Monday, October 09, 2017

CRIKEY: The two men at the centre of the bloodshed in Turkey


Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen's rivalry extends to Australia.




Turkey is going through a period of potentially divisive transition. Its political and religious identity is up for grabs. And its substantial diaspora communities — in Germany, North America and Australia, among other places — are not immune.

The coup has been blamed on followers Fethullah Gulen — a Pennsylvania-based imam and businessman who has for years rivalled Erdogan for influence over the style and shape of Turkey’s democratic Islamism. It’s a struggle that reaches well beyond Turkey’s shores, even to Australia, where the Turkish government provides imams to Turkish mosques.

In Australia, a large number of mosques are managed by Turkish communities. These include not only established metropolitan mosques across Sydney and Melbourne but also in regional NSW and Queensland.

The Diyanet (Turkish Ministry of Religion) provides imams to most of these mosques and pays their wages. This gives Turkish mosques a huge financial advantage over their cash-strapped equivalents from other ethnic groups. However, few Diyanet imams stay in Australia for any length of time beyond a few years.

But also having a strong presence in Turkish communities are the secular Gulen schools and university faculties. The Gulen movement (known as Hizmet or “social service”) is believed to have links with independent non-denominational schools in Sydney and Melbourne, which are popular with Turkish parents. In addition to this, the movement has entered into arrangements with universities in NSW and Victoria.

Gulen is a former state imam and Islamist. But he is also a committed democrat who rose to prominence through his sermons in state mosques. He fled to the United States in 1999 after being accused in Turkey of Islamic extremism. 

Gulen and Erdogan were, for a time, allies. But in recent years, their views on Turkish Islamism have become clashed. Three years ago, the leaking of documents exposing the Turkish government’s corruption was blamed on Gulen’s supporters. Since then, the government has taken over several media outlets and educational institutions linked to Gulen in Turkey. And yesterday, Turkey’s prime minister Binali Yildirim sent the United States a request to extradite Gulen, who Yildrim called a “terrorist chief”, over his suspected role in the coup.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is very popular in Turkey — and his popularity has increased after the coup. A Istanbul-based political science academic and expert on Turkey’s diaspora, who asked Crikey not to name him given the increasingly dangerous situation for critics of Erdogan in Turkey, said the crowds supporting Erdogan over the weekend reflected
... all the colours in this alliance: Islamists, conservative nationalists, followers of various Sufi orders, extreme nationalists … all are now worshipping Erdogan.
The academic thinks from now on, criticising Erdogan will mean siding with the failed coup, and against the will of the people.

In Turkey’s diaspora, the divisions mirror those in Turkey. And tensions are rising. In Germany, supporters of Erdogan attacked a school associated with Gulen in the wake of the failed coup. And in Colorado, those in the local Gulen movement say they have also been made targeted by supporters of Erdogan.

In Australia, suspicions about Gulen’s influence have generally been limited to more paranoid sources. In the US, querying Gulen lobbying activities has been a much more mainstream affair.

Given the large, perhaps disproportional and largely ignored influence Turkish religious institutions have among Australian Muslim groups, relations between pro- and anti-Gulen forces will be something worth keeping an eye on.

First published in Crikey on 20 July 2016.


CRIKEY: News Corp gumshoe Sharri Markson does serious jernalisms on toddlers’ hair



News Corp senior writer Sharri Markson has whipped up a brand new scare campaign against Muslims based on the practice of toddlers wearing hijabs.

Ramadan is the month of spiritual miracles. This year, it was especially miraculous in Australia as the imams managed to get their act together and declare that the lunar month would end on the same day. Normally, the month begins and ends on separate days, depending on your mosque. For example, the mosque serving your ethnicity (assuming you have a single ethnicity, which has its own mosque) could determine Ramadan by resorting to a calendar, or it could do it by sighting the moon with the naked eye.

Still, it’s not every day that you see 50,000 Muslims performing their Eid prayers on Haldon Street, Lakemba. Mostly these are the people who don’t turn up to the mosque at any other time of year. This year, The Australian sent its senior writer Sharri Markson to cover the event. In one report, she advised that

... toddlers have begun wearing the hijab as Australian Muslims follow a global trend of younger children covering their hair. 

Did you read that, punters? A global trend. That’s a bold claim to make. To establish such a trend, you’d need to do a huge quantitative and qualitative study across not just the 180-plus ethnicities that make up Australian Muslims but also Muslims across the planet, including the 20%-plus of Muslims living as minorities in everywhere from India to Taiwan to our cousins across the dutch.

Did Markson ask some women about this? There were 50,000 people there, and my guess is at least one-quarter would have been women. On unfairly conservative estimates, perhaps half would have spoken English as their first language. So Markson could have asked any one of 6250 women and girls.

She might well have, but not one is quoted in her story. She might have gone to any number of mosques in Sydney catering for other ethnic groups, including groups where women only cover their hair during the actual prayer time and/or when listening to the scripture being recited, not just for an hour or so after emerging from the mosque. She might have joined my parents at the Urdu-speaking mosque in Rooty Hill and sat with my mum and all the other south Asian women with their hair loose draped with translucent “dupatta“, which would quickly be removed as soon as the prayer was over. 



But why would you do that when you can speak to Keysar Trad, a controversial imam and the former president of a peak body with a bombastic name? Interestingly, none of her sources confirmed Markson’s claim that Muslim toddlers and girls across the world are increasingly covering their hair. 

In her other article, Markson was most disappointed that NSW Premier Mike Baird

... failed to condemn the community leader’s inflammatory remarks. 

And what were the inflammatory remarks of the President of the Lebanese Muslim Association? Muslims felt under siege from Muslim-phobic politicians, felt vulnerable to bigotry and hatred and were subject to

... divisive and toxic policy decisions. 

Gosh, how inflammatory can you get!

And worse still,

... [n]one addressed the issue of radicalisation, focusing instead on Islamophobia and racism. 

Terrible. You’d think a Muslim leader would use the occasion of Eid to read out Andrew Bolt columns.

Being the awesome investigative reporter that she is, Markson wasn’t content:
“Mr Baird refused to condemn Mr Dandan’s remarks when contacted after the ceremony. ‘There were a number of other speakers but the Premier won’t be doing any commentary on their contributions,’ his spokesman said. 
Asked why he spoke about ­racial vilification towards the Muslim community but did not use the opportunity in front of 40,000 people to discuss radicalisation or terrorism, Mr Baird’s spokesman said ‘there were many subjects the Premier did not mention in his remarks, which occupied less than three minutes’.”
Seriously, one of the toddlers in a hijab or dupatta could have told Markson that.

First published in Crikey on 8 July 2016.