Jan 042013

Syria Deeply logoA friend who always keeps me abreast of Syrian news pointed me to an article analyzing the impact of Lara Setrakian’s news website Syria Deeply on the media landscape. The article asserts that Syria Deeply is unique because it’s a “technology platform dedicated to a single story,” locating this within the broader trend that it calls “unbundling the news.” By that they basically mean breaking topics and beats up into individual niches, which makes an outlet of greater interest to a smaller audience. Unfortunately, I think this misses what is potentially unique and groundbreaking about Syria Deeply. Continue reading »

Jun 212012

A bit of an e-debate has emerged on whether to write for and support Al Akhbar English in light of its apparent editorial support for the Assad regime in Syria. Max Blumenthal, who regularly blogged and wrote several articles for Al Akhbar, recently announced that he would sever his ties with the publication.


From Max’s post:

I was forced to conclude that unless I was prepared to spend endless stores of energy jousting with Assad apologists, I was merely providing them cover by keeping my name and reputation associated with Al Akhbar. More importantly, I decided that if I kept quiet any longer, I would be betraying my principles and those of the people who have encouraged and inspired me over the years. There is simply no excuse for me to remain involved for another day with such a morally compromised outlet. And so, instead of preparing to throw up in my own mouth each time I click on one of the pro-regime op-eds appearing with regularity on Al Akhbar English’s home page, I am washing my hands of the whole operation.

Max’s write-up is a scathing, well-documented indictment of a host of pro-Assad pieces that have appeared in Al Akhbar, focusing in particular on the writing of Amal Saad Ghorayeb and Sharmine Narwani. I recommend reading the full article if you haven’t already. He makes really good points throughout, such as this one, on the tendency to equate being on the bad side of the U.S. government with being an anti-imperialist leftist:

Yet the mere existence of Western meddling does not automatically make Assad a subaltern anti-imperial hero at the helm of a “frontline resisting state,” as Ghorayeb has sought to paint him.

(For what it’s worth, this is the same problem we saw a lot of leftists, such as Cynthia McKinney, struggle with in the case of Libya and anti-interventionist politics: one can (and should) be against intervention without being in support of the dictatorship.)

Max’s piece prompted (or provoked) a number of responses: from As’ad Abu Khalil at Angry Arab, Al Akhbar English’s Editor Jamal Ghosn, and, unfortunately, a rather silly response from Ghorayeb, in which she calls Max Blumenthal a “Zionist-imperialist enabler.”

Last month I wrote an article for Al Akhbar on Kurdish rights and Turkey’s new constitution. I was planning on trying to write one or two more articles for Al Akhbar before I leave Turkey for New York next month. So, ever since I read Max’s post yesterday I’ve been pretty much non-stop thinking about Al Akhbar, my relationship to it, and its place in the media.

In my brief journalistic career, I’ve mostly written for Inter Press Service. However, as much as I respect and enjoy writing for IPS, they haven’t always been receptive to pieces on ethnic minorities in Turkey. They accepted my story on anti-Kurdish bias in the Turkish media but rejected a number of pitches on Armenian and Kurdish rights within Turkey – enough that I saw a pattern. The article Al Akhbar published is one that IPS refused out of hand.

There was something in the Angry Arab post, tacked on as a post-script, that caught my eye and got me thinking more about Al Akhbar’s role on the media scene:

And it occurred to me as I was swimming: which is more critical: Al-Akhbar on Syria or the Nation on Israel?  The answer is too obvious.

The point being that Al Akhbar isn’t likely to tip the balance in the Syria debate, whereas the Nation (where Max continues to write) could seriously affect discourse around Israel-Palestine in the US. The fact is that Al Akhbar is doing great reporting on a number of topics, even if it leaves much to be desired on Syria. Max writes:

When I joined the fledgling Al Akhbar English website last fall, I was excited to contribute my writing on the Israel-Palestine situation and US foreign policy to a paper that I considered one of the most courageous publications in the Arab world.

