Age Islam Edit Bureau
02 January 2017
Mr. Trump, Don’t Desecrate My American Bible
By Hisham Melhem
Is NATO Member Turkey Acting With Russia In Syria?
By Murat Yetkin
Cannot Advance With ‘Obedient Citizens
By Melis Alphan
The Year The Ghost Of Mosaddegh Returned
By Hamid Dabashi
End Of A ‘Terrible Year’
By Nuray Mert
By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
31 December 2016
An open letter to the president-elect from
a Middle Eastern immigrant who has become an American patriot.
I would like to share with you the story of
my long and thorough Americanization. It does not fit your stereotype of the
immigrant as the outsider who does not look like you, or the stranger who, if
he is lucky enough to speak English well, does so with a heavy accent, and may
have crossed the borders illegally — and to make matters worse, worships a
deity with a strange name. As an undergraduate student, I shared apartments in
low-income, crime-infested neighborhoods with such immigrants, and worked
alongside them on assembly lines.
When people ask me why I decided to become
an American, I say that my Americanization began well before my 1972 journey
from Lebanon to study at Villanova University. From childhood, I was smitten
with America’s soft power: As a poor teenager who had to drop out of school at
age 11 following the death of my father, I found refuge in American cinema,
from brooding film noir to the glorious westerns and their galloping vistas.
American music has sustained me since my childhood, first the blues, the mother
of almost all American music, then jazz, then rock and roll, and finally
bluegrass. I always felt that life is not possible without American music.
I had even read Mark Twain, Ernest
Hemingway, and John Steinbeck in Arabic before I read them in English. (I tried
my luck at penetrating William Faulkner’s universe in Arabic but could not.)
Mr. Trump, my first years in America, as a
university student in Philadelphia, were tough. Following a month-long crash
course in English, I started working late shifts at a Zenith television factory
until midnight, then struggled to remain awake in my regular morning classes. I
discovered the possibilities and promises of America, but also the dark side of
race tensions. The bitter feelings sparked by the violence of the late 1960s
were still raw in the early 1970s.
But this foreign student, who did not
intend to remain in the United States after earning a degree, was welcomed by
nearly all the people I encountered. They were as curious about me and the
world I left behind as I was interested in them and their world. This
never-ending mutual discovery and rediscovery has been the hallmark of my
American life. At Villanova, on the streets of Philadelphia, and most
importantly at the Zenith assembly lines, I soon discovered that America comes
with many colors and hues and endless accents. I saw this country as the huge,
modern Babel that keeps humming, moving, plowing new territories, and
incessantly creating — not in spite of, but because of its diversity.
I’m not saying my voyage was easy. I had my
share of troubles and challenges trying to fit in, and I had to deal with
homesickness and the inevitable cultural and social alienation. The workplace
was at times a violent place, arising from job disputes, racial tensions, ethnic
rivalries, or substance abuse issues. I was advised early on at one workstation
to keep a steel rod next to me for protection, but only once came close to
All my coworkers at that station were
African-Americans, and initially they did not know how to relate to this
Lebanese with a blondish moustache whose name tag said Richard Melhem (my given
name), and “did not look much like an Arab,” to boot. I knew they had knives on
them, and some had guns in their cars. But as always, music and cinema were my
tickets to their world. The fact that I was familiar with the names of
African-American leaders and had a rudimentary awareness of the civil rights
movement eased the transition.
I soon realized that I could make America
my home. After all, you are at home where you are free. What attracted me to
America early on was the simple fact that you don’t have to be white, of
European origin, or Christian to partake in American patriotism. There is no
ethnic or religious litmus test. Patriotism supersedes, or should supersede,
national and religious identities.
Mr. Trump, years later, after moving to
Virginia to complete graduate studies at Georgetown and becoming a citizen, my
passion for America only became stronger when I met the great men whose words
and deeds created and shaped this country. I was intrigued by the Founding
Fathers, particularly my fellow Virginians George Washington and Thomas
Jefferson, and also by Abraham Lincoln, the greatest American to ever live.
Their texts — the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of
Rights, the Federalist Papers, and everything that Lincoln wrote — became my
secular American Bible.
