New Age Islam Edit Bureau
31 October 2015
By John Muenzberg
Fundamental Liberties, Except If You Are Muslim
By Azrul Mohd Khalib
Russian Strategy in Syria
By Gwynne Dyer
Is Turkey Setting A Kurdish Trap?
By Fehim Taştekin
Turkey’s Problem with the US-Russia Plan
By Verda Özer
When the State Steals Newspapers
By Mustafa Akyol
The Sorry State Of Malaysian Politics
By Ann Martinez
So You Say Fethullah Gülen Is A Terrorist
By Bülent Korucu
October 30, 2015
The Interior Ministry has prepared a list of “terrorists,” showing well-respected Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen among the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) members.
Posters reminiscent of those that were affixed to walls of bus stations during the coup d'état of Sept. 12, 1980, are now decorating the pages of pro-government papers. Their headlines remind one of those of the Feb. 28 post-modern coup era. They are apparently enjoying the moment. Until very recently, they were praising the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leaders including Abdullah Öcalan, and now, in the same pages, they refer to Mr. Gülen as a terrorist.
They equate a person who inspired people to open up schools in Hakkari, Şemdinli and Cizre to those who establish terror camps. Is it Gülen's fault for encouraging people to work as teachers in Yüksekova when the Ministry of Education cannot send teachers there? Have you, the government, grown so unscrupulous as not to see the difference between the PKK, which has killed so many teachers to create a no-education zone in the region and those teachers who chose to work there risking their lives? Can't you differentiate between those who give children bombs and those who give them pens?
Your anger has dulled not only your conscience, but also your mind. And you have placed Gülen atop the red list -- showing the most dangerous criminals -- but put the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant's (ISIL) suicide bombers who killed around 150 citizens into the "less dangerous" blue list. You tried hard not to call ISIL a terrorist organization although it has killed our soldiers and police officers and raided our consulate in Mosul. After ISIL militants started to launch attacks inside our borders, you finally whispered in a low voice: "ISIL is a terrorist organization." What has Gülen done to attract the grudge that you withhold from ISIL? We don't know any crime of his other than encouraging the establishment of the schools to which you rush to send your kids. You failed to find any criminal content in the nurseries which were raided and searched by anti-terror police.
"Those sacrificial souls who shouldered everything that would make up a school and took it to Mongolia," former Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç once, with tears in his eyes, referred to those teachers of the school now linked to terrorism. Do you know that they are trying to market it as a crime as well? They are seeking ways to call support to world-class Turkish schools, which are run by Turkish entrepreneurs inspired by Mr. Gülen, as "terrorism." In such a case, Arınç would be sentenced to at least 10 years in prison on charges of praising the crime and the criminal! Recently, Arınç said: "Now, some people try to associate Gülen with a terrorist organization -- called pro-Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETÖ). There is no such reference in the National Security Policy Document or in the decisions of the National Security Council (MGK). There is no court decision. Rather, there is a Court of Cassation decision." He noted that he suspects there is an organization that tries to make this happen. Is that organization something like what Bediüzzaman Said Nursi would refer to as “secret subversion committee”?
By the way, there is a TL 4 million reward on offer for anyone who notifies the police of Gülen's whereabouts! I would imagine that interim Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who, along with his family, happened to visit Gülen not so long ago, may rush to become the first informer. That huge reward would be a good bonus for his nearing retirement. If Davutoğlu fails to remember Gülen's address, a long and comprehensive list of informers may be obtained from Google. The spin doctors who would heartily act as an informer abound. They may even present a photo as taken at the organization's cell after cutting the section showing them apart. If that doesn't work, you can ask the Doğan media for help.
If you believe you can toss this slander on Mr. Gülen, who was quick to strongly condemn all forms of terrorism disguised as promoting religious purposes, then go on. If you treat a person who swears that he hasn't killed even an insect knowingly in his life as equal to a person who killed hundreds of people, then it is up to you. But stop arguing that his opening of schools abroad is proof of his terrorist activities. Otherwise, you will continue to make Turkey feel ashamed on international platforms.
