Since late 1996, the big story in Washington has been a scandal about foreign donations offered to the Democratic Party’s election fund. First the press learned that approximately a million dollars from an Indonesian business group had been returned by the Democrats, ostensibly on the grounds that acceptance of the donations would have implied undue foreign influence. More recently, talk has turned to China, which also apparently tried to contribute money in the hope of producing concessions from the administration.
Far down the list of topics generating public debate is another issue that points out sharply the ironies involved in the campaign of financial scandal - the matter of US interference in Turkish politics.
In early March, a rash of news stories and editorials appeared in US newspapers hinting at the possibility of a military coup in Turkey. A key issue is the ‘anti-western’ style of governance attributed to Turkish Prime Minister Nesmettin Erbakan. According to a 4 March Washington Post commentary, Erbakan ‘made the outlandish charge that the United States and Israel support terrorism’ while on a visit to one of America’s least-favourite places, Libya. Erbakan has also had the audacity, say well-connected Washington insiders, to establish ties with other countries not on friendly terms with the US, Iran and Nigeria, for instance.
Equally offensive, in Washington’s eyes, are domestic policies that would not only be legitimate, but taken for granted on this side of the Atlantic. For one thing, the prime minister ‘proposed that women wearing Islamic veils or head scarves be allowed to work in government offices and in universities,’ in the words of the 4 March Washington Post column. And, according to the same source, the Turkish leader also urged that ‘working hours in government offices be changed during the holy month of Ramadan to suit those who wanted to fast or pray’.
It may seem odd that the columnist finds this troublesome, since employers in the United States are expected to accommodate the religious schedules and dress codes of Christians and Jews. In fact, it would ordinarily be considered a form of discrimination if they did not.
Nonetheless, the writer seemed oblivious to the double standards, arguing that the US government should make the point openly that it ‘stands firmly with those who fight for Turkey’s secular democracy - even if they happen to be general’. In other words, the US should encourage the Turkish military to push for compulsory secularism.
To one familiar with the charges of ‘foreign tinkering’ in US politics that have saturated the American media in recent months, this seems a huge contradiction. One cannot help but ask: How would the American people feel if Turkey became embroiled in secret negotiations with US military officials to bring about a coup against Clinton? And how would they see it if the purpose of all this intrigue were to prevent Americans from embracing their own religious convictions. But this, it seems, is exactly what is on the minds of journalists and other politically-connected elite whose words have found their way into print lately.
The commentary in question was written by Lally Weymouth, an editorial page contributor to the Washington Post, who is based in New York, and who happens to be the daughter of publisher Katherine Graham. The column sheds light on a lot of information that would not be immediately known in the US. For instance, it reports that on the Friday just prior to the publication - 28 February - there occurred what Weymouth described as ‘a showdown’ between the Turkish military and Erbakan.
The military, apparently backed by President Sulaiman Demirel, made some 20 demands, including that Erbakan’s Refah [Welfare] Party cease its ‘recruitment of fundamentalists [sic.] for government positions,’ in Weymouth’s words, and that it ‘not employ those expelled from the military for fundamentalist sympathies’.
Aside from the purge of the military ranks which these words imply, the demands go even farther. Says the column, the prime minister was also ordered to make certain that a ‘secular dress code be strictly enforced in government workplaces’ and that he put a stop to the growth of ‘religious cults’ in Turkey. It adds that Erbakan ‘was forced to sign on to these recommendations’. By whom, one can only wonder.
There is no doubt that the US is pulling strings behind the scenes. During the last completed fiscal year (which ended in October 1996), the US contributed $33.5 million in bilateral funds to Turkey. The Economic Support Funds (ESF) programme, from which that money came, is administered by the Agency for International Development (AID).
According to a report to Congress by the US General Accounting Office (GAO), several years ago, economic support funds are specifically intended as a means with which to barter ‘policy reform’ in recipient nations. Says the same 1988 GAO report, which was done for the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East, ESF payments are designed to ‘contribute to economic development while serving other important US political and security interests’.
The GAO study, which examined ways in which the programme could have greater impact, notes that its effectiveness in any country is determined by several general factors, including the availability of financial transfers ‘sufficient to leverage the anticipated policy reforms,’ bilateral negotiations that impress upon the recipient the readiness of the US to take action if its conditions are not met, and the ability of the recipient government to ‘weather dissent from unpopular reforms without jeopardising its political stability’.
In addition to the economic support funds, more than a million dollars from the US ‘mutual security’ budget was spent directly on the Turkish military under the International Military Education and Training programme.
An awareness of the extent to which political events abroad are shaped by western ‘aid’ undoubtedly explains the anxiety felt by some American journalists and other influential opinion-makers when they learned that Asian money might have tainted the political process here.
