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Why is Palestine 'a second Cyprus' for Turks?

HDN | 6/3/2010 12:00:00 AM | BURAK BEKDİL

Why do the Turks have the “Palestine fetish” even though most of them can’t point the Palestinian territories out on a map?

The State of Israel has every right to do smart or silly things. Its leaders may or may not be crypto-mullahs as the joke went in this column on Wednesday (amazing, there were readers who took it seriously!). But let’s visit the “Turkish side” of the incident.

Mr. Strategic Depth, otherwise known as Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, thinks the Israeli raid on the Gaza “aid” flotilla was “Turkey’s 9/11.” Big words. But they hint at something serious.

The scenario plotted by very important Islamist Turks remains incomplete to this day. For a perfect closure, i.e., cashing in on the event for domestic and global Muslim popularity – the former to secure power and the latter to bolster neo-Ottomanist dreams – something bold should happen to inject one idea into the Muslim audience’s mind: that Tayyip Bey gave the bloodthirsty Jews a big lesson!

Many options are on the table, with their pros and cons, and the official Turkey sitting around various meeting tables pondering where, when and how to hit back best (best = maximum public impact, minimum political cost). There is plenty of time. Elections are more than a year ahead. But if I were an Israeli cabinet minister running into Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at an international conference I would either run away immediately. Sadly, there will be a closure, and it won’t come in a pleasant way.

Mr. Erdoğan made a very smart speech in Parliament when he warned angry Turks to distinguish among Israelis, Jews and the Israeli government. Echoing the big boss, Istanbul’s new governor, Hüseyin Avni Mutlu, has said, “He is perfectly confident every Turkish Jew was as safe as Muslims” and that “we are certain no Turkish Jew feels threatened.”

I have an idea! Should the esteemed governor agree, we can put his “confidence” to a little test.

I suggest having the governor disguise himself perfectly as an Orthodox Jew and let him have a solo stroll on İstiklal Avenue. If he can manage to safely reach halfway on İstiklal, I’ll confess I know nothing “about my own people.”

If I am right, the government will have to find a new governor for Istanbul. If that’ too cruel, I could suggest the governor tour around Taksim in a civilian car bearing the Star of David, like millions around Turkey do with the Palestinian flag. If we go for the car experiment rather than the stroll at least the governor can have enough time to speed away.

But why do the Turks have the “Palestine fetish” even though most of them can’t point the Palestinian territories out on a map? Why did they not raise a finger when, for instance, the mullahs killed dissident Iranian Muslims? Why did the Turks not raise a finger when non-Muslim occupying forces killed a million Iraqi Muslims? Why did we not hear one single Turkish voice protesting the deaths of 300,000 Muslims in Darfur? Where were all these Turkish protestors when Israel was bombing Lebanon or when the Chinese police were using disproportionate force against their ethnic kin, the Uighurs?

How many Turks protested when there was civil war in Algeria? How many volunteered for humanitarian aid missions for Sudan? Why were the protests too thin during the Serbian atrocities against Muslim Bosnians? What makes nine Gaza martyrs more sacred than all the other martyrs?

Part of the explanation is that the Turks feel in solidarity with the Palestinians for exactly the same reasons why other nations feel in solidarity with the Palestinians: the intellectual drive to ally with the underdog. But that does not explain the whole picture.

Another part is the political indoctrination Turkey’s Islamists, communists and liberals and (even to a certain degree) ultra-nationalists went through in the early 1970s. These otherwise hostile groups in their ideological battles always united in pro-Palestinian rhetoric and (sometimes violent) action. The legend of the “Palestinian cause” has always been kept alive in the Crescent and Star.

But still there is a big blank in the picture. Why, really, is there no one around when Muslims in different countries are brutalized or killed, yet “every Turk is Palestinian” without or without death (say, the blockade on Gaza per se)? Whether we name it or not, whether we like it or not, whether it goes contrary to what the Islamist propaganda machine has been trying to persuade the West with the nice tag “Alliance of Civilizations,” the annoying explanation is that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is perceived by millions of Muslims (and very powerfully in Turkey) as a war of religions.

Anyone curious why do the Turks, when they take to the streets for political demonstrations, carry placards written in Turkish, but in the case of Palestine the protest tools are often decorated with Arabic and Quranic scripts?

Subconsciously (and sadly) the Muslim-Turkish thinking tolerates it if Muslims kill Muslims; does not tolerate it but does not turn the world upside down when Christians kill Muslims; pragmatically ignores it when too-powerful Christians kill Muslims; but is programmed to turn the world upside down when Jews kill Muslims.

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