By John Muenzberg
OCTOBER 30, 2015
On June 17, 2015, nine people were killed in an Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The suspect in the case allegedly told police he committed the act to try and ignite a race war. Angry about race relations, he went into a church with a history of civil rights advocacy and killed nine non-combatants in the hope of changing public opinion and action, and changing it to one of violence. He has been charged with murder as a hate crime, but not terrorism.
One would assume that we all know what “terrorism” means, since we hear it and use the term frequently. We are fighting a war on terrorism, so we should be able to clearly define the term.
We all know what some examples of terrorism are. IRA Bombings, Suicide Bombings, 9/11. These are acts of terrorism. The difficult question is to determine what makes them terrorism, as opposed to simply breaking the law. While terrorist acts usually involve violence, most acts of violence are not considered terror.
The good news is that there are a number of internationally accepted definitions of “terrorism.” The bad news is that number is well over 200. In fact, different branches of the United States government have different definitions of terrorism. The State Department’s definition is different from the FBI’s definition.
Many people in the United States seem to equate terrorism with “bombs detonated by Muslim extremist groups,” or perhaps “acts done against the United States of America.” Yet, in general, these are not considered criteria for terrorism.
The basic framework for many definitions of terrorism are: 1) an act of violence; 2) committed against non-combatants; 3) for political motives. “Non-combatants” makes clear that this is not against the specific policymakers nor the military; violence against the military is traditionally classified as an act of war (although the state department makes further distinctions).
“Political motives” distinguishes terrorism from violence for personal gain or defense; murder for personal reasons is not a political motive.
The definition that the FBI uses is both more detailed and more broad. They substitute “crime” for violence. They also emphasize that the motive is for societal change, whether political, ideological, religious or other. They refer to citizens or the populace, rather than non-combatants. But the basic hallmarks are present.
Note that neither definition argues that the perpetrator must be part of an organization. Neither argues that the violence must be caused by religion. Neither argues that the terrorists must be foreigners. While many Americans focus on organized religious groups from overseas, a careful analysis of the definitions of terrorism should make clear that many domestic acts should also be considered terroristic, even if neither the FBI nor the media typically thinks so.
The murders in Charleston, South Carolina seem to fit this definition. After that event, six predominantly black churches were set on fire. More recently, churches near St. Louis, Missouri have been set on fire.
The fact that these are not caused by foreigners is not relevant. That these are not caused by Muslim extremists is not relevant. That these do not appear to be caused by members of a single organization is not relevant. What is relevant is that it is violence perpetrated against a specific group of civilians for the purpose of changing public opinion or policy. In this case, the public policy of the African-American community.
African Americans who seek equality will be punished. It’s is a violent way to silence a segment of society.
Fundamental Liberties, Except If You Are Muslim
By Azrul Mohd Khalib
October 3, 2015
OCTOBER 3 — The Federal Court gave its decision earlier this week on ZI Publications and Ezra Zaid’s bid to have Section 16 of the Shariah Criminal Offences (Selangor) Enactment 1995 declared invalid. The ruling to strike out the challenge was unfortunately not unexpected.
The law as it exists today; particularly Article 74(2) under the Federal Constitution does in fact give state assemblies the power to make laws on matters falling under the state government’s jurisdiction in the Ninth Schedule. This includes laws to punish Muslims for offences relating to the precepts of Islam.
Section 16 (1) of the Shariah Criminal Offences (Selangor) Enactment 1995 makes it a crime for Muslims to publish, distribute or possess publications against Islamic law, with this offence punishable with a fine not exceeding RM3,000 or two years’ prison, or both.
Section 16(2) empowers the state Shariah Court to order any book, document or other form of record to be “forfeited and destroyed”, even when nobody is convicted under Section 16(1).
The unanimous conclusion of the justices that the 1995 state law was not unconstitutional and that it fell within the jurisdiction of the state government was correct from a point of law.
For a long time now, we have existed with the unfortunate reality that there are many double standards or dualities in the lives that we live in this country. But when you are a Muslim, the dichotomy is further enhanced and further pronounced when there are laws for everyone and then there are additional laws for Muslims.
Fundamental liberties which are guaranteed under the Constitution with additional ifs, buts and caveats.
