Age Islam Edit Bureau
04 January 2017
Was Our Past, Istanbul Is Our Future
By Hamid Dabashi
Hidden Impediment To Political Change In Sudan
By Ali Abu Maryam
The Terrorists’ First Target
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Or Restaurant? That Is The Question
By Diana Moukalled
Turkey As A Third World Country
By Barçin Yinanç
Russia Succeed In Getting Assad To Behave?
By Oubal Shahbandar
By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
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
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
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."
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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
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
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 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
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
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.
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
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
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
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?
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
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
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
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”
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Shahbandar is a former Department of Defense senior adviser, and currently a
strategic communications consultant specializing in Middle Eastern and Gulf