My inner wandering has ended, for I have
arrived home. On the Fourth of July, I usually have morning coffee with Jefferson,
reading the Declaration of Independence. After centuries of great political
writings, it took an audacious Virginian to add “and the pursuit of happiness”
to “life and liberty” as an integral part of our “unalienable rights.” For
Jefferson to string together these words is nothing if not revolutionary. No
other culture in history committed itself to the glorious task of ceaselessly
working “in order to form a more perfect Union,” and to enshrine the
proposition that “government of the people, by the people, for the people shall
not perish from the earth.”
I have witnessed and experienced America’s
highs and lows of the last few decades. In the process, I became a firm
believer in the indispensability of America while remaining ever conscious of
the pitfalls of national hubris, from Vietnam to Iraq. To me, American
exceptionalism refers to our audacity to create and dream and innovate and act
like a benevolent empire — from welcoming anyone willing to partake in the
American creed to saving peoples in faraway places when they are subjected to
mass killings, even in areas where we had no discernable economic or strategic
interest. America’s incredible soft power — our popular culture, the sports we
have created, the music and cinema we have pioneered in the last century and
which have penetrated the most formidable of real and virtual walls — is an
integral part of American exceptionalism.
There are things only the United States is
capable of doing, either on her own or while leading others. The list is
impressive, and includes saving Europe from fascism in World War II, defeating
Soviet communism, launching the Marshall Plan and the Peace Corps, and numerous
medical, scientific, and technical innovations which improved the lives of
millions of people at home and beyond.
Mr. Trump, as my Americanization
progressed, I watched from afar as the world I hailed from, and loved, slowly
fell apart and disintegrated politically, culturally, and even physically. I
observed with a mixture of despair and wrath as the people who were supposed to
preserve and nurture the Arab world instead trampled upon it. Autocracy gave
way to authoritarianism, and social tension gave way to civil wars.
The Arab house had brittle foundations, and
many of its mansions had no roof. The sullen and vengeful hinterland, in the
form of angry young army officers, stormed the cities and palaces of the elites
in the cosmopolitan centers of the Levant. They promised deliverance, but
delivered darkness at noon. The world I was born in was itself born in the
crucible of the First World War and its immediate aftermath. A full century
later, we are seeing a similarly epic unwinding, and no one knows how and when
it will end.
While the Arabs – with a little help from
their neighbors — are in the main responsible for the unraveling of their
world, my America, driven by colossal arrogance, contributed to the calamity by
invading Iraq in search of Jeffersonian democrats on the banks of the Euphrates
and the Tigris, and by help toppling the Libyan despot and then refusing to own
the messy inheritance.
There were times when I felt total
impotence in my attempts as a journalist to explain the Arabs to America, or
interpret America to the Arabs. The old world I left in my youth was receding
in my memory, and in its place a world of American memories was expanding. The
civil wars in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East forced me to examine a
question at the center of our lives as social and political beings: What causes
communities to turn against each other and slaughter their neighbors with
Civil wars, I have learned, are the most
passionate of wars. And you cannot be a genuine Virginian if you are not
steeped in the American Civil War. That was the beginning of one of my American
passions, along with love of music and horses. Over the years I have written in
Arabic and in English about the ongoing legacy and meaning of the Civil War in
contemporary America. I was and continue to be fascinated by how the Civil War
— the most enduring and consequential moment in American history — still
resonates in our lives today. We are still living in its shadows, and
occasionally resume fighting over its still-unresolved, as we have seen
recently over the fate of the Confederate flag. Southerners still suffer from
the persistence of the collective memory of defeat. Northerners, as victors,
could afford ambivalence.
The bucolic and haunting Antietam
battlefield, site of the bloodiest day in American history, is my favorite
Civil War hallowed ground. I go there on regular pilgrimages, particularly on
Sept. 17, the anniversary of the battle where after 12 hours of harrowing
fighting at extremely close quarters, more than 22,000 young Americans lay dead
or wounded, or were among the missing. When I walk on the beautifully
proportioned Burnside Bridge, or on the Sunken Road — later named Bloody Lane
because it was covered with the bodies of the fallen soldiers — I tremble and
think at times that I could hear the piercing cries of pain and the exhortation
to valor of young men looking in each other’s eyes as they engage in
hand-to-hand fighting. It is as if I heard through generations the story of the
bravery of my distant imaginary relatives who perished on Bloody Lane, as if I
was not born in a distant continent thousands of miles away.