But I suspect that the original framers of the Federal Constitution never expected or anticipated that religion would be used as a tool to inflict tyranny or oppression on its citizens of a particular faith.
Because this is what this is. Religious tyranny and oppression with a touch of Islamofascism.
Consider the book in question, the Bahasa Melayu translation of Allah, Liberty and Love. How and where Allah, Kebebasan dan Cinta is contrary to Islamic law has never been fully explained, articulated or even rationalised by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais).
After three years of following the Nik Raina-Borders case which only ended this year and involves the same book, I can say with confidence that in the case of this publication, the religious authorities have very little understanding of what they have deemed as being against Islam. In fact, I doubt that they have actually read it. Jakim’s supposedly had a report on the book but it was never made publically available.
If they did read it, they would find that it contained the author’s personal reflections of Islam and not a book of religious instruction intended to deviate Muslims from their faith and insult Islam, as it is claimed. In fact, the English version was in circulation for a couple of years before it was published in Bahasa Melayu.
But then the content was never the real issue. This has always been about the author, Irshad Manji. She is a Canadian Muslim who is also a lesbian feminist and an advocate for LGBT issues. A Muslim woman. Liberal. Feminist. Lesbian. An advocate for the protection of sexual minorities.
Five things which are enough to make a few sphincter muscles oscillate and get jubahs in a twist. The living embodiment of all those boogeymen khutbahs which demonise those values which Irshad Manji champions and lives by.
From this case, it can be presumed that Section 16 of the Shariah Criminal Offences (Selangor) Enactment 1995 provides absolute power to the religious authorities to determine whether or not a publication is deemed un-Islamic.
The power is arbitrary and as we have seen from examples in the past, often subjected to the whims and fancies of those who are proud to be holier than thou.
Maybe one day the Brothers Grimm stories and books of fairy tales might be banned. After all, it has The Three Little Pigs (babi, enough said), and Snow White and her seven dwarves (khalwat, with not one man but seven!).
The religious authorities have rarely been in the habit of explaining, rationalising or justifying their actions. In fact, they have worked hard to ensure that they won’t have to. One such example can be seen in the existence of laws such as the one in Kedah.
In April 2012, an amendment was made by the Kedah state government to the Mufti and Fatwa (Kedah Darul Aman) Enactment 2008 and was passed unanimously by the state legislative assembly. The amendment, makes any fatwa decided by the state Mufti or Fatwa Committee, whether gazetted or not, unable to be challenged, appealed, reviewed, denied or questioned in any civil or shariah court. There is a version of this arguably unconstitutional law in most states in this country today.
Our religious officials are not wanting to be held accountable, are acting with impunity and are forcing others into unthinking and unquestioning submission, compliance and obedience. Many of them actually believe that they can do no wrong if they act in the name of Islam.
The reality is that there is very little to provide a check and balance of the religious authorities.
As long as Muslims in this country continue to allow themselves to be led like sheep, refuse or lack the courage to challenge and ask questions, and permit intimidation and fear mongering in the name of religion, they will be vulnerable to religious tyranny and curtailing of their freedoms as a citizen of this country.
We must discard this naïve belief that anything clothed in the language and done in the name of Islam cannot possibly be wrong. After all, those who are the self-anointed and self-appointed champions are themselves human and not infallible.
The paternalistic mentality and feudalistic mindset in this country continue to permit the erosions of our institutions and fundamental freedoms which are at risk of being trampled under the jackboots of those who claim to act in God’s name.
In this situation of ZI Publications and Ezra Zaid, as was true for the Nik Raina-Borders case, the issue of enlightenment and rational behaviour takes a backseat to the need for the religious authorities to dominate and to win.
Russian Strategy in Syria
By Gwynne Dyer
Oct 30, 2015
It's easy to define the American strategy in Syria, although it is more of a wish-list than an actual strategy. It is "containment" of the nightmarish Islamic State (IS) that now controls eastern Syria and western Iraq, together with the overthrow of the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad and its replacement by "moderate" rebel forces. But what is the Russian strategy?
