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Beitar Trump Jerusalem and the Absurdity of Modernity

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The “absurdity of modernity” that Michel Foucault refers to should be in the back of all of our minds as the presidency of Donald Trump unfolds; indeed, it is precisely why we should not be too surprised when new absurdities pop up. The latest absurdity is the decision by Jerusalem football club—and six-time Israeli champions—Beitar Jerusalem FC to change their name to “Beitar ‘Trump’ Jerusalem in celebration of the U.S. President’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, thereby recognizing the ancient city as the Israeli capital. An announcement on the club’s Facebook page reads:

For 70 years, Jerusalem has been awaiting international recognition, until President Donald Trump, in a courageous move, recognized Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel. President Trump has shown courage and true love of the Israeli people and their capital, and these days other countries are following his lead in giving Jerusalem its rightful status.

While this is certainly surprising—and more than a little absurd—the question remains, what does this mean in terms of the future?

 

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Certainly An Interesting Image. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.newsweek.com/beitar-jerusalem-israel-donald-trump-name-change-us-embassy-israel-benjamin-923645

 

As a state which exhibits the darkest side of ethnic nationalism and seems to reject an inclusive form of civic nationalism, Israel has often come under fire by critics. According to a 2017 U.N. report, Israel was classified as an “apartheid state”. Of course, defenders of Israel vehemently denied this characterization of the Jewish state. These contradictory descriptions of the Israeli state—and its actions—will, of course, constrain U.S. President Donald Trump going forward. Is he a “Friend of Zion”, as the banners around Jerusalem announce? Or does he believe in an “America First” policy, as he continually claims?

 

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A Friend Of Zion? But…shouldn’t’ the U.S. President be a friend of the American People First? Image Courtesy Of: http://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/israel/2018/may/lsquo-trump-is-a-friend-of-zion-rsquo

 

A short look at Edward Said’s seminal 1978 text Orientalism can offer a few explanations. As Said notes, “standing near the center of all European [and now the American imperium’s] politics in the East was the question of minorities, whose ‘interests’ the Powers, in each its own way, claimed to protect and represent” (Said 1978: 191). Given this background, then, it should not be surprising that American foreign policy is stuck in the Orientalist logic of old—support of minorities—in a classic divide and rule strategy. Indeed, we have seen the same in Iraq and Syria (with the Kurdish minority) and elsewhere to a lesser extent (Yemen, for instance). But just how long can this policy hold, specifically in Israel?

Indeed, given that so few countries (just nine, including the United States and Israel) voted against the UN resolution rejecting the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, it would seem that the United States is quickly becoming an international pariah (to use the classic terminology favored by news media).  Despite this, it seems that this process could open the door to a better future for both Israelis and Palestinians.

The first step would be to recognize that the status quo cannot—and will not—help anyone involved. Indeed, the Palestinian entity in Israel has been shrinking for years. Additionally, a few recent opinion polls (like this one, cited by the Jerusalem Post in 2017) seem to point to a plurality of Israeli Jews and Palestinians calling for a two-state solution. Indeed, the days of Apartheid style segregation—and settler colonialism—should be put behind us, since they do nothing for either the Israeli state or the Palestinian entity; rather, such an unstable situation puts both in a constant state of turmoil. Indeed, the fact that over fifty people have died in recent protests—following the embassy opening—attests to the degree of this instability.

 

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Whither Palestine? Image Courtesy Of: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/opinions/israel-settlements/?utm_term=.1c0637d70bd4

 

Of course, criticism of the status quo often results in accusations of “anti-Semitism”. Again, Said’s Orientalism is useful in explaining why such criticisms miss the mark. In a lengthy passage, Said explains the rationale behind his book:

 

The life of an Arab Palestinian in the West, particularly in America, is disheartening. There exists here an almost unanimous consensus that politically he does not exist, and when it is allowed that he does, it is either as a nuisance or as an Oriental. The web of racism, cultural stereotypes, political imperialism, dehumanizing ideology holding in the Arab or the Muslim is very strong indeed, and it is this web which every Palestinian has come to feel as his uniquely punishing destiny. It has made matters worse for him to remark that no person academically involved with the Near East—no Orientalist, that is—has ever in the United States culturally and politically identified himself wholeheartedly with the Arabs; certainly there have been identifications on some level, but they have never taken an “acceptable” form as has liberal American identification with Zionism, and all too frequently they have been radically flawed by their association with discredited political and economic interests (oil-company and State Department Arabists, for example) or with religion” (Said 1978: 27).

 

In short, there is a major anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bias in American (and Western) presentations of the region and indeed the Israeli/Palestinian conflict more generally; this—in itself—constitutes a form of anti-Semitism given that Arabs (like Jews) are themselves a Semitic people (an argument put forth in Orientalism). And this is another reason why the current status quo—consisting of low level violent conflict between Israeli security forces and Palestinian terrorist groups, and de-facto segregation between Israel’s Arab and Muslim populations—cannot stand for long. Both Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs deserve to live with dignity and in peace. And it is clear that the current situation cannot offer this kind of peace.

Perhaps, by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the United States will finally be able to rid itself of the burden to defend Israel—a country the size of the U.S. state of Connecticut—and move forward domestically without becoming embroiled in Middle Eastern conflicts in the future. After all, it is Israel’s responsibility to both its Jewish and Arab citizens to ensure equality before the law; it is also Israel’s responsibility (like any sovereign nation) to enforce their own borders without encroaching on Palestinian lands. Now that the capital has been recognized (and one contentious issue taken off the table), there might be hope that both sides can move towards a reconciliation with both their Arab neighbors (and Arab citizens); there might also be hope that the United States can recede from its current position as an imperial overseer of Israel and tend to more urgent domestic matters.

Time will tell as to what road both Israel and the United States take in the Middle East, as well as if Beitar Jerusalem’s name change will hold. While Beitar’s move is not surprising—given their far-right fan base—it is my hope that the name change will commemorate the transition to a more peaceful, and less belligerent, Israel going forward. Regardless of the football team’s name change, lasting peace in the region is important and it is increasingly clear that the current status quo will not deliver that kind of peace.

 

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Beitar’s La Familia Ultra Group are Known For Their (Ethnic) Nationalist Identity. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.espn.com/soccer/beitar-jerusalem/story/3497455/beitar-jerusalem-announce-they-will-rename-club-after-trump
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Invented Traditions as We Near the Political Denouement of the 2017-2018 Football Season in Turkey: What of Basaksehirspor? What of Osmanlispor?

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With the 2017-2018 Turkish football season winding down, there are a few political stories which could develop in the coming weeks. By virtue of a hard-fought victory over Alanyaspor, Galatasaray returned to the top one point clear of Istanbul Basaksehirspor. Below the leaders shit traditional powerhouses Besiktas (third place) and Fenerbahce (fourth place). In terms of upcoming fixtures, next weekend proves to be the most exciting. While leaders Galatasaray will face off against fellow title challengers Besiktas (who will be either second, third, or fourth, depending on their result against Yeni Malatyaspor on Sunday 22 April), Istanbul Basaksehirspor will be facing strugglers Osmanlispor (who are currently 15th in the table).

 

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The Turkish Super League Table Going Into 22 April 2018. Image Courtesy of Mackolik.com

 

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Upcoming Fixtures For Galatasaray (Top) and Istanbul Basaksehirspor (Bottom). On Paper, Istanbul Basaksehirspor Have the Advantage. Image Courtesy of Google Search.

