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Middle East Press (04 Jan 2017 NewAgeIslam.Com)

Istanbul Was Our Past, Istanbul Is Our Future: New Age Islam's Selection, 04 January 2017

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

04 January 2017

Istanbul Was Our Past, Istanbul Is Our Future

By Hamid Dabashi

The Hidden Impediment To Political Change In Sudan

By Ali Abu Maryam

Turkey, The Terrorists’ First Target

By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Nightclub Or Restaurant? That Is The Question

By Diana Moukalled

Rebranding Turkey As A Third World Country

By Barçin Yinanç

Can Russia Succeed In Getting Assad To Behave?

By Oubal Shahbandar

Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau


Istanbul Was Our Past, Istanbul Is Our Future

By Hamid Dabashi


I have now blissfully forgotten how many times I have visited Istanbul, or why is it I feel so much at home there. Last time I was there was during the last World Cup, Brazil 2014, which as it happened, coincided with the Muslim month of Ramadan, when many were fasting.

I remember sitting in a cafe/bar in the heart of Istanbul, near the Taksim Square, watching Germany destroy Brazil in the semi-finals, surrounded by Turkish, Arab, German, French, Brazilian, Iranian, and Russian football fans.

It was a sheer joy of being in a Muslim city where women dressed as they wished, with or without an item of modesty, happily in possession of the streets of their homeland without anyone ever bothering them.

Next to them were European visitors, shoulder to shoulder with tourists from across the Arab and Muslim world. You would hear as much Turkish as you did Arabic, Persian, English, French, German, or Russian. That was and remains the real Istanbul.

Before the horrific nightclub attack in the Reina, on the shore of the Bosporus Strait, on the New Year's Eve is lost into yet another cycle of vicious, mind-numbing violence, which now extends from Orlando to Paris, Berlin, Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo, deep into Pakistan and beyond.

We might want to pause for a moment and wonder what these heinous crimes actually mean. What do they signify, how are we to read them?

Why would an innocent gathering of young people from around the Arab and Muslim world with their Turkish friends be a target of such a vicious attack?

"In continuation of the blessed operations that Islamic State [of Iraq and the Levant] is conducting against the protector of the cross, Turkey," according to reports, ISIL has assumed responsibility for this cowardly act, further adding: "a heroic soldier of the caliphate struck one of the most famous nightclubs where the Christians celebrate their apostate holiday."

Cosmopolitan Urbanism

This is habitually inane gibberish that may or may not be an indication of ISIL having actually perpetrated this crime. But the question is: What is this inanity targeting? What is it, that it is opposing? What kind of sentiment, however crudely, does it want to provoke?

The answer lies in the location and timing of this attack: A nightclub where a group of young people from around the world had gathered to celebrate the new year on the Christian calendar.

Whoever was behind it, this attack is on the culture of tolerance, on the factual pluralism of Muslim countries now in many ways represented in Istanbul.

The young people in that club represent a new breed of Turks and their friends from around the (Muslim) world. The term "secular" or "Westernised", which you keep hearing on these occasions, are terribly flawed; deeply misguided. Such clubs, cafes, markets, bookstores, movie theatres or opera houses are all specific insignia of a living, thriving urbanity - the figurative emblem of a deeply rooted cosmopolitanism that is definitive to Istanbul.

Nothing's Wrong With Celebrating The New Year

There is absolutely nothing wrong with marking and celebrating the new year on Christian calendar, or even Christmas, in any Muslim country.

The birthplace of Christianity is in Palestine, where other sacrosanct sites of Islam and Judaism are also located.

Christ was from historic Palestine, a Jewish rabbi born and raised in Nazareth. These subterranean creatures that call themselves ISIL, or their kindred souls in any other part of the Muslim world, both inside and outside Turkey, are not just viciously violent, they are pathetically ignorant.

