Everyone else’s father is in prison in Istanbul,
they want to hang everyone else’s son
in the middle of the road, in broad daylight
People there are willing to risk the gallows
so that everyone else’s son won’t be hanged
so that everyone else’s father won’t die
and bring home a loaf of bread and a kite.
People, good people,
Call out from the four corners of the world,
say stop it,
Don’t let the executioner tighten the rope
[ Nazim Hikmet, 1954 ]
Its best to stay as far aways as possible when two mafia dons meet to talk business. Especially when their deep state security detail has a disturbing tendency to shoot first and ask questions after. Today, Delhi’s roads are emptier than usual, even on a Sunday. And I am reading Nazim Hikmet, because a thug is coming to town.
The Turkish president Recap Tayyip Erdogan’s motorcade will soon be speeding from Palam Airport. He is on his way to Delhi to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi right now. They have a busy two days ahead, so many meetings, so many handshakes. Perhaps, later today or tomorrow, to save time, they could resort to the latest bit of political technology that they are both known to be found of – the hologram, to engineer at least one or two successfully ecstatic public appearances. Imagine two giant holograms – Modi and Erdogan, illuminating the growing darkness of a New Delhi night, hand in hand. What a sight that would be for sore neo-fascist Hindi-Turki eyes.
But seriously, the agenda is full. Back-to-back, man-to-man meetings – there’s so much to talk about, so many notes to compare. How to strike a deal about what needs to happen so that India can brown nose the Nuclear Suppliers Group (where Turkey packs a heavy punch). The minor matter of how to deal with pesky little Cyprus (which Modi just did, last week, by telling the visiting Cypriot president that Erdogan was next in queue, so Cyprus had better hurry up and go). How to win elections and run a declared-undeclared emergency at the same time. How to have the media fight over who gets the choicest crumb thrown from the high table while they salivate for more. How to have cronies rake in the loot on an unprecedented scale and still pretend to be a saint running a corruption free government. Then there is the usual question of how to kill more Kurds, sorry Kashmiris (same difference). Not to forget – how to arrest students, professors and shut down universities. Busy, busy, busy. Like the bromance of two real men at the helms of state ought to be.
And Modi gets a bonus, a real Turkish delight, a halva to remember. He gets a photo op with Erdogan,and voila – some pliant minoritarian ‘opinion makers’ (also known as men with muslim names available for rent to the highest bidder) agree to forget the Gau Rakshaks, ignore Love Jihad Paranoia and the Genocide fantasist Yogi-Chief Minister. You can almost hear them say “Agar Modi-Erdogan Ho Bhai-Bhai toh Hindu Rashtra Bhi Why Not Try”. (If Modi and Erdogan Can be Brothers, hy Not Accept a Hindu State’. Nice. Or as they would say in Turkish – Mükemmel.
In exchange, Erdogan gets a shiny Re-Designed for Dictators Doctor of Letters Degree over tea and kababs (broiler chicken, not beef) at Jamia Millia Islamia. With a few hired Maulanas, a few ‘community leaders’ and a tame vice-chancellor in attendance, in their best ironed sherwanis and gleaming polyester suits, bent and smiling that eager but absent-mindedly fake smile that terrified subjects offer to bored, violent and venal sultans.
As for honorary degrees, what’s the big deal? Jamia Millia Islamia gave it to Ban ki Moon, to the Dalai Lama, and what was that pesky economist – Amartya whatsisname Sen. That was a mistake, bad mistake. But listen, they did give it to the useful Saudi Superslime, who’s par-dada log were mere vassals of the Ottoman Empire. So why not Erdogan, the Neo-Ottoman Caliph in Waiting. Why not indeed? It feels nice to bask for a moment in the fleeting light of the comet-tail of a passing tyrant when you have no dignity left to call your own. Making nice with Erdogan Aqa is another way of staying in the good books of Modiji and Yogiji. Who knows which minor governorship might come one’s way? There are always advantages to accommodation, just like some ‘community leaders’ of Jewish settlements in Eastern Europe thought, while managing their communities’ transport arrangements with the likes of Hitlerji and Himmlerji. Remember, this was done in exchange for a slight postponement of the dates of their particular appointments with the Zyklon B technicians. One must always learn from history.