 

In effect, this means that the weekend will be defined by the results of the Istanbul derby on the one hand, and the derby between invented teams on the other. Indeed, considering the final four matches of the season, Basaksehirspor have an undoubted advantage on paper. The ultimate answer, however, might have as much to do with on the pitch results as it will to do with off the pitch politics. While the two established Istanbul powers face off in the Istanbul derby, Basaksehirspor will be facing fellow invented team Osmanlispor. While Osmanli won their latest match against fellow strugglers Genclerbirligi Sk, it will be interesting to see what the powers at be in Turkish football make with next weekend’s match. A win for Istanbul Basaksehirspor might well mean a shot at the championship; a loss for Osmanlispor might mean relegation for the neo-Ottoman sports club.

Essentially, the question can be rephrased: Will Osmanlispor be sacrificed for Istanbul Basaksehirspor to have a shot at the championship? My hunch is that they will be; Istanbul Basaksehirspor have come to close to their first championship to be abandoned now and—given that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is such a big fan—the team have friends in high places. The team on the other side of this affair, Osmanlispor, are in the opposite situation. While they were founded in order to project a neo-Ottoman image on the football pitch, their main supporter—former Ankara Mayor Melih Gokcek (whose son is chairman of the team)—had a falling out with President Erdogan and, as such, the team may not have the backing it needs to survive another year in Turkey’s top flight; indeed I foresaw Osmanlispor’s struggles back in October of 2017.

Another reason that Osmanlispor might be sacrificed is that there is a contingent of new “project” teams in the TFF First League (the second tier of Turkish football) vying for promotion to the Turkish Super League. Among them are Umraniyespor, who currently sit in second place, and Ankaragucu, who currently sit in fourth place. Umraniyespor, from a conservative suburb of Istanbul’s Asian side, were just a decade ago an obscure team floundering in the amateur leagues; they now have modeled themselves as “the Basaksehirspor of Istanbul’s Asian side”.

 

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The Table in the TFF First Division (Turkey’s Second Tier) Going into 22 April 2018. Image Courtesy Of Mackolik.com

 

Ankaragucu, one of Turkish football’s oldest teams, had been ignored for much of the AKP years while teams like Hacettepe SK and Osmanlispor’s previous incarnation Ankara Buyuksehir Belediyespor flew the flag of the Turkish capital in the Turkish top flight. However, since former Mayor Melih Gokcek began supporting the team again in late 2017 (please see here and here, the team has risen back to prominence (this, of course, despite Mr. Gokcek’s 2011 Tweet calling for Ankaragucu to “disappear”; perhaps this was why his attempt to take over the team was rejected by Ankaragucu president Mehmet Yiginer).

It has not, however, stopped Mr. Gokcek from supporting the team unofficially. Indeed, Osmanlispor and Ankaragucu have a unique relationship: On 7 September 2017 Mr. Gokcek was overjoyed announcing Ankaragucu’s acquisition of four Osmanlispor players—valued at over 10 million Turkish Liras—free of charge! Mr. Gokcek’s Tweet claimed that Osmanlispor gave the players free so that “Ankaragucu could be champions”. Perhaps Mr. Gokcek, recognizing that Osmanlispor’s days were numbered at the outset of the 2017-2018 season—began to throw his support behind Ankaragucu whole-sale.

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/sporarena/osmanlispor-4-futbolcusunu-ucretsiz-verdi-melih-gokcek-40571855

 

Given the situation, it will be interesting to see what happens between Istanbul Basaksehirspor and Osmanlispor next weekend; even if the latter lose to Basaksehirspor it is likely that the powers that be in Turkish football would rather see Genclerbirligi—a team founded in the same year of the Turkish Republic and with a strong republican and left-leaning fan-base—relegated than Osmanlispor. Given that both teams are essentially fighting for survival against one another, Osmanlispor might have some help on the other end of the table. At that point, what will matter is if Osmanlispor is seen as a good investment by those with influence off the pitch. After all, the team have few fans and—if they are not successful—that money could likely be used to support Ankaragucu instead, especially if they are able to get themselves promoted. Regardless of the motives of individual actors in this scenario, it is clear that the final weeks of the Turkish football season will see some real political wrangling both on and off the field. It will be an interesting final few weeks for observers to keep an eye on.

Turkish Football Results Might Depend on Political Developments (But Don’t Depend on Lamestream (Western) Media for Real Analyses)

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On Saturday 21 October Ankara Mayor Melih Gokcek was over the moon as his team won 3-0 against Kardemir Karabukspor at home. The response was typical, since it was just Osmanlispor’s second victory of the season (and not enough to lift them off of the bottom spot). Osmanlispor—or Ottoman Football Club—is one of the Turkish football league’s “project teams”; part and parcel of the Turkish state’s attempt to create a new hegemony through sport. Currently, however, the team run by the Ankara Mayor’s son Ahmet Gokcek has fallen on hard times. The attempt to create a neo-Ottoman hegemony through sports has stalled due to a crisis among the the ruling elite of the Turkish state; Ankara mayor Melih Gokcek’s resignation was reportedly requested by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as early as 5 October 2017.  Mr. Gokcek, however, has refused to resign and has instead exacerbated a power struggle within the Turkish state. On the surface, the Turkish state presents it as a struggle between pro-Erdogan and pro-Fethullah Gulen forces; a battle between two factions of globalists for the soul of the Turkish nation. As an ardent nationalist, I clearly do not side with either of these factions (and I also root against Osmanlispor). But, in lieu of a detailed analysis of this latest power struggle in Turkish politics, I would rather send a message to globalist media.

 

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Melih Gokcek Celebrates…For Now. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.posta.com.tr/melih-gokcek-osmanlispor-kardemir-karabukspor-macini-izlerken-goruntulendi-haberi-1344441

 

I am an honest hard-working individual who struggles to get by with the wages provided for me by my home institution. It is my hope that, after getting my PhD, I will be able to become a full-fledged independent writer. My only issue is that I am currently engaged in an unequal fight against . . . globalist media. While mainstream (or “lamestream”) media claims that they are providing “free” and “independent” media, they are doing nothing of the sort. In fact, a recent piece in The Guardian blatantly plagiarized from this blog. Writer Emre Sarigul’s 12 October 2017 piece follows the same team, Altinordu, I wrote about in my 14 August 2017 piece. Unfortunately, The Guardian’s Emre Sarigul neglected to cite this blog in his piece. While the Guardian claims to want to make the world a “fairer place”, it is clear that they also give a space to plagiarizing writers on their website. This is unacceptable for any journalistic organization, and all readers would do well to see The Guardian’s hypocrisy. Their website claims:

 

We want to make the world a better, fairer place. We want to keep the powerful honest. And we believe that doing so means keeping society informed by producing quality, independent journalism, which discovers and tells readers the truth.

It’s essential for the functioning of democracy. And our unique ownership structure means no one can tell us to censor or drop a story.

 

While The Guardian claims to uphold the lofty goals of preserving “democracy” they also clearly support writers—like Emre Sarigul—who are noted plagiarizers; in fact this is not the first time that Mr. Sarigul has stolen ideas. That such a writer should be supported by The Guardian shows the failure of Western “liberal” media.

 

I will never ask for “crowd-funding” or other money-making gimmicks; I will always write for my audience free of charge. That said, however, it is clear that I cannot continue writing this blog if my ideas are continually stolen without receiving credit. Therefore, I am sorry to announce an indefinite hiatus; I cannot—with good conscience—continue to write for the profit of plagiarizers like Mr. Emre Sarigul. Until globalist—and (lamestream) media like The Guardian apologize, I will be forced to keep my posts to a minimum. I will also encourage readers who value my writing to contact The Guardian and encourage them to re-assess the vetting policies for their writers. Stealing ideas is no different than stealing property; that is why it is called “Intellectual Property”. Stolen ideas produce FAKE NEWS.