Muslim countries have always been home to thriving Jewish, Christian, Zoroastrian, Hindu, Buddhist, etc communities. Muslims have lived alongside these communities in successive empires - from the Abbasids to the Seljuks to the Ottomans; the Safavids, and the Mughals. How could any such cosmopolitan empire be limited to the myopic zealotry of any particular sect of hateful fanatics?

It is now habitual to refer to the victims of this pernicious attack in the Ortakoy neighbourhood as "foreigners". These young men and women may have come from anywhere, from India to Morocco.

But they were not "foreigners" in Istanbul. They were at home in Istanbul - which is home to any human being with an urbanity of culture and demeanour to her and his character and culture.

What we see today in Istanbul is no accident, nor is it the sign of "Westernisation" or "secularisation" of Istanbul - all of them nasty Orientalist nonsense, entirely ignorant of Islamic social and intellectual history.

Quite to the contrary. This is the perfectly normal post-colonial growth of Istanbul from deep roots of its Ottoman lineage, a vastly and deeply pluralistic society, welcoming artists, literati, intellectuals, journalists, political activists from four corners of the world.

How did Istanbul accommodate all of those varied communities throughout its history and today we hear calls of intolerance from certain voices, even within the Turkish society? Because, up until its fateful encounter with European imperialism, Istanbul was the epicentre of a confident cosmopolitan culture.

Tolerance And Pluralism

Today, Muslims and non-Muslims, in and out of Islamic world, are facing a vicious battle, not of identity, but of alterity - not who they are, but who their nemesis is.

Muslims are not the enemies of Christians or Jews, nor are Christians and Jews the enemy of Muslims.

What we have are, in fact, battles of sovereignty among the ruling states entirely bereft of legitimacy from their respective nations.

As many states have degenerated into pure institutions of violence - very much on the model of ISIL - they inevitably pit against each other the most pernicious common denominators of divisive hatred.

Against all odds, the glorious cosmopolitan urbanity of tolerance and pluralism of Istanbul will triumph against all forces of fanaticism, foreign or domestic to Turkey, and as it was a landmark of our past, it will beacon us all to our future.


Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York.

Source: aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2017/01/istanbul-istanbul-future-170103074202409.html


The Hidden Impediment To Political Change In Sudan

By Ali Abu Maryam


There is something conspicuously selfish about the generational behaviour of people. On the atomic level, we, as parents, are willing to give everything to our children and we dedicate our lives to their well-being and happiness.

We are not familiar, in our collective behaviour, however, with an altruistic generation that sacrificed some happiness for future generations.

This applies to politics. Any nascent democracy is in a fragile political state. It is expected that, after decades of authoritarian rule, freedom will be chaotic, and only through generational perseverance can it last.

Yet, the Arab Spring, which started as an inspiration for democracy and freedom, ended up as a deterrent from them. Pondering the situations in Syria, Libya, and Yemen, people under oppression will have much more to fear from revolution than just a shaky democracy.

The Resilience Of The Status Quo

Observers have struggled to understand the secret behind the status quo in Sudan, which has lasted for more than a quarter of a century, considering that the Sudanese have revolted in situations in the past much better than this one.

The regime in Sudan is considered - almost unanimously - to be corrupt and oppressive, headed by a pariah president who is accused of crimes against humanity.

The economic situation is deteriorating rapidly after the oil bubble predictably burst with the secession of the South. Inflation is soaring at 29 percent while wages stagnate.

Current account deficit is nearly $4bn, which means the country can hardly find hard currency to finance basic needs.

American sanctions are tightening the noose further, by scaring creditors away from working with Sudan, and the effects are already visible. The country ranks among the bottom in almost every criterion in the Human Development Index or happiness, and there is a mass exodus of talent.

As the political dialogue and peace talks are in a perpetual stalemate, the economy has no real prospects, and power increasingly concentrated around the president and his close aides, hope for a peaceful political change and improvement in living standards are fading.

In short, as things stand, they can only get worse. Hence the question: why are the Sudanese people, who revolted twice against military regimes before, so tolerant towards this one?

