Archive | June, 2011

The International Criminal Court Plays Politics? the Qaddafi Arrest Warrants

29 Jun

   

The International Criminal Court has formally agreed that warrants should be issued for the arrest of Col. Muammar Qaddafi, as well as his son, Seif al-Islam, who has been acting as Prime Minister along with Libya’s intelligence chief, Abdullah Senussi. These three Libyan leaders are charged with crimes against humanity involving the murder, injuring, and imprisoning of Libyan civilians between Feburary 10-18, 2011, the first days of the uprising and prior to NATO’s military involvement. The ICC judge speaking on behalf of a three-judge panel authorized the issuance of the arrest warrants, Sanji Monogeng of Botswana, on the basis of the evidence presented by the prosecutor that ‘reasonable grounds’ existed to support the charges contained in the outstanding indictments against these three individuals. Judge Monogeng clarified the ruling by explaining that issuing an arrest warrant was meant to convey the conclusion that sufficient evidence of criminality existed to proceed with the prosecution, but it is not intended to imply guilt, which must be determined by the outcome of a trial. The ICC assessment is likely to withstand scrutiny so far as the substance of the accusations directed at the Qaddafi leadership are concerned. Qaddafi clearly responded with extreme violence, reinforced by genocidal rhetoric, to the popular challenges directed against the Libyan government, which certainly seems to qualify as crimes against humanity. But I am led to question why such an effort to arrest and indict was pushed so hard at this time.

 

The timing of the indictment, and now the arrest warrants, arouses strong suspicions, and not just of bad judgment! It is relevant to recall that in the course of NATO’s Kosovo War in 1999 against Serbia, the Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic, was indicted by another European-based international tribunal–the special ad hoc International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia. Are we now to expect that whenever NATO has recourse to war the political leader heading its opposition will be charged with international crimes while the fighting ensues? How convenient! Lawfare in the service of warfare!

Rather than a matter of convenience, the motivation seems more sinister. Criticism is deflected from NATO’s own lawlessness. In both of these instances, NATO had itself has resorting to war unlawfully, engaging in what was designated at Nuremberg as a ‘crime against peace,’ and held by that tribunal to be the greatest of war crimes embracing within itself both crimes against humanity and gross violations of the laws of war (war crimes). In the Kosovo War NATO acted without a mandate from the UN, thereby violating the UN Charter’s core principle prohibiting non-defensive uses of force unless authorized by the Security Council. In Libya there was such an initial authorization to protect civilians by establishing a no fly zone (Security Council Resoultion 1973, 17 May 2011), but the NATO mission as executed almost immediately grossly exceeded the original mandate, and did little to hide its unmandated goal of regime change in Tripoli by way of ending Qaddafi’s role as ruler and thereby achieving victory for opposition forces in a civil war. It is certainly worthy of comment that in both of these wars initiated by NATO the leader of a country attacked was targeted for criminal prosecution before hostilities has ended. Even the Allies in World War II waited until after the end of combat before trying to impose their version of ‘victors justice’ on surviving defeated German and Japanese leaders.

A somewhat similar manipulation of criminal accountability occurred in Iraq a few years ago.  There the American led aggressive war waged against Iraq in 2003 was quickly followed by a carefully planned and orchestrated criminal prosecution, stage managed behind the scenes by the US occupation commanders), followed by the execution of Saddam Hussein (and his close associates).  The Iraqi trial was politically circumscribed so as to exclude any evidence bearing on the close and discrediting strategic relationship maintained between the United States and Iraq during the period of Saddam Hussein’s most serious instances of criminality (genocidal operations against Kurdish villages), as well as by disallowing any inquiry into American criminality associated with the attack on Iraq and subsequent allegations of criminal wrongdoing in response to Iraqi resistance to military occupation.  This American potential criminality was never discussed, much less investigated in a responsible manner.

What converts these separate instances into a pattern is the Eurocentric (or West-centric) selectivity evident in most recent efforts to enforce international criminal law. It should be noted that this selectivity is made more objectionable by the impunity accorded to European, American, and Israeli leaders. Double standards so pervasively evident in this behavior undermine the authority of law, especially in relation to a subject-matter as vital as war and peace. Unless equals are treated equally most of the time, what is called ‘law’ is more accurately treated as ‘geopolitics.’

                                                                  

The geopolitical nature of this approval of arrest warrants just issued by the ICC is unintentionally confirmed when it is acknowledged by NATO officials that it will not be possible to arrest Qaddafi unless in the unlikely event that he is captured by the Rebels. Governmental representatives in Washington admitting this, have declared that the warrants will nevertheless be useful in forthcoming UN debates about Libyan policy, presumably to push aside any objections based on the failure by NATO to limit military operations to the no fly zone initially authorized by the Security Council. It should be remembered that the initial authorization in SC Resolution 1973 was itself weakened by five abstentions, including China and Russia, and further, by South Africa that voted with the majority, while expressing strong objections to the subsequent undertaking.  One wonders whether China and Russia would not have used their veto had they anticipated how far beyond what was insisted on limited humanitarian purposes by the proponents of the use of force would the actual operation become. In effect, to overcome any impression of unlawfulness on NATO’s part it is useful to demonize the adversary, and an opportune way to reach this goal is to put forward premature accusations of severe criminality.

Of course, as has been pointed out more than once, there was an embedded hypocrisy in the central argument put forward by the states seeking a UN green light to intervene in Libya, which was based on the responsibility to protect norm that supposedly confers a duty on the international community to protect civilian populations that are being subjected to severely abusive behavior. Too obvious contradictions were present. Why not Syria in the current regional setting? And even more starkly, why not Gaza back in 2008-09 when it was being mercilessly attacked by Israel? The answers to such questions are ‘blowin’ in the wind.’

