Monday, October 20, 2014

Erdogan Scripting His Last Act In Kobane

Erdogan Scripting His Last Act In Kobane
                                                                    Saeed Naqvi

It was a toss up between Brazil’s President Lula da Silva and Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. In fact, compared to Lula’s two terms as President, Erdogan completed three glorious terms as Prime Minister.

With the downturn in the global economy in 2009, Turkey towered above regional economies. One comparison was particularly galling for the West. Greece, the mother of Western civilization was on its knees while the “Turk”, a despised figure in Western literature, was towering over it.

Remember how tersely Valery Giscar d’Estaing dismissed Turkey’s application for membership of Europe: European civilization is Christian civilization. For a leader like Erdogan there was sympathy and admiration. He looked like a transformed leader who had come out of his narrow, provincial Islamism, outgrown his Madrasa roots. But alas it turns out that he had only disguised his strong Akhwan ul Muslimen, Muslim Brotherhood background. My disappointment is that he pretended to be something he could not play out to the end.

To explain the tragedy of Erdogan, the backdrop is important. Mustafa Kemal Pasha Ataturk disbanded the Caliphate and thereby Islamism in 1924 and imposed a secular constitution. The Turkish army became a jealous guarantor of this constitution. Turkey remained a quasi police state during the cold war. Even during the rule of Itruk Ozal, who was feted as a great libertarian, you could not stand on the Bosphorus bridge without a man in a long coat appear from nowhere, demanding your papers.

The end of the Cold War came riding on the wings of the global 24X7 media, which brought Operation Desert Storm into our drawing rooms. Saddam Hussain’s rout divided the world: Iraq’s defeat came across to the Muslim world as muslim humiliation. Turkey was no exception. For the West, it was triumphalism.

The two Intefadas also impacted on the world’s muslims and non muslims in a diametrically opposite way. But what affected Turks the most were the brutalities of the Bosnian war played out on live TV over four years. Balkans are part of the Turkish historical memory. Sarajevo derives from the Turkish word “Sarai”. Turkish Islamism was reignited. Refah party came to power under Necmettin Erbakan. Tayyip Erdogan and Abdullah Gul were his under studies then.

When the army ousted Erbakan, the Refah party discarded its Islamic garb. Demonstrating practical sense, the party reinvented themselves as the Justice and Development party and rode a crest of anti Americanism when they refused the Americans the right of passage for their troops to Iraq in 2003. There has been no looking back for Erdogan, Prime Minister for a record three terms. He had arguably exceeded even Ataturk’s popularity.

There emerged a regional contrast which was something of a status reversal for the West. In the wake of the global financial crisis, Greece was out on the street with a begging bowl. Turkey meanwhile had zero problems with neighbours, a booming economy. To create a constituency in the Arab street, Turkey stood upto Israel on several issues. This was drastic change from the days of Ozal, when Turkey and Israel coordinated all their policies.

The Arab Spring in 2011 coincided more or less with Erdogan’s last term as Prime Minister. The Turkish constitution does not permit a fourth term. As Erdogan began to dream of a larger democratic role in the Arab world, the Syrian civil war opened up for him an option. So he thought. He faced a contradiction. Turkish constitution demanded that he remain on the secular straight and narrow. But a greater role in Syria and Libya, where he turned up for prayers in the Tripoli square, dictated a reversal to his Muslim Brotherhood past. He is in the process of falling between two stools.

A Turk who supports an Arab cause is welcome from a distance. But a Turk casting himself in a regional role, scares the Arab as a potential Ottoman. That is where Erdogan is stuck at the moment. His maximalist aspiration to play a larger regional role will be challenged by the Arabs. His minimalist position to keep internal order by keeping the Kurds under his jackboot will lead to civil unrest. His instinctive support for the Brothers component in the IS will bring him into conflict with the Americans. In brief, he is in trouble. This is without taking into account the restless Alawis, who are an eruption waiting to happen.

A metaphor for all his woes is the Syrian enclave of Kobane abutting Turkey. He is aching to weaken Syrian and Turkish Kurds by any means, even by enabling ISIS to win. The internal situation is by no means stable. Already 40 Kurd protesters have been killed in police firing. It may one day soon be said of him: nothing became him less than the leaving of it.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Tentative Ankara, Petrified Baghdad and Riyadh Ask: Are US Airstrikes Working?

Tentative Ankara, Petrified Baghdad and Riyadh Ask: Are US Airstrikes Working?
Saeed Naqvi

The ISIS, plaguing many countries in West Asia, made a symbolic assertion during Haj too. At the ritual stoning of the devil at Mina, five kms to the East of Mecca, fluttered the black banner of the Islamic State. The police said nothing.