Mr. Trump, my own children grew up
listening to Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Duke Ellington, and Johnny Cash. They
know that the blues and jazz are like America, that they come in many different
colors, tempos and keys. They still remember their long hours of captivity as
teenagers as I drove them on the country roads of Virginia listening to Delta
and Chicago blues, with short breaks of Arabic music. (You should have seen the
look on their faces when they were nine and 11 years old, when their mother
pointed to a Muddy Waters poster and said matter-of-factly: “This is your
grandfather.” I cannot claim African heritage, but when I am deeply immersed in
the blues of Charley Patton or Mississippi Fred McDowell, I fall under their
I would gladly introduce you, Mr.
President-elect, to some immigrants and descendants of non-European immigrants
who like me became thoroughly and irretrievably Americanized, and who much more
than me enriched and improved America. Until his retirement a few months ago,
Charles Elachi, a scientist born in Lebanon, ran NASA’s Jet Propulsion
Laboratory for NASA for 15 years. Akhil Reed Amar, one of America’s most
accomplished constitutional law scholars, is the son of immigrants from India —
given your apparent fondness for the Second Amendment, you might benefit from
reading his book, America’s Constitution: A Biography. Perhaps I can convince
you to read just one short story by Junot Díaz, in hopes of stemming your
demonization of Latino immigrants. Díaz was born in poverty in the Dominican
Republic before his family moved to the United States when he was a child, and
his stunning literary works chronicle the failures and hopes of marginalized
Latino immigrants in the bleak urban sprawls of New Jersey. His sparse, austere
prose and staccato sentences reflect a decaying world inhabited by characters
still unwilling to give up on the American Dream.
I could go on and on. Mr. Trump, I am part
of a relatively large network of friends, scholars, and journalists who
immigrated to the United States from Arab states, Iran, and Turkey. All of us
have been writing and lecturing about America’s complex relations with the
cultures and the societies of the Middle East; their problems and yearnings;
the good, the bad and the perplexing. We come from different backgrounds
culturally, and as you can imagine we are Muslims (Shiites and Sunnis),
Christians (Maronite Catholics and Greek Orthodox), Jews, and atheists; we
don’t necessarily see eye to eye on every issue, but we all share an abiding
love of America.
Some of us have names that might strike you
as strange or even exotic — Firas, Hassan, Afshin, Karim, Faisal, and Omar —
and some of us have names that would surprise you: Richard, Paul, and Henri.
This mélange of names reflects the bygone days of diversity and cosmopolitanism
that was once the pride of the great ancient cities of the Levant and Persia.
We came to America in part to escape the suffocating identity politics and
intolerance of our former homelands, where nationalism is one step away from
chauvinism. We wanted to live in a country where one can partake in American
patriotism by embracing the American creed and ethos, regardless of ethnicity
When we get together, we often marvel at
our American experiences and say: only in America. And yes, only in America can
a group like us prosper and celebrate our Americanness while trying to help
America succeed in a region we still care very much about. Some of us have been
deeply disillusioned with the politics of repression in the Middle East; others
cannot go back to do research or even to make short visits to see kin and
friends for fear of intimidation and imprisonment, because we may have
expressed honest criticism of the bitter realities of the region. Our
appreciation of our freedom here is not based on some theoretical understanding
but on precious lived experience.
Voted Against You
Mr. Trump, for almost two years you and
your close supporters have engaged in the politics of fear and smear, speaking
ill of nonwhite immigrants and Muslims and publicly praising authoritarians
like Presidents Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Mr. Trump, your hostile views about
“Muslims entering the United States” shocked the American Muslim community, and
antagonized and alienated Muslim states, the very people you need in the
struggle against Islamist extremism at home and abroad. Your opposition to
accepting even a small number of refugees from the horrors of Syria betrays our
values, and condemns more Syrian children to death at the hands of their
government while we watch the proceedings streamlined live.
