The Euro-Turkish Impasse


Europe has invested a great deal of effort in limiting the effects of Turkey’s internal conflicts pouring into its countries. Fests and rallies whether supporting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan or his opposition were barred.

Had any of the rallies been allowed it would have sparked a devastating fire.

The outcome of the Turkish political process is not the highlight of European concerns—fears are chiefly spurred by fanatics that have been eyeing moderate democracies since the end of World War II. Europe’s entire spectrum has come under the threat of negative populism, whether it be France, Germany, the Netherlands or Belgium. Not to mention Eastern Europe which continues to slowly shift to the right, advocating de facto authoritarian rhetoric and systems riding the international refugee crisis’ wave.

Erdogan did not comprehend where Europe was coming from, or maybe he chose not to. For his part, the Turkish President was already fighting his own legal existential battle—which he could not afford losing to his real or prospect foes.

Many residing in Europe are exposed to several versions of liberalism and fanaticism, which they are deeply influenced by. The center-wing culture is no longer defined. Each party, rather than delivering a socio-political message, is hard-wired to a self-styled fuse ready to detonate any moment.

Erdogan, adopting unorthodox behavior, stepped up his anti-European campaign. There is no doubt that to him, this was a one-time electoral advantage.

But alternatively, Europe’s alt-right managed to exploit and benefit from Erdogan’s heated rhetoric.

Added to unprecedented influx of refugees, brutal terror attacks in Paris, Berlin and Nice, Erdogan’s remarks came to be an other unexpected opportunity taken and twisted out of shape to fit Europe’s fundamentalist right propaganda.

As fear strikes the heart of Europe, it is definite that the continent needs Erdogan as an ally, not a rival. The last thing it wants is to infuriate millions of Turks who have become nationals or have taken residence in European states. More so, Turkey remains a key factor to transatlantic partnerships.

Europe’s choices were limited: It was either to regulate potential hostility at Turkish gatherings, bar a Turkish minister from entering the Netherlands and prevent Turkey’s foreign minister from landing on its territory or allow for rallies to spiral out of control.

There is no doubt that the Dutch made a political mistake, as evidenced by the crisis it led to.

The Netherlands’ mistake was in miscalculating the size of the backlash triggered by barring Turkish politicians who support Erdogan’s proposal for an executive presidency from organizing public rallies for Turks there who can vote.

They simply did not realize the extent to which Erdogan will go with the political spat, especially that he was already occupied with fighting the strategic battle for both Turkey’s international position and his leadership.

Erdogan went out of his way to accuse Germany and Europe with Nazism and fascism– despite Chancellor Angela Merkel being perhaps the least fascist or nazist person there is.

Erdogan’s rhetoric inflamed latent Nazism in Europe, and justified its resurfacing. Nazis promote their agendas through picturing today’s dilemma as a war against Islam, and not for what it is, a miscalculated risk taken with a strained foreign president.

Opinion: A Trip to Al-Nafud, He is Just Like He Was 47 Years Ago

In this chapter, I enclose the third and last part of Dr William Polk’s letter on his visit to Saudi Arabia:
“Today, I met the King. As I expected, he was extremely friendly, attentive and has a sharp memory. He is just like he was when I met him all those years ago whilst he was the Governor of Riyadh. He sat and spoke to me with a smile on his face whilst his son Prince Sultan stood behind him respectfully. We talked about the translation of Labid ibn Rabi’ah’s poem and Arabic poetry in general. I spoke to him about the wonderful work being done by his son Prince Sultan, and I told him that we should work together to develop the relationship, not only between the Islamic world and the west, but also with the (north), namely China, Russia and Europe.

The King said that he had been working hard to achieve this for decades. Half an hour later, I apologised for taking up so much of his time, especially as he was due to deliver his speech to the Shura Council later that day. He responded affectionately by saying “Not at all, I enjoy these conversations very much”. When it was time to leave, he stood up, took my arm and led me to the rear of the hall where we took souvenir photos. The meeting was cordial and so was the next appointment at the National Museum, where I delivered a lecture on my trip to Al- Nafud 47 years ago. The audience was completely attentive, but I found that I had forgotten some of my Arabic with the passing of time and due to my advanced age. Languages are like muscles – they slacken as days pass.