It is now a month since Russian planes began bombing both Islamic State forces and the "moderate" rebels. For every Russian bomb that has fallen on IS troops 10 have fallen on the "moderates," because it's the latter groups that have made most of the big advances against the Assad regime since last spring. The regime's troops have now taken some territory back, but they lack the strength to reconquer all of Syria. So what next?
Russia never fights without a strategy, but in this case it was made up in a hurry. Moscow was not planning a military intervention in Syria until last July, when the officer in charge of Iran's military aid to Assad, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, flew to Moscow to warn President Vladimir Putin that the Syrian army was on the brink of collapse.
Soleimani knew this because he was hearing it directly from the Iranian military advisers who are serving with Syrian army units. After four years of war the Syrian army was down to half its pre-war strength, desertions and draft-dodging were going up, and morale was sinking fast.
Neither Iran nor Russia wanted to see extremist jihadi forces take over all of Syria, and both countries understood that the so-called "moderate" rebels barely exist. The dominant group in the "Army of Conquest" that has taken over northwestern Syria is the Nusra Front, a clone of Islamic State that broke away from it in 2013 as part of a turf battle. The Nusra Front is not "moderates," it is the Syrian franchise of al-Qaida.
If Assad's regime were to collapse, Islamic State and the Nusra Front would end up ruling all of Syria, so something had to be done fast. That something was Russian air support for the Syrian army. But airstrikes are not a strategy, just a stopgap measure.
Russian air power has stopped the rebel advance for now, but a strategy needs a clear final goal. That cannot be an Assad victory and the reunification of Syria under his regime; the Russians know that his army is too weak and fragile after four years of war to aspire to that. So it has to be some kind of diplomatic deal, and the signs are emerging of what Russia has in mind.
Putin insists that he will not accept the partition of Syria between the Assad regime (which still controls most of so-called "useful Syria"), Islamic State in the northeast, and another Islamist mini-state run by the Nusra Front in the northwest. But that partition has already happened on the ground, and a ceasefire would freeze it without anybody having to admit that it is permanent.
The United States cannot take the lead in brokering a ceasefire because it is still formally committed to the overthrow of the Assad regime. (That is why it goes on pushing the fiction that there is a meaningful "moderate" opposition among the Syrian rebels.) The U.S. is further constrained by the fact that its main Muslim allies in the region, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, are determined to see Assad fall, come what may.
Now that the Russians have stopped the rebel advance, a ceasefire becomes theoretically possible. That's why U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry agreed to meet with Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, in Vienna last Friday. Even Turkey and Saudi Arabia showed up at the meeting before it ended, and a new session is planned for this Friday where even more countries may show up.
It is possible that a ceasefire may eventually emerge from this process, and Lavrov claims that he can deliver Assad's agreement to it. So let's leap ahead and consider what Syria would look like in this best possible scenario. It still wouldn't be very pretty.
Assad would keep control of all Syria's big cities except Aleppo (which is in ruins), and would rule almost two-thirds of the population. Islamic State would go on controlling eastern Syria (and western Iraq), and would continue cutting heads off and crucifying people in the usual way. The Nusra Front would rule over the northwest with its allies, and impose a somewhat less extreme form of Islamist rule there.
There probably would not be a complete ceasefire, because Islamic State is unlikely to agree to it, but at least the killing would stop in the rest of Syria — and everybody else could concentrate on attacking Islamic State, if they felt so inclined. That's as good as it might get.
If there is no ceasefire deal, the Russians will go on supporting Assad for a while, but they have no intention of taking large casualties themselves. No other outside player — the U.S., Turkey, Saudi Arabia, you name it — is willing to commit ground troops to the battle against Islamic State either. So in the end, the jihadis may conquer Syria anyway.
Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist.
Is Turkey Setting A Kurdish Trap?
By Fehim Taştekin
Many people skeptical of the Turkish government are wondering whether officials in Ankara might resort to drastic measures in Syria in the run-up to the Nov. 1 legislative elections. During the June 7 elections, the government tolerated Islamic State (IS) attacks against Kurds across the border in Kobani. Thus far, the upcoming elections have been preceded by government clashes with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey and verbal attacks against the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) entangled in the Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) agenda. Skeptics believe the government will soon realize it won't gain much through such tactics and, because of its desire to push the HDP below the 10% vote threshold, might resort to more extreme tactics in northern Syria.