There are further more technical reasons in the present setting to challenge the timing of the arrest warrants. They seem legally and politically dubious. Legally dubious because the most serious criminality associated with the behavior of the Qaddafi regime during the conflict occurred after the ICC cutoff date of 18 February (e.g. the siege of Misrata). Why other than ulterior motivations was there this rush to prosecute? Politically dubious because there is now a new obstacle to diplomacy in a situation where the alternative seems likely to be a prolonged civil war. Negotiating space for an accommodation is definitely reduced by this implication of Qaddafi’s criminality that creates incentives for the Tripoli leadership to fight on as long as possible.

Perhaps, cynics would argue that law always reflects power, and of course they are correct to a certain extent. Progress in human affairs arises from a struggle against such pretensions. And the locus and nature of power is changing in the world: the West is losing its capacity to shape history and high technology warfare, upon which the West depends to enforce its will on the non-West, is losing its capacity to produce political victories (e.g. anti-colonial wars, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan). This politicized use of the ICC in the course of the Libyan War offers an opportunity for those dedicated to global justice, especially in the Arab world, to insist that international law should no longer serve as a plaything for those who intervene with hard power in their region from the comfort zone of NATO headquarters.

Turkey, the Region, and the West after the Elections

23 Jun

[This post is co-authored with Hilal Elver]

 


             There has been a dramatic shift in critical international responses to the current Turkish political leadership that has been recently highlighted by reactions to the resounding AKP electoral victory of June 12th. The earlier mantra of concern was expressed as variations on the theme that Turkey was at risk of becoming ‘a second Iran,’ that is, an anti-democratic theocratic state in which sharia law would dominate. Such a discrediting approach has itself been discredited to the extent that it is all but abandoned in serious discussions of the Turkish governing process.

 

            The new mantra of criticism is focused on the alleged authoritarian goals of the Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan. He is widely accused of seeking to shift the whole constitutional order of Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential system, and coupled with a little disguised scheme to become Turkey’s first president under the new constitution, and then look forward to being reelected the leader of the country for a second five year term. Some of these anxieties have receded since the AKP did not win the needed 2/3s majority in the parliament that would have enabled a new constitution to be adopted without needing to gain the consent of the citizenry through a referendum. In his victory speech on the night of the elections Erdogan went out of his way to reassure Turkish society, including those who voted against the AKP, that he will heed the message of the voters by seeking the widest possible participation in the constitution-making process with the aim of producing a consensus document that will satisfy a wide spectrum of Turks. It might be expected that such a process would likely preclude any shift to a presidential system, and would certainly make politically impossible the adoption of the strong French version, which does give a president extraordinary powers.

 

            From outside of Turkey the new line of criticism seems to reflect American and Israeli priorities and perspectives, and is not too closely related to Turkish realities. The tone and substance of this line was epitomized by a lead NY Times editorial published the day after the Turkish elections. After acknowledging some AKP achievements, including giving it credit for the flourishing Turkish economy and a successful reining in of the deep state, the editorial moved on to criticize “Mr. Edgogan’s increasingly confrontational foreign policies, which may play well at the polls, but they have proved costly for the country’s interests.” Such a comment by the supposedly authoritative and balanced NY Times is quite extraordinary for its display of ignorance and slyly disguised bias. After all, the hallmark of Turkish foreign policy during the Erdogan years, as developed under the inspired diplomatic leadership of the Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, has been ‘zero problems with neighbors’ as manifest in a series of conflict-resolving and reconciling diplomatic initiatives, and a broad conception of neighbor to include the Balkans, Central Asia, and the Caucuses, as well as the entire Arab world. It is possible to argue that this direction of non-confrontational foreign policy went too far in some instances, most notably Syria, and possibly Libya, and as a result have generated some serious challenges for Turkey.

 

            The only exception to this pattern of zero problems has been Israel, but here the NY Times once again displays an uniformed and opinionated outlook when it writes “Once-constructive relations with Israel have yielded to tit-for-tat  provocations and, if they continue, could threaten Turkey’s substantial trade with Israel.” It would be hard to compose a more misleading description of the deterioration of Turkish/Israeli relations. It should be remembered that prior to the Israeli attack on Gaza at the end of 2008, Turkey was doing its best to promote peace between Israel and Syria by acting as an intermediary, a role at the time appreciated by both parties. It is also quite outrageous to speak of “tit-for-tat provocations” when it was Israeli commandos that boarded in international waters a Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara, carrying humanitarian goods for the long blockaded people of Gaza, and killed in cold blood nine Turkish citizens. Even here in responding to Israeli unlawfulness in this Flotilla Incident of May 31, 2010, Turkey has subsequently tried its best to calm the waters, asking Tel Aviv only for an apology and compensation paid to the families of the victims, as preconditions for the restoration of normal relations with Israel. It has been Israel that has up to now defiantly refused to make even these minimal gestures in the interest of reconciliation.  And recently Davutoglu has gone further, perhaps too far, in his dedication to peaceful relations by openly discouraging Turkish participation in plans for a second Freedom Flotilla at the end of June, asking activists to wait to see if the blockade is broken due to changes in the Egyptian approach at the Rafah Crossing. The latest indications are that the Mavi Marmara will join the second freedom flotilla.