The next day, we went on a trip to Mada’in Saleh. However, this time we travelled on a magic carpet arranged for us by Prince Sultan; a jet aircraft. We travelled for an hour and a half to the north of the extraordinary archaeological site Mada’in Saleh. It’s an amazing archaeological site and some of it is more impressive than Petra. There are rock formations the size of palaces and huge towers made of rock. It seems that the waves of the sea sculptured them in the distant past.

The day after that, we held talks at the Governor of Madinah Prince Faisal bin Salman’s palace. We talked about the troubled Middle East, and a group of experts were present. They included the very knowledgeable Saudi ambassador to the UK Prince Mohammed bin Nawwaf, and the conversation touched on the situations in Turkey, Somalia, Yemen and Egypt. The openness and directness of the gentlemen present amazed me; there was no dogmatism, frosty atmosphere or fury. The meeting was largely constructive and the issue of Palestine was discussed in all the meetings. Like most Arabs, the Saudis support the PLO and take a united stand against terrorism and the idea of terrorism.

On the last day of the visit, I was overcome with sadness. My friend Zaamil who had accompanied me on that trip 47 years ago had come to meet me in a wheelchair at the hotel that I was staying at. Prince Sultan had arranged for him to be transported from his home 300 km away to the hotel. I reminded him of the day that I complained of fatigue to him to which he replied “I am a bedouin, the son of a bedouin, the son of a long line of Bedouins and I have ridden camels all my life but it still tires me”.”

Opinion: The Trip to Corfu

On the eve of World War II, the American writer Henry Miller decided to accept the invitation of his friend, the British writer Lawrence Durrell who wrote “The Alexandria Quartet”, to spend a period of time with him on the island of Corfu. The trip to Corfu, where he spent eight months touring Greece, turned into what critics consider to be the most important book written by Miller and one of the most important travel books; “The Colossus of Maroussi”.

Miller left Paris, where he used to live, for Marseille by train. From there he travelled by ship to Piraeus Port near Athens. Amongst the passengers that accompanied him on his journey were a group of Syrian and Lebanese students who had been in France and were returning to their countries. What united them? What united them in 1939 is what unites them now: not one of them wanted to return permanently and all of them wanted to emigrate to America.

Miller hated America and resented life there and therefore moved to Paris. They kept on asking him to tell them about America and he tried to convince them that it was different to what they thought it was like or the opposite of what they thought. They said that there was no future in their countries, nothing but poverty, and he assured them that nothing was guaranteed in America.

The ship completed its journey to Beirut, and Miller boarded a ship to Corfu, where he was greeted at the harbour that was crowded with people and livestock by Lawrence Durrell and his wife.

The couple used to live in a village on the island that no one used to visit. However, this is exactly what their American guest, who had dreamed of taking a full year-long holiday after twenty years of hard work, wanted.

From time to time, he would go to the empty island’s centre which would later become packed with tourists. The beautiful beach was full of flocks of sheep, herds of goats, poor people and fear. Fear that world war could erupt at any moment. Greece was a weak country and did not know what side it was on in order to protect itself.

Miller travelled to Athens from time to time, and there he met the poet of Greece Katsimbalis whom he named the “The Colossus of Maroussi”. He transformed Maroussi into an impressive figure that the book bearing his name revolves around.

I have not read a biography where the writer is impressed with a semi-fictional character to the extent that Miller was. When I visited Athens in the seventies, I asked my friends for the name of the café that the poet used to sit in and where people used to gather around him in order to listen to him.

That day I wrote about the cafe in the Parisian issue of “The Future” and about waiting for Maroussi who did not come. A few days before that, I received a letter that had been lost for a long time before it reached me, Maroussi still did not come. Our group of friends shrank; some could no longer stand cafes, others could no longer stand Athens and no one could stand us except for chairs and books. Do you remember what Miller wrote about a haircut in Corfu costing 3 cents? Try and guess the price of a cup of coffee here today!

Opinion: Unified Symbols

There are names and titles in the world’s literature that are recollected in every era by almost all writers. For example, the “Trojan Horse” is an example of a mysterious conspiracy. “Romeo and Juliet” is a work of reference for writing on love amongst most writers across all eras. Shakespeare provides us with the tale of impossible love between Othello and Desdemona and documents internal struggle and desire for power in “Hamlet”. He also wrote about friends betraying each other and this can be seen in the relationship between Julius Caesar and Brutus.