Recently, The Independent in London published an article giving a clue to ordinary Saudi reaction to IS. Patrick Cockburn, the writer, has cited a study done by Dr. Fouad Khadem, of the Centre of Academic Shia Studies in London.

Public discussions on sensitive issues are not permitted in Saudi Arabia. Tweeting therefore has become a common vehicle to sustain debates.

The messages Saudis have been sharing on the Islamic State are fascinating.

When IS swept through Northern Iraq and Eastern Syria, Mania bin Nasir al-Mani was pleased. “The great land of Allah belongs neither to Kings nor nations. Those who deserve the Caliphate are those who implement the Sharia of Allah on earth and on people. Apostates and traitors deserve nothing but the sword.” Later al Mani joined the IS in Syria.

One Azfar Minfard declares. “No need for IS to enter – our country is full of them (IS).” Fata al Arab is more emphatic: “IS is on the Saudi borders, and its supporters inside Saudi Arabia are more than its organized members and armed fighters.”

A revealing tweet is from Adil al-Kalbany, a Wahabi Shaikh, who has for years led prayers as an Imam of the Holy Shrine in Mecca. “IS is a Salafi (fundamentalist) offshoot – a reality we should confront with transparency.”

Someone who calls himself “Arabic Batman” suggests the radical remedy. “Kick al Saud out of the country.”

As soon as President Obama announced the coalition of the willing to wage war against IS, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, and Jordan instantly signed up. The next country had to seek permission from Parliament before it joined – Great Britain, but only to bomb IS in Iraq. Strange, isn’t it?

The tardiness with which the coalition of willing nations is being erected contrasts sharply with the speed with which non state actors have come together as ISIS – a hodge-podge of Islamists, ex Baathists turned deeply religious in the their marginalized distress, Naqshbandi Sufis, Muslim Brothers, Salafists, Al Qaeda, Jabat al Nusra, everyone without exception opposed to Islamic monarchies.

One would have thought that Morocco is not prominent in the coalition of the willing because Rabat considers itself remote from the IS theatre. The monarchy woke up with a start the other morning when its security forces, in a coordinated action with Spain, busted an IS recruitment cell.

While the cumulative power of all the elements in the IS are focused on monarchies, principally Saudi Arabia, elements in the IS have independent scores to settle with regimes in Baghdad, Ankara and sub groups fighting the central authority in these states.

The IS, which mutated from the civil war in Syria, first indentified groups seething with local anger. The famous occupation of Mosul, which boosted the prestige of the IS as a formidable force, would not have been possible without painstaking ground work.

Abu Bakr al Baghdadi was able to find an ally at the highest echelons of the Nineveh Province. Mosul is its capital. The Governor, Atheel Nujaifi, handed over the keys of Mosul to al Baghdadi an act of splendid treachery. He arranged for a most orderly takeover of Mosul by the Caliphate.

Nujaifi had longstanding grievances. He had for year been trying to carve out Mosul as a Sunni dominated city surrounded by Kurds including 3,50,000 of a minority tribe called the Yazidis.

Mosul and Erbil happen to be just a little north of the 36th parallel beyond which Western Forces had established a security zone after the first Gulf war to encourage Kurdish refugees to return to Iraq.

This exactly is what Nujaifi was seething with rage about. He handed over the battle to the IS. This one move created turbulence in the Kurdish north of Iraq which the Americans had tranquilized with a No Fly Zone during Saddam’s rule.

The alacrity with which Obama announced air strikes against the IS was to protect assets in Kurdish Iraq where Israelis, Turks and Americans have been doing reasonable business in recent decades. The swiftness with which the Gulf Sheikhs lined up dictated the next American priority. Saudi Arabia had to be protected. Without a strong Saudi Arabia in the region, Israel would be a lonesome presence. That is why the US is talking of “decades” long presence in the region. Whatever else the IS may do they must not lurch towards Saudi Arabia. The US will stand at the gate like supreme bouncers. But an extended US stay will create the inevitable political backlash – exponential anti Americanism.

Shias from Mosul clambered onto their cars and trucks and drove 450 kms to Karbala and Najaf. Between these two pilgrim centre, the 120 kms route is lined big halls as halting stations for pilgrims. These are tearing at the seams with Shia refugees who do not know where to turn for help since there is very little government on view in Baghdad. The “all inclusive” government of Haider al Abadi is, on the face of it not governing.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey is scripting his own tragedy of indecision, rather like the Prince of Denmark. Everyone in the region, without exception, are keeping their fingers crossed.