Your ambivalence about human rights at home
and abroad is very disturbing. For the first time in my 44-year American life,
I am genuinely concerned about my civil rights. For you to suggest depriving
Americans of their citizenship for exercising their First Amendment rights —
indeed to even think that it would be legal to do so — is beyond chilling. In a
world where autocracy is on the march, you have seriously damaged America’s
unique place as a successful, inspiring democratic model.
Mr. Trump, I voted against you, precisely
because of these reasons. And if you desecrate my American secular bible, you
will see me and my compatriots manning the proverbial ramparts to defend the
very idea of America — the America we deserve and cherish, the America that
comes with many colors and accents. For we are not American nationalists, but
we are definitely fierce American patriots.
Melhem is a columnist and analyst for Al Arabiya News Channel in Washington,
DC. Melhem has interviewed many American and international public figures,
including Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, Secretaries of State
Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, among others. He is also the
correspondent for Annahar, the leading Lebanese daily. For four years he hosted
"Across the Ocean," a weekly current affairs program on U.S.-Arab
relations for Al Arabiya. Follow him on Twitter : @hisham_melhem
The Turkish military announced on Dec. 30
that Russian jets hit positions of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
(ISIL) near the Syrian town of al-Bab.
Official sources say the ISIL targets were
marked by Turkish Special Forces carrying out an operation to take the town
from ISIL hands. Military sources also said they hit an ISIL convoy and an ISIL
chief named Abu Husen Tunusi was in the destroyed convoy in air raids on Dec.
29. They added that Tunusi and his team were sent by ISIL to al-Bab from Raqqa
It seems that the operation or operations
took place right after statements on Dec. 29 in Ankara, Moscow and Damascus
about the declaration of a ceasefire between forces loyal to the Bashar
al-Assad regime in Syria and against it from midnight on Dec. 29. Turkey and
Russia are acting as guarantors of the cease-fire, which excludes the forces of
ISIL and al-Nusra.
The announcement on Dec. 30 raises the bar
of the military cooperation between Russia and Turkey, a member of NATO and
also a member of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL. It also comes at a time
when tension between the U.S. and Russia is rising on security and intelligence
On the day when the ceasefire in the nearly
six-year-old Syrian civil war was announced, the outgoing Barack Obama
administration in the U.S. declared 35 Russian diplomats “persona non grata”
over cyber-security and intelligence crimes and asked them to leave the country
within three days. The next day, on Dec. 30, Russia moved to expel 35 American
diplomats from Russia in retaliation. These were typical Cold War moves, rarely
seen since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1992. When combined with
Obama’s recent move against Israel at the U.N., despite the $38 billion
donation before the presidential elections, the Russia move shows clearly that
Obama wants to make life more difficult for his successor Donald Trump by
shaking the pillars of U.S. foreign policy.
The Turkish-Russian joint military
operation in Syria against ISIL in al-Bab is interesting because President
Tayyip Erdogan claimed earlier in the week that the U.S. refused to give air
support for Turkish attacks on ISIL to take al-Bab, thus indirectly helping
ISIL. Erdogan also said the U.S. aid to the Central Command’s (CENTCOM) ground
partner the Democratic Union Party (PYD) - the Syria extension of the outlawed
Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), currently engaged in a fight with Turkey – was
continuing. When the U.S. Embassy in Ankara issued a statement to refute the
allegations, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu retorted that the
government held “evidence” of the continued aid.
One of the ironies is that one of the main
operating bases of the U.S.-led operation against ISIL is the strategic Turkish
air base Incirlik. “Whenever we need air support, we ask the joint command
center for coalition support,” a Turkish military source recently told the
Hürriyet Daily News. “They in turn ask Incirlik, but every time the reply is
that it is either ‘not a priority’ or ‘there are bad weather conditions.’ It is
a big disappointment for us.”