The Spanish poet de Cervantes whose masterpiece Don Quixote was about a knight-errant followed Shakespeare, and the French poet La Fontaine’s “Fables” is a point of cultural reference that was influenced by Abdullah Ibn Al-Muqaffa’s “Kalila wa Dimna” that was in turn based on Indian mythology.

Sinbad the Sailor is a great man in all world literature without exception, and George Orwell wrote his masterpiece “Animal Farm” which is also inspired by “Kalila wa Dimna” and the idea of eluding the revelation of human identities. A common work of reference in world literature is Al-Farabi’s “Al-Jumhuriyya Al-Fadilah” which exemplifies the impossibility of a fair state and virtuous society. If you mentioned “Rasputin” in any language, it is known that you are referring to a wicked man in the world’s history.

If you mention “Daahis wal Gabraa”, people know that you are talking about a never ending war and if you mention “Saif Ad-Dawlah”, people know that you are talking about Al-Mutanabbi. These connections and references have transformed over time to become a semi- unified language in world literature. One does not explain the story of Romeo and Juliet, the story of Brutus and Caesar’s assassination or Don Quixote’s purity. They are expressions and names that have turned into what resembles a language of symbols in world literature.

Opinion: Something of a Response and Clarification

On Sunday the 27th of November, I wrote about the death of Fidel Castro, and the article was entitled “Warrior’s Rest”. I was contacted by a colleague who only contacts me when he catches me offending or making a mistake, and who hurries to deride me and take revenge on me. He said “What are you doing today?” I did not reply because I was sure that “I was not doing anything today”.

He went on by saying “How could you steal the title from the magazine Al-Hawadith? Do you think people forget so easily?” Again, I did not reply or, God forbid, put the phone down. When I felt that he had finished deriding me, I wished him well and put the phone down.

However, I owe an explanation to the reader. During the early seventies, my colleague Nabil Khouri returned from Kuwait in order to become the Editor in Chief of Al-Hawadith. I went to his office in order to congratulate him and I found him shuffling through the papers in front of him as usual. He then walked over to the window and then returned towards me with his hand on his forehead. This was a sign that he was perplexed. Shortly after, he said “I’ve spent hours thinking of a title”. I asked him what the title was for. He said: “We want to dedicate a weekly corner of the magazine to non-political topics where the editor writes about his troubles and experiences.

Before I went to visit Nabil’s office, I watched Le Repos du Guerrier (Warrior’s Rest) in which Brigitte Bardot and Robert Hossein starred. The film had nothing to do with wars, fighting and warriors, and so I asked Nabil what he thought of the title “Warrior’s Rest” because it seemed suitable. As usual, Nabil (May he rest in peace) jumped for joy and the title featured in the magazine for many years. The “Rest” attracted more readers and journalists than any other material.

In other words, I did not steal the title but rather I am its owner, even though the French director Roger Vadim, Brigitte Bardot’s husband at the time, came up with the original title. Let me use this occasion to clarify something else as well; another colleague lovingly scolded me for using the term Chinese “characters” rather than “alphabet”. I explained that the Chinese language is not like the alphabet of Arabic or European languages but is a group of hundreds of hieroglyphic like images. Therefore “characters” was the best description.

Opinion: A Spectrum of Colours

Ten years ago, Al-Arabiya began to broadcast a morning programme, and with time a number of news television channels adopted the idea behind “Sabah Al-Arabiya” or the Arabic language morning programme. It provides a contrast to the evenings and days of Arabs, and begins the day with joyous news instead of news of explosives; news of achievements rather than rubble; the latest songs instead of elegies and it gives tips on health and well being instead of informing about murder and death.

The morning programmes are not free from a summary of dark news, however, the general framework is a spectrum of colours, free from the colours of dust and death.

The morning programmes are a temporary excuse for Arabs not to follow news of the daily calamities that affect the Arab nation. Some channels place a scene of greenery and flowers behind the presenters of their morning programmes, and dark news and raised voices do not make an appearance. There is no quarrelling on air, but rather there is an atmosphere of beautiful calm and good news.

During the radio era, each broadcast began with the following sentence “Ladies and gentlemen, may your time be spent pleasantly”. Nowadays, presenters refrain from mentioning pleasant times or hoping for them. They fear that those who are victims, injured, displaced and people attending funerals under bombardment will consider this as ridicule and contempt for the rivers of grief.

