Saturday, February 17, 2007

Rumi buried in concrete and smoke

I had been to Konya some 15 years ago during an election campaign of the then Turkish Welfare (Refah) Party, the Turkish Islamic Party which frequently had to change its name due to being outlawed by the secular establishment and now runs the government under the new name of Justice and Democracy Party. The Konya region is the early cradle of humanity since the days Noah landed his ark on mount Judi in the Ararat range. The shrine/museum of Rumi houses some interesting and precious artefacts and Qur'anic scripts, and when I first visited still had a traditional shoe-keeper who took one look at you and your shoes when you handed them in before entering, and gave them back to you upon exit - an amazing application of memory power.

The shoe-keeper had gone when I visited this time, and visitors were given plastic covers to slip over their footwear. The once provincial town had grown into the fifth largest city of Turkey and changed beyond recognition. It has a flourishing wheat and sugar industry, besides the traditional Turkish carpets made there, and three years ago was given its own airport. Like all Turkish airports it is of shiny marble and makes UK airports look cheap and dirty (not to mention the more recent "security" measures which turn UK airports into the laughing stock of the world - my advice to travellers: walk around in flip-flop beach sandals and don't take anything with you - you can buy it all abroad for a fraction of the price anyway).

For Konya, and other Turkish cities, the new development has, however, been a mixed blessing. The current government has been successful in preventing another military takeover and in attracting investments, but the once critical stance on the issue of interest-based financing has gone since the Islamic Brotherhood movement and the Islamic banking fraternity took control of the party. Turkey is heavily indebted to the IMF and desparately begging the European Union to grant coveted membership. Whilst the airports and tourist areas are clean, environmental awareness is scarce elsewhere. A major building boom has turned much of the beautiful Turkish landscape into concrete wasteland whose inhabitants suffer major pollution problems.

I arrived at night and the snow-covered Konya landscape was lying under a thick blanket of smog with a heavy smell of choked wood fires. Konya is high on the list of sulphur dioxide and smoke particle concentrations in Turkish cities. According to the locals, the sugar beet factories are the main culprits, but because they provide employment and revenue, nobody dears taking the matter further.

UNESCO has declared the year 2007 as "World Molana Rumi Year" commemorating the 800th anniversary of his birth. There is a hope that many Sufi visitors from around the world will come to visit in the summer, when the winter smog has gone, and events are planned to be held in a newly built grand conference hall, like demonstrations of the "Sema", for example, the dance of the Whirling Dervishes. Even without the smog, however, tourists in search of a spiritual quest are likely to be disappointed. Like the shoe-keeper, the religious orders are a relic of the past, and a visit to the museum of Rumi is no different to a visit to a cathedral in any major European city: take a few snapshot pictures and go back into the huzzle buzzle of modern secular life.

Although hoping to attract income from religous tourists, Turkey wants to be seen as a secular nation, and even the traditional Anatolia region wants to shake off the Muslim heritage. Whilst in Istanbul, a number of people recounted to me how they found life in Konya stifling as students because of the conservative attitudes of the local populace. They, too, would be surprised at the change. In the Özkaymak, a major hotel in Konya, they still have separate swimming hours for men and women, unlike in Istanbul where swimming pools, sauna baths and the Turkish hamam are mixed, but they prevent women wearing full body Islamic swimming costumes from entering the pool just in case it might offend the more scarcely clad Western ladies. If European politicians are worried about letting a strict Muslim country enter their club, they needn't be concerned.

The Turkish "Islamic" government has gone for a compromise it might still live to regret. They stood up half-heartedly to the Americans when asked to allow troop movements through their country to aid the invasion of Iraq, and only granted them access to airspace, but this was more in order to not unnecessarily antagonise their own citizens. In return the Americans keep threatening them with setting up an independent Kurdish state in Iraq. The US carry out regular large-scale exercises in Turkey (including near Konya), and the Turkish prime has just played host to two major advocates of the war on Islam: Paul Wolfowitz in his capacity as President of the World Bank and the Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert. Meanwhile Europe will ask them to prostrate even lower and accept even more conditions.

Turkey is a huge country with an army whose size almost matches that of the United States. Its greatness derives from its proud history as the seat of the Islamic caliphate for many centuries, making the secular interlude since the Freemasonic crypto-Jewish (Dönme) takeover by Atatürk a mere blip of an interlude. If Turkey remembered her past she could be destined for a great future at a time where the strength of the American Empire is in rapid decline to be replaced by the influence of China rather than that of Europe. If Turkey expanded eastwards through alliances with Iran and the former Soviet Muslim republics and entered into strategic treaties with China and India, soon the Europeans would come bearing gifts as they did at the time of the Sultans, begging to be considered worthy enough by this important bridge country between Europe and Asia. It's not too late, but the Turkish people and their government need to wake up to reality pretty quickly, or like other countries before them they will only be left with the price to pay for out-of-bounds development: perpetual debt slavery whilst their real estate is sold off to outsiders.


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