The Dilemma Of The Better Alternative

Sudan, unlike other countries in the region, has been ruled by democratically-elected coalition governments three times since its independence in 1956.

These governments were short-lived: unstable coalitions kept breaking up and military coups, usually instigated by political parties, further disrupted the political development.

The undemocratic inner-workings of the political parties meant that the old guards discouraged any political advancement for a new cadre.

The democratic experience is associated in the Sudanese collective memory with instability, impotence, under-achievement, and a sense of popular repugnancy caused by the ceaseless and fruitless quarrels of the politicians.

The military regimes, considering their much longer reigns relative to democratic ones, have no better features in any respect, in addition to being oppressive and bloody.

The Sudanese are left with two bad choices: Even if the majority will prefer democracy (some would still prefer military rule), they will choose it with subdued enthusiasm.

Therefore, when its potential price is as high as that of Syria or Libya, no one will revolt for democracy and the repressive status quo will prevail.

The Selfish Choice

If, by some unforeseen miracle, the political "dialogue" which is ostensibly ongoing in Khartoum does come to an agreement where the regime will gradually surrender most executive power to a transitional government - preparing the country for general, free and fair elections, ushering in a new dawn of democracy - then Sudan will have a difficult road ahead for the near future.

After 27 years of its rule, the bequest of this regime is backbreaking. Senior politicians, being deprived of power for so long and desperate for legacy, will go back to their old quarrels with more intensity.

The younger hopefuls will have no experience in living in a democracy, let alone ruling by it, so they must learn by trial and error, something for which the people's patience will be very thin.

The economy is already in tatters, and a serious recovery that is based on production will be agonizingly slow.

But things will improve if only they are given time. Once the old edifice is properly and safely dismantled, then every effort will be useful, thus, an improvement.

State institutions will learn to function independently, the economy will be divorced from its service to the old regime, and with a free press and judiciary, there will be accountability.

If this seems like a promising prospect for the country, the question becomes: why hasn't it been taken?

One answer, neglected by analysts, is the idea of a selfish choice made by this generation and previous ones. No one wants to take the perilous journey of transition towards democracy.

Again, on the individual level, many will be willing to give their lives for their country, indeed many did; but for some reason, the collective choice is persistently selfish.

True, the difficulties of transition may not be known to a common person who might, ironically, have a more optimistic idea. But, people generally know that transition means radical change for a status-quo that dominated their lives for 27 years.

The people who should make the change will weigh their options and think they will suffer the troubles of this transition, but might not live to enjoy its fruits. There are those who are still fighting for change, but they haven't, yet, sufficiently massed to make it realised.

The Inevitable Breakdown

The situation has been on the decline for some time in Sudan, and the scope and speed of the decline are increasing.

If our generation (I'm 39) doesn't pressure the regime hard enough to make the necessary handover, and it will not do it voluntarily, the country will then keep deteriorating till it collapses completely.

But the selfless act required from our generation is not confined to forcing the regime out of power. Many people are reluctant to change this regime only because they are afraid it will result in chaos.

The selfless act of our generation, therefore, should be extended to the transitional period by persevering the arduous journey to a stable democracy. Regression to authoritarianism must be absolutely prevented, even if we have to toil with democracy for the rest of our lives. Otherwise, we are just another selfish generation.


Ali Abu Maryam is a PhD candidate at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London and a teaching fellow at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.

Source: aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2017/01/hidden-impediment-political-change-sudan-170103081313205.html


Turkey, The Terrorists’ First Target

By Abdulrahman al-Rashed

3 January 2017

Two attacks have shaken Turkey in the last 12 days. The first was a police officer, affiliated with the ISIS, killing Russia’s ambassador at an art gallery in Ankara while the second unfolded on New Year’s eve when a terrorist apparently dressed as Santa Claus attacked a night club in Istanbul killing at least 39 and injuring others.