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Friday, October 3, 2014

For Wider Reach, More Hindustani Than Sanskritized Hindi, Prime Minister

For Wider Reach, More Hindustani Than Sanskritized Hindi, Prime Minister
                                                                                Saeed Naqvi

I did not understand a word of what our Prime Minister said at the United Nations General Assembly. Well, except for words like “taaqatwar”, “rozgar” and “zahir” all other words were beyond my comprehension. I had to fall back on translation.

What confounded me even more were the one liners on top of the TV screen.

“Modi’s befitting reply to Sharif.”

This was baffling. I may have lost Modi’s syntax but I did not hear him mention “Sharif” even once. But the anchors would not give up.

“The UNGA hall was empty when Sharif spoke; it was packed when Modi did”.

Another chipped in: “I think we should cut out this Indo-Pak hyphenation”.

The anchors were possessed by a seering desire to be nasty with Sharif, Pakistan, and anything associated with either. As an answer to their prayer, up popped the heads of two Ex Pakistani Generals from distant Karachi and Islamabad, grinning from ear to ear, in cheerful anticipation of being punched for the next hour. Why they show up, is a mystery.

Yes, to revert to that difficulty in accessing the Hindi used by Modi. Why did I find it so disconcerting?

It is immaterial what my belief is because in a world comfortable with denominational identity, it is tempting to place me in a coop with other Indian muslims. This would be a bad fit. Indeed it would be a cacophony. Muslims would speak Malayalam in Kerala, Tamil in Tamil Nadu, Bengali in Bengal and so on. Modi’s elevated Hindi would pose the same problems in the regions – for Hindus and Muslims alike. They have all learnt to understand Bollywood Hindustani. That should be the queue.

In Kerala, for instance, it was accepted in the 80s, that Mohammad Koya spoke the wittiest Malayalam in the State Assembly. As Chief Minister he once invited me to dinner which was something of a culture shock to both of us. He spoke little Hindi or English and I spoke no Malayalam. He left a strong Malayali imprimatur on the meal by having me sample five varieties of bananas by way of dessert.

Hindi cascades from its Sanskritic heights then picks up the flavours of Awadhi, Brajbhasha, Bhojpuri and lilts of a hundred, rural, pastoral dialects, across the Indo Gangetic plains.

Dilute the Sanskritic bit and add some Persian instead and you have the scale of Urdu. The language can be stately and inaccessible to the untrained. When writers elevate their diction, as Maulana Azad did, the verse quoted is generally in Persian. But the finest writers and poets have brought it down to the level of popular literature where it becomes Hindustani. It was the boast of Arzoo Lucknawi that in his collection of poetry, Surili Bansuri, Melodious Flute, there is not a single Persian or Arabic word.

In the vast stretch of the cow-belt, an area called Awadh, was where Hindus and Muslims together refined and enriched Urdu. The first great prose writer of Urdu was Pandit Ratan Nath Sarshar. One of the great ghazal poets of the 20th century was Raghupati Sahay Firaq Gorakhpuri. Urdu became the central column of what people in this region called India’s Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb or culture. (Tragic consequences of Partition on Urdu in Pakistan is another sad story.)

When the Congress party, without consulting the people, signed up for the Partition of India on June 3, 1947, this lot panicked. What would happen to their beloved Urdu. In divided India, Hindi would have to be the national language. What would happen to Urdu?

Saiyyid Mohammad Askari wrote:
“Hai dua yeh ki mukhalif jo
            Hain dharey mil jaaen;
Aaj phir Kausar o Ganga ke
            Kinarey mil jaaen.”
(Let u s pray that these opposing currents become a stream;
May the banks of Kausar, river of paradise, become one with the Ganga)

Josh Malihabadi wailed:
“Chalne lagi zabaan pe churi inteqaam ki,
Chhaanti gayeen lughat se jo lafzein theen kaam ki
Rahman hi baat chali phir na   Ram ki
Guddi se khich gayee jo zubaan thi awaam ki”
(The vengeful knife reached for our mother tongue
Choice words were wrenched from dictionaries
No heed paid to Ram or Allah,
Tongues pulled out from the throat, men became speechless.)
This was not hyperbole in 1950.

This love for Urdu cost the Muslims dear. While the enlightened Hindu took to Western education exactly as Macaulay had willed, Muslims saw the package of Westernization, language included, with disdain. Later they settled for Hindustani. But what would happen to the Urdu script? Trapped in such considerations, a whole community lost the race for modernity.

Atal Behari Vajpayee’s reversal to Hindi was moderate cultural assertion. There was lilt and melody in his makeup. Modi’s Hindi, learnt presumably as an RSS pracharak, is dry and, to a novice like me, forbidding. Not just me, there are Macaulay’s children and millions of votaries of the new consumerism – they will all be more comfortable with Hindustani.

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