World

Turkish Delight No More

The protests against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan mark a turning point in the country's democracy but find their roots in a complicated Cold War and Ottoman past. 

AP Images/Jodi Hilton
Observers of modern Turkey have long been fascinated by the rise of political Islam and uneasy about its ultimate trajectory under the leadership of Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan. While the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been instrumental in democratizing the country and ushering in key market reforms, success has bred contempt for the opposition and delusions of grandeur, which has a distinct pedigree in Turkish history. The ghosts of Turkey’s Ottoman past are haunting the streets of Istanbul, as the ongoing protests demonstrate that Erdogan might finally be losing his grip on power. In the annuls of Ottoman history, no figure is as divisive as Abdul Hamid II, the last great sultan of the Ottoman Empire. He is regarded as both the savior of the old Ottoman order and the quintessential modern authoritarian ruler, who deepened the legitimacy of the state by using Islam as a tool for generating popular support and hastened his own demise by tolerating no...

The War Next Door

Horrifying as the Syrian civil war is, Israel's best policy option is to stay out.

AP Images/Ariel Schalit
AP Images/Ariel Schalit In an age-long past—we're talking about more than two years ago—the country to Israel's northeast was ruled by a stable but despotic regime. After the battering that it took in its 1973 war with Israel, Syria carefully kept the de facto border quiet. But the regime outsourced the conflict to proxies such as Hezbollah and Hamas, so that the bloodletting between the countries never really stopped. Meanwhile the ruling Assad dynasty stockpiled missiles and poison gas. It would be hard to say that anyone in Israel is exactly nostalgic for those bad old days. Then again, it's hard to find anyone who expects better days ahead. The first thing that a local Syria-watcher or ex-general will tell you is that the Israeli government hasn't managed to decide what it wants to see happen in Syria. The second thing that she or he will say is that this doesn't really matter: Israel can't influence the outcome, and all the realistic possibilities look awful. Right now, even the...

Istanbul Rising

A stroll through the feverish streets of a city in turmoil.  

AP Images/Kaan Saganak
AP Images/ Kaan Saganak ISTANBUL—As I finished checking into my hotel Sunday in Istanbul’s Sisli neighborhood, a few miles from the Taksim area that has been the epicenter of recent protests rocking Turkey, the hotel clerk, without being asked, pulled out and opened a city map. I expected the usual ritual: He would point out the key points of tourist interest, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, the Hagia Sofia, the Grand Bazaar, and so on, and I would thank him. But he didn’t. Instead, he drew a circle around Taksim. “This is where the protests are,” he said, looking at me conspiratorially. “You going later?” I asked. “Yes,” he nodded. “We go every day.” The night before I arrived, in what many acknowledged was the worst night of violence yet, the police had descended on Gezi Park—the small green space next to Taksim Square whose imminent bulldozing sparked the protests initially—with water cannon and tear gas in an attempt to clear out protesters. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan...

Revolution Until Imprisonment

The documentary The Revolutionary, which documents the life of Charleston native and Chinese Communist Party member Sidney Rittenberg, looks at how political zeal becomes zealotry.

Flickr/ Rosario Ingles
S idney Rittenberg's face fills the screen in a college auditorium where The Revolutionary is being shown. His eyebrows are bold brushstrokes of white above narrowed, intent eyes. His lips are firm. He has the wrinkles and gnarled neck of an old man. He does not, however, look like a man who is 90 years old, or like one battered by spending 16 of those years in solitary confinement in China for the offense, ultimately, of believing too deeply in the Party and the revolution. "If you put one drop into the long river of human history, that's immortal ... You either make a difference or you don't make a difference," Rittenberg says to the camera in his Southern gentleman's drawl. This is his credo. Outside the auditorium windows, night has fallen. Rittenberg's larger-than-life face is reflected, translucent, in the glass, as if his memory were speaking out of the darkness. "History," he says wryly, "rolled right over me." The Revolutionary , recently released, is Sidney Rittenberg's...

"Pussy Riot Secret Headquarters,” Revealed

HBO’s documentary of the Russian performance artists is a riot for punk rock lovers and politicos alike.

AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky
AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev, File "T hese people made all of you say it out loud," Vladimir Putin tells a foreign interviewer he's just discomfited by asking for a Russian translation of "Pussy Riot" in HBO's remarkable new doc, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, airing Monday and well worth your time. He thinks he's scoring a point against Western media's vestigial squeamishness, and he's actually got one: The New York Times might never have printed the word "Pussy" otherwise. Still, could activists ask for a better endorsement from their nemesis? "These people made all of you say it out loud" ought to be carved on a monument someday, and it won't be Putin's. Pussy Riot, you'll recall, is a Moscow-based aggregation of female performance artists whose three foremost members got arrested in February 2012. They'd disrupted services at an Orthodox cathedral with an abortive—the whole thing lasted 30 seconds—rendition of "A Punk Prayer," which summoned the Virgin Mary to feminism while slagging the...

Turkey's George W. Bush?

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is reacting to his country's massive protests much like our 43rd  president did in the face of Iraq War dissent. 

AP Images/Gerald Herbert
AP Images/Gerald Herbert In February 2003, massive rallies were held worldwide— including one of some 200,000 people in Washington, DC—to protest the impending invasion of Iraq by a United States-led coalition. President George W. Bush’s response when asked whether the protests had influenced his thinking at all was to scoff at them, saying “It's like deciding, well, I'm going to decide policy based upon a focus group.” It was standard Bush. The decider had decided. And he had his political mandate: Polls consistently showed that a majority of Americans supported the war . The views of the minority could therefore be dismissed. I was reminded of Bush’s dismissal of protesters’ opinions this weekend, when I read of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s remarks on the protests that have engulfed his country over the past several days. Dismissing the protesters as “a bunch of looters” without a coherent message, Erdogan declared, “We will build a mosque in Taksim and we do not...

A German Tea Party?

What the popular rise of a new anti-euro political party says about fraying nerves in Europe's economic powerhouse. 

AP Images/Roland Welhrauch
AP Photo/Franka Bruns A new anti-euro political party, AfD (Alternative for Germany) is gaining ground in the polls, threatening Angela Merkel’s ruling center-right coalition just as the campaign season heats up ahead of general elections in the fall. While the political establishment in Berlin is only beginning to take this new brand of conservative populism seriously, the rise of the AfD is sure to entrench austerity politics at a time when the opposite is needed. Germany just got its own Tea Party. At the AfD’s first party convention this past April, there was little of the pageantry we’ve come to associate with the Tea Party: no Colonial-era uniforms, no powdered wigs, no effigies of chancellor Merkel burning in the hotel foyer, only a few guys in T-shirts depicting the European Union as a Stalinist dictatorship (“(E)USSR”) and one gentlemen with a nationalist tricolor sash of gold, red, and black. Most of the 1,300 delegates, a vast sea of wizened, grey-haired men, looked...

Get Your Hands Off My War on Terror!

AP Images/Holly Ramer
AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File P resident Barack Obama’s speech at the National Defense University last week represented the latest and probably most significant rhetorical shift away from the “war on terror” since he took office in January 2009. “Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue,” he said in one of the speech’s key passages. “But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.” “Core al-Qaeda is a shell of its former self,” the president said. “ Groups like AQAP [Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that label themselves al-Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States.” Time will tell whether Obama puts real weight behind some of the changes articulated in the speech. There’s no question that it marked another important turn toward a more nuanced assessment of the threat posed by Islamic terrorism. But like...

But Austerity Works So Well!

AP Photo/Menahem Kahana, Pool
AP Photo/Michael Sohn, pool A familiar tale: In a small country on the Mediterranean rim, the government chooses to solve an economic crisis by enacting an austerity budget. Regressive taxes will rise. Aid to families will be cut. Less will be left of the welfare state built decades ago. The novice finance minister promises this will heal the economy. As the people of that unhappy land say: Happy are those who believe. The Mediterranean country in question, this time, is not Spain or Greece, but Israel. It is not facing a looming financial meltdown. The crisis amounts to a ballooning deficit—a danger, but not a collapse. Still, Benjamin Netanyahu's recently formed government has chosen a recipe of austerity. The specific ingredients of the Israeli version were chosen by Finance Minister Yair Lapid, the ex-talk show host whose new Yesh Atid (There Is a Future) party campaigned only a few months ago on fervent Facebook promises to protect the middle class. There are several implications...

Promoting Human Rights versus Promoting Prostitution

PEPFAR’s anti-prostitution “loyalty oath” is hindering aid groups’ efforts to help sex workers.

flickr/Wahid Adnan
PRNewsFoto/George W. Bush Institute P eople have always bought and sold sex, sometimes risking shame or punishment. But these days, simply helping a sex worker can have costly legal and financial consequences. Under the U.S.’s flagship international aid program on HIV and AIDS, an organization that gives out free condoms at a brothel, for example, might be deemed in violation of the program’s anti-prostitution policy, and, as a result, risk losing public funding. Public-health groups see this not only as an impediment on reaching the people most in need but as a threat to their freedom of speech. After several years of legal battles, the fight against the policy has now reached the Supreme Court, which is set to rule in late June on whether Washington can financially penalize organizations that defy its official stance against the sex trade. The rule, known as the anti-prostitution “loyalty oath,” was enacted in 2003 as part of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR),...