Recently, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) struck at the People’s Protection Units (YPG). The YPG issued a brief statement acknowledging that the Turkish army had attacked its positions on the border, using A-4 guns from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Oct. 24 and MG-3 guns from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. on Oct. 25. TSK typically lists all engagements on its website, but it did not mention these particular incidents. The government kept mum until the night of Oct. 26, when Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in a television broadcast, “We had told both Russia and the US that the PYD will not cross to the north of the Euphrates River. We struck the PYD twice.”
Pro-government media reported a different version of events. According to the Daily Sabah, “Turkish airplanes hit two YPG boats trying to infiltrate to the west of the Euphrates. Militants in the boat were warded off.” Sabah also carried reports that the YPG had been trying to infiltrate the area from Azaz east to Jarablus, which Turkey considers a safe zone.
Those who reported this news were apparently unaware of certain facts. The YPG and its Arab allies captured Tell Abyad in June. The Jarablus-Raqqa axis lies between Kobani and the Azaz-Marea line, which Turkey has declared a red line. In other words, the area in question, as reported by the Daily Sabah, is controlled by IS. If, as reported, YPG fighters had crossed to the west of the Euphrates, they were not heading toward the safe zone Turkey, but toward IS-controlled Jarablus. If Turkish planes really struck at YPG boats on the river, it would mean Turkey was preventing YPG units from reaching IS positions, thereby indirectly defending IS.
Kurdish sources in northern Syria have told Al-Monitor that the Daily Sabah report was baseless and that the YPG has not carried out operations with boats on the Euphrates. At this point, no operation is in the works to capture Jarablus, the sources said. According to information reaching Al-Monitor, there were four instances of fire from Turkey, twice toward Kobani and twice toward Tell Abyad. The Kurds call this “provocative harassment fire.”
The Kurds had met with US officials at Erbil to discuss a priority operation against Raqqa, but Russia’s military interventions in Syria has changed many plans in the region.
Salih Muslim, PYD co-chair, told Al-Monitor that two civilians had been wounded at Buban by Turkish fire, stating, “These attacks are provocations. It is election propaganda by the AKP [Justice and Development Party] government. Our people will not be provoked by these attacks.” Muslim also said that there are occasional exchanges of fire in the area near the Euphrates between IS and YPG positions, but that the YPG has not attempted to cross west of the Euphrates.
Muslim stated, “Ankara’s policy is only to prevent the YPG from crossing the river. [IS] is slaughtering women and children west of the river, but Ankara doesn’t say anything about that. To say the YPG must not move to Jarablus only means let [IS] do what it wants.”
As the Nov. 1 elections near, Turkey’s policy of creating dangerous tension is being applied at Tell Abyad. In an Oct. 24 speech targeting the HDP by chastising the PYD, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan clearly enunciated this policy, threatening Rojava (the Kurds in northern Syria) using unverified information: “These people think of their own interests and to that end they can cooperate with the PKK or [IS]. Isn’t this what they were doing at Tell Abyad? [IS] enters Tell Abyad and then leaves, and the PYD enters the town. This is all a game. Who owns that place? Ninety-five percent of the people in that town are Arabs and Turkmens, with 5% Kurds. Their goal was to turn that place into a canton, and that is what they did. This is now posing a threat to Turkey. That means Turkey will do what is necessary. Let everyone know this.”
Erdogan’s narrative needs to be questioned. For one thing, the story of how Tell Abyad changed hands contradicts the reality. Erdogan, who has frequently repeated accusations of ethnic cleansing by Kurds in northern Syria, now has resorted to manipulating the number of Kurds in the area. Syrian sources consulted by Al-Monitor estimate the number of Kurds to be between 30% and 45%, not the 5% Erdogan claims. Groups supported by Turkey had begun expelling the Kurds from Tell Abyad on July 19, 2013, after they captured the town. This continued until Aug. 5, 2013, when IS took sole control of it. IS seized Kurdish businesses and posted signs declaring them “state property.”