 

            The NY Times goes even further in its Orientalist approach to Turkey, writing that “Ankara must discourage private Turkish groups from initiating a second blockade-running Gaza flotilla..” Why must it? Is it not the blockade, approaching its fourth anniversary, that is widely condemned as cruel and unlawful, a flagrant violation of the legal prohibition on collective punishment set forth in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention? Should not putting such a demand to Turkey at least be balanced by a call on Israel to end the blockade? Given the failure of the UN or neighboring governments to protect the people of Gaza, should not members of civil society feel a duty to do so, and in democratic societies should not be hampered by their governments?

 

            The other foreign policy complaint in the Times’s editorial on Turkey deals with Iran. Here, of course echoing complaints from Washington as well as Tel Aviv, Turkey is blamed for playing “cozy games with Iran” that have “only encouraged Iran’s nuclear ambitions.” Perhaps wrongheaded, but hardly an example of Erdogan’s allegedly confrontational style! What NY Times obviously favors, not surprisingly, is confrontation, urging the Turkish government to “press Turkish companies and banks to enforce international sanctions against Iran.” What is at stake here is the foreign policy independence of Turkey. Its efforts to find a peaceful resolution of the dispute surrounding Iran’s nuclear program are clearly designed to lessen the tensions surrounding the present coercive diplomacy of the U.S. led coalition, and backed by the UN, that is based on sanctions and military threats. It is in Turkey’s clear national interest to avoid a military encounter that could eventuate in a damaging regional war that would be disastrous for Turkey, as well as dashing the hopes raised by the Arab Spring, while also using its diplomatic leverage to discourage Iran from developing nuclear weapons, thereby producing an exceedingly dangerous situation for itself and others.

 

            Another Western criticism of the Erdogan’s approach is to blame Turkey for a diminishing prospect of accession to membership in the European Union. The Financial Times in their far more reasonable post-election editorial nevertheless appears to blame Turkey for “strained relations with the EU.” On what basis is not disclosed. What was not even discussed, but should be mentioned as the main explanation of the strained relations, is the rise of Islamophobia throughout Europe and reflected in public attitudes of governmental skepticism in Paris and Berlin, as well as elsewhere on the continent, about whether Turkey is a suitable candidate for membership, given its large Muslim population. It needs to be appreciated that Islamophobia in Europe while resurgent is not new. Recently, it had been associated with Turkophobia, in reaction to the Turkish guest workers that stayed on, and became a strong presence, often unwanted, in Germany. In the two earlier centuries prior to the 20th there existed European fear and loathing of an invading Ottoman Empire, and even earlier, of course, The Crusades with their marauding militarism.

 

            What emerges overall is this American led reluctance to accept Turkey as an independent regional force in the Middle East that has achieved enormous influence in recent years by relying on its own brand of soft power diplomacy. A dramatic indicator of this influence is the great popularity of Erdogan throughout the region, including among the youth who brought about the uprisings against authoritarian rule throughout the Arab world. It is an encouraging sign of the times that these new Arab champions of democracy are coming to Ankara and Istanbul, not Washington, Tel Aviv, or Paris, for guidance and inspiration.  Whether through the NATO intervention in Libya or the crude efforts to intimidate Iran, the West under faltering American leadership remains addicted to hard power statecraft, which no longer achieves its goals, although it continues to cause great suffering on the ground. It is time that the West stops lecturing Turkey, and starts to learn better what succeeds and what fails in 21st century foreign policy. A good place to start learning and listening might be Ankara!

A Few Notes on WHAT IS LEFT (or Toward a Manifesto for Revolutionary Emancipation)

19 Jun

 

WHAT IS LEFT in two senses:

 

            –what remains of the historic left, conceived more universally as emancipatory politics independent of place and cultural nexus; that is, not

just Marxism, and its progeny, but all forms of resistance to oppression, including by indigenous peoples or in response to religious convictions;

            –the definitional challenge associated with defining ‘the left’ under contemporary conditions; the position taken here is that the left is somewhat obsolete if conceived in Eurocentric terms as opposition to the right, and needs to be conceived in relation to visions and projects of emancipation and through the aperture of historic struggles.

 

Toward a Manifesto for Revolutionary Emancipation:

            –the need for a radical depiction of transformative politics that takes full account of the historical particularity of present world conditions;

            –the importance of repudiating and transcending the anti-utopian ethos of prevailing political perspectives on change and reform;

            –the potentiality of generalizing a politics that seeks a just and sustainable future for all living beings on the planet;

            –the engagement with a conversational approach to political advocacy, and a corresponding rejection of all forms of dogmatic thinking.

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The ‘left’ agenda of the early 21st century:

 

            –support for the Palestinian Solidarity Movement, including its BDS campaign as both a creative form of resistance to oppressive circumstances, not just territorial occupation, but also to the struggle to overcome the enforced refugee and displacement status that has afflicted millions of Palestinians for more than six decades and a vision of justice and reconciliation;

            –struggle against global capitalism, especially in its neoliberal globalizing phase of super-financialization, as fundamentally unjust and unsustainable;

            –support for movement from below to push for adjustments to the challenges of climate change; the emissions of greenhouse gasses must be drastically reduced as an urgent priority; waiting until the harm is sufficiently tangible to produce effective governmental responses will be waiting too long, and involves the neglect of justice to future generations and indifferent to the present sufferings of sub-Saharan  Africa, islands and coastal areas subject to flooding.