However, Arab morning programmes push the floods of darkness and the ashes of volcanoes and barrels away. They remind the world that is looking at us through screens that we also love life and deserve it. They also remind it that our children yearn for normal lives like other human beings

During the days of Saddam Hussein, harsh decrees were issued by him and no one could discuss this. Now, illegal decisions are being enacted in the Iraqi parliament and there is a subtle difference that needs to be glossed over because the prestige of the current president is not untouchable.

May your times be pleasant, in any case. We don’t have horses or money, but at least we can wish. God bless your morning.

Opinion: A Citizen, Not a Journalist

I have been travelling the world since I was twenty years old. My travels have taken me to Europe, Eastern Europe, America, the Gulf, Africa, India, Indonesia, Singapore, Russia, and other places that “I no longer remember” in the words of Ibn Al-Rumi. I was able to be a journalist in all of these countries, taking my pen with me without it questioning me and without it receiving censure from me. A man is his profession and his profession is his identity. Of all those nations, the fates willed it for me to be a citizen of Britain and the motherland.

I was a journalist everywhere, a second-class citizen in Britain and an eternal citizen in Lebanon. It is only when I write about Lebanese affairs that the feelings of a citizen overtake that of a journalist. I’m not neutral with regards to Lebanese affairs as I am with regards to British affairs.

When I used to visit Paris in the sixties and seventies, the first thing that I would do the day after I arrived was to go to the Arab newspaper kiosk and buy a copy of An-Nahar. In 1972, I met my colleague Bassam Freiha in London and he noticed that I was agitated. He asked me what I was looking for and I replied that I was looking for a Lebanese restaurant. He shouted at me and asked me whether I had come all the way from Beirut to look for a Lebanese restaurant in a city renowned for its international restaurants. I always remember the Argentinian Jorge Luis Borges’ saying “Wherever I sleep, I dream that I’m in Buenos Aires”.

Perhaps you may have noticed that I avoid writing a lot about Lebanon in this newspaper because it is for all Arabs all over the world. I only return to Lebanese issues when they become a universally Arab issue. In this new phase for life in Lebanon, I write as a citizen and with simple feelings unrelated to analyses and forecasts. I write with hope that Lebanon once again becomes a harmonious and conciliatory country where literature and the arts thrive and that is a haven for the oppressed and persecuted.

Lebanon accommodates everyone, the best of ideas and commitments to human reconciliation. I hope that Lebanon will return to its former self with the election of President Michel Aoun. Lebanese people are hastening to express their wishes for the country. As for me, I hope that Lebanon will be a safe, happy, fair country with a clear conscience.

Opinion: The New Tsar

I am reading about the last days of Boris Yeltsin’s presidency and the early days of Vladimir Putin’s in Steven Lee Myers’ book “The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin”. I am looking for signs.

Yeltsin kept his decision to resign a secret, even from his wife, and informed her of it just before delivering his speech. She exclaimed “Oh my God, my wish has finally come true”. When Putin’s wife heard him give his acceptance speech, she sorrowfully lamented “My daughters and I have lost all our personal freedom”.

Yeltsin, whose health was ailing, asked his people for forgiveness after eight years of ruling them by saying “I want to ask for your forgiveness, that many of our dreams didn’t come true. That what seemed to us to be simple turned out painfully difficult. I ask forgiveness for the fact that I didn’t justify some of the hopes of those people who believed that with one stroke, one burst, one sign we could jump from the grey, stagnant, totalitarian past to a bright, rich, civilized future. I myself believed this. One burst was not enough.” Yeltsin also said that he preferred to hand over power to the new politicians at the beginning of the third millennium and preferred not to wait. Then he rode an armoured car to his house. On the way, he was contacted by President Bill Clinton. However, he said to his assistant: “I’m tired, tell him to call later”.

That took place at noon on the 31st of December 2000. At midnight, Prime Minister Putin gave his presidential speech. On his first day, he arranged a meeting with the Security Council of the Russian Federation. What did he say in his first speech? He said that there would be no change in foreign policy, but also pledged that there would be a new military policy. He said “We must develop our weapons that have been neglected recently, and solve all the social problems that our armed forces face!”

Where did Putin celebrate the New Year? He and his wife took a military plane to the capital of Dagestan, Makhachkala. From there, everyone travelled in armoured military vehicles for two and a half hours to Chechnya, until they reached the country’s second city Gudermes which is about 25 minutes from Grozny.