Upon reflection, I still consider Al Akhbar to be one of the most courageous publications in the Middle East, covering topics that other media outlets wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole. Angry Arab points out that Al Akhbar in Arabic is pioneering on secularism and gay rights in Lebanon. A friend of mine – who has recently stopped reading Al Akhbar due to its Syria coverage – told me previously that Al Akhbar is virtually the only publication covering migrant domestic worker abuse in Lebanon.

The point is that Al Akhbar was and is doing a great job covering under-reported stories. One more pro-Assad voice, while it should be criticized, probably won’t make too much of a difference. (And, it’s worth pointing out that Al Akhbar’s editorial position on Syria is not exclusively pro-Assad.)

Furthermore, pretty much every media outlet out there is in some way morally compromised. Nothing and no one is perfect on every issue. But if we look at the media holistically, from the strategic vantage point of trying to effect change in the world, then the conclusion that we should reach is that we have to write on important, under-reported issues for publications that will take them.

Of course, that line of reasoning can be taken to an extreme. I would never write for or support anyone writing for openly racist publications or conspiracy theory rumor mills etc. But the fact is that the “anti-imperialist,” pro-Assad position that some Al Akhbar writers have espoused is a valid position. It’s a position that I vehemently disagree with and that I believe is based on a flawed, naive Leninist understanding of imperialism, but it is a valid position nonetheless, one that should be reckoned with and debated.

In the meantime, in the same breath that we criticize Al Akhbar’s Syria coverage, we should support its courageous coverage of, among other things, gay rights, secularism, worker exploitation, and the rights of Kurds and other ethnic minorities throughout the Middle East.

So, upon careful reflection, if time permits before I leave Turkey, I will write another piece for Al Akhbar. Angry Arab says “Al-Akhbar is a work in progress and our efforts can strengthen the project.” I’m hoping so.

May 312012

Above: A road sign reads “Welcome to our city” in Kurdish, Turkish, and Syriac. This sign is interpreted to be illegal under Article 3 of the Turkish constitution, the provision on the official language. For implementing signs like this Abdullah Dermibaş, the mayor of Sur, was stripped of his elected position. Kurds and those in solidarity with them are hoping that the new Turkish constitution will grant full equality to all ethnic minorities in Turkey.

I recently wrote an article for Al Akhbar English on Turkey’s new constitution and the Kurdish Question. One of the takeaways from the article is (I hope) that while the constitution is important, it can’t solve Turkey’s problems by itself. In fact, because of the Anti-Teror Law [pdf], the constitution by itself accomplishes precious little since an individual’s constitutional rights can effectively be suspended if the security of the state is threatened. In other words, Turkey – like the United States under the PATRIOT Act – is under a permanent state of exception.

So what can we expect from law?

By itself, not much. I firmly believe that change happens because of bottom-up social movements. And since it is the grassroots social movements that will ultimately change society, the question then becomes: How can the constitution best open up space for social movements to flourish?

One such proposal is that the constitution specifically recognize the right of conscientious objection. At present all Turkish males – including Kurds and members of other ethnic minorities – over the age of 18 are conscripted to serve in the Turkish Armed Forces. There is currently no legal status that recognizes conscientious objection, such as in Israel where the conscientious rejection of refuseniks is recognized, but still considered a crime.

Instead, if a man refuses to serve in the military, he is treated as a deserter rather than a conscientious objector. It is not uncommon for objectors to spend years going in and out of prison on charges of desertion. Because there is no recognized status, objectors end up in a limbo status that has been termed “civil death.”

This civil death means that conscientious objectors cannot receive public services or find work. Because the cost to objectors is so high, the movement is remarkably small. I’ve spoken to a handful of Israeli refuseniks and they all said that if the price were as high for them as it is for Turkish refusers they and their friends probably would not have refused.

In Turkey, conscientious objection could potentially grow into a massive movement because of many men’s desire not to serve in the military, whether for political reasons or reasons of personal convenience. The pressure from this movement could put pressure on the government to make concessions of Kurdish rights. In this vein, a constitutional article specifically recognizing the right to conscientious objection could give a foothold for this movement to grow.