 

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The leading forces for and against emancipatory politics:

 

            –FOR: the declining effectiveness of hard power politics either in its governmental or resistance forms; militarism is failing, although the political elites of the world, led by the United States, seem oblivious to this decisive historical trend; confirmations include the revolutionary potential of the Arab Spring, as well as the outcome of the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, and the still persisting Afghanistan War; it is not that military power has become irrelevant, but that it rarely in this historical period determines the political outcome; the great series of struggles in the last 60 years against colonialism ended with victory by the militarily weaker side, or by the side, as in India, that did not contest the imperial presence by violent forms of resistance; in contrast, hard power warfare and rulership were effective in earlier historical eras, and throughout the world;

 

        –AGAINST: the spreading of materialist consumerism as the new opiate of the people that hides the destructive and alienating dimensions of late modernity, and shields capitalist behavior from transformative critique; economic globalization as exhibited through franchise capitalism is the most widely endorsed regressive ideology operative in the world today, and is characteristic in different formats of the two leading exponents of the capitalist path: the United States and China. The absence of a counter-ideology of wide applicability after the Soviet collapse combined with discrediting a socialist ethos as alternative foundation for economic and political activity and organization has contributed to a widespread mood of resignation (‘there are no alternatives’). Replacing despair with hope is indispensable if new

globally attractive forms of emancipatory politics are to emerge and evolve.

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Comments on Legitimacy Wars as the encompassing form of struggle:

 

–an overriding recognition of the historical ascendancy of soft power;

–tactical and strategic commitments to nonviolence, although not unconditionally;

–crucial emphasis on gaining the high moral ground to widen popular appeal,

and use of law as an instrument to mobilize support, especially international law (‘lawfare’ as an approved modality of struggle);

–use of international arenas, whether regional or global, local or national, to wage symbolic struggles on behalf of legitimate claims, with a special stress on the symbolic significance of gaining support in the United Nations;

–understanding that most struggles for legitimate goals are non-territorial in relation to the symbolic and soft power battlefields that give potency to public opinion, to exemplary leadership (e.g Gandhi, Nelson Mandela); to tactics such as boycott, divestment, and sanctions, and to the certification of the moral and legal authority of grievances and claims (e.g. the Goldstone Report);

–patience and perseverance  as cardinal political virtues, along with the realization that legitimacy wars can be lost as well as won, with outcomes contingent on many contextual factors (e.g. self-determination for Tibetans, Chechens; indigenous peoples);

–a vision of the goal that includes reconciliation, accountability, and forgiveness, with the realization that there will be tensions and contradictions present in clearing the path forward, away from conflict, toward sustainable and just peace.

 

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These notes are meant as tentative and conversational expressions of an emergent political point of view, and will be revised in response to commentary by others. Obviously, also, there is no pretension on my part of comprehensiveness, or else many other issues would have been addressed: struggles against various types of patriarchy; the need to renounce nuclear weaponry, and work toward a phased process of nuclear disarmament, as well as other aspects of demilitarization; extending rights of self-determination to indigenous peoples variously situated; and establishing institutional arrangements giving opportunities for popular and direct representation of the peoples of the world (e.g. a UN Parliament of Peoples); building in all social spaces substantive democracy based on the equality of persons, reverence for the natural environment, and celebration of diverse spiritual and religious traditions. A cosmopolitan ethos that affirms love of self and others, tradition and otherness, and the familiar and the exotic.

Is The State a Monster? Pro and Contra Nietzsche

16 Jun images-3

In Part One of  Friederich Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra there is a particularly provocative section entitled ‘Of the New Idol.’ Remembering that this pivotal writing of the great German thinker/philosopher, so often misinterpreted, was written in 1881, it is surprising how relevant and invigorating its strong language remains in 2011. In his Introduction to the Penguin edition of Zarathustra, R.J. Hollingdale, the distinguished Nietzsche scholar and translator writes, “[t]he book’s worst fault is excess.” But excess can also be constructive, making us think harder. The cultural historian, Norman O. Brown, once remarked during a lecture that “[i]n psychoanalysis only the exaggerations are valuable.” Why? It makes us consider even awkward realities beneath the surface that are usually outside the box of what is treated as ‘responsible debate’ according to establishment pundits who set themselves up to be the arbiters of convention at a given society, at a given time. The dynamics of denial, so well known to psychologists, are a particularly virulent mechanism by which we protect our comfort zone from intrusion by inconvenient truths.

 

            It should be understood that Zarathustra as a character in the treatise is presented as the prophetic voice of Nietzsche, the person who stands outside and in solitude so as to understand better what is taking place inside, a voice that is shrill with anger, impassioned by conviction, and dedicated to truth-telling, however heretical. It should be remembered that Nietzsche was experiencing a young German state that was seeking unity by promoting an intense cult of nationalism that would eventuate in self-destructive major wars twice in the 20th century. Also, Nietzsche’s pre-existentialist outlook emphasized the absence of metaphysical guidance in our life experience. We are on our own, and cannot validly rely on church or state to shape our own future. We cannot, without false conscience, escape the burdens of freedom and responsibility. Our lives unfold as if on a pathless journey unassisted by reliable signposts. In other words, it takes courage and strength to live life authentically. In this regard, subjection to the will of the state was, and remains, a prevalent and unacceptable form of escape from these burdens.

 

Such as escape is often glorified as ‘patriotism,’ underscoring the stark difference between the obedient subject and the conscience-stricken citizen. Most individuals in sovereign states are willing or unwilling subjects, few are willing to risk the travails of citizenship so conceived. The risings in Tunisia and Egypt, regardless of what will happens during the long morning after, can be understood as spontaneous, unexpected, and brace embrace of citizenship under most difficult conditions, risking a life-threatening punitive response by challenging the authority of the repressive regime in power.

