North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Turkey's rulers seek a "pious generation" amidst a threatening region

Turkey continues to present a mosaic of contradictory policies and positions to the world as its June 7 parliamentary elections near. The elections will decide the makeup of the 550 members of the Grand National Assembly, and the elected members will form the 25th Parliament of Turkey.

Turkey has a population of nearly 75 million people, compared to Egypt's 82 million and Germany's 80 million. The country sits strategically between Europe and the Arab world, and it has a turbulent history with its neighbors. Graphic from

From wikipedia, we read, "The governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) will seek a fourth consecutive term in government. Its leader, Ahmet Davutoğlu, will seek a full term as Prime Minister of Turkey in his own right, having taken over from Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in August 2014. The AKP's goal is likely to be to win more than 330 seats in order to have the right to put constitutional changes to a referendum, or more ideally 367 seats to bypass a referendum and change the constitution directly within parliament."

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, campaigning for his AKP party which is expected to gain a majority of seats in the June 7th election. Such a majority in turn would allow him to adjust the country's constitution to reflect his own vision of the nation and Turkey's leadership in the region. Photo from The Economist with the article here.

So what direction is Erdogan, with his party, wanting to take Turkey?

As a recent BBC article (found here) put it, "Under the 12-year rule of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, constitutionally-secular Turkey has fundamentally changed. There is now a push to raise a "pious generation"

The article continues, "The government has constantly stressed its vision of stay-at-home mothers, urging three children per family. Last year, the deputy prime minister told women not to laugh in public; the president recently insisted that men and women were "not made equal".

And from the Economist article noted above, "seen against the background of his recent behaviour, Mr Erdogan’s plans for a strong presidency are troubling. He has dismantled checks on his power. His approach is majoritarian and divisive: so long as his party wins elections, it can trample any critics. Critical newspaper groups have been subjected to capricious tax fines. Columnists have been fired. Turkey had more journalists in jail than any other country until the middle of last year, when a clutch of 40 were let out. Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based group, ranks it 149th of 180 countries for press freedom, above Russia but below Venezuela.

The authorities have often tried to close off access to critical websites and social media. In the second half of 2014, Turkey filed 477 requests to Twitter to remove content, five times more than any other country. And since Mr Erdogan became president, 105 people have been indicted for insulting the head of state.

Attacks on the media and a harsh crackdown on the protests in Gezi Park in Istanbul two years ago deepened a rift with the supporters of Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim preacher. The Gulenists, formerly Mr Erdogan’s allies against the army and the secular establishment, have now become enemies. The battle with them intensified after tape recordings of AK officials taking bribes were leaked. Mr Erdogan promptly reassigned hundreds of policemen, prosecutors and judges who were looking into cases of alleged graft."

President Erdogan has raised the debate with Fethullah Gulen, a former imam, who is self-exiled in the U.S. Gulen, who has millions of Turkey supporters, "teaches an Anatolian version of Islam, deriving from Sunni Muslim scholar Said Nursî's teachings. Gülen has stated that he believes in science, interfaith dialogue among the People of the Book, and multi-party democracy. He has initiated such dialogue with the Vatican and some Jewish organizations" according to Wikipedia. Photo from The Guardian

Gülen is actively involved in the societal debate concerning the future of the Turkish state, and Islam in the modern world. He has been described in the English-language media as an imam "who promotes a tolerant Islam which emphasises altruism, hard work and education"

Turkey's contradictions and tensions abound.

Even as Erdogan states clearly where his citizens should head, there is increasing discord by a variety of minorities within Turkey itself. Izmir, Turkey's third largest city and on its westernmost coast, is home to the opposition CHP party, which is the party of modern Turkey's founding father, Kemal Ataturk. The party is adamantly secular, strongly pro-women's rights, and nervous about the AKP's push to Islamicize the population. It made recent news by holding women bicycle rallies to offer a different vision for women rather than accepting a subservient Islamic role.

Izmir women on bicyles - a threat to Erdogan's pious generation? Photo from the BBC

Not to be outdone, President Erdogan also rode a bicycle with a few of his friends and bodyguards during a recent 51st Presidential tour. Photo from

At that same time, it is unclear as to how Erdogan's party will interact with its restive Kurdish population in the east of the country. Most readers will remember the outrage in Turkey over Erdogan's passiveness as Kurds in Kobane were under siege by ISIS. His inaction over Kobane undermined his bright spot over the past decade in attempting to better integrate Turkish Kurds into the country as a whole. The still potent separatist Kurdish PKK remains firmly secular with both men and women serving equally in its ranks, and is unlikely to line up behind Erdogan's piety.

Regarding Turkey's neighbors in an increasingly broken region of the world, Erdogan continues to confound his allies and potential partners.

Erdogan has become hostile towards Israel, a recent ally, while savagely opposing Syria's Assad. Yet while Turkey spends 2.4 % of its gross national product - about $18 billion - on its military, a number that puts it among the countries that spend the most on their militaries (and shames most European countries who have let themselves grow woefully weak in their ability to meaningfully confront Russia's aggressiveness in Ukraine and the Baltic nations), the country is aloof in participating in a Sunni-led alliance against the Syrian leader.

