they once held?” I am glad to report that from its bitter experience on failed membership in the E.U. and American and Israeli insensitivity towards Turkish lives, Turkey is learning its lessons fast. It has learned that its true identity cannot be an imported, fake and imposed one by its enemies. Just as 70 years of Soviet communism could not wipe out Russian Orthodox Christianity, the Kemalist experiment with hardcore secularism minus Islam is rejected by the vast majority of Turks. The modern Turkey is comfortable with its Islamic heritage that values human rights, dignity, progress and pluralism.
Turkey is finding its footing in its own backyard, a troubled region that has been in turmoil for years, in part as a result of American policy making and the Israeli factor. Turkey is no longer comfortable with its puppet role in the world scene. It has become forthright honest about things it likes and dislikes. Thus, it is not shy of telling Israel that she has been committing heinous crimes against the Palestinians living in Gaza. Nor is Turkey shy of saying that the UNSC voting sanctioning further harsh measures against Iran suggest that the USA has not gone beyond its cold-war mentality. This new vigor may come as a surprise, and even irritation, to the likes of Freidman, but not to most Turks who are tired of clearing up the mess left in the region by the USA and her regional partner in crime – Israel.