The last time a Turkish head of government came visiting India, in 2000, he was also conferred with an honorary doctorate – and this was Bülent Ecevit, who was felicitated with a doctor of letters (Honoris Causa) degree, no, not by Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, but by Vishwa Bharati University, Shantiniketan.
Ecevit, like many politicians of his time, was a complex character, combining a hardline Turkish secular nationalism (which prompted him to issue orders for an armed invasion of Cyprus) with a commitment to an open, democratic and broadly centre-left consensus, that was opposed to the deep structures of militarist power in the Turkish state, an enlightened, secular cultural and educational policy, and a sincere appreciation of basic civic rights. One can at least look back at his legacy with a certain degree of ambivalence. But there cannot have been any doubts about his having deserved an honor from the university founded by Rabindranath Tagore.
It is a little known and little appreciated fact that Bülent Ecevit, apart from being a hard-nosed survivor and wily left of centre Turkish politician, was also a fluent Bangla speaker, Sanskrit scholar and translator of Rabindranath Tagore. Ecevit and Erdogan are a study in contrasts. Ecevit was a contradiction, an ivory tower intellectual who had the guts to take on the Turkish military at the height of the cold war, a ruthless Turkish chauvinist who could also be an open minded liberal, a deeply learned man of culture who was also a savvy backroom politician, as well as a bit of a demagogue. Erdogan, on the other hand, is a street thug and a smart operator who made it to the big time courting the tails of shady imams. Many Turkish men and women of a certain generation can suddenly pull line after line from Tagore in chaste Turkish, especially after a few rounds of Raki, because they say that during the years of the military coup in Turkey, Tagore helped them think about a time when their country could once again awaken to a state ‘where the mind is without fear, and the head is held high’. Incidentally, there was a period in the 1970s in Turkey, when Turkish translations of the writings of Tagore (and interestingly Charu Mazumdar !) were banned, together with translations of the Upanishads and the Gita – because these books were often found in the hostel rooms of leftist students. Turks owe their Tagore to Ecevit. To Erdogan, they owe mainly an epidemic of shiny shopping malls.
Today, in Turkey and in India, the head hangs low, the mind is running scared.
Erdogan and Modi are both leading civilian regimes which despite having elected parliamentary majorities behind them are intent on behaving like insecure military dictatorships. Both have a growing and ugly cult of personality, and both seem particularly irritated by the idea that universities should be places where anyone should learn anything other than how to chant ‘Bharat Mata ki Hai’ or “Huzur, Güvenlik, İstikrar” (Peace, Security, Stability) in classrooms about as empty as the minds of the two dear leaders themselves.
Ever since the brutal repression of the peaceful Gezi Park citizens protests in Istanbul’s Taksim Square in 2013 (to resist the demolition of a popular park to make way for a mosque and mall complex in which members of Erdogan’s inner circle in the AK Party have commercial interests – through ties to the controversial construction company Kaylon – but which rapidly turned into a wide ranging general protest against the Erdogan regime) and a few high profile investigations threatened to reveal the mountain of corruption carefully nurtured by Erdogan’s son and his cronies, ( including cabinet ministers) the AKP regime has taken a decisive turn towards authoritarianism. The convenient spectacle of a Turkish Islamism and Ottoman revivalism (exactly like its twin – Hindutva and Great Indian Nationalism) has been deployed by Erdogan’s government to roll back freedom in public spaces, to attack the rights of women (for instance to free and safe abortion) and sexuality minorities and to turn a vibrant, open, deeply secular society into one riven by paranoia, patriarchal grandstanding and cultural censorship. Artists, writers and musicians have been attacked, the state has deliberately insulted, targeted and provoked religious minorities such as the Shia Alevi, workers and working class activists have been assaulted, state terror against the Kurdish minorities unleashed, and despite overt statements to the contrary, the Erdogan regime has flirted with the ISIS in Syria and Iraq, especially to provide safe passage to ISIS fighters engaged in combat with the militantly secular, feminist and anti-state partisans of the Kurdish dominated YPG guerrilla forces in northern Syria, who are locked in a triangular battle against the Syrian state and its Iranian mentors, the ISIS rebels and the US and Saudi backed Al Nusra front.
