Not quite an empire

Not quite an empire

Turkey would have ruled the Middle East first and the former Ottoman lands later. It would have ended the endless wars in the Middle East, once the mighty Turkish empire has emerged. Instead, the country smells of chaos and death. 

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is proud that “our military took control of Dağlıca.” We, too, are proud that we hoisted the Turkish flag in a town in Turkish territory. In Turkish-speaking Turkey, mobs keep chasing Kurdish-speaking people to lynch and finding their property to burn down. In Kurdish-speaking Turkey, towns see wars, curfew or both.

Against such a “not-quite-an-empire” background, Talat Ulussever, board chairman of Istanbul’s stock market, has proposed “a model which would shape all stock exchange activity in line with a structure more compliant with Islamic rules.” In full support, your columnist even proposed a couple of ideas last week: Traders who swear never to drink a glass of wine or eat pork; traders whose wives have their heads covered… 

What about insider trading activity? Permissible if it is accompanied by prayers of repentance? Initial public offerings with the suitable prayer? No more listings of alcoholic beverage producers? Banning bank shares to float because interest is not permissible in Islam? 

The “displayed religion” hypocrisy never ends in this part of the world. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his top cleric, Professor Mehmet Görmez, vehemently condemned Israel for what they called as “occupation” of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound after the holy site became a scene to brief clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters. Only a couple of days before Messrs Erdoğan and Görmez condemned the “occupation” of a mosque in foreign lands, the newly-appointed Culture and Tourism Minister Yalçın Topçu said that “his heart” wanted to see the Hagia Sophia “mosque” (church) to be reopened for Muslim prayers. (The Hagia Sophia Church in Istanbul was built in 537 and served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral and the seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople -- except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted into a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Empire.) 

Minister Topçu, who earlier said that he would never allow (music) concerts where wine is consumed, said, “Opening the Hagia Sophia to prayers [for Muslims] is my personal dream, my goal, my ambition.” He did not say, though, whether he thinks it would be appropriate for non-Muslim countries to open mosques built centuries ago to non-Muslim prayers as there are plenty of such mosques in numerous European and Asian countries. The Islamist thinking here is very straightforward: “Don’t touch our mosques, but we will convert your churches!”

But should we be surprised at the crudity? My dear friend Fuad Kavur, a world-renowned Turkish-British director and producer of film and opera, is not: “Naturally, under best of circumstances [regarding Culture Minister Topçu], to hope for an André Malraux might have been slightly over-ambitious; instead, we seem to be lumbered with another Dr. Gœbbels - minus the doctorate from Heidelberg.”  

“Why stop there [the Hagia Sophia]?” Mr Kavur asks. “There are other Christian places of worship in Turkey, Orthodox and Catholic, and a handful of synagogues; why not turn them all into mosques?” 

His observation on the-more-surreal-than-surreal times we must endure between June 7 and Nov. 1 is interesting: “Obviously, in their soul searching as to why they did not quite make it on June 7, the AKP [Justice and Development Party] put two and two together and came up with five: Instead of suspecting they might have gone too far, they concluded they did not go far enough.”

Precisely. But the AKP may soon have to realize that their calculation including the unnecessary “one” they came up with in their equation may cost them more than “one.” In other words: the AKP, so far all-too happy with the bigger slice of a smaller cake, may have to learn to be content with the smaller slice of a smaller cake.