April 2009 Archives

Guest Voice  |  April 2, 2009 1:24 PM

A Jihadist Worth Emulating

Abd el-Kader put greater jihad first. Muslims and non-Muslims alike should emulate his lifelong jihad for personal righteousness and control over destructive passions.

By John W. Kiser and Michael L. Owens

Jihad. The word inspires fear in Western minds. Jihad means extremist Muslims blowing themselves up in crowded markets in order to kill as many infidels as possible. Jihad means attacks like 9/11, USS Cole, Madrid, London, Beirut, and so many more. Jihad means grainy videos of masked men beheading journalists followed by even grainier videos of bearded men in dirty white robes reading demands and calling America the devil. Jihad cannot possibly be something good, right? Wrong.

Do not let the extremists fool you. What they are doing has very little connection with right Islam or true jihad. First and foremost, greater jihad is about a personal and life-long struggle for righteousness and to become a worthy servant of God (Jihad an-nafs: Jihad against oneself). Only a distant second to this idea of personal struggle is the lesser jihad of waging war to defend the faith (Jihad bil-sayf: Jihad by the sword). In cases where this physical defense becomes necessary, the Qur'an lays out very clear rules about how to engage in warfare. No harming of innocents, women, children, or the elderly. No mistreatment of prisoners. Not even the use of fire to destroy nature. In short, a very intentional, limited warfare. True jihad must be conducted in a godly manner.

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Guest Voice  |  April 3, 2009 5:38 PM

Turkish Hopes High for Obama's Visit

By Utku Cakirozer
President Obama visits Turkey this weekend on his first overseas trip as U.S. president, and he sets a milestone by doing so: other U.S. presidents have always visited Ankara much later in their terms of office. This isn't a coincidence or a tiny detail. It represents a significant shift in fundamental foreign policy priorities under the new U.S. administration. I believe there are two main reasons for Obama to choose Turkey: The necessity to increase security cooperation and to reshape the global image of the United States in the aftermath of the Bush era.

Obama's presidency has put many Turks on edge, especially those in government; there's a general sense in Ankara that the more security-oriented U.S. Republican party appreciates Turkey's importance more than the Democrats do. But Obama's visit seems poised to dismiss that cliché; his pragmatism in international diplomacy, including public diplomacy, will put an early mark on his presidency as well as his administration's foreign policy.

Prior to his journey, Mr Obama underlined that his priority in foreign policy would be to deal with al-Qaeda terrorism and declared he would send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. But his plan will only be sustainable with the contribution of his NATO allies. Turkey, on the other hand, has NATO's second-largest armed forces and has historically been a staunch ally to the U.S. in many peace and stability missions throughout the world (the only exception being the Turkish Parliament's rejection in 2003 to allow U.S. troops to invade Iraq through Turkish territory.) Since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, Turkey has been a permanent participant of that multinational force as well. After the talks in Ankara between Obama and the Turkish leaders, one can expect a visible increase in Turkey's military and civilian presence in Afghanistan, with which Turkey had enjoyed a long history of friendly relations. Turkey can also help the U.S. in its efforts to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.

Turkey can also play a crucial role serving as a main logistics hub for the implementation of Obama's second priority in world affairs: Pulling the troops out of Iraq. Turkey's government is already indicating support for potential U.S. use of Incirlik Air Base and the port of Mersin.

Last year, Istanbul was the venue not only for Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's visit but also for the new round of peace negotiations between Israel and Syria. So President Obama will also look for ways of cooperation with Turkey to deal with Iran's nuclear program and the Middle East Peace Process.

Mr Obama's second reason to visit Turkey aims to deal with a much deeper problem. During the Bush administration, the very strong anti-American (or shall we say anti-Bush-policies) sentiments in Turkey have been an issue of deep concern for both capitals. According to Pew Center polls, America's favorability rating in Turkey in recent years has fluctuated between 9 and 12 percent, far behind Russia, Iran and Syria. According to the latest polls during the electoral campaign, skepticism toward Obama was still higher in Turkey than it was in other European countries, and relatively few Turks believed that American foreign policy would improve under the new administration.

In sharp contrast with the Bush administration's preemptive diplomacy, there have been glimmers of hope for many Turks since Obama's election. The president's readiness to listen to allies and friends in world affairs, and his early decisions - pulling troops out of Iraq, closing the Guantanamo detention center, opening dialogue with Iran - are all good signs.

But in order to leave this upsetting picture in the past and reshape the global image of his country, the president will need an ambitious public relations program in Turkey. In Ankara he will speak before the Turkish Parliament, a rare honor presented to visiting foreign leaders. In Istanbul, he will come together with young Turkish students in a meeting. Youth organizations throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia will also participate through videoconference. He might even use the forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations initiative (co-chaired by the Turkish and Spanish prime ministers), which will take place while he is in Istanbul, as a platform to reach out the Muslim world.