According to information gathered by Al-Monitor, about 40% of the Kurds who had fled from the jihadis have ben able to return to Tell Abyad. Of 250 Armenian families that escaped to Aleppo, only 50 have returned. As one might recall, Erdogan had said in October 2014, “I don’t want to argue whether Kobani is Kurdish or Arab. But its real name is Ayn al-Arab.” This time, however, he has adopted the mantra “Tell Abyad belongs to Arabs and Turkmen.” He does want to acknowledge another piece of reality that would refute his narrative: Today’s Tell Abyad was established in 1915 by Armenians deported from Anatolia.
In regard to Erdogan’s sensitivity to the issue of establishing cantons that led him to declare Oct. 25, “We won’t let that happen,” here is what has transpired: As a result of intensive collaboration between the Movement for a Democratic Society (TEV-DEM) and representatives of tribes in Tell Abyad, an executive council and an assembly were formed in October 2015. The council consists of seven Arabs, four Kurds, two Turkmen and one Armenian. The assembly also reflects the ethnic composition of the area. As in Kobani, Jazeera and Afrin, a co-chair leadership was adopted for the governance of Tell Abyad. Mansur Salloum, an Arab, and Leyla Mustafa Muslim, a Kurd, were elected co-chairs. Tell Abyad was absorbed into the Kobani canton also in October. In short, a democratic, autonomous administration in line with Tell Abyad's ethnic reality has been established in the town.
How do the Kurds assess this policy of heightened tensions they are facing? Ferhad Derik, a TEV-DEM executive council member who lives in Tell Abyad, told Al-Monitor that the Kurds feel they are being provoked.
“We are aware of the game being played here. If the YPG responds, [Ankara] will tell the world, ‘You see, they are terrorists.’ We are careful not to fall into that trap. There was also harassment fire before, but the YPG did not respond. [Ankara] incessantly voices accusations of ethnic cleansing, which are baseless. We are not motivated by revenge despite what was done to the Kurds before. There are many houses damaged and booby-trapped. Only today [Oct. 27], two YPG militants were killed while dismantling a booby trap. But as security improves, and there is less probability of IS attacks, people are returning to their homes.” Derik spoke to Al-Monitor while attending the funerals of the two fighters.
A Kurdish source in Kobani said that Rojava's administration is developing connections for international cooperation despite Ankara’s efforts to torpedo the process. In this context, Ilham Ahmed, a TEV-DEM executive council member, made contacts in New York during the UN General Assembly in September. On Oct. 21, PYD Co-chair Asya Abdullah and Kobani canton leader Enver Muslim met in Moscow with Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov. During the Oct. 24 session of the Jazeera Canton Legislative Assembly, PYD Co-chair Muslim announced that the PYD will open offices in Berlin, Paris and Moscow.
The critical question now is what Ankara hopes to achieve by fueling the tension. If the YPG returns fire, the government could hit three birds with one stone: It could claim to the international community that the PYD/YPG is a terror organization and in that way try to prevent the PYD from opening offices abroad. It could also use it to obstruct US and Russian cooperation with the YPG against IS. It could also try to influence Turkish public opinion by delivering a massive blow to the HDP because of its support of the autonomy movement in Syrian Kurdistan. To prevent this scenario, the Syrian Kurds will have to keep their cool and act rationally.
Turkey’s Problem with the US-Russia Plan
By Verda Özer
“In skating over thin ice, our safety is in our speed.”
This sentence of American author Ralph Waldo Emerson outlines countries’ policy-making vis-à-vis Syria. The balance of power is so sensitive and changes so quickly in Syria that countries are changing their plans at the same pace.
It is only Iran and Russia who have been able to stick to their Plan A, which is Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad remaining in power. Having hosted Assad in Moscow last week, Russia’s President Putin now seems much more confident about this objective and Assad looks much more durable than ever before.
The U.S., Europe, Turkey and Gulf countries, on the other hand, all had to change their plans upon Russia’s intervention in Syria. They have all shifted from their Plan A, which was the immediate removal of Assad, to Plan B, which is “transition with Assad.”