The latest wave of repression in Turkey, following a shadowy coup attempt apparently involving Gulenist elements (Fethullah Gulen is a US based soft-Islamist cult leader and sometime ally of Erdogan who has fallen out with him of late) had led to a total crisis, especially in the universities and intellectual and cultural life in Turkey. The repression is reaching unimaginable proportions. Just for example, as of today, you would not be able to follow some of the links in the this post, which lead to Wikipedia pages on the Gezi Park protests, or to the 2013 corruption scandals, because today, the Erdogan regime decided to ban access to Wikipedia in Turkey.
To try and stem the crisis of legitimacy of his regime, Erdogan recently called for a plebiscite to affirm constitutional changes to expand and consolidate his power. It is widely acknowledged that the plebiscite, which took place under repressive conditions and a gagged media, and widespread, well substantiated allegations of electoral fraud, is deeply flawed. For whatever its worth, it is true that Erdogan won the plebiscite, Trump style, by a very narrow margin, while completely losing the confidence of every major Turkish city. The comparisons of this victory with Ahmedinijad’s stolen election in Iran of 2009 are by no means unwarranted.
The Erdogan – Modi chemistry is transparent (Marine Le Pen, the far right french leader revealed an interesting truth when she said that she believes that the world has changed, that it is now a Trump-Modi-Putin worlds. She forgot to include Erdogan and Hungary’s Viktor Orban in this axis, but she might has well have had.). Both Erdogan and Modi are authoritarian, dictatorial leaders buoyed by electoral victories achieved through masterly media manipulation and messaging, both invoke religion and majoritarian anxieties cynically, both deploy fantasies of global great power status to excite large populations of insecure men who are kept busy as armies of trolls and vigilantes, and both nurture a deep, pathological hatred of intellectual dissent and openness.
At the last count, 1,00,155 people have been detained; 2,099 educational institutions (including several universities) across Turkey have been shut down; 7,317 academics have lost their jobs, and 2,824 student activists are in prison. Academicians for Peace, a group of more than one thousand Professors who signed an open letter condemning human rights violations in Turkish Kurdistan were charged with treason and are now being prosecuted. Professors expelled from universities are now well attended taking classes in open public spaces.
One has only to read a minor detail in this litany of horrors to understand what exactly is happening in Turkey under Erdogan. Here is an extract from a report of April 3, 2017 (exactly twenty seven days ago) of the English language site of Hurriyet, a mainstream Turkish newspaper
CHP deputy Özel said the number of arrested and convicted students was “terrifying.” (CHP is a moderate centre left opposition party)
“It is above our estimations. Even the students unfurling banners about free education are charged with [crimes related to] the armed terrorist organizations. The prosecutors trying to create criminals seemed to have achieved that,” Özel said.
Galatasaray University student Cihan Kırmızıgül was arrested for wearing a “poshu” scarf in Kağıthane in Feb. 2010 and was kept under arrest for 25 months. “Since the piece of cloth called poshu was used for the intention of a crime, it is decided on his confiscation according to the Article No: 54 of the Turkish Penal Code,” the court’s verdict for Kırmızıgül read.
If we think that Modi is rapidly pushing India into a space where educational institutions and universities become empty ghosts of their former selves, we have no idea of implications of the scale of repression that Erdogan has unleashed in Turkey. Our worst nightmare would be to have India emulate Turkey, Modi learn how to fine tune repression from Erdogan.
[ For more information on the educational emergency on Turkish campuses please see the section on Turkey in the ‘Scholars at Risk’ website.]