So Turkey the Muslim country he promised to visit in the first 100 days of his presidency? Officials in both capitals try to downplay this, but the fact remains that Turkey is a country with a predominantly Muslim population. But Turkey is also the only constitutionally secular Muslim nation that has for decades been anchored to the Western institutions like NATO and EU. Turkey has been a link between East and West not only geographically but also culturally and historically. And certainly Turkey has demonstrated that there is a third way through which Islam and Western style democracy can coexist despite occasional ups and downs. This is the message that President Obama ought to emphasize in his visit to Turkey with global implications: that a clash of civilizations is not inevitable.

Having said that, Turkish people want to hear the president's view on where Turkey stands in the eyes of his administration. Stopping at Turkey in his tour to Europe is a clear sign that the president views this country as part of that continent, but Turks wonder whether he is willing to lobby in Europe, as one of his predecessors former president Bill Clinton did in the past, on behalf of Turkey's most important political project: accession to the European Union. They also want to see Obama stand by their side in their struggle against terrorism. They want to see trust, partnership and confidence re-established in U.S.-Turkish relations. They want to see the new president take the lead in restoring peace, security and prosperity in the region they call home.

Utku Cakirozer is a reporter for the Turkish newspaper Milliyet and a Hubert Humphrey Fellow at the University of Maryland.

Guest Voice  |  April 9, 2009 2:22 PM

Obama's Turkish Successes

By Utku Cakirozer

In the aftermath of President Obama's visit to Turkey early this week, PostGlobal asked five Turkey experts from prominent American research and policy institutions for their reactions to President Obama's visit to Turkey. They reached broad consensus on two issues.

First, Obama made it clear to everyone where exactly Turkey stands in the eyes of the United States. He confirmed his administration's perception that Turkey belongs to West, and supported Turkey's European Union accession process. He did this not only symbolically (by including Turkey to his tour to Europe rather than to Middle East), but also with powerful statements before the Turkish parliament in Ankara. While showing great respect to Islam, the religion of the majority of Turkish society, he underlined the secular and democratic nature of the country, too.

Second, he made great strides toward remaking America's image within Turkish society. Between his personal charm, his promise never to make war against Islam, his firm support for Turkey's EU accession process and his promise to continue supporting Turkey's struggle against terror, he gave important signals that Turks immediately understood.

Some observers prefer a cautious stand about the future of the relationship, especially regarding the American Armenian community's expectation that the President will officially declare the killings of Armenians during the First World War as "genocide." These analysts warn that such a development could radically change that rosy forecast for Turkish-American relations.

Other analysts were less satisfied with the President's performance, highlighting his avoidance of certain human rights issues like freedom of expression and women's rights - the roots of which problems, they believe, emanate from the authoritarian attitudes of the AKP government.

Thoughts from the five experts, in their own words, are below. Please add your own impressions in the comment thread.

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Guest Voice  |  April 13, 2009 5:37 PM

Gorbachev's Great Expectations

By Anton Fedyashin

Mikhail Gorbachev came to Washington last month as part of a tour inspired by the promise of a thaw in U.S.-Russian relations. The former General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party and first Soviet President met with American academics and officials, including President Obama and Vice President Biden. Throughout his trip, he argued that the United States and Russia share three fundamental goals, all of which will be impossible to achieve without working as equal partners: controlling nuclear weapons, dealing with Islamic extremism, and cooperating on environmental issues. But finding common ground from which to negotiate won't be easy.

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Guest Voice  |  April 22, 2009 12:25 PM

The Politics of Toilets

By Rose George

On Earth Day, let's not forget the dirt. The planet is soiled with sewage, on land and sea. Our waste is the biggest marine pollutant there is, according to the United Nations Environment Program. In the developing world, ninety percent of sewage is discharged untreated into oceans and rivers, where its high nutrient content can suffocate the life out of seas, contributing to dead zones (405 worldwide and counting).

There are dead zones on land, too. Human waste contaminates environments all over the world, rich and poor. Imagine getting up at 4 a.m. in darkness, trekking to a nearby bush or field, and going to the bathroom out in the open. Imagine then being hit by a farmer who doesn't like you toileting in his field, or being raped by someone taking advantage of the dark, which you need to preserve your modesty. The quarter of the world's population without access to sanitation - not even a bucket nor a box - don't have to imagine this. It's their daily reality. What's more, all that excrement lying around has deadly consequences. More children - up to 2 million a year, or one every 15 seconds or so - die of diarrhea, 90 percent of which is due to fecal contamination in food or liquid, than of TB, malaria or HIV/AIDS. Diarrhea is the world's most effective weapon of mass destruction.

That's the gloom. The good news is that it's solvable. And solving the world's sewage mess would be such a bargain that it should appeal to politicians holding the purse strings even in these straitened times. Investing $1 in sanitation reaps $8 in health costs averted and labor days saved. Look at it another way: not investing $1 in sanitation loses you $7. Last year the World Bank calculated that poor sanitation cost Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam between 1.4 and 7.2 percent of their GDP. When Peru had a cholera outbreak in 1991, losses from tourism and agricultural revenue were three times greater than the total money spent on sanitation in the previous decade.