Moreover, the U.S. is dancing more and more to Russia’s tune. Last week, the two countries signed an agreement that regulates all aircraft and drone flights over Syria through a direct line of communication.
Besides, the U.S. doesn’t seem uncomfortable about Russia’s operation at all. To the contrary, it is quite content that Russia hits Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and al-Nusra targets in Syria, both of which the U.S. considers as terrorist groups. This greatly diminishes its own burden. This is why Secretary of State John Kerry lately said he “appreciates the fact that Russia has chosen to focus on this issue.”
Furthermore, it looks like the U.S. and Russia have agreed behind the scenes to have Moscow work to convince Assad to sit at the table and compromise with the opposition. Putin’s recent statement that “Assad will be ready to compromise in the name of his country” is a strong indicator of this. Upon this last week, Alexander Yushchenko, member of Russia’s Communist Party, said after meeting Assad in Damascus that Assad is ready to discuss constitutional reform and to conduct elections.
Kerry’s statement, on the other hand, that “Russia’s new focus on fighting ISIL could be an opportunity to push towards a political settlement,” further affirms such a bilateral agreement.
The U.S. also seems to have come to terms with Russia’s strong link with Iran. Putin has integrated Iran much deeper into Syria. So deep that the U.S. realized that a solution for Syria cannot be achieved without Iran and hence has added a chair for Tehran to the table in the Syria meeting in Vienna.
In short, the U.S. is approaching Russia’s plan more and more, and actually its Plan B seems to be Russia’s Plan A.
Turkey, on the other hand, has been moving along the U.S. The recent statement of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that a “transition with Assad is possible,” indicates that Ankara is moving along the U.S.’ axis.
Ankara is also aware of the fact that Iran has become the key actor in Syria. This is why an important source from Ankara who I spoke with last week said “Iran is the main obstacle for Assad’s removal.”
Yet, there is a point which decouples Turkey from the U.S.’ new plan: the U.S. andRussia agree on the role of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in the fight against ISIL. It is now as clear as day that they both want to go on with the PYD down the road.
Washington now focuses more than ever on Kurdish fighters in northern Syria who are its strongest ally on the ground. This is why Obama indicated last week that, from now on, the U.S. will give weight to the Kurdish forces, after declaring that the train-and-equip-program has come to its end. Following this statement, the U.S. sent ammunition and arms to the PYD.
And now the PYD is just about opening an office in Moscow. In addition, Putin said last week that Assad reacted positively to the idea of working with some rebel groups in the region against ISIL, particularly the Kurds.
Turkey, on the other hand, is getting tougher towards the PYD. Erdoğan recently said there are 1,400 Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) members within the PYD and that “Turkey won’t sacrifice northern Syria and would not allow countries to change the situation in northern Syria.” Right after this, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said the Turkish army has hit the PYD in northern Syria twice for violating Turkey’s red line that the PYD should not move to the western part of the Euphrates River.
The reason why Ankara is reacting this sharply is because the PYD is just about to pass west of the Euphrates, i.e. unite the cantons of Kobane, Jazira and Afrin, which would lead to an autonomous Kurdish entity along Turkey’s southern borders.
The second reason of Turkey’s concern is the rising terrorism since June 2015, i.e. the threat that the PYD and PKK pose to the country. The source from Ankara who I mentioned above emphasized that Ankara expected the PYD to further itself from the PKK, yet this has not taken place. He added that Ankara had taken a chance on normalizing relations with the PYD when it expected the peace process in Turkey to continue. Hence, resuming the peace talks would enable to smooth relations with Syrian Kurds.
In short, the PYD factor removes Turkey from the newly emerging plan on which the U.S. and Russia agree to a great extent. Furthermore, this creates an extra problem for Turkey’s relations with the U.S. and Russia.
We are skating on super-thin ice. So Turkey has to be super-fast in taking the necessary steps and catching up with the new plan.
When the State Steals Newspapers
By Mustafa Akyol
What happened in Turkey on Oct. 28 is something that should enter the Guinness Book of World Records, if it ever includes a chapter on “authoritarianism.” Two newspapers and two news channels, all very critical of the government, were taken over by government-appointed “trustees.” In less polite terms, they were practically stolen by the state.
