Offended by my refusal to see all adherents of Islam as knife-wielding jihadists an exasperated American acquaintance of mine once asked me, “So where are all the liberals in the Middle East, then?“. My reply was blunt: “In their graves where you, the British, French and Israelis put them!“. An exaggeration, perhaps, though there is no doubt that the anti-colonial movements of the Middle East in the 1950s and ’60s were primarily led by young, left-wing and secular Arabs, including Muslims, Christians and atheists. It is difficult to remember now in the post-9/11 world that the ranks of the early Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and its off-shoots were filled with bearded Marxists not bearded jihadists. Unfortunately many of the most progressive individuals from that period perished through the actions of the old European imperial powers, their Cold War usurpers, and various authoritarian proxy states in the region (not to mention Israel, which played friend and foe with equal dexterity). The Muslim liberals died by torture, assassination and insurgency, or were left broken by imprisonment, impoverishment and exile, ironically at the hands or at the bequest of those who would most wish their presence today. Militant Islam filled the void left by the absence of militant democracy.
Recent events in Turkey show how hard it is to sustain a democratic secular nation-state, even one with decades of history and “tradition” behind it, when surrounded by dictatorships of one sort or another. Totalitarianism is a cancer which pollutes and infects all it comes into contact with. How many of the European territories who succumbed to fascist Germany in the 1930s and ’40s were themselves fascist? The presidential kleptocracy of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is one outgrowth of this corrupt legacy of European colonialism, as the Daily Beast reports:
“When Bilal Erdogan arrived in the Italian city of Bologna in 2014, he was accompanied by a team of bodyguards. He was also met, quite literally, with a wall of protests. His security detail was delayed while his father, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, arranged for diplomatic passports for them.
He had begun work on his degree in 2006 at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., and then switched to a branch of the school in Bologna. In 2014, when Bilal secured an Italian residency permit for two years for himself, his wife and their two young children, it looked like they would settle in for a while in style.
The Turkish family rented an expansive, posh apartment under Bologna’s famed medieval Two Towers in the historical center near the university campus, and the Italian foreign ministry put Bilal under what’s referred to as protective surveillance, essentially trailing him and his private security details with armed guards wherever he went.
…in February of 2016, another set of cops was added to the surveillance detail. This time they were Italy’s financial police who informed the young Turk that he was under investigation for laundering around €1 billion ($1.12 billion) in cash, according to a summary of the court dossier, which was seen by The Daily Beast.
A month later, Bilal Erdogan was back in Turkey, citing “security concerns” for his and his family’s safety.”
As you may have guessed, few observers doubt the criminality of the Erdoğan family and their circle of cronies, or that hundreds of millions of dollars have been siphoned off from the coffers of the Turkish state to provide them with lifestyles akin to those of some Gulf potentates. Talking of which, Robert Fisk highlights the history of the controversy-mired former French head of state, Nicolas Sarkozy, in the Independent while discussing a new book on Saudi-wannabe, Qatar, by the Lebanese economist and journalist Marwan Iskandar.
“Qatar helped (financially, of course) ease the way for Colonel Gaddafi of Libya to release a group of Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who had been tried on bogus charges of infecting patients with Aids. Sarkozy’s then-wife Cecilia, who later married an events organiser called Richard Attias in New York, returned with the hostages on the eve of Sarkozy’s election. But, Iskandar writes, “in 2008 and during his visit to Qatar, Sarkozy told the Emir [Hamad] of Qatar that he wanted to divorce because he is in love with another lady, the actress and singer Carla Bruni. He wanted to marry her but his wife insisted that he pay €3m, which he did not have. The Emir paid him the said amount and wished him a happy … marriage”.
The violent weeds of radical Islam were seeded and nourished by many hands, unwittingly or otherwise.