But Weymouth’s column was not the only hint of a possible western-backed action actually to suppress Islam in Turkey. A news story appearing in the same edition of the Washington Postcalled Turkey’s military establishment ‘the guarantor of state secularism’ and quoted an unnamed ‘senior government official’ in Ankara who said that Erbakan is ‘playing with fire’ if he refuses to bend to the military ultimatum. The same official is quoted as saying that the prime minister, by dismissing the ultimatum, may be ‘underestimating the military’s resolve’.
The story also lists several more demands presented to Erbakan. These include an investigation of private companies owned by practising Muslims, a ban on hiring ‘Muslim activists’ for civil service posts, and an halt to the building of mosques in central parts of Istanbul and Ankara. What is especially ironic in a country that prides itself on making foreign leaders leap political hurdles to get their hands on financial support is that the Turkish military also ordered that ‘financial transfers to Turkey from outside Islamic organisations’ be ended, according to theWashington Post.
Even stronger warnings against the rise of Islam in Turkey can be found in two more columns, both published on 10 March in the right-wing Washington Times, founded 15 years ago by Korean anti-communist crusader Rev Sun Myung Moon. He heads the curiously named Unification Church. Its editor-at-large, Arnaud de Borchgrave, is listed in the 1994 membership directory of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, a group with headquarters in McLean, Virginia, whose 2,600 members include mostly retired spies.
The Washington Times has printed regularly opinion pieces by high officials of the Central Intelligence Agency, including former London Bureau Chief Cord Meyer and the late Ray S Cline, without identifying their CIA ties.
A bias against Muslims is inherent in the newspaper’s ideology. In fact, Islam is often used interchangeably with communism (a philosophy that represents ‘Satan’s side’ according to the cult) in the leader’s politically charged speeches. ‘We see the division of left and right wings in the division between religions in the Middle East,’ Moon said in a January 1993 ‘Proclamation of the Messiah’ which appears on the internet. In this great schism, Moon declared: ‘Christianity lined up with the right wing and Islam lined up with the left wing.’
And the Washington Times is clearly an instrument in the continuing battle against the ‘left’ and all other ideologies averse to the interests of the Moon empire.
The guest editorials published by the Washington Times on 10 March reflect that ideology. Gerald Robbins, a columnist identified only as a ‘New York writer on foreign affairs,’ contended that ‘Turkey’s pro-lslamist government,’ because of its friendly relations with Iran, raises concerns ‘about a geostragetically important NATO ally being led astray’. The commentary closed with a quote from a representative of a pro-western Iranian exile group who warned: ‘Teheran can achieve what the communists failed to do throughout the entire Cold War - create a crack within NATO and turn a veteran member-state into taking positions against its allies.’
Even more shrill was the warning from the other Washington Times writer, Amos Perlmutter. ‘The collapse of secularism in Turkey,’ he wrote, constitutes a ‘threat to the security of the Middle East and Europe as well ... What could be a more explosive brew than radical Iranian fundamentalism combined with Syrian Arab Radicalism and topped with an Islamic Turkey? ... Think of the military and political power such an alliance would form.’
Perlmutter claimed that ‘the Turkish army has not yet decided on a coup,’ but pointed out that on three occasions since 1960, the military seized power ‘to reverse Islamic and radical governments’. Then, with even great determination than Weymouth, Perlmutter insisted: ‘The Clinton administration must give its full support to the military ... We must support the military once it finds it has no choice but to stage a coup.’ It might be necessary, he explained, that the west ‘intervene to save Turkish democracy and secularism, as well as European and Middle East security’.
What is actually being said behind closed doors at the Department of State, the CIA, and the National Security Council is not known: it may not be fully disclosed for decades. But it is a fact that much of what is kept from the general public is known to influential people at the ‘big’ newspapers. Indeed, a large part of those secrets that will remain classified for the foreseeable future can at least be guessed, if one carefully reviews the pages of the ‘insider’ journals on foreign policy that are circulated among the leadership class.
By the middle of March, things had settled down. The Washington Post in an official editorial appearing on 14 March, decided that a US-backed military government in Turkey might not be such a good idea after all - at least not yet. ‘The drama has yet to be played out,’ said the editorial. ‘It is certain, however, that another coup is not the answer for Turkey, notwithstanding the premature enthusiasm being shown for one in some quarters.’
And with that, the American newspapers went back to worrying about whether US sovereignty may have been compromised by ‘foreign aid’ funnelled into the coffers of political operatives at home.
Courtesy: Impact International, London.
Muslimedia - May 1-15, 1997