If you haven’t seen the news, here is a summary of what happened: The media in question - dailies Bugün and Millet and TV channels KanalTürk and BugünTV - are owned by Koza İpek Holding. It was no secret that the holding’s boss, Akın İpek, has been a follower of Fethullah Gülen and a financial supporter of the Gülen Movement. Since this movement turned from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s best ally to worst enemy, every institution affiliated with it has been under legal scrutiny. Koza İpek Holding faced an investigation, too. But nothing yet has been found that is illicit.
Yet still, a famous judge (who had become famous last year by banning Twitter, at the behest of the government) took a fateful decision last Monday. He referred to an article in the penal code which says that a “trustee” can be appointed to a company if necessary to reveal any evidence, while the company goes through an investigation. He also noted Koza İpek Holding is a suspect of “terrorism.”
But were there any credible basis for this “terrorism” charge? Were there any guns or bombs involved? Not really. It is just that the president began calling the Gülen Movement a “terrorist organization” after a corruption investigation that targeted his government. It is not a legal definition, in other words, it is political rhetoric.
That is how “trustees” were appointed to oversee the works of Koza İpek Holding. As a matter of coincidence, all of these “trustees” were hardcore Justice and Development Party (AKP) supporters. And again as a matter of coincidence, the first thing they did was storm the newspapers and TV channels owned by the holding. With dozens of policemen, they broke the gates of the media headquarters in Istanbul, got physical with some of the journalists who resisted them and finally shut down both channels. They also fired all editors-in-chiefs, and stopped the printing of the papers. On the websites of the papers, they put nice photos of the president. The conquest was over in just a day.
What is even more amazing is that all of these “trustees” will now be paid very handsome salaries by Koza İpek Holding because that is what the judge decided, for they are spending their valuable time for the public good and they need compensation (this is really a gem; theft is a universal problem, but I really have never seen a system of theft where those who steal also get paid by those whose properties they stole).
Moreover, now many expect that these stolen media outlets will soon be fully transmuted according to the vision of their new bosses. In other words, they will become propaganda outlets for the government (well, more accurately, propaganda outlets for the president). All editors and writers will be fired and new ones will be brought in. Pro-government apparatchiks even began joking on Twitter about which one of them should be the editors-in-chiefs of the new spoils.
This is the Turkey in which we are heading to the polls on Nov. 1. It is good that we have polls; it gives one a sense of democracy. But other than that, we don’t have much left that makes Turkey qualify as a “democracy.” We rather have a lawless, arrogant, aggressive Leviathan which is grinding its teeth more viciously every passing day.
The Sorry State Of Malaysian Politics
By Ann Martinez
October 31, 2015
It seems as if apologies are all we hear about in the political scene these days.
A defamation case against the former Menteri Besar of Perak Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin, who was charged with defaming the Prime Minister had a happy ending recently. The ex-Menteri Besar was discharged and acquitted by the Sessions Court after he issued an open apology to the Prime Minister.
However, there was no happy ending for Lim Kit Siang who refused to give in to the Speaker’s (of the Dewan Rakyat) demand for an apology. Kit Siang’s refusal to apologise for suggesting that the Speaker abused his powers to sabotage the Public Accounts Committee’s 1MDB probe earned him a six-month suspension.
Even our East Malaysian counterparts are getting into the apology game. A coalition of pro-Barisan Nasional, non-governmental organisations criticised Rafizi Ramli, the MP for Pandan, for politicising the federal government’s decision to build the RM29.2 billion, “no toll” Pan Borneo Highway linking Sabah and Sarawak. The coalition demanded a public apology from Rafizi for suggesting that the construction of the “no toll” highway was an attempt to pit the people of the peninsula against those in Sabah and Sarawak.
With all the energy and focus being devoted to apologies ─ apologies demanded, apologies refused, apologies issued ─ it is no wonder that we find ourselves in the quagmire we are in.
Ann Martinez is FMT columnist With a firm belief in freedom of expression and without prejudice, FMT tries its best to share reliable content from third parties. Such articles are strictly the writer’s personal opinion. FMT does not necessarily endorse the views or opinions given by any third party content provider.