 

            In “Of the New Idol” Nietzsche exclaims: “The state? What is that? Well then! Now open your ears, for now I shall speak to you of the death of peoples.” The passage goes on, “[t]he state is the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly it lies, too; and this lie creeps from its mouth: ‘I, the state, am the people.” In this theatrical language Nietzsche is reminding us that for many the state becomes an idol to be unconditionally obeyed as if an infallible god, a forfeiture of freedom, a renunciation of citizenship in a humane political community, and a voluntary acceptance of subjugation of the spirit. Such a  ‘patriotic’ process has drastically diminished the quality of democratic life almost everywhere, and has given the state a green light to wage wars of choice, regardless of their bloody consequences.

 

            The coldness of the state, so far as human solidarity is concerned, is often most vividly revealed by extreme behavior: the Nazi death camps, the atomic bombs dropped on Japanese cities, the genocidal dispossession of indigenous peoples throughout the world, the cruelties of colonial rule, the long siege imposed on the people of Gaza, and on and on. The United States, claiming the mantle of leader of ‘the free world,’ remains ready to incinerate tens of millions of innocent civilians for the sake of regime survival for itself and allied governments. What could be colder? What could be more anti-human?

 

            Yet this kind of violence is always rationalized by reference to the evil of the other, which is supposed to contrast with the good of the state. Yet we find that the protected national population (composed of patriots) is not treated much better. The person of conscience who speaks in public against a war of aggression being waged by his own government can be charged with treason if the message is viewed as giving aid and comfort to ‘the enemy,’ and sentenced to death in many countries. The crime of treason is another symbolic expression of the coldness of the state, as are the tactics often exhibited in a civil war or in violent responses to insurgent challenges. Current events also manifest this icy coldness of the state: shooting unarmed demonstrators in the towns and cities of Syria and Libya, or along the borders of Israel.  This coldness that Nietzsche so resented is acutely present when those who press their grievances peacefully against the state are met with violence.

 

            And yet we must be careful. Nietzsche’s excess, however eye-opening, is still excel. History vindicates the case for limited government. We need protection to live moderate and satisfying lives, to avoid crippling feuds. Nietzsche, shouting to be heard, exaggerated in some ways that are not instructive. We must not deify the state, or renounce our responsibilities as citizens to speak truthfully, or free the government from its obligations at home and abroad to act within the law, but even most of those among us who try to be citizens in the proper sense would still not opt for the chaos of an ungoverned social order if given a free choice. Our task is to build a just and ethically accountable state, not to abandon the enterprise as futile.  It is not a middle ground that we seek that is content with more moderate forms of secular forms of idolatry. The struggle I support is what the French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, called for, I believe, when speaking of ‘the democracy to come.’

 

            We need to listen carefully to the words of Nietzsche, but not be seduced by them to indulge idolatry in its negative form. To remove the blindfold, and see the state as the coldest of monsters is a necessary wakeup call for which we should thank Nietzsche for, even now, 140 years after Zarathustra was published.  And yet we also need to resist the temptation to fall into a deeper sleep by adopting a posture of unrealizable and unacceptable negation of this strange political creature called the state. In the end, the state is not a monster, but a work in progress.     

 

 

Interpreting the AKP Victory in Turkey

13 Jun forumdasnetturkiyesecim


            The following post was written jointly with Hilal Elver, who is a Turkish scholar and public intellectual. It offers commentary on the recent AKP victory, which is viewed as a significant and hopeful development in Turkish, and regional, politics. The map above shows the electoral results by reference to party affiliation and place. Orange on the map indicates areas won by the AKP, red by the CHP, White designates areas where independent candidates representing Kurdish minorities were victorious.

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            It is the first time since the founding of the republic by Kemal Ataturk that such widespread international interest was aroused by Turkey’s June 12th elections. Naturally it is a time for celebration by the AKP in view of its landslide victory, a vindication of its overall economic and political approach over the past nine years. It is also an endorsement of its creative foreign policy that had given Turkey such a prominent place on regional and global diplomatic maps for the first time in its republican history.

 

            This afterglow of electoral victory should not obscure the challenges that lie ahead for the AKP. The most important of these involve finally providing the large Kurdish minority with secure cultural and political rights that to be trusted, would need to be vested in a new constitution. There is wide agreement in Turkey that the existing 1982 constitution, reflecting the approach taken by oppressive leaders of a military coup, needs to be replaced, but there are serious divisions among Turks with respect to the substantive content of such a new constitution. The secular opposition, as represented by the CHP, remains particularly worried about an alleged danger of the Putinization of the Turkish government if a switch is made from a parliamentary to a presidential system. More concretely, the AKP opposition believes that Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s harbors authoritarian dreams that could be fulfilled if Turkey were to follow the French presidential model.

 

Yet there should be less worry for two main reasons. Firstly, the AKP while winning 325 seats in parliament fell well short of securing the 367 seats needed for the parliamentary supermajorities that would have allowed it to decide on its own the contents of a new constitution or even of the 330 seats necessary for it to be able to write a constitution that would become the law of the land after it received approval in a national referendum. Without this degree of parliamentary control, the AKP will not be able to produce a constitution without the cooperation of the other parties represented in the parliament, especially the CHP, and that bodes well, particularly if the opposition acts responsibly by offering constructive cooperation.

 

And secondly, Erdogan in his victory speech went out of his way to reassure the country that constitutional reform would be a consensual process protective of diverse life styles and framed so as to achieve acceptance and justice for the entire society. At the moment of victory Erdogan seemed unexpectedly sensitive to criticism of his supposedly arrogant political style, and took the high road of moderation and humility. He seemed intent on convincing the Turkish public as a whole that he respected the secular principles that had dominated political life since the time of Ataturk, and that the country would become more pluralistic than ever in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

 

            It is not just Turks who should welcome this AKP victory. The electoral outcome provides the Middle East with an extremely positive example of dynamic democracy at a time of unresolved internal struggles throughout the region. The steady and helpful diplomatic hand of Turkey offers an attractive alternative to anxieties and memories associated with American and European interventions and alignments in the region. Turkey is a vibrant society with a flourishing economy that has managed to follow a democratic path to political stability and an independent course in foreign policy, and that offers an inspiring example for others to follow according to their various national circumstances.