Although it might appear to be a very specific and unlikely right to be enshrined in the constitution, there is support for the idea among Turkish civil society. A report on the constitution prepared by the Turkish Economics and Social Studies Foundation [pdf, page 16], an Istanbul-based think tank, specifically recommended that “conscientious objection of military service should be included as a fundamental right in the new constitution.”

It is becoming increasingly unlikely that the new constitution is going to sufficiently recognize Kurdish rights or address the needs of other recognized (Greek, Armenian, Jewish) and unrecognized (Roma, Assyrian) ethnic minority communities.

I pointed out in my article that Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been moving closer and closer to the proto-fascist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) ever since the closing of the democratic opening. This has analysis has been confirmed in recent days with Erdoğan going so far as to say that he would essentially force a new constitution through by allying with one of the three other parties in parliament (i.e. MHP) if consensus cannot be reached on key issues.

Given this fact, it’s necessary for those who are advocating for Kurdish rights to take a step back and consider a holistic strategy. If full equality of all Turkish citizens (using the term “citizens” loosely here) will not be enshrined in the new constitution, then we need to take a generally defensive position while securing some strategic gains to build upon in the future. Adopting a concerted effort for the right to conscientious objection to be in the constitution can provide a foothold to build a broad social movement that could necessitate a resolution to the conflict.

This movement will win when it is able to make the social unrest that stems from continuing the conflict greater than the social unrest that will come from ending the conflict.

The push for conscientious objection might not be impossible to achieve either. The Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) will obviously support it. And if it is framed in the light of the stalled EU accession process, it could draw votes from both AKP and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

The lessons here also apply outside of Turkey. Too often activists who engage in electoral politics and those in the street are separate from each other and moreover are openly hostile to each other. I have no hesitance in saying that I generally think that electoral politics are a sham and a waste of energy. (The wasted energy of “progressives” behind the Obama campaign four years ago is a poignant example.) As Emma Goldman said “if elections changed anything they would make them illegal.” However, if there were a candidate who supported changes in law that could benefit social movements in specific ways, I would not hesitate to vote for her.

The problem is that we as activists don’t think in terms of comprehensive goals and strategy. Lawyers, columnists, and NGO workers are working in their own domain while social movements are working in another. Both are working on similar issues and developing their own strategies. But when we are separated like this we fail make use of all of the resources available to us because we do not consider the other domain in our strategy.

I’m not saying that law & politics can solve everything or even that it is as important as social movements for bringing about real change. Hardly.  I’m not even saying that we all have the exact same political agenda. That’s not necessary to work together and collaborate.

But if we continue to operate in our myopic and short-sighted paradigms of how change happens and what the political situation is – in Turkey, in the U.S. or in the world at large – then we will fail to actually achieve our goals of transforming society.

Update: I neglected to mention before that all males except gay males are required to serve in the Turkish Armed Forces. But that’s another issue with its own oppressive dynamics since to become exempt from military service you need to “prove” gayness, which has usually meant handing over sexually explicit photos to the military.

May 022012

I will be presenting the paper below at the second Anarchist Studies Network conference, Making Connections, held at Loughborough University September 3-5. I’ll be participating in a session called ‘No Master But God?’ Exploring the Compatibility of Anarchism and Religion.

I’m making the abstract of the paper available now and I plan to post the full paper after the conference. Feedback, suggestions, and criticism (even in this early stage) are welcome, especially if anyone has strong opinions on Martin Buber or Walter Benjamin.

Jewish Mysticism and Anarchism, a Question of Compatibility
(working title)

This paper examines the compatibility of Jewish mysticism and anarchism, with a critical but overall favorable view. Jewish mysticism, or Kabbalah, is itself an anarchistic counterpart to mainstream Judaism as it is not a recognized denomination and has no official internal hierarchy. By examining the work of two radical thinkers invested in the Jewish mystical tradition, this paper aims to survey topics relevant to a determination of the relationship between anarchism and Kabbalah.