The past year was bloody due to the many acts of terror that targeted Turkey more than other countries. Why was this the case?

Countries such as Jordan have highly developed intelligence and security apparatus that make them a difficult target for terrorists. Yet, ISIS has managed to infiltrate its territories in a not so distant past.

Until two years ago, Turkey was not a target for terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda and ISIS. Most of its security apparatus’ concern was to follow up on other hostile organizations such as the separatist Kurdish groups.

But eventually, terrorists linked to Islamist organizations found their way into Turkey. Two years ago in January, a pregnant woman blew herself up amid a crowd of visitors at Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia and it turned out she was Chechen. This was followed by various other attacks.

Then three ISIS fighters carried out a horrific attack on the Ataturk Airport and killed and injured around 190 people. Later, similar casualties were inflicted after a terrorist explosion targeted a stadium in Istanbul. Such attacks have continued in the past few months and they have targeted weddings, police posts, malls and tourist spots.

The question that arises is why does ISIS target Turkey in particular? Are they directed by hostile regimes in the region that have escalated their war against Turkey – like Iran as it has reportedly been claimed – or has ISIS decided to respond to the Turkish government, which launched military operations against its posts inside Syria and Iraq?

The Pakistan Parallel

I think Turkey today resembles Pakistan’s situation during the past decade. Most of the years during the Syrian crisis, Turkey turned a blind eye to those crossing over to the south to fight in Syria. Likewise, Pakistan was the fighters’ gate to Afghanistan after launching a war against al-Qaeda organization.

Turkey has become the major passage from which Free Syrian Army fighters crossed and it’s also been the major passage for all those who joined extremist groups like al-Nusra Front and ISIS. Turkey has become a target ever since it took strict measures to monitor border crossings alongside the Syrian border, facing the wrath of foreign fighters after European countries requested Turkey to block access to war zones.

Most Arab countries made similar requests as well. Turkey came under western, Arab and Russian pressure as they all called on it to close its borders to deter the activity of fighting groups. At the same time as Ankara accepted to prevent foreign fighters from joining the fighting in Syria, it wanted to differentiate between those affiliated with Syrian groups which are fighting for their country, and those affiliated with terrorist groups.

Now, Turkey, the gate of the Syrian revolution, is paying a high price as it has become a major target of the most dangerous terrorist organizations in the world – ISIS and al-Nusra Front – which seem to still be strong on ground as they represent a continuous threat on the country.

Turkey will most probably do what countries that have been through similar experiences did. For instance, Bosnia’s government began to expel foreign fighters and unarmed extremists – most of whom were Arabs – after they had become a burden on the security and at political levels.

It also shut down their organizations and associations. Pakistan also pursued foreign fighters and sent them back to their countries. It also imposed visas and expelled extremist groups.

It is expected that the Turkish authorities will now address extremist groups which found themselves a comfortable haven in Turkey after they escaped from Egypt, Tunisia and the Gulf as Ankara’s government needs to document cooperation with regional security systems after it protested them in the past for thinking they were lenient with these groups which politically oppose it.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed

Source: english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2017/01/03/Turkey-the-terrorists-first-target.html


Nightclub Or Restaurant? That Is The Question

By Diana Moukalled

4 January 2017

Were they at an eatery or a nightspot? This question seemed to be fateful for many Arab social media commentators who were deciding their stand on the victims of the Istanbul attack on New Year’s Eve.

It is unimaginable that those who raised the question are urging us to consider killing civilians at a nightclub as negotiable. This attitude has been reflected by myriad posts that openly described the killing of the victims as lawful because they were in a place that contradicts the ideology of those who wrote them.

True, many expressed their sympathy with the victims and launched a counter-campaign against those who justified the murder. Still, segments of our society appear again to base their ethical judgment on somebody in accordance with his or her whereabouts, nationality, sex, sect or choices.