 

            There are many uncertainties that cloud prospects for the future. Turkey faces the consequences of an unresolved bloody conflict in neighboring Syria, including the challenge of managing a massive inflow of refugees fleeing the killing fields. There are also the risks of an escalated confrontation with Iran arising from the Israel/United States hard power response to Iran’s nuclear program. This could ignite a war that engulfs the entire region with a variety of disastrous effects. In addition, the tense relations between Ankara and Tel Aviv are likely to be further stressed in coming weeks as preparation for a Second Freedom Flotilla go forward.

 

            Yet the sun shines brighter on the morning after these Turkish elections. Voters have affirmed an approach to Turkey’s internal and international policies premised on an inclusive approach to peace, justice, and rights. To build on this mandate, and to do so in a manner that is convincing to the majority of Turkish citizens, will create progress in the country and hope for the region. There will be mistakes and setbacks, but the orientation and vision of the AKP leadership is one of the most encouraging political developments of this still young 21st century. 

 

            The Prime Minister’s victory address from the balcony of AKP headquarters, what he calls a “mentorship speech” was the culmination of the long and steady rise of the AKP over the past decade– from 34% of the vote in 2002 to 47% in 2007, and now almost 50% in 2011. With some irony, this latest result did not give the AKP more seats in the Parliament due to recent changes in the electoral system of representation that had been decreed by the Higher Election Board, a part of the state bureaucracy known to be hostile to the AKP. While this restructuring that had hardly been noticed when it took place, hurt the AKP (326 rather than 341), while it helped to the CHP (rising from 112 to 135), and the BDP (Peace and Democracy Party) that helped elect Kurdish independent candidates. As well, the rightest party, National Movement Party (MHP), cleared the 10% threshold, winning 13% of the vote, which produces 53 seats in the new parliament.

 

            The Prime Minister interpreted these results sympathetically, telling the public that he heard the voice of people as demanding consensus rather than a bestowal of unitary power on one party. In his words: “Our nation assigned us to draft a new constitution. They gave us a message to build the new constitution through consensus and negotiation..We will seek the broadest consensus.” The word ‘compromise’ was mentioned three times in the speech.

 

 Erdogan also tried to calm the political waters roiled by inflamed campaign rhetoric when he declared that “[i]ncendiary speeches given during the campaign should be forgotten.” This is an encouraging start for the next phase in the process of constructing a democracy that responds to the realities of the dive rse peoples living in Turkey. At one point he promised that the constitution “will address everybody’s demands for freedom, democracy, peace and justice, and each identity and each value.” It is the last phrase that is most relevant as an indication of a resolve to move beyond the unitary ideas of Kemalist Turkey that still animate the ultra-nationalist MHP that during the election campaign reaffirmed its unshakeable belief in “one identity (Turk), one state (Turkey), and one language (Turkish).” Such a rigid position seems impossible to reconcile with the Erdogan consensus approach that was explicitly directed at the quest for distinct cultural and political rights by a series of Turkish minorities, most significantly, the Kurds. Also mentioned by Erdogan were Arabs, Circassians, Georgians, Roma, Alevis, and Laz. The Prime Minister insisted that hereafter “all citizens will be first class,” which seemed to be making an historic commitment to equality between Turks and non-Turks in all phases of national life.

 

There are additional hopeful signs for Turkey’s future. 78 women were elected to the parliament, significantly more than ever before. Perhaps, finally, the headscarf issue will be resolved in the direction of freedom of religion and the rights of women. Turkish religiously observant Muslim women have suffered the punitive effects of the headscarf ban in public sector activities, including institutions of higher learning, for far too long. The discriminatory nature of the current policy is dramatized by the unassailed freedom of the AKP men who lead the government despite being as religiously observant as their wives.

 

Moreover, this parliament will be robustly diverse because of the many new faces, including the former left student leader who spent many years in jail( Ertugrul Kurkcu), several CHP members who are in prison, being accused of anti-state activity in the Ergenekon case, and Leyla Zana, the internationally known Kurdish parliamentarian who was originally elected in 1991 and arrived in Parliament wearing a Kurdish flag bandana and refusing to take an oath of loyalty to the Turkish state. After many years, some of them in jail, Zana is again in parliament. A few days ago on TV she joked: “Perhaps this time I will come with a headscarf,” implying that the individual rights of everyone should be protected, and those who wear headscarves should not be excluded.

 

As the most popular and admired leader in the region, Erdogan did not forget to send a message to peoples of the Middle East, mentioning several cities and countries by name, including places in occupied Palestine, suggesting rather dramatically that these places will be considered under the same banner of concern as Turkish cities. In a rhetorical flourish Erdogan insisted that the outcome of the elections in Turkey was a victory “for Bosnia as much as Istanbul, Beirut as much as Izmir, Damascus as much as Ankara.” While somewhat hyperbolic, such a display of internationalism was new in Turkish politics, and signifies the rise of Turkey as a diplomatic force beyond its borders.

