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Sunday, August 02, 2015

A Beast With Many Heads

I rarely watch TV programmes, but am a news addict. I think it's important to know what's going on in the world, rather than escape from it.

Granted there's a lot to escape from, but it has its beautiful moments, too. Take the end of July: There has been a rare opportunity to witness a unique lunar event in the night sky, a so-called "blue moon", although - not to put a dampener on romance - it's been recorded that romantic kissing is practiced in fewer than half of the world's cultures, by the light of the moon or otherwise.

Elsewhere, Russia may ban "gay emojis" from social media if an investigation by the state media watchdog rules that they infringe laws against "gay propaganda". Although The Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, suspicion between Russia and the West remains high - I wonder if those in power think turning gay by text is a ploy to make Russia go soft?

Soft or not, you seriously couldn't write some of this stuff. How about this: Under the law in the United Kingdom, adultery can only occur between members of the opposite sex and must involve vaginal intercourse. So if a man cheats on his wife with other men, it isn't adultery for legal purposes. Case law defines adultery as voluntary sexual intercourse that must involve penetration of the woman's vagina by the man's penis, however slight.

Deep stuff, this. The law is a hard beast to penetrate sometimes, because of the ramifications of its intricacies. The devil is in the details, as they say. We need precise wording for concepts that are elusive to grasp, which can then get bogged down in too much detail. Precise wording can sometimes lead to quirkiness rather than clarity, too - but then that could be a good definition for us in general.

We sure do like our quirky stories: How about the fact that the family of Osama Bin Laden - linked to the plane crashes of 9/11 - has been plagued with plane crash deaths themselves? Or that North Korea's Kim Jong-un has been awarded a global statesmanship prize once given to Mahatma Gandhi by Indonesia? Or how about when the internet descended on the man who killed Cecil the lion, but ignored the Palestinian infant burned alive by Jewish militants?

Naturally #lionslivesmatter, because all life matters, but why does quirkiness trend more than the doldrums of reality? I guess something out of the ordinary makes for interesting reading, which sounds terrible when you say it in the context of human life (or any life). Is the murder of infants now ordinary since Bin Laden became a household name?

Of course not, and I hope it never is; I'll also never understand the mind set that would go hunt and murder a beautiful creature and then take a picture next to its corpse. It reminds me of the pictures of American soldiers and their dead detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad during the occupation of Iraq. At least the guy who shot Cecil now regrets it, former American soldier Lynndie England still maintains she does not regret the torture and abuse of prisoners.

It's at such times that the news is a dark mirror to the demons in us. Which links us - uncomfortably for some - to the story of a controversial statue unveiled by the Satanic Temple at a secret ceremony in Detroit. The bronze statute depicts a winged hermaphrodite known as Baphomet, and hundreds of Satanists turned out to see it.

Before any Muslim reading this rubs their hands with glee that America is finally showing its face as the "big devil", Baphomet could originally be a creation of crusading Christians converted to Islam. The name Baphomet dates back to the Inquisition and torture of the Knights Templar about 1100 who, according to French chroniclers of the Crusades, confessed to worshipping a heathen idol called Baphometh. Some scholars believe "Baphometh" was simply a corruption of "Mahomet" - the Prophet Muhammad.

And militant Islam really does look the beast du jour that needs to be slain. The media portrays it as a beast with many heads - you cut off one, and more grow in its place. At least that's what it feels like when you read the image we have about it in the West. It's a corruption, like the Templar's Baphomet, but the story plays out like a battle with the Satan of the East, nevertheless.

Fighting this modern-day Hydra is a herculean task, and as Turkish armed forces enter this devilish struggle, the Western media have turned the spotlight on Turkey.

Although the media in the West were at first suspicious of Turkey as an erratic ally against the Hydra's largest head, the Islamic State, in a wider reading of the articles out there, you can now see a change in their journalistic slant.

As Turkey emerges from the shadows in the fight against the IS, the Western media have stopped reporting that the Turkish administration (on some genocidal warpath) is after all Kurds, in its fight with militant Kurds on its own home soil. The BBC now notes that Turkey is on good relation with Iraqi Kurds, who have warned militant Kurds (the Kurdistan Worker's Party, or PKK) fighting Turkey to leave civilian areas alone and not turn them into targets.

Using innocent people as shields, and then using their deaths in some PR campaign against the stronger force - like some bloody David and Goliath battle - is an old tactic. Israel had to face this with militant Palestinians (although Twitter wasn't around then), but it seems that militant Kurds and people pushing anti-Turkish sentiment on social media have come against a brick wall in their attempt this time. They laid the bait of genocide, but the media isn't biting - yet.