Walter Benjamin, a German Marxist, developed a philosophy of history in opposition to the linear teleological philosophy of history propounded by Hegel and adopted by Marx. In Benjamin, the coming of the Messiah is an implicit corollary to the socialist revolution. Unlike Marx, who in The Communist Manifesto wrote that the path to communism is “inexorable”, Benjamin opposed any notion of historical inevitability or linear causality because such a view of history by definition discounts the experience of the victims – in Hegel’s terms: the negated. Benjamin’s philosophy of history echoes notions of rupture and contingency that have become crucial to contemporary anarchist thought, with important distinctions.

Martin Buber, an Austrian anarchist, drawing on a different tradition of Kabbalah, through the lens of Hasidism, believed that it is possible in the present world to live “in” Utopia as opposed to working “toward” Utopia, a concept that resonates with prefigurative politics and dual power in anarchist political theory. Furthermore, Buber’s position on the “encounter” in his conception of the I-Thou relationship provides philosophical grounding for anarchist ideas of mutual aid and self-determination.

In the Theologico-Political Fragment, Benjamin contradicts Buber’s position on Utopia, objecting to the attempt to build “the order of the profane” on the “idea of the Divine Kingdom.” In this way Benjamin rebukes theocracy while also criticizing the temporal power of the nation-state, which in Judaism properly belongs to the Divine. Thus, while the positions of Benjamin and Buber are mutually exclusive, they are independently compatible with anarchist politics.

Jan 122012

In late December, France’s lower house of parliament passed a bill making it illegal to deny the 1915 Armenian Genocide. Although it still needs to be passed by France’s Senate before it becomes law, the bill has already drawn intense reactions from the Turkish government and Turks living abroad. The Senate will take up the bill on January 23.

Note that this issue is separate from recognition of the Armenian Genocide, but is specifically about genocide denial. France has since 2001 already been among the motley handful of countries that recognize the genocide as such. So in this case we’re now specifically talking about the government legislating history, which is a very different issue.

The Turkish government, a member of NATO, has suspended military cooperation with France and ordered home its ambassador to France. Turkish nationalists (which, on this matter, is most of the country) have already vehemently rebuked the bill. Turkish liberals have criticized the bill on the grounds that it will only provoke nationalist elements in the country and push Turkey further from recognizing the genocide.

There are a lot of elements at play here, and it’s necessary to disentangle them before attempting to answer the obvious question: Should one support France’s bill preventing genocide denial?

France’s Insincerity 

The most obvious piece of the puzzle is the disingenuous nature of France’s move. Orhan Kemal Cengiz, a columnist for Radikal and Today’s Zaman wrote the following in his article right after the bill was passed:

I think Sarkozy not only aims at getting the Armenian vote but he must also have thought that this move by France will show how “immature” Turkish democracy is because he knows very well how Turkey would react to it. Through this move he could portray Turkey as a backward country which has not fully embraced democracy, which denies undeniable facts about its history and so on. Thus, he could give another blow to Turkey’s progress towards EU accession and at the same time effectively challenge the new role Turkey is trying to assume in the Middle East.

Cengiz is spot on here. This bill let’s France kill two birds with one stone. First, it courts the votes of nearly half a million Armenians living in France as the country heads into an election year. Second, it provokes a Turkish counter-reaction that will further stall Turkey’s EU accession process, to which France has been the most stalwart opponent (tied with Germany).

Beyond this, we have known for a long time that France is not fond of its Muslim minority, situated as it is in a resurgently xenophobic and increasingly Islamophobic Europe. So there is also a possible third, indirect benefit to French electioneers: Because the bill also implicitly singles out one of France’s most visible and ostracized ethnic minorities – half a million Turks – it also courts the vote of the far-right for being viewed as an “anti-Muslim” measure.

This approach to recognition of the Armenian Genocide is not particularly new; it has almost always been politically motivated in relation to a country’s attitude towards Turkey. Take for example the fact that Cyprus, which of course has a long-standing conflict with Turkey, was one of the first countries to recognize the genocide as such in 1982.

While Israel takes the position that the genocide should be the realm of historians and not politicians, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has always been the deciding force in the US on whether to officially recognize the genocide. AIPAC’s position on the matter switches in correspondence with how Turkish-Israeli relations are faring. Obama’s position on the genocide shifted after he was elected president because Turkey is a strategic military and economic ally to the US.