If at First You Don't Succeed, Bomb, Bomb Again

AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi
AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi I n testimony last week before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman made clear that the U.S. would continue to look for ways to raise the pressure on Tehran, even as it remained committed to a negotiated solution to the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program. But she also cautioned against steps that would foreclose diplomatic options or damage the international consensus that the administration has worked so effectively to forge. “As we move forward, it will be critical that we continue to move together and not take steps that undo the progress made so far,” Sherman said. Sherman was reiterating the consensus of the U.S. intelligence community: that the government of Iran, while continuing to move forward with its nuclear program and keeping its options open, has not yet made a decision to obtain a nuclear weapon. It shouldn’t be surprising that various members of...

Pakistan's Industry of Violence

AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad
AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad I was at an uncle’s house in Peshawar a couple of months ago when the windows began to rattle. One of my youngest cousins walked towards them, peering out nervously. “It’s an earthquake,” she said almost hopefully. I looked at her father who shook his head slowly, but only when his daughter had turned back to the window. It was as if he wanted her to believe that the quivering earth was the result of a mere natural disaster. And then the windows began to clatter again. The 14-year-old slunk onto the couch beside her father. Her sisters and mother filed in around the TV, scarves draped over their heads, lips moving in prayer. It didn’t take long for live coverage to begin. The site of the attack was the city airport, just a couple miles from where we were. Even more disconcerting, the rockets began to fire where, just a few minutes prior, my aunt had driven on her way home. Once we’d been watching long enough that the news reports had become repetitive—the same...

Do Drones Work?

AP Images/Eric Gay
Last week, the Congressional Progressive Caucus hosted an ad hoc hearing on the implications of U.S. drone policy. It was a follow-up of sorts to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in April examining the counterterrorism implications of drone strikes. The two hearings mark the first time Congress has explicitly scrutinized drones as a stand-alone issue; previous discussions were wrapped up in confirmation hearings and Rand Paul’s dramatic filibuster in March. But in narrowing the focus of the debate over drones to encompass only the moral gray areas of the Obama administration’s targeted killings policy, Congress is failing to ask more important questions. There’s no doubt that drone strikes can have horrific consequences. Beyond the disputed numbers of noncombatants killed, there are psychological consequences to consider as well. In the Senate hearing, Farea al-Muslimi, an American-educated Yemeni writer and activist, spoke eloquently of the heartbreak and fear that drones cause...

The Transgender Candidate

AP Photo/Shakil Adil
AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen D espite twin bombings at the Awami National Party offices in Karachi this Saturday—an inauspicious start to polling day—Bindiya Rana, one of Pakistan’s first transgender candidates, remained optimistic. Rana’s spent the last several weeks canvassing the alleys of district P.S. 114, handing out self-printed promotional material between concrete buildings under tangles of telephone wires. After several tense months—130 civilians have died in pre-election violence—she was deterred by neither the danger or her slim chances of winning. “The important thing is to face this world very boldly,” she said. In Pakistan, gender issues have historically been prone to violence— Malala Yousafzai made international news when she was shot on a school bus by the Taliban last year—but overall women’s rights have been slowly improving. The country appointed its first female foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, and data from the Election Commission show a 129 percent increase...

Why Israel Can't Be Part of Obama's Calculus on Syria

AP Photo
AP Photo/Ariel Schalit F rom Tel Aviv, so the usual map sites say, you could drive to Damascus in three hours and 20 minutes, if only there were no borders, barbed wire or war in the way. From vacation cottages in the Upper Galilee, where city people go to find some quiet, you can look across the Jordan to the ridge that barely blocks a view of the Syrian capital. Just past the horizon, impossibly close to us, people are killing their countrymen. Cities are being crushed into rubble. Israel is a place with very little agreement on anything. Perhaps the closest thing to a national emotional consensus is horror at what's happening in Syria. But there's also unusually wide agreement, especially among policy and strategic experts, that Israel can do pretty much nothing to affect the outcome of the Syrian conflict. At most, it can take limited steps to protect narrow Israeli security interests. For now, the government and military appear to be partners in this consensus. Put differently:...

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