"The flotilla achieved its strategic mission. It got Israel to take violent action against it. In doing so, Israel ran into its own fist...The next steps will involve calls for sanctions against Israel. The Israeli threats against Iran will be seen in a different context, and Israeli portrayal of Iran will hold less sway over the world. And this will cause a political crisis in Israel. If this government survives, then Israel is locked into a course that gives it freedom of action but international isolation. If the government falls, then Israel enters a period of domestic uncertainty." - Thought-provoking column by George Friedman, author of The Next Hundred Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century(which predicts the emergence of a new Turkish "sphere of influence" or empire similar to the Ottoman Empire).
As I was preparing for class this morning, a student informed me that Israeli Navy commandos attacked Turkish ships, filled with humanitarians, in international waters, who were trying to deliver medical supplies to Gaza. At least nine pro-Palestinian activists, six of them Turks, were killed. The websites WitnessGaza.com and FreeGaza, and a Flickr.com photo feed, part of the "Free Gaza" movement, have ongoing reports.
Clearly this is a disasterfor Israeli-Turkish relations. Turkey has in the past been a supporter of Israel (until the war in Gaza), and has tried to play a neutral, humanitarian role in Mideast conflict.
Living in Turkey, having recently visited Turkish North Cypress where the flotilla of ships launched, and planning a trip this summer to the Middle East, this tragedy hits closer than the seemingly never-ending conflict in the Middle East I've watched for years (decades?) from the comfort of my home in the USA.
"America is Israel's big brother. America always defends Israel," a student said to me. "What does America have to say about thıs?"
We'll see. I remind my Turkish friends of one of their own sayings: "There is the country, there is geopolitics, and there is the individual person. We know the difference." This applies to Turks, Israelis, Americans and every other nationality.
Sharp condemnations of Israel rang out from across the world, with several European countries summoning Israeli ambassadors to protest. The European Union called for an inquiry into the deaths. And the United Nations Security Council planned to meet Monday afternoon for an emergency session. The United States expressed regret at the loss of the life and said it was "working to understand the circumstances of the tragedy."
My Turkish friends are suspicious that American foreign policy is determined by a militant Jewish lobby. I try to explain that is not the case. American Jewish support for the arrogant, ultra-nationalist and ultra-religious Israeli government is on the decline. Many in the American Jewish community do not support Israel's inhumane blockade of Gaza, which has been condemned by the United Nations Human Rights Council, or mistreatment of the Palestinians on the West Bank.
I have a friend, an American Jewish journalist who has lived in Israel and who covers the Jewish community in New York. He is very concerned that if the Jewish settlements on the West Bank aren't stopped, "that would be the end of Israel as either a Jewish state or as a democracy." He hopes that "if Israel feels enough pressure from the United States and the rest of the world, it will come to its senses."
Part of the problem is that Israel does not see a viable partner for peace, for implementing a two-state solution. "Hamas is viciously anti-Semitic organization, an organization that still wishes to destroy Israel, if it could, and the Palestinian Authority is weak and corrupt," he writes.
"I also think that if the Palestinians themselves -- Abbas -- finally get serious about creating and building a state, and get serious about negotiating, Israelis themselves would demand it of their government," he writes.
If the two-state solution disappears, "in the long run, (that) means that Israel would lose either its democratic character or its Jewish one, even as the country is worn down by never-ending conflict and violence. Not a happy scenario."
He recommends that I start following several Israeli-based journalists who have an orientation toward peace and democracy: Lisa Goldman, Jerusalem Post columnist
Larry Derfner, ("Rattling the Cage") and Bradley Burston, an editor for the Israeli daily Haaretz whose column is called "A Special Place in Hell."
My wife Lucia recounts her January, 2010 trip from Kayseri, Turkey to Italy. First of all, she experienced harrowing flights.
The descent into Istanbul from Kayseri was one of the more terrifying I’ve experienced. The plane seesawed. There were sudden drops, leaving my stomach airborne hundreds of meters above my body. This experience left me shaking for well into my bus ride through a snow-covered Istanbul.
I’m not sure I’ll ever do an international flight in January again. My plane to Rome was delayed an hour and a half. Once we boarded, we sat on the tarmac in a snow storm for two hours. I wish I’d had someone from the family with me. I saw many planes, angled and still; a few with dark interiors, but red beacons on, primed to go.