In the context of France specifically though, we should recall that there is historical precedent for this bill in France in the Gayssot Act, which prevents Holocaust denial. The Gayssot Act most famously resulted in Holocaust denier Robert Faurrison being dismissed from his university teaching position. One of Faurrison’s most vehement critics, the historian Pierre Vidal-Naquet, opposed the Gayssot Act, believing that “it is not for the state to say how history is taught”.

I agree with Vidal-Naquet that the state should stay out of historical matters, but it is nonetheless important to recognize the historical and legal precedent for the legislation currently under debate in France.

Turkey’s Obfuscation

Unfortunately, the response of the Turkish government has been just as politically opportunistic as France’s bill: Erdoğan responded by claiming that France commit genocide during its colonial rule of Algeria. This is a blatant attempt to discredit France in the same way that France is attempting to delegitimize Turkey.

It has since become part of Turkish public discourse that France is hypocritical for passing judgment on Turkey. Let’s state this categorically to get it out of the way: any nation-state with any semblance of power in the world has almost without exception commit some atrocity during or as a consequence of its rise to power. The conclusion we draw from this cannot be that therefore we should not judge any country. Rather, it is that every country needs to be judged for its injustices.

Turkey attempted to diffuse the situation by reference to Algeria and it must not be allowed to. In fact, the Algerian prime minister has since responded that he does not want Turkey to bring up France’s colonial project in Algeria as part of the scuffle between Turkey and France.

Frankly, both countries’ treatments of historical atrocities appear to be trivializing painful histories for short-term political gain. The use of the Armenian Genocide as political capital by France is completely deplorable, as is Turkey’s feeble attempt at political blackmail morally reprehensible.

For those not familiar with Turkish politics, there is another important fact to be aware of. While France may soon make denial of the Armenian Genocide a criminal offense, in Turkey it is presently a crime to acknowledge the genocide. Under Article 301 of the Turkish penal code, it is a crime to “insult the Turkish nation”. This is the law under which Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk was tried for his referring to the Armenian Genocide and Dersim Massacre of Kurds.

In this light, France’s bill could be seen as a counter-measure to Turkey’s intractability. Again, I would prefer that politicians stay out of historical matters and leave it to be decided by civil society, but when one is faced with a country that actually outlaws acknowledgement of the genocide, what is one to do?

Vidal-Naquet wrote a great deal about memory, remembrance, and history, particularly as these concepts appear in Jewish thought. Although, Faurrison’s “historical revisionism” – which Vidal-Naquet termed “negationism” – was the most frequent target of his criticism, Vidal-Naquet also sympathized with the plight of the Armenians in their struggle for remembrance of the genocide. When attempting to draw a parallel between Holocaust denial and denial of the Armenian Genocide, he wrote the following:

Let us imagine a negationist Robert Faurisson as a governmental minister, a Faurisson president of the Republic, a Faurisson general, a Faurisson ambassador, a Faurisson president of the Turkish Historical Commission and member of the senate of the University of Istanbul, a Faurisson member of the United Nations, a Faurisson responding in the press each time the question of the Jews is raised. In brief, a state-sponsored Faurisson paired with an international Faurisson and, along with all that, a Talaat-Himmler blessed, since 1943, with an official mausoleum in the country’s capital. (from The Jews: History, Memory, and the Present)

The Turkish press has aided in trying to downplay the Armenian Genocide, particularly in English-language Turkish newspapers, which largely represent Turkey to foreign audiences. A recent article in Today’s Zaman, one of two English-language Turkish papers, is a particularly egregious example of the tiresome refrain that the deaths of Armenians were “justified in the context of war.”

Rather than dissect this argument point by point – which would be a much more involved historical study – I want to point out one of the more egregious falsehoods and misrepresentations in the article:

The Holocaust was the first internationally accepted case of genocide, on the basis of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948. The definition of genocide used in the convention was the one that was first coined in 1944 by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer of Jewish descent, as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” Whether what happened to the Armenians in Eastern Anatolia during the final years of the Ottoman Empire was an act of “genocide,” like the Holocaust, has been a matter of debate for decades.