 

            Erdogan somewhat unexpectedly also recalled a dark episode in Turkey’s past, specifically what happened in 1960 when a military coup not only ousted a democratically elected government headed by the Democratic Party, but executed three of its political leaders, including the Prime Minister, Adnan Menderes, because it dared to challenge the supremacy of the military by reducing its budget.  As with the AKP, the Menderes leadership had governed Turkey for three consecutive terms, winning elections by overwhelming majorities. Erdogan was conveying his sense that the struggle to achieve Turkish democracy was long and painful.  He was also indirectly reminding his audience that the ‘deep state’ was no longer in a position to frustrate the will of the people. All in all, the message was upbeat as befits an electoral victory of this magnitude.

 

            A final observation takes note that June 12 was also the day on which Iranian elections were held two years ago. What is so startling is the contrast between the joyful expectations of the majority of the Turkish people after the electoral results were announced as compared to the anger and despair of the Iranian majority who believed for good reason that the regime in Tehran had fraudulently deprived them of an electoral victory. This difference between a governing process that periodically legitimates itself through free and fair multi-party elections and a governing process that lacks the consent of the public and must rule by fear and force may be the most basic fault line in domestic politics, and serves as the litmus test of the Arab Spring in the near future.

A Postscript on Turkish Elections: Retraction, Apology, and Clarification

11 Jun

Hilal Elver and I are grateful to several readers of our blog that pointed out that The Economist does, in fact, routinely make endorsements of candidates and parties in foreign elections, including those of Northern liberal democracies. We reacted too impulsively to the uproar in the Turkish media that did find The Economist editorial insulting and interventionary without ourselves adequately checking the practice of the magazine. The Turkish reaction, incidentally, spanned the entire spectrum of opinion from left to right, from socially conservative to secular permissive. We say this without wanting to explain away our own responsibilities to know what we are talking about!

While apologizing for this mistaken way of framing the issue our basic argument still holds. The Economist tone and phrasing still strikes us as ‘Orientalist,’ and seems different in style and language than its standard endorsements of co-equal countries: U.S., Canada, Israel. Turkey‘s sensitivities are historically frayed by European penetrations of their sovereign space during the decades of Ottoman decline in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the Turkish reaction reflected this sensitivity, not inappropriately, in our view. Post-colonial consciousness, even for countries such as Turkey that were never actually colonized, is part of our 21st century reality. And this sensitivity may be underscored by the trials and tribulations heaped on Turkey recently by the European Union accession demands that seem endless and do not disclose much light at the end of the tunnel.

A further point of clarification concerns the main substantive foundation of The Economist recommendation of a vote against the AKP: namely, the desirability of slowing down the Erdogan drive toward authoritarianism via constitutional reform, transforming Turkey present parliamentary system into a presidential system along the lines of France, which would enable Erdogan to remain the Turkish leader for a further ten years after his present term expires. We endorsed, in general terms, this concern, but would now qualify it to the extent that much criticism of the AKP, and Erdogan in particular, has been exaggerated, and that there are indications that the AKP leadership is itself rather divided on whether constitutional reform should move in the direction of a presidential system. There seem to be more checks and balances within the AKP than is admitted by its fiercest secular critics.

With the election results expected in the next few days, it will become clear whether this issue of AKP dominance in real or imagined, and in the months ahead, what the shape the needed process of constitutional reform will take.

 

Turkey’s June 12 Elections and Eurocentrism

9 Jun

The following post is written in collaboration with Hilal Elver, my Turkish wife. It is posted a few days before Turkish elections this Sunday that will have a great impact on Turkey‘s political future. As a sign of changes in the world, the pre-election attention given to these elections in Turkey is a notable example. Turkey has emerged as ‘a success story’ in a global setting where most of the news is interpreting various forms of failure, especially in meeting global challenges such as food security, climate change, and economic instability and recession.

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            The Economist leader headline in its June 4th issue is revealing: “The best way for Turks to promote democracy would be to vote against the ruling party.” It reveals a mentality that has not shaken itself free from the paternalism and entitlements of the bygone colonialist days. What makes such an assertion so striking is that The Economist would know better than to advise American or Canadian or Israeli citizens how to vote. And it never did venture such an opinion on the eve of the election of such reactionary and militarist figures as George W. Bush, Stephen Harper, or Benjamin Netanyahu. Are the people of Turkey really so politically backward as to require guidance from this bastion of Western elite opinion so as to learn what is in their own best interest?

 

            Surely it is a strange recommendation even putting aside its interventionary aspects. As The Economist itself admits the progress Turkey has made internally and internationally since the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002. Its economy has flourished, civilian control of the governing process has been greatly strengthened, creative efforts have been undertaken to solve outstanding conflicts involving the Kurdish minority and Cyprus, and Turkey has fashioned a creative and constructive foreign policy that has greatly enhanced its regional and global reputation. With such an unquestioned record of achievement, it seems strange to go so far beyond calling attention to some serious lingering problems in Turkey by instructing the people of Turkey to vote for an opposition party that attacks the AKP relentlessly but offers no alternative vision for how it might improve upon its policies.

 

As Stewart Patrick put it recently in the pages of Foreign Affairs, the influential American journal on global policy: “The dramatic growth of Brazil, China, and India—and the emergence of middle-tier economies such as Indonesia and Turkey—is transforming the geopolitical landscape and testing the institutional foundation of the post-World War II liberal order.” Notable here is the recent acceptance of Turkey as a major regional and global actor, something that was not present in the political imagination before this period of AKP leadership.