Finally, after an hour, my plane revved up for takeoff. It began its taxi and then lurched sideways. I turned from the window. An Italian man and a Muslim woman stared fully and thoughtfully at me. The plane came to a screeching halt.
My wife, Lucia Holliday Buie, has written up her trip to Italy in January.
Brent and I took the vaporetto to San Giorgio Maggiore in the hopes of catching a Gregorian chanted mass at 11 am. We searched the church, stumbling on a regular mass, but alas, no Gregorian mass. This island church is famous in landscapes as its domes and turrets rise in gorgeous symphony. The day was chill and gray, but we walked everywhere, across canal bridges and past the palazzo backs.
Venice was enchanting. The majority of the buildings, 14th - 17th century palazzos and churches, remain close to authenticity without the antiquity refurbished away. We speculated on the laws that might cause restoration to be a disincentive to residents, apart from the associated towering costs.
Gothic, spiked lanterns were everywhere. The city has no cars or trucks. And there were stepped bridges over all the canals. Woe betide you if you’re in a wheelchair.
Everything, everything brought into the city has to be hand-carted over the stepped bridges. I saw these poor stalwarts carting mighty loads up steep steps. The garbage is placed in handcarts and boarded on canal boats. Instead of a car, residents have motor boats. The average resident is 50 or older. There appears to be a lot of aged relics soldiering along the cobbled byways. Venice is perhaps too expensive and too old for a young family with tourism Venice’s life bread and the city is a museum.
Yet the feel and look of Venice remains exquisite. The shop windows display Murano glass, antiques, gilded portrait frames, dazzling clothes and carnevale costumes, and leather accessories. A persisting holiday feeling stirs from the lack of cars, some of the most alluring store displays in the world, the jaw-dropping architecture of old, and the divine food.
Florence was a “must” in my life. The art found in the churches proved a great source of wonderment…the paintings, the use of marble, the architecture. One of my happiest times, during an Italian trip, is to sit in a church, gazing at a typical eye-filling altar and meditate for a time without limit.
I once read a New York Times’ reporter’s account of his trip to the Uffizi. It was summer and he said he couldn’t see the pictures for the people. That made a deep impression and I vowed I would never go to Florence in the summer. So, in January, I soaked in the Uffizi for a thorough five hours.
What made this trip so compelling, aside from Italy itself, was my friend Brent’s deep knowledge of the cities and the itinerary he set. He said it was his 10th time to Venice. He saved me a fortune in time because he knew all the streets. Venice is known for its ability to lose people in its walkways. During the nine days I was in Italy, I never took a bus and a taxi once only. Brent led the way from 10 am to 6 pm, not stopping for lunch, only for exploring. This resulted in my losing nine pounds during that week. While Brent is happily retired, I had to make the observation that his particular brand of touring and his knowledge could profitably place him in a second career.
Bronze doors of the Baptistery
Loggia del Mercata Nuovo
Piazzo della Signoria
So "libertarian" or Tea Party darling Rand Paul has won the Republican Senate nomination in Kentucky in a "Randslide."
Libertarianism or free-market fundamentalism is a uniquely American philosophy with little grounding in 21st century reality. Where in the world has it been successfully tried? To my knowledge, no where beyond countries that end up in tin-horn dictatorships where unregulated wealth is accumulated and concentrated in a few extremely wealthy families. Certainly not in America where public-private investment and partnerships have been an integral part of American economic history since the Louisiana Purchase and the growth of the railroad.
One can understand the frustration of Americans who've yet to see much evidence of economic recovery or reduction in the unemployment rate despite the bailout of banks and auto companies, along with the federal economic stimulus package, anxiety over the new health care law and growing deficit. But Paul and the "Tea Party Movement" represent an extreme reaction. My guess is that by November, with greater evidence of an economic recovery, more voters will come to their senses.
For years on this blog, I've debated free market fundamentalism with Ron Moore, who argued (among other things) that segregationist bigots had a right to discriminate at hotels, eating establishments or other businesses that they owned. Paul has made the same argument, saying the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was too broad and should not apply to private businesses. He has been rightly criticized for, in the words of a NYT editorial, "not understanding the nature of racial progress in this country." What libertarian-Republicans and free market fundamentalists refuse to understand is that "the freedom of a few people to discriminate meant generations of less freedom for large groups of others." If elected, free market fundamentalists like Paul would apply their own flawed reasoning and moral blindness to a wide range of issues, from health care to financial services.