The article then goes on to reference arguments that what happened to Armenians was not genocide. The clear implication here is that Raphael Lemkin, the man who developed the word “genocide,” is an authority on the matter. And clearly then, since the Holocaust was the first case of genocide accepted by the UN, Lemkin, a Jew, must not have believed that what happened to Armenians was genocide.

Unfortunately, the way this passage is written is completely intellectually dishonest because Lemkin very clearly believed that the Armenian Genocide was a genocide. Watch the video below, from Wikipedia, for instance:

What’s the goal?

In the same article mentioned above, Cengiz also explains why in his view this bill will not actually push Turkey to recognize the genocide:

This process [of democratization in Turkey] has not been completed yet, though. After having some serious crises, especially a combination of external and internal ones, this military guardianship could come back: All that is necessary for this is to push Turkey out of Europe, to push it from every corner with similar genocide denial bills, to increase the level of violence through the Kurdish conflict, and so on.

A Turkey that returns to its old status quo (military guardianship, isolation, state gangs with complete impunity engaging in mass human rights violations, etc.) will not only be a huge threat to its entire region (starting with Armenia), it will also never ever confront its past.

Perhaps Cengiz is right here. Maybe this kind of pressure from countries like France, which are unconditionally opposed to Turkish EU membership, will only make Turkey more hostile to towards Europe. Then, insofar as recognizing the Armenian Genocide is identified as a “European project,” it will only make Turkey more obstinate when it comes to facing its historical responsibility.

If our goal is to make Turkey recognize the genocide then, Cengiz argues, this bill is not “helping Turkey confront 1915″. We shouldn’t deliberately push Turkey further into its ethnic nationalist corner. But I’m not entirely convinced.

The problem is that at some point this logic becomes self-defeating. International pressure on Turkey only serves to further entrench Turkey’s position. But domestic organizing on the issue is all but stalled because it is illegal or extremely dangerous to advocate on the issue. Cengiz, when he writes for Radikal, can’t even use the words “genocide” or “forced migration” outside of quotes for fear of reprisal.

(Note that at Today’s Zaman the unofficial policy is that columnists such as Cengiz are allowed to use genocide outside of quotes; I know because I used to work there. The conclusion I always drew from this was that it was an intentional decision to outwardly portray Turkey as more tolerant of discussion about the genocide than it actually is.)

I personally find it doubtful that nearly a hundred years after 1915 Turkey will reverse course on the issue without significant pressure. I think Cengiz places too much faith in AK Party’s democratization process. In the past year we’ve seen the closure of the “democratic opening” on the Kurdish issue and increasingly nationalist discourse, particularly around issues of ethnicity. We still today hear of “Armenian traitors” – a term used even to describe Kurdish militants in a calculated effort by nationalists not to brand one fifth of the country’s population (Kurds) as traitors, and instead scapegoat just one percent (Armenians).

If one were to reply to Cengiz or Orhan Pamuk or any other ethnic Turk who supports confronting the past “well, why aren’t you trying harder to organize and push for recognition?” I have no doubt that the first response would be “It is impossible. What more can we do? The state’s repression is so severe that we have little space to organize.” And indeed, such a question would be unfair because the problem is not one of personal commitment or even domestic political strategy.

A way forward

Ultimately, Turkey needs to be pushed on this matter internationally. The fact that it’s racists and xenophobes who are doing the pushing is irrelevant so long as we openly criticize them. France will push Turkey precisely because it is racist and xenophobic. The United States will not because it wants to keep Turkey as a geopolitical ally. No country’s intentions towards Turkey are pure or “neutral,” but we ought to find what is good or useful in any given country’s position and emphasize it while in the same breath criticizing its double-standards.

I support France pushing Turkey to recognize the Armenian Genocide and simultaneously recognize that France, as a former colonial power, was the perpetrator of numerous crimes and injustices and, today, has a duplicitous agenda in pursuing a ban on denial of the Armenian genocide.

Ok, it’s a long breath, but it’s possible.