That this should happen is not surprising in itself, and frankly I do not care how many times Modi kisses Erdogan’s Ottoman, but It comes as a terrible surprise and shock to learn that Jamia Millia Islamia, the university where I studied, which gave me and my batch mates at the Mass Communication Research Centre (AJ Kidwai-MCRC, as it is known today) a precious gift of time to learn how to think critically, should now honour this monster. The Jamia that I was in had stalwarts like Prof. Anwar Jamal Kidwai, and Prof. Habib ur Rahman Kidwai, who were proud of theuniversity’s traditions of openness and liberality, and determined to inculcate a critical attitude in their students. I cannot imagine someone of the stature of A.J. Kidwai bending his ram-rod straight spine to genuflect to a third rate fraud like Erdogan, or even Modi. Today, the Jamia administration’s actions reflect a tragic transformation, the alteration of the university’s character into a pathetic, provincial, narrow minded shadow of its former institutional self, ever eager to conform to every diktat of an authoritarian regime, always willing to police and restrain its students, and shorn of the dignity that it once had as a proud and independent institution.
It is for this reason that a petition was initiated yesterday on Change.org to campaign amongst students, faculty, alumni of Jamia Millia Islamia to express their strongest possible condemnation of the university authorities’ shameful decision to act as a tool of the Modi regime in the course of its appeasement of Erdogan. I urge as many people as possible to sign this petition.
I am aware that some friends who have shared the petition, especially young women student activists, have received pathetic, misogynist and obscene hate messages, from people who claim that Erdogan makes them feel proud to be Muslim. This only shows, yet again, that there is a perfect convergence in the interests and operational styles of Hindutva and Islamist goons. They are everywhere, the identical enemies of freedom. The same macho morons.
On the other hand, Mohsin Ali, the head of the Turkish Studies department in Jamia Millia Islamia, reacting to the online campaign against JMI honoring Erdogan has said – “this is done by a section of students who are supporters of Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen.”
Nothing can be further from the truth. I know this, because I started the petition, and the charge that someone like me has something to do with Fethullah Gülen and Hizmet, his version of Islamism Lite (erstwhile supporters of Erdogan before things turned sour, as already noted) is about as high in terms of probability as the suspicion that I am connected to the charlatan called Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and his Fart of Living (who also may in time become erstwhile supporters of Narendra Modi. It is politics, after all, things change.)
In February 1978, when Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran came visiting Delhi, he was surprised by a peaceful but determined body of students of universities in Delhi who staged a very vibrant protest demonstration against the repression of Iranian students by the Shah’s government. Some Iranian students also participated in this demonstration. The then ‘post-emergency’ Morarji Desai government promptly arrested all the 117 demonstrators and handed over information about the 12 protesting Iranian students to the SAVAK the Shah’s dreaded secret police. It seems that they were deported to Iran and apparently, several were tortured and killed by the Savak. It is a matter of profound shame to admit that Indian governments of every shade and description have had a long history of collaboration with tyrants in Muslim majority countries. It does not matter at all who the powers of the moment at either end are. In the midst of the relentless Pakistan phobia that is drummed up constantly in our media, we forget that India consistently kowtows to tyrannies every where else in the Islamicate world.
We, the citizens of this unfortunate republic, owe it to our friends and comrades, in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Morocco, Algeria, Indonesia and indeed, everywhere else in the ‘Muslim’ world, to stand by them in their times of trouble. We have long historic ties with these societies, which we cannot allow be torn down by the actions of all our tyrants, secular or secterian. We need urgently to listen to the great Turkish communist poet, Nazim Hikmet to speak out from “our corner of the world and say stop” when the executioner, also known as Erdogan proceeds to “tighten his rope“. Let us say, in Jamia Millia Islamia, in every university in India, that we do not want “everyone else’s father in prison in Istanbul, everyone else’s son hanged, in the middle of the road, in broad daylight’.
This much, at least, we owe our friends in Turkey, and to ourselves, and to our linked futures.