Football and Geopolitics: The Media Impetus for the U.S. Strike on Syria, What It Might Mean for The World, and Why Media Literacy is Important

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AUTHOR’S UPDATE  (7.20.2017): A few more news stories have come out recently regarding this topic which are worth sharing. The first is a piece from The Nation which, while pointing out the inconsistencies surrounding the alleged chemical attacks in Syria, serves as an anti-Trump piece arguing that the current U.S. President deliberately fabricated the intelligence reports regarding the use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The second is an article from Mother Jones. This piece is still anti-Trump, but it adds the important point that the Obama administration was also accused by journalist Seymour Hersh of fabricating chemical weapons stories in Syria (in fact, The New Yorker apparently declined to publish an article accusing Mr. Obama of fabricating chemical attacks in Syria). The point of this second “Author’s Note” is not, of course, to celebrate or denigrate either Mr. Trump or Mr. Obama. Rather, the point is to show why media literacy is still important. It is beyond politics since we should not question mainstream media in order to celebrate political figures we like or trash political figures we dislike; rather we should consistently question mainstream media narratives–especially if they don’t add up–regardless of our political persuasions. Otherwise we risk fueling the dangerous kinds of fragmentation we have seen recently in society.
Author’s Note: This Was First Posted on 7 April 2017 But The Text Was Not Visible. I am Re-posting, with some new stories and analysis included. The main point here is to take a post-modern approach in the tradition of French Sociologist Michel Foucault; we must be cognizant of the fact that there is no one single “Truth” with a capital “T”; in order to make sense of mainstream media we must strengthen our media literacy.  

 

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The Bleak State Of Syrian Pitches During the Civil War. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/syria_football_on_the_frontline

 

On 22 March the BBC came out with an eye-opening look at football in Syria during the ongoing six-year civil war. The article opens with the claim that “since the uprising began in 2011, there has been little positivity spoken in connection with the country, but then there is the remarkable story of Syria’s national football team. The relationship that exists between this national team and its people depicts the power of sport on a personal, cultural and political level”. Given this excerpt, one would be forgiven for believing that the BBC was publishing a humanistic piece. The reality—as is the case with most modern news media—is something less than humanist; after all the media (given its relationship to capital) is not wholly independent. Unfortunately, the authors Richard Conway and David Lockwood cannot resist bringing the political—in this case from a biased perspective—into their piece:

 

A month before the victory against China, Syria drew against former World Cup semi-finalists South Korea. These results mean gradually, the footballing world is starting to pay attention to Syria for sporting reasons. But this is not entirely a good news story.

There is no ignoring the control that president Bashar Assad’s regime tries to exert over its citizens and, once again, sport is no different. The relative success of the team is both a passing panacea and a propaganda opportunity, the former for the people and the latter for the president. To present a thriving football culture to the world fits in entirely with the agenda of normalisation, of having quelled the rebellion, of stabilisation and control. However, as we discovered, the reality is far from that.

 

The emphasis here is less on the football team and more on the ills of the Assad government, which sends a political message in the guise of a humanist piece of sports journalism. While the journalists claim that “the rapid return of football to these areas shows the government’s desire to use the game to display life as returning to normal and of the war as being won. What could be more normal than going to a football match? But like the normality, this ‘growth’ of the game is an illusion;”, it seems that both fans and footballers might have a different opinion.

The authors cite one un-named fan as saying “It is very important to keep hope and to stay optimistic. Live our life in normal way, in sport, in everything. The kids need to live a normal life, what’s happening is not their fault, they need to watch sport, go to their schools, go to public parks, they have to”. The “hope” that this fan speaks of is certainly essential, and increased violence in the country will not serve him/her —or the children—in the long term. Footballer Mohammad al-Khalaf says “we are angry because the families are separated by the war. All the Syrians’ families are separated, that’s why we have so much anger. But what shall we do?

We have to accept our destiny and adapt to it. We didn’t want this to happen but it wasn’t in our hands, they are trying to destroy the people. We hope that it will end and in God’s will we will be able to return to our country as soon as possible”. Again, the footballer’s description of the situation can be read in many ways; it is a lament for the destruction of his country without taking a particular stance on the issues. His next statement that is quoted is more nationalist: “sport has nothing to do with politics. We have to move forward and sport has a message and we should relay this message. If the Syrian team plays with any other country, for sure and from the bottom of my heart I will back it and support it”. The focus here is not on a particular government or political group, rather it is about the Syrian nation, the Syrian people—perhaps not even the state at all! The article even notes that assistant coach Tarek Jabban said he coaches for the love of his country, despite making just $100 (£80) a month. The team’s star defender, Omar al Midani, might put it best when he says “The football was much better before the war. We were happy, the only thing we cared about was football and school. Now the only thing we care about is to have our country back like it used to be”. This statement—more than that of any other person cited in the BBC piece, shows that there are at least some Syrian footballers who recognize the importance of the state; whether they are nationalist or not is immaterial, what matters is that they have a respect for the state independent of its leader—insofar as it provides law and order. The fact that Mr. Assad has managed to stay in power throughout this bloody six-year civil war implies some sort of support, thus these sentiments should not be surprising.

The article cites Brigadier General Mowaffak Joumaa who (unsurprisingly, given his role as a soldier) gives the nationalist explanation that “the Syrian government is defending our people and [is] keep[ing] Syria united, this country in land and people”, yet the authors of the article conspicuously eschew any statements remotely sympathetic to the regime (as an impartial media outlet would be expected to do). Instead, they write that Syrian President Bashar al Assad:

 

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Sports Is Used In Syria To Support Mr. Assad’s Regime In Its Darkest Days. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/syria_football_on_the_frontline

has led a war against opposition forces within his country for more than six years […and] that there’s nothing funny about him [al Assad] to those trapped within the country’s borders or living under his authoritarian rule. Many here will not talk of him openly. Most will not even dare speak his name when asked about their feelings towards him. The reach and menace of the regime runs deep in the Syrian psyche. What started as peaceful demonstrations, all part of a popular uprising across the region in 2011 known as the Arab Spring, quickly degenerated into a vicious and bloody war.

 

Again, the BBC’s piece is perpetuating the image of Assad as a killer and “menace” so as to (perhaps indirectly) influence Western policy (or readers’ support of the latter) vis-à-vis Syria, while also downplaying the fact that there are fans and players who just want things back to where they were. Unfortunately, because of a refusal to even acknowledge an alternative “truth”, the BBC’s work can be viewed as a form of intellectual imperialism. It is one characterized by media narratives and tropes that are repeated enough to become pseudo-facts.

Unfortunately, intellectual imperialism—even in the world of sports journalism—has its consequences. Less than two weeks after this piece was published with the passage “The Syrian government also stands accused of war crimes against its own people for numerous egregious breaches of human rights such as using banned chemical weapons and bombing water supplies” [my emphasis], the Syrian regime was reported to have used chemical weapons on its own people during an attack on Idlib province on Tuesday 4 April 2017. On Thursday 6 April 2017, doctors in Turkey confirmed that chemical weapons had been used in an attack that killed at least 72 people. Despite the reports, the fact remains that the Syrian state could stand to gain nothing from conducting such an attack at this stage; much of the world had grown to see that Assad was far less of a menace than ISIS/ISIL/DAESH and even the footballers and fans cited by the BBC had expressed their desires for a return to normalcy.