Others tried to disguise the matter by saying the victims were in a “restaurant,” to tamp down controversy. This is nothing but collusion, and an acknowledgement that the presence of some individuals of different nationalities in a nightspot is a pretext for killing. Others even “blessed” the crime for being opposed to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, or for other political reasons.

This sin is repeated whenever a blast or aggression takes place. We are used to asking about the victim’s nationality and whereabouts to decide our stance. Remember the problem of sexual harassment in Egypt’s demonstrations? Some people blamed the women because they took part in a protest.

It the same story with those who warrant a random killing based on the victim’s nationality. If we reviewed similar cases in which we justified killing based on our bias in our social or religious values, the outcome would be very disappointing. In recent years, we have politicized death on every occasion so as to alleviate the shock of killing and make sympathy a relative matter.

Undoubtedly, social media has made the voice of this mean attitude louder. However, the causes of this phenomenon are deeply rooted in our communities. This discourse was fed by the dregs left by totalitarian regimes and parties that promote a culture of killing a “traitor” or “agent.”

There are many suspects in jail, and this makes us hesitant as to whether we should sympathize when we hear of an attack in Iraq, Syria or elsewhere. We should first recognize the victim and aggressor in order to be able to take sides.

Are we with or against killing, or are we more malicious to cover our position? Unless we take the side of the victims of any attack — regardless of their nationality, religion, country or conviction — we will be stuck in this quagmire of hatred.


Diana Moukalled is a veteran journalist with extensive experience in both traditional and new media. She is also a columnist and freelance documentary producer.

Source: arabnews.com/node/1033711/columns


Rebranding Turkey As A Third World Country

By Barçin Yinanç


Turkey has become a country that cannot protect the lives of its own citizens or of its foreign guests, whether tourists or diplomats. It can now compete with Iraq and Afghanistan in terms of the frequency of terror attacks and the intensity of casualties.

This is not the only thing accelerating Turkey’s slide into the category of “third world countries.”

It is not just the feeling of insecurity or instability that surrounds us. It is the feeling of hopelessness - characteristic of badly governed third world countries - that is a key indicator of where Turkey is heading.

 What is particularly concerning is the fact that the feeling of hopelessness is becoming even more widespread among the young generations.

Evrim Kuran is the Middle East director of Universum, a research group active in over 50 countries. According to a survey they conducted among the young generation, the biggest dream most had is to leave the country.

“The second answer we came across was equally sad,” Kuran said in an interview published in daily Hürriyet last Sunday. “The answer most gave to the question ‘what is your biggest dream?’ was ‘I want to be happy.’ Being happy cannot be a dream. They feel so cornered and so unhappy that they want to be happy. They are trying to overcome the barriers of hopelessness and the lack of opportunities, but they don’t know how.”

Kuran also believes Turkey is becoming increasingly “mediocre,” which is another characteristic of third world countries. “This is not just in art and literature, but even the business community is becoming more mediocre,” she said.

Turkey’s rulers probably have no problem with this tendency, because a society where mediocracy reigns is one that is easier to rule without transparency or accountability.

Only a decade ago Turkey was the shining star of the region. Expats raced to come to Turkey and representatives of different sectors from all over the world were rushing to hold their annual meetings in Turkey. You could not find any rooms in Istanbul’s hotels.

Today, not just expats and youngsters but also older generations from the secular segments of the society want to flee Turkey. Rumors that the government could impose additional special taxes targeting higher income levels is increasing the anxiety, which no one dares to talk about publicly. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rhetoric that Turkey is under attack both from within and from without increases the fear that extraordinary measures, running against the principles of the liberal market economy, could be implemented by the government citing extraordinary  circumstances.

All these fears, which may turn out to be baseless, are in line with the patterns of a third world country. In fact, I have no doubt that many in the West have already categorized Turkey as such.

As for those remaining in Turkey, as has been said by another colleague, either we will have to resist, run away or just get used to it.

Source: hurriyetdailynews.com/rebranding-turkey-as-a-third-world-country-.aspx?pageID=449&nID=108052&NewsCatID=412


Can Russia Succeed In Getting Assad To Behave?