The reason why the U.S. is not giving air
support to Turkey for al-Bab is its conflict of interest with the PYD. Turkey’s
Euphrates Shield Operation in Syria, together with the Free Syria Army (FSA),
has two current targets: One being to take al-Bab from ISIL and the other being
to not let the town fall into the hands of the PYD. Ankara doesn’t want the PKK
to take advantage of the power vacuum in Syria and its cooperation with the
U.S. in order to form a corridor along its border, for which it could claim
autonomy or independence in the future.
Now it seems that Turkey has gotten the air
support it wants - indeed the political support it wants – for the al-Bab
operation from Russia, its adversary in NATO.
So the question is: Why on earth has a NATO
country gotten into military cooperation with Russia in Syria?
The answer is: Because it believes another
NATO country, the U.S., fails to give its ally the support it needs to defeat a
terrorist force (ISIL) as soon as possible. It fails to give that support
because of the disadvantage it could give its partner (the PYD), which is an
extension of an outlawed organization (the PKK), which is considered to be a terrorist
group by both the ally and itself.
Complicated, isn’t it?
A bit. Perhaps that is why Turkish Prime
Minister Binali Yildirim told daily Hürriyet on Dec. 30 that Ankara expected
U.S. President-elect Trump to take a more active stance in the fight against
terrorism, and for peace and stability in the Middle East.
When I was in junior high, every year they
would take us to the ancient city of Ephesus, split us into two groups and make
us debate on a given subject. We were not allowed to select our group, thus,
the view we defended could actually be opposing our personal view.
At first, I remember having a very
difficult time defending the opposite of my personal view. In order to be able
to do this, I had to view my own idea critically. As a result, this exercise
had taught us children to think critically, to defend each idea and to practice
In our school, a student would be able to
ask a teacher, “What good is this information for me?” A student was able to
say his or her idea freely, would have opposing ideas to the teacher and discuss
In school, maybe more important than
classes, there would be committees and councils formed. It was encouraged that
students should take part in the school’s administration.
I attended the American Collegiate
Institute in Izmir. But this shouldn’t make you think that this kind of
education was limited to private schools only. At that time, even if the
curriculum may not have been as liberal, students in state schools were also
given similar opportunities. The education offered in state schools in the 90s
was much better compared to today’s education. If a child scored well enough to
enter both a private school and an Anatolian High School, the family, even if
they were financially able to afford the private school, would think many times
before they choose the school.
Today, the state of our education is
evident. PISA results are getting worse every passing year, we go even lower
than the already bottom spots. The state of educators and administrators is
pathetic. They are fixated on the length of skirts of schoolgirls and co-ed
classes. Administrators worry about New Year celebrations in schools. Their
biggest priorities are imam schools and vocational religious high schools. Do
you think critical thinking would find its place in such an environment?
Those who do not know how to think
critically cannot go pursue in science. Similarly, they would not be able to
solve problems. They would not be able to question.
Those who do not know how to think
critically cannot make social peace.
Those individuals who know how to think
critically, test prejudgments, assumptions and knowledge; they discuss results;
they do not fall into traps.
Those individuals who know how to think
critically are flexible, patient and open to changes.
Critical thinking is a must for becoming an
individual, a citizen, a literate, politically and legally, for ethical
understanding, for analyzing and using the language, for reconciliation, for
the culture of peace, to be able to decide and abide by the decisions made.
At a place where religious classes are
compulsory, where the content of education is nationalistic and designed by a
religious mentality, we cannot talk about critical thinking.
The current education system is raising a
generation of “approved citizens” based on duties and not on rights, not as
active citizens but as passive ones.
It is one thing to urge a child to love his
or her country and its people, but it is another thing to make them believe
that they live as an individual in a homogenous nation in a country surrounded
by threats and dangers. In the latter, there is no space for critical thinking,
there is a design for an obedient society.
The Education Reform Initiative (ERG) which
offers critical education and provides critical thinking training for teachers
in cooperation with the education ministry has angered the education ministry.
The deputy undersecretary has accused the ERG for eroding the nation’s
confidence on and the reputation of the state, by criticizing the PISA results
and for adopting an intention to create pessimism in students and parents.
It is a huge injustice to blame an
institution that has devoted itself to explain the importance of critical
thinking and to developing the education system in Turkey of being evil-minded
because it has criticized them.