Without resorting to conspiracy theories, it is still important to keep an open mind and the words of one “expert” are useful to explain why this “attack” is so suspect. The Los Angeles Times’ Matt Pearce rightly points out that “there’s a mystery at the heart of an apparent chemical weapons attack in Syria this week: Syria’s government, suspected of carrying out the attack, was supposed to have gotten rid of all its chemical weapons in 2014”. Indeed, this is true (it even appears as a link beneath the Guardian’s story reporting this week’s attack). The “expert” cited by the LA Times is Markus Binder, a chemical weapons expert at the University of Maryland. According to the Times, he “still had basic questions about the attack that need to be confirmed, including exactly what chemicals were used and whether the Syrian government carried out the attack”. The LA Times points out that “the use of chemicals makes [no] immediate sense, given that the government has been using explosives that often kill civilians.” Mr Binder adds “Why now? It puzzles.’”. This alone should make any impartial observer pause for thought.

Now, given the United State’s attack on a Syrian airbase on 6-7 April 2017 in response to the purported use of chemical weapons (which Syria denies), we must think even harder: What is the motivation for this kind of aggression? There are three likely scenarios that come most immediately to mind:

  • The Megalomaniacal Theory; Mr. Trump Attacked Syria to further his own political agenda: This theory has three inter-related components:
    1. By attacking Russia’s ally Syria in such a conspicuous manner, Mr. Trump may have thought that he could put an end to the speculations that the Kremlin paved his way to the White House.
    2. This attack also serves to differentiate Mr. Trump from his predecessor—former president Barack Obama—during the first 100 days. By definitively acting on the alleged use of chemical weapons by Mr. Assad, Mr. Trump can show his ability to follow through when a “red line” is crossed (something Mr. Obama did not do). Similarly, if Syria did indeed use chemical weapons, it would show the failure of Mr. Obama in the realm of negotiation since he “agreed to a Russian deal to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons program” in the first place.
    3. Trump may have believed that the use of force would restore credibility for the United States in the international realm, which feeds into a third theory.
  • The America First Theory: Since Mr. Trump campaigned on an “America First” platform, he may have seen this as a simple way to assert American military strength at the outset of his presidency in order to send a message to other geopolitical rivals like Iran and North Korea. The fact that Mr. Trump’s administration has been keen to point out that “no people were targeted” and that Russia was notified before the attack (even the sections of the base where Russians were present were not targeted by the strike) shows that the administration saw the airbase as a fairly safe target, PR wise, for a “one-off” strike. The Trump Administration may see this kind of a one-off strike as allowing them to negotiate for a settlement from a “position of strength”; threats are much more credible after force has been used. This approach would also signal a perceived return of the United States to global prominence.

 

Likely, the explanation for the United States’ first open use of force in Syria is a combination of elements from these three theories. The fact that the two candidates who fought a bitter presidential campaign should agree on the issue of using force in Syria is eye-opening, as is the coincidental nature of timing. While former presidential candidate and current Florida senator Marco Rubio thinks the timing of Mr. Assad’s attacks is coincidental since it came in the wake of tacit American support for the Assad regime; I would go the other way (while wondering about Mr. Rubio’s thought process) and point out that the timing is coincidental since it comes at a time when Mr. Assad is re-gaining (at least some) lost legitimacy while Mr. Trump is losing legitimacy (judging by polls that had put him at 46 % approval rating). It was a perfect storm that may have forced the American President into a corner, acting on any information he had—whether real or fake.

The reality is that if the state has an agenda, too often the media supports that agenda. While we should all be cognizant of conspiratorial stories (like those claiming that the Daily Mail deleted a story in January 2013 about a false-flag attack in Syria involving chemical weapons) we also need to recognize (in the Foucauldian tradition) that there is no one, single, “Truth”; there is nothing to say that mainstream media is telling “the Truth” all the time. As a country that fought a civil war–and emerged from it better off (and without major meddling of foreign powers)–the United States should be the first to recognize that there is little “Truth” (with a capital “T”) when it comes to civil war. There are embedded messages in every news story we read. That even a humanist story about a nation’s football team can carry political undertones—in this case directed against the Assad regime in Syria—is worrisome, regardless of Mr. Assad’s record (he is not a saint after all; politics is a dark game and political leaders rarely are saints).

 

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No One Can Be a Saint When a Country Is This Divided. Readers Should Imagine What They Would Think If Their Own Country Was as Divided as Syria Is Now. Would They Be Happy With Foreign Intervention? Would They Support The Government? Would They Support the Rebels? Empathy is Important in Moments Like This, Since It Allows For a Humanist Approach to the Issues at Hand. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/syria_football_on_the_frontline

 

It means that—when used hand in hand with the policies of the state—the media can act as a shepherd of the masses; the media can condition public opinion before any action is taken by the state so as to mitigate the possible negative reactions to the state. Time will tell what the fallout of Mr. Trump’s actions will be in Syria and the wider Middle East; in the mean time the best we can do is be cognizant of the biases inherent in every kind of news story we read—whether about sport or politics—so as to increase our media literacy. Honing these skills will allow us to avoid being drawn in by “fake news”, while also allowing us to take a more critical view of mainstream media.

Football Emerges as a Key Battlefield in Turkey’s Culture Wars Ahead of April’s Referendum: The Role of Football in Shaping Public Opinion

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As the culture wars heat up in Turkey ahead of April’s referendum in which Turkey will vote on a switch to a Presidential system which would give current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (and his Justice and Development (AKP) Party) unprecedented power, the campaign has gotten odder and odder. Mr. Erdogan, in pushing for a “Yes” vote, has brought the campaign into a Kafkaesque (or Orwellian, depending on your literary sympathies) realm. The President has taken to attacking all enemies—real or imagined—in his attempt to play on “collective narcissim”, a concept I will return to later. This process has created more than a few absurdities (imagining enemies is, after all, not the easiest of endeavors), and it is not surprising that football has shown itself to be a key battlefield in which this process has unfolded.

The BBC reported on 24 February  2017 that Turkey was saying “No” to saying “No”. Mark Lowen’s piece shows how “The demonisation of the word “no” is reaching new, seemingly absurd levels”. While Erdogan’s government claims that “No” voters are “terrorists” siding with the coup plotters of 15 July 2016, their tactics for encouraging that line of thinking are getting odd. Lowen notes that “Anti-smoking leaflets prepared by the Ministry of Health were suddenly withdrawn because they contained the word “hayir” – “no” – in red capital letters. A government MP said “they could be misunderstood” and that even an Oscar nominated film—entitled “No”—was taken off the air by Digiturk, Turkey’s main cable provider that was recently bought by Qataris friendly to Mr. Erdogan. Lowen even notes how a common Islamic greeting has been attacked:

 

A common expression typically used by conservatives is “hayirli cuma”, wishing a blessed Friday. But as “hayir” also means no, some are now preferring “cuma mubarek”, an alternative blessing (with the same meaning).

 

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Tweets Showing the Change in Langue Being Used. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39064657

 

Examples like this reformulation of an Islamic greeting—to meet political ends—show that Mr. Erdogan is not truly the champion of Islam that he claims to be, but this is should not come to a surprise to anyone. His use of Islam as a political tool was uncovered most recently by German weekly Der Spiegal, which claims that the Turkish state is using Imams in German mosques to spy on Germany’s Turkish community; Germany’s largest Muslim organization (the Cologne-based Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs—DITIB) has become “an extended arm of the Turkish president, Erdogan” according to  Islam expert Susanne Schröter, working towards its ultimate goal: “to divide the Turkish community abroad between friends and foes of the regime”. This crude exploitation of religion shows how cynical and false the Turkish President’s religiosity is.