Grozny had been harshly and intensively bombed the night before. Putin reviewed the troops before handing out military decorations and declared “I want you to know that Russia highly appreciates what you are doing. It is not only to restore the dignity and honour of Russia, but also to protect the Union from disintegration”. Then he made a toast to everyone whilst the destruction of Grozny was completed.

Opinion: Coats That Borrow

Despite the increase in the population of the world, it remains small because it unites friends, families, acquaintances and memories. However, scientists are always researching about the wondrous world that we live in without us realising. One scientist discovers the particles of an atom and another discovers how to measure the size of human cells that cannot be seen. Others are discovering extra planets from time to time with the help of excellent microscopes.

Some of these scientists went to the Amazon jungle in search of species of birds and insects, and some of them travelled to the depths of the sea to photograph and record the millions of different types of sea creatures that are able to live at the bottom of the sea. One of these scientists spent 42 years researching a plant so that he could present the results of the study to the Natural History Museum in London. The walls of this museum are covered with more than 80 million types of embalmed animals, insects and reptiles brought in from around the world.

One scientist who always visited the museum was the author of the book “Birds of Arabia”, Richard Meinertzhagen. He would never take his wide and long coats off whilst working and researching at the museum, even in the height of summer. After his death, he graciously donated all the natural collections and models to the museum as a gesture of loyalty. When employees of the museum proceeded to open the boxes and classify what was in them, they discovered treasures and the secret of the wide and long coat! Meinertzhagen used to hide models that he used to steal from the museum underneath his coat and take them back to his house so that he could study them carefully.

Scientists research different things. Some spend their lives in laboratories in search of treatment for epidemics and diseases. Others are not satisfied with the steamboats, trains and cars that have been invented and have decided to break the sound barrier and send vehicles to photograph the surface of Mars and Jupiter.

Are we are alone on this planet or are there creatures on other planets? Tales of flying saucers have enriched the imaginations of the curious and many films depict the arrival of people from space and their return to where they came from. And, of course, we do not know where they arrived and where they came from.

We still do not know the extent to which we are ignorant about natural science that has not been discovered. Scientists are constantly discovering new things; a new species of trees in the mountains of Kenya, reptiles in the Nevada desert and algae in the British countryside. One scientist collected 750,000 species of algae during his trips in Britain alone. The British Natural History Museum is expanding and becoming richer, and stolen items are hidden underneath coats.

Opinion: The Arab Nation is in the Hands of UN Mediators

From the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf, “the great Arab homeland” is in the hands of international mediators. Each team of “brothers” and “comrades” does not talk to the opposing team, except in a third country. For the first and last time, I found myself agreeing with the Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil when he caused the suspension of the “national dialogue” because he knew that he was going to a vacuum to demand, impose and threaten rather than discuss.

The Lebanese National Dialogue that was suspended after the Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil’s party walked out of it was not sponsored by the UN. All the other conflicts have an international mediator assigned to them, and this mediator works hard, becomes miserable, travels, comes back, gets tired and is then replaced by another mediator. This cycle continues and then the successor does not return.

What do mediators want? They want to convince us that there are solutions to issues that do not involve the destruction of the homeland. They want to convince Ali Saleh that one does not fight someone who was one’s citizen yesterday and they want to convince the Houthis that Yemen is more permanent that Iran is. They also want to convince the Syrian regime that half a million dead people and 12 million homeless people cannot all be infidels.

We hope that there remains what is possible to mediate or negotiate about. Hamas must be thanked for suspending “recent rounds” of negotiations, reconciliations and mediations, and for undergoing the journey from Mecca to Senegal to meet the brothers from Fatah so that they could stop the confrontation between themselves and not the confrontation with the brutal Zionist enemy.

That is language that the Arabs have forgotten or are ashamed of repeating in front of their children; the brutal enemy destroys a house or two from time to time while the gracious brother destroys cities, re-destroys them and then sees a wall that is still standing and vies for it.

You might think that these things only happen in the worst nightmares, but then you wake up and realise that the nightmare and the reality of the nation is one and that the role of intermediaries is an unconscious complicity in procrastination, hypocrisy, digging people’s graves and burying hope. Arabs do not know the meaning of dialogue and this is what Gebran Bassil emphasised. “Let us negotiate, but you’re not allowed to speak” Izzat Al-Douri told Sheikh Saad Al-Abdullah. The rest is well known.