The attack on the town of Zarkel by Turkish airstrikes has been trending on Twitter, alongside the tag calling Turkish president (and ex-prime minister) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a "baby-killer". It's been a top worldwide trend for a while, but all the mainstream press are saying is that Turkish authorities are investigating the claims of civilian deaths. And in between them is the loss of innocent life caught in the middle of two warring sides. Complex and quirky? Out of the ordinary? I couldn't say, except that these are the real victims caught in the jaws of the Hydra.

And even as the PKK turn away from fighting the IS to murder Turkish troops and their own civilians inside Turkey in retaliation, there seems to be journalistic relief that Ankara has repositioned itself as a key player in the region again. The reason being that only Turkey has the half a million strong army, NATO-level fire power and equipment and the will to take on IS and put boots on the ground to do it.

More than that, it was brokering peace, and acting as a buffer zone against the global encroachment of China and Russia. Like it or not, less than two years ago Turkey was a major player in Central and South Asia. It was stopping foreign fighters from crossing its borders over to Iraq and Syria to infiltrate Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia. Erdoğan had began a peace process with militant Kurds in Turkey, and had started making friendly noises towards Armenia over their historical grudges.

Turkish diplomats were mediating peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government and between India and Pakistan. Turkey was creating a new regional co-operation over Afghanistan through its Istanbul process, while shoring up the resolve of the five Central Asian republics and making sure they did not all fall into the hands of Russia.

Then two years ago Turkey removed itself from the world stage suddenly. IS recruits now move about freely, and China has began to play a major role in the region in the vacuum - pursuing the same goals as Turkey - but more methodically, such as brokering peace between the Taliban and Kabul and between India and Pakistan and finally giving full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to India and Pakistan. Why else has Indonesia awarded a Communist despot an award once given to a great soul like Gandhi?

So, why did Erdoğan pull out? Was it because he had a hissy fit over the Western media's coverage of Gezi Park two years ago? It's possible he stormed off to sulk over biased journalism from the West, but the problems go deeper than the loss of some global reputation.

The main problem with insulting Turkey's President is that he doesn't have a sense of humour or much time for (what he terms as disrespectful) free speech. And things look so serious as a result of Turkish absence from world affairs that it might be fair to assume the media in the West are now having to keep a check on their historical anti-Turkish bias against the hardliner. A lot of myth-making, misunderstanding and mystery, the news is possibly - very possibly - one of the heads on the Hydra, too.

When I complained of this two years ago, I wrote that my defence wasn't of Erdoğan (or of press censorship) but of a future where Turkey could be overrun by Islamic extremists if the West kept up its old-world Imperialistic view of the Turk. We have shot ourselves in the foot, and are now limping about because of our own incompetence. Our biases have quick reflexes, we don't think before we act, and imposing self-censorship at the wrong time is no use now.

I feel uncomfortable not much is being written about the Zarkel attack. Is it just Kurdish terrorist propaganda? Is it a terrorist camp or a town? Was it a botched airstrike? Will the Turkish administration pay reparations? These are issues we are now silent on because we were less than balanced with our reporting on Gezi Park, once it was hijacked by violence.

Make no mistake, if the IS capture Turkey, if not physically but ideologically, then the war is over for us, but we can't overlook human rights simply because it's now expedient to do so. It's the same with the abominable treatment the Greeks have suffered over their economic woes. It might be easier to throw the debt ridden country out of the European Union's currency, but it's the wrong thing to do.

The Greeks are a fearfully proud race - and I'm not saying they should be treated with kid gloves like Erdoğan - but I do believe their treatment by Germany has been too harsh. It again goes back to historical grudges (the Second World War this time) but Germany must know the importance of keeping Greece in Europe historically and politically.

Connected by the thinning threads of orthodoxy, Russia is like a wolf at the door waiting to gobble up the Greek pieces, and allow them greater influence in Europe. I saw firsthand when I was in Cyprus for Easter how many Russians have settled there, which isn't a problem on its own, but do we really want the political mentality that bans same-sex emojis to enter the cradle of Europe?

We don't need reminding the Hydra has more than one head. But morally, should children throw their father out in the street simply because he has fallen on hard times? Or remembering the wealth of culture and beauty (and brutality) he has bequeathed them, give help in times of need? Or maybe they are just acting true to form as their father's children?

There you have it; it reads like a complex, cylindrical Greek tragedy. And when you have the news, who needs dramatic fiction? Apart from the fact you can escape into it easier than you can the real world.

And the final great conundrum: Though we may want to shy away, if we are going to fight the Hydra then we need to know the world; and with the sword of knowledge and a shield of awareness be ready to defend the freedoms that can all too quickly become fiction.

Read more: My Life | Turkish culture | Gezi Protests | War In Iraq | My Say >>

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