But Mr. Erdogan has often looked to portray himself as many other things he is not, including a man of the people and a staunch Turkish nationalist. One would be hard pressed to see Mr. Erdogan as a “man of the people” after watching a BBC interview with one of his main allies in the construction sector, Ali Agaoglu, who makes shocking comments by referring to women as “his property”, and boasting about kicking people out of their homes. It is the kind of interview that makes one cringe, a celebration of the uncouth nouveau-riche class that has been nurtured in Turkey, through corruption, during the AKP’s rule. In addition to not being a true champion of Islam or a man of the people, Mr. Erdogan is—as I will show below—also not a true nationalist; rather he is more of an opportunist who follows the political winds to further his own (and sometimes his allies’) economic and political gain(s).

Mr. Erdogan’s brand of faux-nationalism has been on full display during the referendum campaign.  He decided to suspend diplomatic ties with the Netherlands after the Dutch (not completely unjustifiably) took issue with Turkish campaigning among the immigrant Turkish community for a “Yes” vote. Erdogan further played the nationalist card when he said, on 23 March 2017, that “Turkey would review EU ties after the referendum”, and his insults to German Chancellor Angela Merkel have ruffled a few feathers in Germany even among the Turkish community. Apart from the fact that such actions show Mr. Erdogan’s belief that he will win, it is more important that such bellicose statements towards the EU play on a sense of nationalism that is destructive to Turkey. Any true Turkish nationalist—who has the best interests of their country in mind—would not be in the business of fomenting crises with Europe. Of course, any true nationalist also would not have gotten involved in the Syrian quagmire either; such events—where Mr. Erdogan acts with only his own—and not his country’s—best interests in mind only serve to prove his false nationalism.

Perhaps the most blatant example of this fake nationalism came on 24 March 2017 when an AKP banner reportedly appeared in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, a mainly Kurdish city, with the words “Every Yes [vote] is a Fatiha [Prayer] for Sheikh Said And His Friends”. For those who are unfamiliar with Turkish history, the Sheikh Said rebellion of 1925 was (in the words of Wikipedia) a “Kurdish rebellion aimed at reviving the Islamic caliphate”. It was, essentially, a rebellion against the formation of modern Turkey. By invoking Sheikh Said, Mr. Erdogan is both becoming an “ethnic entrepreneur” (by appealing to Kurdish sympathies in a crude—and reckless—manner) and risking the further fragmentation of his country. Clearly, these are not the actions of a true nationalist who loves his country, rather these actions represent the risky—yet at the same time, seemingly contradictory and calculated—actions of a man who is looking to cement his power at all costs. A recent Foreign Policy piece by Elliot Ackerman details how, in the run-up to the November 2015 snap elections, “Erdogan argued to the electorate that the stability provided by a strong AKP majority was the safest course for Turkey. He chose not to emphasize that his own policies had largely created this instability.” The same process is unfolding again—Erdogan is fomenting crises abroad (while crudely playing to Kurdish sentiment after re-igniting a war with them so as to profit politically) to give the impression that only he can provide stability. But in order to make the case for stability there must first be instability, which Erdogan has created with his own hands. Given the absurdity of the situation it is no wonder that football has not been immune.

 

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The Banner In Question. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/turkiye/706071/Seyh_Sait_ile__Evet__isteyen_AKP_ye_Burhan_Kuzu_nun_tweetini_hatirlattilar.html

 

On 24 March 2017 one of Turkey’s biggest sports dailies, Fotomac, distributed a 16-page flyer in support of a “Yes” vote in the April Referendum. That the flyer from the Turkish Foundation for Youth (in which Mr. Erdogan’s son Bilal holds a prominent position, no less) was distributed is not surprising; the paper is owned by the ATV-Sabah group, a pro-government media conglomerate that publishes the Daily Sabah—one of the state’s main propaganda arms aimed at English speakers (Just one example of their propaganda appears here (https://www.dailysabah.com/elections/2017/03/28/germany-bans-yes-rallies-but-continues-propaganda-for-no-at-full-speed ).

 

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The Flyer Distributed By One Of Turkey’s Most Popular Sports Dailies. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/futbol/706056/Yandas_spor_gazetesi__evet__eki_dagitiyor.html

 

Meanwhile a three-year referee from Sinop Province was relieved of his duties by the Turkish Football Federation for a posting on social media which supported a “No” vote. As the BBC also noted, saying “No” in the workplace is dangerous—Television newscaster Irfan Degirmenci from Kanal D was similarly relieved of his duties for saying “No” on social media while pointing out “those from pro-government channels are free to say ‘yes’ – and if I had tweeted that, I would be offered new positions with better money. But when I say that the constitutional change would create a one-man rule in Turkey, I’m fired’”. The referee, Ilker Sahin, pointed out a similar double standard when he said:

 

Yıldırım Demirören’in Türkiye Futbol Fedarasyonu Başkanı olarak kamuya açık bir şekilde “evet” açıklaması yapması suç değilken benim bireysel sosyal hesaplarımdan yaptığım açıklamalar mı yoksa “hayır” demem mi siyasi propaganda olarak karşıma çıktı. Eğer “evet” deseydim belki de ödüllendirilecektim. Ben fikirlerimin sonuna kadar arkasındayım hayır, hayır,hayır!

 Yildirim Demiroren, as President of the Turkish Football Federation, can say “yes” in a public forum [but] my comments on my individual social [media] accounts or the fact that I said “no” come back to me as political propaganda. Had I said “yes” maybe I would have been rewarded. I stand by my thoughts until the end; no, no, no!

 

The absurdity pointed out by Mr. Degirmenci and Mr. Sahin is part of the Orwellian nature of the situation surrounding the referendum, and Mr. Demiroren’s comments certainly deserve some discussion within this context.

On 20 March 2017 Turkey’s Kulupleri Birligi (Union of Clubs) held their second football summit in Istanbul. As commentator Bilgin Gokberk notes, it was less football and more a rally for a “Yes” vote funded by Qatari money. At the summit President Erdogan himself presented his view of the relationship between football and politics:

 

Siyasetin temelde futbol ile birçok ortak yönü olduğuna inanıyorum. Spor gibi siyasetin de özü rekabettir, yarıştır. Bu yarışın ilk aşaması sandıktan galip çıkmak için ikinci aşaması da sorumluluk üstlendikten sonra millete hizmet götürmek içindir. Tıpkı futbol gibi siyaset de takım oyunudur. Yani sağlam bir kadro gerektirir. Plansızca oynayan, taktiği ve stratejisi olmayan bir takımın kupayı kaldırma ihtimali nasıl yoksa milletine söyleyecek sözü olmayan siyasetçilerin, siyasi partilerin de başarı şansı yoktur.

Primarily, I believe that politics has many similarities with football. Like sport, the essence of politics is a competition, a race. The first stage of this race to win at the ballot box, the second stage of this race is to provide services to the people after assuming responsibility [of ruling]. Just like football politics is a team sport. You need a strong roster. Just like a team that has no game plan, no tactics, and no strategy cannot lift the cup, politicians and political parties who have nothing to say to the people have no chance for success.

 

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Turkey’s Power Struggle Plays Itself Out in Football Ahead of the Referendum. Mr. Erdogan (C) pictured with Mr. Demiroren (R) at the summit. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.milliyet.com.tr/futbolda-dev-zirve-halic-te—2416871-skorerhaber/

 

Mr. Erdogan’s comparisons here are pretty spot on. But as he continues in his speech the tone gets more defiant and autocratic; it begins to sound less like a sports event and more like a political rally:

 

Milletten korkan, gençlerden çekinen bir anlayışla Türkiye’nin geleceği inşa edilebilir mi? Aslında bunların siyasette jübile zamanı çoktan gelmiş ama hala direniyorlar. Onun için de çıktıkları tüm maçlarda yeniliyorlar. Daha önce 7 defa yenilmişlerdi. İnşallah 16 Nisan’da 8. defa yenilecekler. İnşallah bu defa mesajı alırlar.

