Thursday, 12 June 2008

an Anatolian ramble

This evening, while Mrs L is away in Wales, PG and I watched The Count of Monte Cristo, a only- slightly dreary swashbuckler in the spirit of the 30s, rather passe to this 21st century viewer, but still quite fun.

Then I wandered over to for some Turkey news. Having spent a bit more time on the book project recently (not to mention discussions regarding Israel) I have been pondering 'missionary' and 'anti-missionary' activities in the Middle East in history and today. As an evangelical, to me 'missionary' is a neutral or even positive word - I don't even shudder when someone says "Buddhist missionary" or "Muslim missionary" to me. But the word has troubling connotations for many people. Westerners probably can't imagine what Turkish commentators, whether rabidly secularist or openly Islamist, intend by the word "missionary".

Well, what did I find on Zaman but this intriguing article about a former missionary associate turned Muslim scaremonger. Respect to Zaman, they just about avoid spitting while saying "missionary", and even appear to be rather more suspicious of this chap (who, it turns out, is on the government payroll, or on the deep state payroll) than they are of Turkish protestants. This list of accusations, for example, is intriguing. Zaman tells us a little about an infamous book by this multi-tasking man...

Çınar had claimed in 2005 that international missionary institutions had allocated $73 billion for Turkey and that the missionaries in Turkey produced 15 million Bibles and distributed them for free. He also said there were 40,000 church-homes in Turkey, while claiming that foreigners were engaging in illegal missionary activities in Turkey, that they supported Kurdish and Alevi separatism and that they were involved in smuggling of some historical artifacts.

The members of the list are not exactly equivalent. Even allowing for my Westernised, Christianised bias, the distribution of free Bibles seems less than sinister. The presence of 'church-homes' (delightfully ambiguous, and unintentionally wonderfully encouraging for the cause of the gospel I'd say - when the nations start raging you know there must be a reason) in a country is also rather less than criminal. I would LOVE to know what the illegal activities were - are all 'missionary' activities illegal? What is a missionary activity? Does breathing on the part of a missionary count? Who counts as a missionary!? Support for separatism could be criminal, especially if it involved conspiracy to commit criminal activities - then again, someone who thought that a Kurdish state was a good idea might be accused of "supporting Kurdish separatism" even if all they did was mention their opinion to someone [working for the government?] down the pub. Smuggling, of course, sounds like something you can accuse people of - fair enough - don't think I condone crime as I mock Mr Çınar. Of course all these are potentially evil actions if you think that "missionary" is a swearword. Which just goes to show the power of language and of 'what everybody knows'.

All this sent me off on an interesting search - for Alevi separatism, of all things, not something I knew much about.

This dense academic piece reminds me once again just how complex everything is and how teeny my understanding will ever be. [Spot the Islamic missionaries on page 7 in amongst the cultural imperialism of the Sultanate in the late 19th century. Will Zaman raise its arms against that, one wonders. Will anyone sneak into the offices of zealous Sunnis and slit their throats for anything as terrible as being keen to see people convert to their way of writing the world...? Oh no, it's OK, it happened before Attaturk so it's all fine.]

Any number of online encyclopedia articles will give you a flavour of who they are and what their religious slant is. Religious differences and communal tensions with Sunni Turk and Sunni Kurd and who calls who a what and what the Kemalists tried to do about 'national' identity and all manner of interesting things will pop up at you.

There was a gruesome massacre of Alevis in 1993 which the police did nothing about. Seems to have been carried out by a Sunni 'Islamist' mob. Needless to say the Alevi diaspora is none too pleased with that.

Meanwhile, Alevi and Kurd and violence and terrorism seem to be words that get linked by many Turks - and not surprising, since lots of Alevis are Kurdish and lots of Kurds openly or tacitly cheer (or worse) for the PKK et al. As Mustapha Aykol points out on his White Path blog from January the reputation of Alevis for 'liberalism' is only partly deserved. [Watch out for the great and very revealing quote from respondent number two, All I can say is I disapprove of any separatist or self-segregating behavior by any community. All I can say is, separating from whom or what? Who gets to choose where the lines are drawn or how thick a line counts as anything in particular. And if the majority segregates (persecutes) the minority do they simultaneously 'segregate' themselves, thereby incurring Kerim's disapproval? Actually, that's not all I can say ;-)]

Beyond that I shall clearly have my work cut out to understand what is going on...