The Turkey-Syria Akcakale border in southern Sanliurfa province. One of many flashpoints that face Turkey as the Syrian civil war lumbers tragically towards a somber conclusion. Photo from Australian Broadcasting Company

Erdogan was borderline hysterical with indignation at the recent movement - from the UN to western media - to accept the definition of genocide by Turkey 100 years ago towards Armenians, leaving many would-be allies unsure of the nation's ability to confront its own history.

Time will tell through the rest of 2015 where Turkey heads, there are the elections in just less than a week, a possible end game in Syria between Hezbollah and Assad vs ISIS and other rebel groups, a restive Kurd population with new discomforts with Erdogan and a long affinity with the Kurds of Iraq. Whither Erdogan's hope for his pious generation.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Bangladesh, Nepal, and Myanmar's Rohingya in the news

The region that contains Bangladesh, Nepal, and the western portion of Myanmar does not pretend to be influential in today's world. But news from these countries has filtered out this past week and is worth noting.

Nepal is a mountainous country where the Himalaya mountains have formed from the Indian tectonic plate pushing into the Eurasian plate. Bangladesh is nearly all a low level delta from rivers running from the Himalayas to the ocean. The Western region of Myanmar is non-descript, mainly low level hills. Graphic from

Nepal suffered a major earthquake and a set of aftershocks, killing nearly 8000 of its citizens. With steep terrain, and limited infrastructure, it is a stiff blow to the country's prospects in the near term.

While a disaster, it may be one that nonetheless pulls its citizens together. Soldiers, citizens, and the government are all working with the same goal of recovering from this major setback. Photo from

The Rohingya of Myanmar are a Muslim minority in an otherwise Buddhist Myanmar. This ethnic group has little power, faces an indifferent, if not hostile government, and neighbors thus are allowed to act aggressively toward these people. The Rohingya number nearly 1 million, are mainly agrarian, have their own language, and isolated by modern borders from other Muslim populations, namely Bangladesh.

In an article two years ago from the Christian Science Monitor, we read that some Buddhists in Bangladesh are leaving that country and being resettled in Rohingya land. Another element of harassment and oppression of the Rohingya. The Myanmar government and Buddhist leaders contend that the Rohingya are relatively new to the region and have no long-standing claim on the land. The long running strife is messy, violent, and oppressive with diminished opportunities for education and growth within the Rohingya community. While primarily a reflection of mismatched borders and intertwined populations with Bangladesh, the issue as found elsewhere is how minority populations are protected by law and treated equally. When Myanmar and Bangladesh both struggle with poverty and a mixed record of governance, the festering continues.

Border guards in Bangladesh refuse entry to Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in November 2012. Teatree was moved and sobered by the pain on this man's face, frustrated no doubt in his attempts to find refuge for his family. Photo from ipsnews.ndet

In the past few days, both impoverished Bangladeshi and Rohingya have taken to the seas looking for refuge. Malaysia and other destination countries are not keen to take them in, and so another cauldron of suffering and displacement simmers.

The enclave of Rohingya's is shown outlined in red. One can imagine a long and perilous voyage by sea along the hostile coast of Myanmar, with the hope that Malaysia, a fellow Muslim country, might take them in. In the past weeks, Thailand, long a first stop for refugees, cracked down on the activity, forcing other boat people to travel further southeast to Malaysia or Indonesia. They have not been welcomed in either country. An article from Australia's Broadcasting Company (ABC) has further details.

And then perhaps most ominously, there is recent violence in Bangladesh with a specific theme. Three bloggers expressing criticism of aspects of Islam have been killed since the first of the year. A CNN article reports on the latest, "Ananta Bijoy Das, 32, was killed Tuesday morning as he left his home on his way to work at a bank, police in the northeastern Bangladeshi city of Sylhet said.

Four masked men attacked him, hacking him to death with cleavers and machetes, said Sylhet Metropolitan Police Commissioner Kamrul Ahsan. The men then ran away. Because of the time of the morning when the attack happened, there were few witnesses. But police say they are following up on interviewing the few people who saw the incident.

"It's one after another after another," said Imran Sarker, who heads the Blogger and Online Activists Network in Bangladesh. "It's the same scenario again and again. It's very troubling."

Das' death was at least the third this year of someone who'd posted pieces online critical of Islam. In each case, the attacks were carried out publicly on city streets. In March, Washiqur Rahman, 27, was hacked to death by two men with knives and meat cleavers just outside his house as he headed to work at a travel agency in the capital, Dhaka.

In February, a Bangladesh-born American blogger, Avijit Roy, was similarly killed with machetes and knives as he walked back from a book fair in Dhaka.

The three victims are hardly the only ones who have paid a steep price for their views. In the last two years, several bloggers have died, either murdered or under mysterious circumstances. In 2014, Reporters Without Borders reported that a group calling itself Defenders of Islam in Bangladesh had published a "hit list" of writers it saw as opposing Islam. "They listed 84 bloggers, mostly secularists. They listed 84 of them," said blogger Asif Mohiuddin, whose name was on the list. "Nine of them are already killed and many of the [others] were attacked."

The killings highlight the ignorance and intolerance sheltered within Islam's followers, not just the jihadists, and the question again becomes, what are "normal" Muslims to do.

There are no doubt many Muslims who deplore the killings of these activists, and take a step of resistance by, in this case, publicly mourning one of the victims. Photo from Agence France-Presse

But the young, righteous, and violent Islamists are unrepentent. And the future for tolerance in yet another Muslim country is now shaken.