 

And if we look beyond Eurocentric perspectives, the rise of Turkey is even more dramatic. In the Middle East, it is Turkey, although outside the Arab orbit, that has most inspiring to those leading the movements that have produced the Arab Spring. Public opinion polls in the region again and again rank Recip Tayyip Erdogan as the world’s most admired leader. It is a mistake to suggest that these movements will opt for ‘the Turkish model,’ as each national situation has its own originality, but all share a passionate insistence that destiny of the country will be shaped by its own people according to their values and aspirations, and without imitation of others. It is possible to learn from the Turkish experience in dealing with such tendentious issues as the future participation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egyptian politics or the desirability of pursuing a foreign policy based on ‘zero problems with neighbors’ while maintaining this fierce insistence on the nationalist character of political transformation.

 

At the same time, in a world lacking effective and legitimate global leadership, it would be a mistake to overlook the enormous contributions made by Turkish diplomacy over the course of the prior decade. AKP foreign policy, as principally shaped by Ahmet Davutoglu, provides a reasoned, peace oriented voice of intelligent moderation that draws upon deep historical and cultural affinities, and suggests a very different political profile than that associated with such other regional voices as those emanating from Iran and Saudi Arabia.

 

Such an affirmation of the AKP achievements is not meant to be an uncritical endorsement of its policies. There are disturbing features of its approach to internal dissent, including the imprisonment of a large number of its domestic critics, especially journalists, and recent examples of police brutality in responding to anti-government demonstrations. There are also widely discussed worries about Mr. Erdogan’s ambitions, contentions that he is a closet autocrat as well as an immensely skillful politician in the populist mode, and it might be reassuring to the electorate as a whole if the elections do not give the AKP a parliamentary two-thirds super-majority that would allow the amendment of the 1982 Constitution without the need for a ratifying referendum. The fear is that with such control, 376 members out of a total of 550, the AKP could push through a presidential system that would allow Mr. Erdogan to become the dominant political leader in the country for another ten years. However, a new constitution is necessary. There is little disagreement among the Turkish voters about the desirability of a new constitution to replace the outdated 1982 Constitution, a byproduct of military rule. Aside from its statist and ultra-nationalist features, the present Turkish constitution keeps alive unpleasant memories of repressive rule when abuse of the citizenry was the order of the day.

 

Secular Turks mainly worry about certain forms of constitutional reform that they fear will keep the AKP in power forever and will somehow challenge their European modernist life style by such measures as Internet censorship instilling Islamic morals with respect to sexual content or impose restrictions on the public availability of alcohol. In the background, as well, is an unresolved struggle for economic and cultural primacy among elites with different geographic and class roots in Turkish society, the AKP bringing to the fore new energies that come from the more traditional atmosphere of Anatolian towns and villages, as opposed to the CHP elites that are concentrated in the main urban centers of western Turkey: Istanbul, Izmir, and Ankara.

 

Instead of telling Turks how to vote, The Economist might have more appropriately warned Turkish voters  (if their concern was the future wellbeing of the country) against the perils of the free market economy that the AKP has so enthusiastically endorsed, and especially encouraged while dramatically expanding trade with neighboring states, especially to its East.   Despite the impressive economic growth of recent years, there seems to be too great a readiness in Ankara to go along with the sort of neoliberal globalization that minimizes the regulation of markets, fails to address climate change, indulges speculative finance, and generates ever greater disparities between rich and poor within and among countries.

 

Even here in relation to the world economy the Turkish record is better than its harshest critics are ready to admit. Recently Turkey took over from Belgium, itself symbolic of a power ship on the global stage, as host for the next ten years of the UN efforts to assist the poorest countries in the world, known as the Least Developed Countries or LDCs. It hosted a mega-conference of 192 member states of the UN in Istanbul last month, and made it clear through statements by Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Davutoglu to the assembled delegations that Turkey’s vision of its role was to make sure that economic justice was being achieved through this UN process, an assessment that took issue with the efforts of the prior 40 years of grand rhetoric and miserable performance. Expressive of this intention, the Turkish Foreign Minister established an Intellectual Forum of independent academic specialists gathered from around the world that ran sessions parallel to the inter-governmental conference, offering a critical perspective on the entire UN approach to extreme poverty and societal vulnerability.

 

Perhaps, the greatest deficiency in the current Turkish political scene is not the quality of AKP leadership, but the absence of a responsible and credible opposition that offers the citizens some alternative policies on key questions. Until the current elections the main opposition party, Republican People’s Party (CHP), has been a party of ‘No,’ agitating secular anxieties about ‘a second Iran’ and withholding all appreciation for what the governing party has managed to achieve. Turkey, as with any vibrant democracy, needs a robust opposition, preferably with a genuine social democratic orientation, both to heighten the quality of policy debate and to make the electoral process more responsive to the values of and challenges facing Turkish society, but this will not be achieved at this stage by voting the AKP out of power. We have the impression that its new leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, seeks to move the party’s program and tactics in this direction, and he has moved away from the polarizing language and approach of the impoverishing Baykal period of CHP decline, but dislodging the old guard of the party has limited the adjustment. In contrast, the Erdogan leadership has exhibited a pragmatic capability to respond intelligently to changes in the political setting.

 

The Economist and others outside of Turkey should certainly be free to comment on AKP policies and the record of its government, but telling voters how to vote goes too far, and recalls the worst sides of the European relationship to the Middle East. We live in an increasingly integrated and interconnected political, economic, and cultural global space within which critical dialogue and mutually beneficial cooperation are indispensable if the future holds any promise of becoming peaceful, fair, and sustainable for the peoples of the world. In this regard, it is crucial that the imperatives of such free expression be reconciled with respect for the dynamics of self-determination, above all the autonomy of national electoral procedures.  It is disappointing that Eurocentricism has not yet become an embarrassment for the editors of The Economist.   

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