Let’s take the broader angle view now. We, as activists, have to strategically play countries’ interests against each other. Turkey supports Palestinian rights because it garners votes at home; Israel supports Kurdish rights in order to delegitimize Turkey; France supports recognizing the Armenian Genocide because it wants to keep Turkey out of the EU. Each item that each of these countries supports deserves our support.

However, believing that Palestinians and Kurds should have equal rights in their respective homelands or that the Armenian Genocide should be recognized does not amount to support for Turkey, Israel, or France. And it is a categorical and strategic mistake when activists identify these issues as national issues.

The inability to distinguish political positions from national identity is a symptom of nation-state thinking. We see this most pronounced in the Palestine solidarity community becoming “pro-Turkey” after the Mavi Marmara incident. We can support the actions of a country without supporting that country itself.

Returning to the specific issue at hand, the bill before the French Senate ought to be supported on legal grounds because it is consistent in how it treats speech about genocide, in light of the Gayssot Act. As long as Gayssot is in in effect, I support the same standard being applied to the Armenian Genocide.

Ideally, however, I believe that neither law should exist (or have to exist). If, beyond getting Turkey to acknowledge the genocide, our goal is to aid Armenians in healing their collective wound of memory, then I believe that such legislation is also damaging. If Turkey cannot be legislated into confronting its past, then certainly collective trauma cannot be healed through the machinations of states and legislatures.

As Cengiz says, pressure from France most likely won’t push Turkey in the right direction – at least in the short term. I believe that external pressure will most immediately produce a negative counter-reaction, but over time open up space for this discussion to happen more openly in Turkey. I think it is worth considering that international civil society take a more active role in pushing for recognition of the Armenian Genocide. This should be done not by pushing their governments to pass resolutions, but through historical study and public declarations, until it becomes impossible for Turkey to deny the genocide in the same way that no credible person today can deny the Holocaust.

Turkish society must disentangle its national identity from being defined as a nation only for ethnic Turks, with minorities merely being tolerated or assimilated. Only then can it see the expulsion and genocide of Armenians as a part of the Turkish nation-building project. Only then can Turks put some distance between themselves and the events of 1915, so that they can in turn see how close to it they actually are.

Vidal-Naquet, when discussing historical scholarship about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, wrote:

Work after work has been published trying to tell us what happened that day. Yet these works do not represent the kind of reflection on memory I am speaking about, but precisely the opposite. In such books it is not a matter of making explicit our relationship to the past, but of suppressing the distance that separates us from it, of acting as if the representation of it rendered it actually present.

For true remembrance – and therefore true recognition – of the Armenian Genocide to occur, it is necessary for Turkey to confront its past and transcend its current relationship to 1915. For those Armenians memorializing the genocide, they must in turn come to accept the distance between 1915 and now, the fact that the dead can never be brought back to life. We can still do justice to those lost, but the justice received from states and legislatures will always be hollow and incomplete.

Dec 202011

The Occupy Theory journal, Tidal, marks a significant moment in the contemporary relationship between politics and philosophy. I have always deeply believed that philosophy has something important to offer to politics. Politics is, after all, really just about how we should live with other people. The earliest recorded Western philosophy, from Plato and Aristotle onwards, has concerned itself first with how an individual should live a virtuous life (“ethics”) and second how such individuals should relate to each other in the polis, or city (“politics”).

Perhaps the reason philosophy has always drawn me in is because, through its very methodology, it opens up possibility. Philosophy asks us first to uncover and then to examine, to interrogate, our assumptions: assumptions like “humans are inherently selfish” or “capitalism may not be perfect but it’s the best we’ve got.” By doing so, the practice of philosophy reveals to us precisely that mantra “another world is possible.” Continue reading »

Oct 212011

An incredibly important piece was just published by Glen Greenwald over at Salon. It’s about the U.S. murder-by-drone of Anwar Awlaki and his 16-year-old-son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, both U.S. citizens. In sum, the article is about the massive security and secrecy apparatus that the Obama administration has implemented and routinely utilized. Case in point are these extra-judicial murders of U.S. citizens on Yemeni soil, about which the Obama administration refuses to reveal anything. If you want to learn more about what exactly this means, jump on over to read Greenwald’s piece. Continue reading »