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Guest Voice  |  April 24, 2009 2:58 PM

Defining a Future As Neighbors

The Current Discussion: Today is "Genocide Remembrance Day "in the Armenian community, a particularly strained time of year for Turkey and Armenia. What's a realistic first step forward toward reconciliation for each of these countries?

By Richard Giragosian

Armenians throughout the world are gathering today for their annual April 24th commemoration of the Armenian genocide, in a traditional ceremony of collective remembrance. Yet this year's commemoration differs greatly from previous such ceremonies, as Armenia and Turkey are now poised to forge a new and historic agreement on "normalizing" relations. After a long process of secret diplomacy that culminated in the first-ever visit to Armenia by a Turkish head of state last September, both sides now finally seem ready to reexamine their past and redefine their future.

Later today, President Barack Obama is set to issue the traditional presidential statement on the Armenian genocide, with both sides eagerly anticipating, or fearing, his choice of words to define the tragic events of 1915. Clearly, there is a substantial amount of evidence showing that the events of 1915, during which roughly 1.5 million Armenians were killed, constituted a concerted state policy of genocide. Moreover, an independent legal assessment of the applicability of the convention to the Armenian case, commissioned by the respected International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), concluded that "the events (of 1915), viewed collectively, can thus be said to include all of the elements of the crime of genocide as defined in the Convention, and legal scholars as well as historians, politicians, journalists and other people would be justified in continuing to so describe them."

But any narrow focus on only the genocide issue or President Obama's choice of wording obscures the point, as the burden for addressing Turkey's historical legacy now rests with Turkey itself, which has already embarked on a significant, and at times painful, reexamination of its past and redefinition of its identity.

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Guest Voice  |  April 24, 2009 2:18 PM

The Caucasian Energy Circle

The Current Discussion: Today is "Genocide Remembrance Day "in the Armenian community, a particularly strained time of year for Turkey and Armenia. What's a realistic first step forward toward reconciliation for each of these countries?

By Soner Cagaptay

Turkey and Armenia are getting closer, and that's great news. Washington has long wanted the two countries to get over their differences, open their closed border, and establish diplomatic ties. If all that happened, it would be wonderful news. But euphoria over Turkish-Armenian rapprochement should not, however, obfuscate the big, strategic picture in the Caucasian energy circle. The thaw in Turkish-Armenian relations should not come at the expense of the East-West energy corridor, i.e. cooperation over pipelines running from Azerbaijan to Turkey, a crucial strategic tool for Washington to decrease the West's dependence on Middle East oil and gas.

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Panelist View  |  April 28, 2009 10:53 AM

The Trouble With the 'Genocide' Label

The Current Discussion: Today is "Genocide Remembrance Day "in the Armenian community, a particularly strained time of year for Turkey and Armenia. What's a realistic first step forward toward reconciliation for each of these countries?

By Salil Tripathi

Turkey and Armenia have begun the slow, tentative waltz of rebuilding relations, after President Obama spoke in Istanbul, but did not use the G-word.

That was perhaps a wise decision, notwithstanding the strong emotive reason that propelled many to call a spade a spade, a machete a machete, and a genocide a genocide, leading to the Congressional Resolution. The truth is that ultimately only communities themselves can make the decision to leave the past behind. International leaders - even one as gifted as Barack Obama - can only play a limited role. (Sudan's conflict didn't stop when Colin Powell called the killings in Darfur a genocide, and few countries joined him in condemning the Sudanese leadership.)

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Guest Voice  |  April 30, 2009 5:18 PM

Pakistan's Zardari Goes to Washington

By Mansoor Ijaz

Pakistan has a split personality problem. Its citizens can rise up en masse on one day to depose a military dictator and reinstate honest judges, but the next day seem helpless to stop politicians from ceding strategic territory to enemies who publicly flog a 17-year old woman as a show of justice. Most American taxpayers, who are being asked to finance aid even as the country disintegrates, don't have the faintest idea how to decode what's really wrong there or where to begin to help. President Zardari could change that during his upcoming visit to Washington - but it would require his bold domestic leadership and a new direction for Pakistan and its relationship with the U.S.

Pakistan's central problem today is the systemic failure of its federal, provincial and local governments to provide for its citizens' basic needs, whether public safety, healthcare, education or employment. The Taliban is stepping in to fill that void. Hamas did the same in Palestinian enclaves throughout Israel when PLO leadership failed to offer disenfranchised Palestinians a structured way of life. You've heard it before: security is assured, albeit through intimidation and brutality. Basic daily staples like food and clothing come from Arab-financed hawala cash transfers. Education comes from Saudi-funded madrassa schools. Legal disputes are settled through harsh Islamic laws. Only geography makes the Pakistani case different from that of the Palestinians.

To make matters worse, America's visible role in Pakistan's internal affairs only helps the Taliban's cause. Pakistan's woefully inadequate leader, President Asif Ali Zardari, has been privately lectured and publicly admonished by Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen. Those lectures have made him look like an American stooge playing to the often conflicting ways in which Washington wants Islamabad to act.

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PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and washingtonpost.com, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send us your comments, questions and suggestions.