Can we build Turkey’s future with an approach that is afraid of the people and holds back from the youth? Really, the came long ago for these people [likely referring to his opponents] to retire but they are still resisting. This is why they lose every match they play. They have lost 7 times before. İnşallah [God-Willing] on 16 April they will lose for an 8th time. İnşallah [God-Willing] they will get the message this time.

 

As if the passage above was not political enough, the aforementioned federation President Yildirm Demiroren was extremely outspoken in his views:

İnsanların aileleriyle geldiği bir tribün ortamı yaratacağız.  Sadece 1. sıradaki takımın değil, son sıradaki takımın da tribünlerinin dolduğu bir ortam hedefliyoruz. En büyük şansımız sizin gibi futbolu seven bir Cumhurbaşkanımızın olması. Sayın Cumhurbaşkanım, gücümüzü sizden ve devletten alarak 2024 Avrupa Futbol Şampiyonası’na aday olduk. Yeni Türkiye, bu şampiyonayı saygınlığıyla organizasyonu alacak güçtedir. Bu federasyonumuzun olduğu kadar, devletimizin, ekonomimizin gücüyle geldiğimiz noktadır. Bundan sonra da böyle devam edecek. Biz artık UEFA seçimlerinde söz sahibi ülke haline geldik. Bizim önerdiğimiz kişi UEFA Başkanı oldu. Nisan ayı seçimlerinde bir Türk arkadaşımız yönetim kuruluna seçilecek. Sizin dünyadaki gücünüzle bizim de gücümüz artıyor. Bir Türk olarak bundan gurur duyuyorum. Daha güçlü bir Türkiye için ‘evet’ diyen bir 17 Nisan sabahında uyanmak dileğiyle hepinizi selamlıyorum.

We will make a stadium atmosphere where people come with their families. We are aiming for an atmosphere were not only the first place team fills their stadium, but also the last place team. Our biggest opportunity is that we have a football-loving President like yourself. Honorable President, by getting our strength from you and the state we became a candidate to host the 2024 European Championship [EURO 2024 Football Championship]. The new Turkey has the strength to get this respected event. This is not only the point that our federation [FA] has reached, but also the point that our state and economy has reached. From now on it will continue like this. We have now become a country that has a say in UEFA elections. The person we recommended became the President of UEFA. As your strength in the world increases, so too does our strength. As a Turk I am proud of this. I greet you all with the wish of waking up on 17 April to a morning that has said “Yes” to a stronger Turkey.

 

Needless to say, Mr. Demiroren was not censored for these highly politicized comments; quite the contrary he was likely lauded. Needless to say Turkey’s chances—as they stand currently—to host EURO 2024 are slim; a “Yes” vote would likely erase the slim chance that currently exists. Still, it is clear that people are ready to believe anything. And one reason for that is that the people also love football.

On the night of 23-24 March 2017, it was reported that the sign of the Denizli Ataturk Stadium was removed ahead of a rally by Mr. Erdogan to promote the “Yes” cause. Ostensibly it was to allow Mr. Erdogan’s bus to enter the stadium, but social media users—who were the first to point out the removal of the signage—protested the removal, viewing it as a sign to erase any vestige of the founder of secular Turkey.

 

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The Sign Was Loaded Onto a Truck (Top) and Removed (Bottom) In The Middle Of The Night. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.cnnturk.com/turkiye/denizlideki-erdogan-hazirligi-tartisma-yaratti?page=1

 

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The Morning After. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2017/gundem/erdogana-hazirlik-icin-denizli-ataturk-stadi-tabelasi-sokuldu-3-1752971/

 

In a (small) victory for people power—or perhaps it was a tacit recognition by Mr. Erdogan that his men had gone too far—the sign was restored to its proper place the next morning. Clearly, Mr. Erdogan has recognized the power of football in his country, and as recently as 28 March 2017, President Erdogan was spotted in Samsun Province rocking the chic scarf of the local football club, Samsunspor.

 

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A Nod To The Local Team Works Wonders In The Field Of Turkish Politics. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.ensonhaber.com/cumhurbaskani-erdogan-samsunda-2017-03-28.html

 

Meanwhile there was turmoil in the ranks of Galatasaray, one of Turkey’s major clubs, as the club voted on expelling members who are linked to Fethullah Gulen, the reclusive cleric who is blamed for masterminding the failed military coup of 15 July 2016. On 25 March 2017 it was announced that club members voted against expelling two former stars—embattled former AKP MP Hakan Sukur and Arif Erdem, who both led the team to a UEFA Cup Championship in 2000—in a vote. Mr. Sukur thanked the club for not expelling him while commentators slammed the club’s decision, arguing that Mr. Sukur did not recognize his fault in following Mr. Gulen’s destabilizing agenda. Galatasaray’s decision to stand up to the political pressure to expel their former stars on the grounds that they are football players, and not political figures, was not taken lightly. Minister of Sport Akif Cagatay Kilic criticized the team, saying “traitors to our country and our state have no business in our established sports clubs. The board’s voting is inexplicable to the families of our martyrs and veterans”.

 

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Mr. Sukur (Left) and Mr. Erdem (Right) in Better Days. Note The Media’s Choice To Show Them In Pink Jerseys. Image Courtesy Of: http://haber.sol.org.tr/toplum/hakan-sukur-ve-arif-erdem-ihrac-edildi-190487

 

Just one day later, on 26 March 2017, the team caved by expelling the former stars on the basis of their having not paid dues for the past six years. In response, Mr. Sukur posted a message on social media, signing off as “A citizen who loves their country and Galatasaray”. Likely, Mr. Sukur aligned himself to a shadowy organization without knowing its true motives and he—like so many in Turkey currently—has been gone from football hero to collateral damage. For Mr. Erdogan the non-payment of dues excuse was not enough; he criticized the team for not explicitly linking the players’ dismissal to their involvement with the exiled cleric and we—as football observers—may see some retribution from the government in the future that could affect the Galatasaray football club.

 

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Mr. Sukur Claims Nationalism Despite Having Joined The Shadowy Movement of Cleric Fethullah Gulen. Image Courtesy Of: http://haber.sol.org.tr/toplum/hakan-sukur-ve-arif-erdem-ihrac-edildi-190487

 

Such is the current state of affairs in Turkey: football has been politicized to a point where, arguably, the political headlines regarding the sport are more visible than the purely sporting ones. It is, again, characteristic of a political climate so absurd that politicians from opposite sides of the divide—the Islamist-oriented AKP and secular CHP —have been recorded making the symbol of the ultra-nationalist third party MHP in public! I believe that these kinds of absurdities are symptomatic of deep divides not only between—but also within—political parties. To understand what these divides might mean—and how football is used as a tool to influence public opinion—it is useful to refer to some recent poll results regarding the upcoming referendum.

The results from the Avrasya Kamuoyu Araştırmaları Merkezi (Eurasia Public Research Center), taken from a poll conducted between 18 and 22 March, 2017, allow us to make an educated guess towards what the divides within political parties will mean come voting day. We can clearly see that the “No” position, in red, is ahead among respondents belonging to all but the AKP. We can also see that the majority of people (86 percent) have already made the decision of how to vote more than three months ago.