An institute that teaches criticizing is
criticized for criticizing. Even the sentence sounds funny.
It is a problem, as a matter of fact, if an
institution operating in the field of education does not criticize this failed
Administrators who bear responsibility,
instead of being angry at these criticisms and call their staff not to return
invitations from the ERG, if they actually lend an ear to the ERG critics, then
everything would be better.
If the level of our average university
graduate is lower than that of a Japanese drop-out, then the confidence eroding
factor here is not these criticisms, it is the state itself.
In August 1953, when I was a two-year-old
toddler growing up in my hometown of Ahvaz in oil-rich southern Iran, the
British and the Americans conspired against the newly elected Prime Minister
Mohammad Mosaddegh, toppled his democratically elected government, reinstalled
a runaway tyrant, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, to rule over us, and robbed an entire
nation of the possibility of living in a democracy.
As fate would have it, some 63 years later,
now in the homeland of the very same plotters who toppled Mosaddegh, a vast
segment of Americans are legitimately concerned that Donald Trump, their newly
elected president, may usher in a dictatorial abrogation of their democratic
institutions, particularly their cherished freedom of press which he seems to
be able to torpedo with a few words in his noxious nocturnal tweets.
The British liberals are equally incensed
about how the Brexit vote may be the sign of a nasty xenophobic turn in the
history of European liberal democracy. Brexit and the election of Trump are
therefore seen as cataclysmic events marking 2016 as a turning point in the
history of "Western democracy".
Today I of course deeply empathise when I
read a piece in the New York Times such as The End of the Anglo-American Order,
in which Ian Buruma argues quite eloquently how "for decades the United
States and Britain's vision of democracy and freedom defined the post-war
world" - and then asks quite anxiously: "What will happen in an age
of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage?"
But still I cannot help whispering to
myself ever so politely: Excuse me, sir, but are you sure that the US and
Britain had a vision of democracy and freedom that defined the post-war
"world"? Was Iran part of this "world"? Was 1953 within
that "post-war" era? What about Chile in 1973, or any number of other
nasty covert operations the British or Americans conducted around the globe?
What about us? Are we not people, do we not
deserve democracy? "If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do
we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us …"
More than half a century after the CIA plot
against Mosaddegh I have lived to see the same CIA accusing the Russians of
interfering in the presidential election of 2016, manipulating the electorate
to get a charlatan businessman into the White House. If Bernie Sanders were the
American Mosaddegh, Trump is their Mohammad Reza Shah, as it were.
Is the US being administered a bit of its
own medicine, perhaps? According to a report by The New York Times back in
1984, the CIA "contributed more than $1.4m to two political parties in El
Salvador's presidential campaign".
This, however, was no isolated incident.
Since the 1940s, the CIA "has played a covert role in elections and in the
affairs of political parties in other countries".
We also know that between 1953 and 1961,
under Allen Dulles, the CIA overthrew the governments of Guatemala,
"invaded Cuba, and was tied to the killing of Patrice Lumumba, Congo's
first democratically elected leader".
More recently, The Washington Post has also
allowed into its pages the fact that "the United States does have a
well-documented history of interfering and sometimes interrupting the workings
of democracies elsewhere."
In his report, Ishaan Tharoor further adds:
"In the late 1940s, the newly established CIA cut its teeth in Western Europe,
pushing back against some of the continent's most influential leftist parties
and labour unions."
Today you may think the US has repented
from such unsavoury behaviour, except it has not. Again, as Tharoor reports:
"After the end of the Cold War, the United States has largely brought its
covert actions into the open with organisations like the more benign National
Endowment for Democracy, which seeks to bolster civil society and democratic
institutions around the world through grants and other assistance."
I know of quite a number of discredited
expat Iranian "opposition" who are the beneficiary of such largesse,
being cooked up for a potential "regime change" back in their
Recently a particular group among them
wrote a letter to Trump asking him to dismantle the Iran nuclear deal, impose
more crippling sanctions on their own people, and help them to bring
"democracy" to their homeland.
Jesus Upon A Path
The moral of the story is not a vindictive
reading of history. Iranians today live in the throes of a repressive theocracy
brought upon themselves by their own domestic tyrants.