By Oubal Shahbandar

4 January 2017

The much-heralded Syrian “cease-fire” that Russia shepherded through last week is already on a fast track to being annulled. In a repeat of the prior failed cease-fire early last year, the Syrian regime did not hesitate to violate the terms of the agreement, and promptly launched a renewed operation of indiscriminate bombing in the Wadi Barada area outside Damascus.

The regime’s blatant disregard for the agreement is a clear reflection of its extermination strategy. The fall of Aleppo to Iran’s paramilitary forces has only reinforced Syrian President Bashar Assad’s military approach in pursuing ethnic cleansing and reorienting the country’s demographic makeup to create contiguous lines of support and supply linking Hezbollah enclaves with regime strongholds.

Notably, in another repeat of last year’s moribund cease-fire, Assad immediately took advantage of the lull in fighting on one front to focus resources and manpower on strategic neighborhoods and towns in and around Damascus.

Albert Einstein famously said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. It seems we are witnessing the very embodiment of that definition of insanity with this latest failure to halt Assad’s war machine.

The armed factions of the Syrian opposition came to a collective agreement to sign the cease-fire based on a concrete set of stipulations that were to be guaranteed by Russia as a way to hold Assad accountable to the terms. Turkey in return would serve as the “guarantor” on the rebel side.

This novel approach seemed promising initially, as it shifted away from the now-obsolete Geneva negotiations hosted by the UN in the past. In the UN negotiations, the US under President Barack Obama was not willing to play a meaningful role in holding the Assad regime accountable for violating Security Council resolutions. Nor was Washington willing to serve as a guarantor with the rebels, as Iran and Russia do with the regime.

If Assad and Moscow were truly committed to defeating Daesh in Syria (which categorically they are not), a cease-fire with Sunni armed groups would have been in the best interests of all sides. It would have allowed Sunni fighters to continue fighting Daesh in the northern Syrian countryside and in the Qalamoun region northeast of Damascus, as they have been since 2013.

Instead, the cease-fire is now on the precipice of total collapse, so the political negotiations scheduled to be held in Kazakhstan now seem to be nothing more than a mirage. The Syrian opposition released a statement on Monday that declared: “The regime and its allies continued their onslaught and committed many breaches... (They) also shelled the Al-Fijeh spring that provides water for millions of Syria.”

For Assad, a cease-fire is merely an opportunity to reload and refit. This development should not come as a surprise to diplomats and analysts. The last cease-fire was leveraged by Assad to renew operations to encircle Aleppo.

Moscow probably calculated that by serving as a guarantor to a cease-fire and follow-on political negotiations, it could attempt to reach a deal in which some Sunni armed groups are co-opted by the regime and allowed a level of autonomy to help fight Daesh and Al-Qaeda.

This strategy, employed by Russia in Chechnya, proved to be an effective and efficient solution to pacification. Co-option is a critical element of asymmetric warfare and counter-insurgency. The only difference is that in Syria, Assad seems to be in no mood to adhere totally to an even remotely sensible outcome that would force him to cede territory to the opposition and halt the bloodshed.

A golden opportunity will be lost. Without Sunni opposition groups, defeating Daesh and Al-Qaeda in their strongholds in Syria will be wishful thinking at best. Is Moscow willing or able to order Assad to abide by the agreed terms of the cease-fire? We will soon find out. One thing is for sure: Repeating the same mistakes and assumptions of the past when it comes to Assad and Syria will only prove Einstein right once more.


Oubai Shahbandar is a former Department of Defense senior adviser, and currently a strategic communications consultant specializing in Middle Eastern and Gulf affairs.

Source: arabnews.com/node/1033706/columns

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/middle-east-press/new-age-islam-edit-bureau/istanbul-was-our-past,-istanbul-is-our-future--new-age-islam-s-selection,-04-january-2017/d/109588


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