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The Top Figure Shows Voting Intentions In the Upcoming Referendum Divided By Party. The Bottom Image Shows How Long Ago Respondents Made Up Their Minds. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/foto/foto_galeri/705998/2/Avrasya_Kamuoyu_Arastirmalari_Merkezi_referandum_anketini_acikladi.html

 

We can also see that, in the June 7 2015 election, just 32.3 percent of respondents voted for the ruling AKP. In the snap elections called for 1 November 2015, the amount of respondents who voted for the AKP increased to 41 percent. As I discussed earlier, this increase can be attributed to the nationalist fervor in the wake of the resumption of hostilities between the state and the Kurdish PKK. Yet, when people were asked which party they would vote for in a general election now, just 30.2 percent said the AKP. So what makes for this discrepancy? Do they have around 30 percent of the vote, or 40 percent of the vote? The answer can be found in two categories: the “Kararsizim” (“undecided”) category of 19.2 percent and “Oy Kullanmam” (I won’t vote) category of 16.2 percent. These two categories represent more than a third of the electorate when looking at party choice.

 

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How Respondents Voted In the 7 June 2015 General Election: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/foto/foto_galeri/705998/2/Avrasya_Kamuoyu_Arastirmalari_Merkezi_referandum_anketini_acikladi.html

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How Respondents Voted In The 1 November 2015 General Elections. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/foto/foto_galeri/705998/2/Avrasya_Kamuoyu_Arastirmalari_Merkezi_referandum_anketini_acikladi.html

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How Respondents Would Vote Today If There Was a General Election. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/foto/foto_galeri/705998/2/Avrasya_Kamuoyu_Arastirmalari_Merkezi_referandum_anketini_acikladi.html

 

It is important to note that the percent of respondents voting for the opposition CHP is at 20.3 percent, close to the way respondents voted in the two previous general elections (20.8 percent on June 7 and 21.1 percent on November 1); it is clear that the CHP voters are consistent. Respondents saying they would vote for the Kurdish HDP total 7 percent, which is around the number of respondents who said they voted for them in the June 7 election (10,8 percent) and November 1 election (8.8 percent); the HDP voters are also fairly consistent. The one discrepancy even close to the AKP numbers comes from the 5.7 percent of respondents that say they would vote for the nationalist MHP, since on June 7 13.4 percent reported voting for the MHP and 10.9 percent reported voting for the MHP on November 1. Given that CHP and HDP voting is fairly consistent, yet AKP and MHP voting is not, it is reasonable to conclude that much of the undecided and “I won’t vote” crowd come from either the AKP or the MHP.

This is important because, when asked specifically about how they would vote in the referendum, 40.63 percent said “No” and 32.54 percent said “Yes” leaving 12.07 percent undecided and 14.76 percent saying they wouldn’t vote. Without these two groups, and only counting decided voters, the “No” vote leads the “Yes” vote 55.53 percent to 44.47 percent. This means that 26.83 percent of people, or more than a quarter of voters, still have not made a decision in terms of the referendum specifically.

 

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How Will You Vote In The 16 April Referendum? “No” Votes are in red, “Yes” Votes Are In Light Green, Undecided Votes Are In Yellow, Those Who Say They Will Not Be Voting Are In Green. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/foto/foto_galeri/705998/2/Avrasya_Kamuoyu_Arastirmalari_Merkezi_referandum_anketini_acikladi.html

 

 

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The Same Table With Only The Answers Of Decided Voters Taken Into Account. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/foto/foto_galeri/705998/2/Avrasya_Kamuoyu_Arastirmalari_Merkezi_referandum_anketini_acikladi.html

 

When broken down by party, we see that 71.1 percent of AKP respondents say “Yes” while just 1.1 percent of CHP respondents, 33.2 percent of MHP respondents, and 3.1 percent of HDP respondents say “Yes”. On the other side side 84.5 percent of CHP respondents, 51.1 percent of MHP respondents, and 72.1 percent of HDP respondents say “No” while just 11.1 percent of AKP respondents say “No”. This shows not only how set the CHP and HDP voters are for the “No” vote, but also the split within the ranks of the AKP and MHP; more than half of MHP respondents say they will vote “No” while one in ten AKP respondents say they will vote “No”. Additionally, those who say they will not vote are highest among AKP (11 percent) and HDP (12.5 percent) respondents. Clearly, the battle is for these undecided voters. But how will they vote?

 

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Respondent’s Reports Of How They Will Vote In the 16 April 2017 Referendum Broken Down By Party. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/foto/foto_galeri/705998/2/Avrasya_Kamuoyu_Arastirmalari_Merkezi_referandum_anketini_acikladi.html

 

It is likely that many of the AKP voters and HDP voters who say they are undecided or that they will not vote are hiding “No” votes. The results of one of the questions asked by one question in the survey show why this might be the case. When respondents were asked if the diplomatic crisis between the Netherlands and Turkey was fomented to increase a “Yes” vote, the majority of respondents agreed regardless of their reported voting preference (53.3 percent of those who said they would be voting “Yes”, 97 percent of those who said they would be voting “No”, 79.8 percent of the “undecideds”, and 87 percent of those who said they would not vote). The fact that the percentage of “undecideds” and those who said they wouldn’t vote is so high—nearing the level observed among confirmed “No” voters—shows that most people are aware of the absurdity that is going on around them. They might be aware that many of the crises they witness are being created to push people towards a certain voting position.

 

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Do You Think the Crisis [With] Holland Was Created To Increase “Yes” Votes? Those Who Agree are on the Left, Those Who Disagree Are On The Right. From Top To Bottom: Yes Voters, No Voters, Undecided Voters, and Those Who Say They Will Not Vote. http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/foto/foto_galeri/705998/2/Avrasya_Kamuoyu_Arastirmalari_Merkezi_referandum_anketini_acikladi.html

 

It also means that those who claim to be undecided or who say that they won’t vote may really be hiding their true opinions due to what survey researchers call “social desirability bias”. This bias refers to the tendency of survey respondents to answer in ways that they deem to be socially desirable. What is socially desirable, of course, is context dependent. In the Brexit referendum this past summer, the “Remain” vote was socially desirable since “LEAVE” voters were characterized as xenophobic. Yet “Leave” won. In the 2016 presidential election in the United States, a “Clinton” vote was socially desirable since “Trump” supporters were characterized as racist, sexist, bigoted, and just about everything else. Yet Donald Trump won. In this case, the “Yes” vote is the socially desirable one since the AKP has been slowly solidifying its hegemony over the Turkish political and cultural scene, as evidenced by the politicization of Turkish soccer. The fact that Abdullah Gul, President Erdogan’s ally and one of the AKP’s founders, decided not to attend a pro “Yes” rally in his home city of Kayseri shows that there are rifts within the party. It also means that there might be some AKP voters who are thinking of voting “No” but are afraid to say it so as to not be outed; they may be hiding their true positions by saying they are “undecided”.

 

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Some Distance May Have Opened Up Between Mr. Gul (Foreground) and Mr. Erdogan (Background) In Recent Years. Does It Portend Instability within the AKP Going Forward? Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2017/gundem/erdogan-kayseriyi-gelmedi-ama-meydan-afisleriyle-donatildi-1770419/

 

Of course, this analysis has many caveats. First, it is based on the assumption that the Eurasia Public Research Center has conducted their survey responsibly and taken the appropriate measures to ensure a valid probability sample representative of larger Turkish society. Second, it is based on the assumption that voters will not be swayed by changes in the security situation (the fact that a bomb was exploded targeting policemen on the morning of 3 April in the southern city of Mersin makes me wary). Third, it is based on the assumption that the voting will be conducted—and the results tabulated—in a transparent manner. Fourth, it is based on the assumption that the electorate will come out and vote.