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele says he's "not comfortable" with Paul's views on civil rights. After the firestorm erupted over Paul's civil rights' views, to get elected he abandoned his libertarian principle on this issue and reversed himself, first saying he would not seek to repeal the Civil Rights Act then saying he would, ah, er, um, support the CRA. But he defends the corporate irresponsibility of BP, making the outrageous statement that it's "un-American" for President Obama to hold British Petroleum accountable for the
spill in the Gulf. He wants to abolish the income tax, and opposes the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Let's see if Paul, an ophthalmologist, wins election to the Senate against Democrat Jack Conway, Kentucky's attorney general. He has blasted Paul for his "cold and callous world view."
Living outside the United States, I have far less interest in the hyper-partisan warfare between Democrats and Republicans, as reflected on Fox News, MSNBC, on blogs and talk radio. Living abroad and seeing real, deep-seated, historic conflicts and ethnic strife among peoples, I'm struck by how many values Americans on the right and left hold IN COMMON. Living outside the US certainly makes me far more aware of what it means to be an American, how blessed we are as a nation to be largely free from the centuries of ethnic antagonisms of Europe and the Middle East. Compared to other countries, we have a democracy that functions quite well and a government that is relatively transparent, relatively free of corruption, and I believe, relatively free of the dark secretive alleged conspiracies of powerful anti-democratic "deep state" groups that fuel paranoia in Turkey and other nations. (Fortunately, Turkey is now doing a good job of removing the "deep state" cancer from its body politic and seeking to become more democratic.) Even considering the Great Recession, the material blessings that most people in America enjoy are far greater than most other nations. Yet we take so many of our gifts for granted.
Sure there are Americans who believe there is a secretive, conspiratorial "deep state" consisting of high-ranking elements of the CIA, FBI, corporate interests, Congress, the media, the courts and the federal bureaucracy that, for example, may have assassinated John F. Kennedy, that led the U.S. into Vietnam and Iraq to increase corporate profits, that directs an imperialistic foreign policy around the world, that bails out Wall Street while average citizens are left to sink or swim on their own, that engages in violence against dissidents, and that plants evidence against innocent people. I'm not one to believe in these conspiracy theories; I don't believe there is generally enough evidence to support such wild accusations.
Political bickering in the U.S. is frequently driven by what Sigmund Freud called "the narcissism of small differences," in which negative feelings "are sometimes directed at people who resemble us," and we "take pride in the 'small differences' between us." As Marion Maneker pointed out, "a dispassionate
observer of U.S. politics would have trouble locating the kinds of divisions that used
to drive elections. Since 1994, we have had a de facto political consensus around a form of libertarianism." She links to a George Will article in The New York Times in 2007 that illustrated this point.
Recent examples: the same Republicans who vilify Obama and the Democrats for the health care law have supported changes in the health care system that were just as significant and far more disruptive. Both parties express far more concern about deficits racked up by "the other party." Part of the problem may be that American media magnify conflicts and differences among people because conflict is more interesting than disagreement. And part of the partisan warfare is not about differences over principles but simply a struggle for power between factions.
At the end of the day, we all ought to be able to shake hands, sup together, and realize we are all part of the same American tribe or family.
Riots are generally sparked by desperate and angry people. Yet they often produce a backlash that is counter-productive to the goals of the demonstrators. The riots of the 1960s and early 1970s helped create the reactionary third party candidacy of Alabama Governor George W. Wallace who abandoned the Democratic Party to call for "law'n'order." The ultimate beneficiary of his apostasy was Republican President Richard Nixon.
If you're nostalgic for 1950s America, Turkey feels like a throwback. "Lucia and I have both observed independently that we feel that in Kayseri, we have traveled back in time, to a simpler place of our childhood memories -- in her case, Indianapolis; in my case, the tiny town of Wagram, North Carolina, population 500. Here, we find a strong sense of a tight-knit community, everybody knows everybody's business, nearly everyone goes to worship, and nearly everyone is religious, a believer or pretends to be." Only difference is the religion is Islam rather than Christianity. Read the full post on our Turkey Blog, "Turkey Is Culturally Similar to America in the 1950s, 1960s or early 1970s."
I'm trying to use the new "Reblog It" feature of Typepad blogs. Let's see how well this works. EdCone.com has a link to a CNN slide show, and provocative discussion. It's shocking that after all these years (the Kent State shootings were in 1970) that some people still believe that killing unarmed students was justified.