But the troubled soul of Anglo-American
liberal democracy today in both the US and UK will have to be read as the
historic closure to the false distinction it has made between domestic
prosperity and foreign warfare.
The task today is for Trump not to be
allowed to do to the US - or nativist xenophobia in UK and elsewhere to Europe
- what the US and UK conspired and did to Iran and elsewhere. In that task we,
the survivors of those atrocities, have much to share with our former
tormentors and present hosts.
It's the festive season associated with the
name of Jesus Christ - so let me conclude with a magnificent poem by the
towering moral authority of Persian poet Nasir Khusraw in which the figure of
Christ appears prominently:
Should you have a sword in hand don't rush
to slaughter people,
For in God's eyes evil will never be
Jesus once saw a dead body wasting upon a
He wondered and paused for a moment of
"Whom did you kill," he whispered
quietly, "so you were killed in return?"
"And where would the man who killed
you be in return killed by someone else!"
"Don't harass people knocking at their
door with your fingertip!
So no one would bother you banging at your
door with a tightened fist!"
Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative
Literature at Columbia University in New York.
Global opinion leaders and observers of
politics all agree that 2016 was a “terrible year.” All have good reasons to
complain: American liberals suffered from their grave presidential election
defeat, British liberals suffered from the Brexit vote, and European liberals
worry about the rise of the far right. They are also concerned about the
turmoil in the Middle East and the rise of terrorism.
So far, so bad, but there was nothing
particularly terrible in 2016 for many who live in non-Western countries, and
especially for those who live in the Greater Middle East. So many years have
been terrible for war-torn countries like Afghanistan and Iraq following the
occupation in 2003; Syria, Libya and Yemen have all shared the same fate after
the end of the so-called Arab Spring.
Some thinkers and political observers may
still think that the crises of democracy in the Western world is the most
terrible thing among all sufferings on earth - after all, the West represented
the last hope for humanity. Nevertheless, the idea of Western civilization as
the savior of humanity has long been dead, even if it “could be a good idea” as
Gandhi stated in the middle of the last century. In fact, it was this idea that
led to many wars and much despair in both the past and the present. Most
recently, the U.S. interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq were justified in the
name of democracy and “nation-building,” and even in the name of “women’s
I am not one of those Occidentalists who
believe that the cause of all evil in the world is Western modernity and
imperialism. On the contrary, I think it was the misled patronage of change and
the idea of “bon pour l’Orient democracy and modernity” that led to disastrous
shortcomings. After all, during the Cold War the Western world supported
“reactions against modernity” (Islamist in the case of Muslim countries) in the
name of the war against communism. A recent case was the support of the idea of
“Islamic democracy,” which ended up very badly indeed after the collapse of the
happy idea of the “Arab Spring” and the so-called “model country” Turkey’s
slide to authoritarianism.
As for Turkey, 2016 justifies being defined
as the “most terrible year” in recent decades. Starting from 2015, the
shortcomings of the end of the Kurdish peace process culminated in the sweeping
arrest of Kurdish politicians, and the escalation of the “war on terror” has
been used to legitimize curbing democratic freedoms. The defeat of the July 15
coup attempt did not pave the way for national reconciliation and
democratization as hoped; on the contrary, it was used by the ruling party to
justify emergency rule and led to an even more authoritarian new constitution
and a new system proposed in the name of Turkish-style “presidential system,”
which was recently dubbed the “President of the Republic System.” Already, the
suppression of dissent has reached unprecedented levels and this process seems
to be promising harsher measures against the opposition. Leaving aside the grim
prospects for the economy and foreign policy, we have plenty to worry about in
the coming year.
PS. I wrote this article on Saturday,
intending to spend a couple of days off after New Year’s Eve. Right after the
start of the New Year, which I celebrated with our extended family at home wishing
for a better year, Turkey witnessed yet another terror attack. The final
sentence of the article was sadly proven right so quickly, and I could not
stomach writing a new article on the subject. We now console ourselves that we
were cautious enough to advise the younger members of our families not to go
out on New Year’s Eve. Sad and hopeless, isn’t it?