As journalist Can Dundar notes, the voters can still turn the tide. At this point, it is up to the voters to turn the tide of the “collective narcissim” that has been sweeping the world, characterized by a situation in which

 

any politician who ferments in their followers a grandiose belief in the in-group, combined with encouraging them to believe the in-group is being insulted or slighted by others, is arguably fostering collective narcissism and sowing the seeds for future conflict and hostility. One positive way to intervene might be to see if collective narcissists can be encouraged to channel their envy and sensitivity toward constructively helping their in-group rather than harming out-groups.

Mr. Erdogan’s decision to brand “No” voters as terrorists is an extreme version of this in-group/out-group divide. Yet the chance to “constructively help the in group” remains for all who believe in the in-group as one characterized by a democratic Turkey defined by civic—and not ethnic—nationalism. As Mr. Dundar notes,

 

Erdoğan has entered the campaign trail supported by the bureaucracy, media, academia, the military and the police. Anyone campaigning for no faces dismissal from their jobs and arrest. A thick cloud of fear has descended over the silent land. Yet the polls forecast an even split. The result will be determined by the 20% who are undecided at present […] They may be intimidated, they may be quiet, but those people who stood against Erdoğan are still there, and we need to give them our support.

 

There is no doubt that the undecided will define the election. As my analysis of the polls cited above shows, it is very possible that there is a social desirability bias among respondents that is obscuring the truth. After all, it is difficult to hold an independent position when so much of society—including, as I have shown, the football world—is playing a role in shaping public opinion. But that also means that people may be reluctant to reveal their true opinions, and that means that there is reason to believe that a “NO” vote is very possible in Turkey’s upcoming referendum.

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.mytripolog.com/2011/07/largest-most-detailed-map-and-flag-of-turkey/

Lig TV is Gone as Qatar Enters Turkish Football Market

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The Iconic Lig TV  brand. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/futbol/657907/Lig_TV_nin_adi_degisiyor.html

 

Thursday 13 January 2017 will be the last day that Turkish football will be played on Lig TV as the channel’s name is being changed to beIN Sports. As someone who has fond memories of watching matches on Lig TV, I admit that I have a nostalgic love for the channel’s name. Interestingly, for a lesson in how the media can spin things, neither the above mentioned piece in the opposition daily Cumhuriyet, nor pro-government Sabah and CNN Turk, add the detail that the leftist Sol gives: That the name change is due to the fact that Turkey’s main pay TV service, Digiturk, was bought by Qatar!

Of course, the price of the sale was never released to the public, but the name change is a blatant attempt for the Qatari company close to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), beIN Media, to stamp their ownership on Turkish football. It is also a product of Qatar’s quest for soft power in the region that has been characterized by large investments in football-related fields (the World Cup anyone?); for more on this please see the interesting articles on James Dorsey’s blog The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

It is part of a wide ranging number of Qatari investments in Turkey, likely necessitated by the the rising instability that has scared Western money away from Turkey. Interestingly, as the Cumhuriyet daily notes, many Turkish companies such as the Doğuş Group, the Ciner Group, and Türk Telekom (owned 55% by Saudi Arabia’s Oger Telekom but 45% by the government and public) wanted to buy Digiturk yet were not allowed to. Why? Is it because, as Cumhuriyet implies, the Qatari Emir visited Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan the day before the sale was announced? If this is the case, then (as the paper argues) why not announce the sale price? It is just another example of the extreme neoliberal policies of the AKP, who sell to the highest bidder and line their pockets in the process (after all, by not announcing the sale price it allows a chance to skim more off the top). The Financial Times estimates the deal to have been between $1bn-$1.5bn.

Now, Nasser Al-Khelaifi (also the chairman of Paris Saint Germain football club) is the owner of Turkey’s main sports broadcaster, representing Qatar’s financial goals. As the Financial Times explains:

 

Rejecting global criticism of its hosting of the 2022 Fifa World Cup, Qatar is pushing ahead with investments abroad. Less susceptible than its regional peers to the slump in oil prices, the country has been using its formidable financial firepower to snap up assets from corporate blue-chips to sporting franchises.

This latest blow from industrial football stings because it means that another Turkish business has been sold off only to line the pockets of corrupt politicians. It also may be a sign of the Turkish economy’s increasing fragility; as the West is scared off by increasing political instability the country seems to be turning East for investment. Unfortunately, history has shown that relying on Petrodollars is not the soundest of strategies.

 

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Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the New Owner of Digiturk. Also Chairman of France’s Paris Saint Germain Football Club. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/afp/2016/08/qatar-turkey-television-bein-digiturk.html (Top) and https://t24.com.tr/haber/akpye-yakin-katarli-sirketin-aldigi-digiturkun-satis-fiyati-neden-aciklanmiyor,302953 (Bottom)

Why the Blast at Istanbul’s Vodafone Arena May Prove to be A Pivotal Moment For Turkey

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I arrived in Istanbul today for what I thought would be a relaxing vacation with my girlfriend. I jokingly told my friends something could happen, since tragic “events” have a way of ocurring when I leave or arrive in Turkey. Unfortunately tonight, I was proved right. And it pains me that my simple joke was prescient. I don’t write this post from Istanbul just because the attack happened outside of a stadium and that it relates to sport, I write it because it may truly be a pivotal moment in Turkish history.

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Image Courtesy Of: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/dec/10/bomb-outside-istanbul-football-stadium-causes-multiple-casualties

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Images Courtesy Of: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2372661/fifteen-dead-istanbul-football-stadium-bombs/

On the night of 10 December 2016, after Beşiktaş’s Superleague victory over rivals Bursaspor, a vicious attack took place outside of Beşiktaş’s Vodafone arena. At the outset the BBC reported 15 dead and 69 wounded from an attack that consisted of a car bomb and suicide bomber. As of 3:00am CNN Turk (a branch of Turkish State Media), was only reporting 20 wounded and no dead. At 4:27am, the same CNN Turk reported 29 dead and 166 wounded. So…why the silence until after four in the morning, when most (sensible) people are asleep? Why the changing casualty figures, when foreign media was reporting higher numbers? I believe this reluctance to tell the truth stems from the fact that the government knows that they are facing a huge—and possibly pivotal—challenge.

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At 3:29am there was no mention of numbers. Image Courtesy of the Author.

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At 4:27am, when most (sensible) people are asleep, numbers are announced. Image Courtesy of the Author.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan released a statement that read: “A terrorist attack has been carried out against our security forces and our citizens. It has been understood that the explosions after the Besiktas-Bursaspor football game aimed to maximise casualties. As a result of these attacks unfortunately we have martyrs and wounded.”

Sadly—like so much in Turkish state media—this statement doesn’t tell the whole truth. The fact that Mr. Erdogan claimed that the attack “aimed to maximise casualties” is, in fact, false, and therein lies the danger. If the perpetrators—whoever they may be—wanted to maximise casualties the attack would have taken place during the game, when the 43,500 capacity stadium was full. The fact that the attack took place two hours after the match and didn’t target civilians, but appeared to target police, shows that there was some sort of twisted restraint in this attack.

Here, it seems that the target of the stadium was chosen in order to send a message, a twisted and violent message that says “We can do worse damage if we wanted to. Right now we are attacking the state, not citizens. But if we want to target citizens, we can do that too”. Indeed, if the attack had taken place during the match, it would have been even worse (given that already 29 have been confirmed dead, the statement “even worse” is contextual). And that is the scariest thing about this attack. It is tragic that there were so many casualites in (yet another) senseless act of violence, but it is chilling that this may only be a prelude to much worse in Turkey. And if that is indeed the case, we as human beings, need to be aware.

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