Thursday, August 30, 2007

Muslim Democrat?

Turkey has elected a so-called Islamist as President. This might sound alarming to some paranoid western ears. Any word containing or having as cognate the word Islam has in recent years taken on a connotation of fundamentalism and extremism. But look past the descriptive terms and you'll find that the oppostional forces in that country's politics has less to do with religion versus secularism and has more to do with rich versus poor.

Turkey is socially and politically very unconventional; for one thing the military has on four occasions deposed the national government and forced it to adhere to the constitution which it holds dear. Unlike most other military establishments this one doesn't consider the constitution to be a pesky document that gets in the way of their path to power. They consider it their raison d'etre to protect it.

I am strongly in favour of secularism. I don't think there's much wisdom in mixing the church with the state. So one would guess that the recent presidential ascendancy in Turkey should trouble me. It does not trouble me because I think that the people have strongly supported the AKP not because they necessarily crave a government that mixes faith and politics but because they have been given so few reliable and honest politicians from which to choose.

The secularist parties much like the Federal Liberals here in Canada had become much too comfortable in their position as the natural governing option. While the constitution and reforms brought forth by Ataturk in 1923 were impressive and necessary at the time they are clung to by the secularists with even more vigour than a religious zealot clings to his scriptures. If Turkey wants to join the European union (and most of the population strongly does so) then they need to realize that the tenets of Western Liberal Democracy can supersede the proclamations of Ataturk who it must be admitted was not infallible. His innovations, it could be argued were right for the time but can be improved upon and therefore must be subject to criticism.

Along with the comfort and ease of power came the temptation of corruption. It should be admitted that the rich and the powerful have for decades colluded in corrupt practices that have fleeced the average Turkish citizen of their deserved economic success. Their untiring work ethic has largely been wasted by scandal after scandal in which those in power made it very easy for those with the purse-strings to abscond with the country's liquid resources and to do so with relative impunity. This gave the secularist parties a bad name and the poor not surprisingly flocked to their shepherds.

Recep Erdogan and his chosen President Abdullah Gul are probably no more frighteningly Muslim than Stephen Harper is frighteningly Christian. They all knew how to seek favour with voters to oust a naturally governing party: they did so by giving the voters an option to sweep aside an establishment that was shown to be too comfortable in power and too prone to corruption. Ironically in Turkey it took the efforts of a so-called Islamist party to truly put into practice the various virtues of Western Democracy. Those previously in power, despite being ostensibly advocates of right-leaning capitalist thinking, had no interest in true competition because having already the most they had the most to lose through it's introduction.

There has been a long tradition of Christian Democrat parties in Europe who despite their religious sounding names have upheld the values of Liberalism and I propose that the party in power in Turkey be labeled similarly as Muslim Democrats. If we could somehow keep those corrupt politicians from using the electoral process for their own personal economic enrichment instead of the enrichment of their people then the people wouldn't have to resort to voting in religiously linked parties to oust those same corrupt politicians.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

This Music is Gay!

Men in Istanbul walk hand in hand, kiss each other in greeting and occasionally lather each other in a Turkish bath, and those are just the straight men. Turkey has a very macho culture where so-called manliness is highly prized and praised. Every time I look up at a TV or glance at a tabloid here in Istanbul I seem to come across the face of a rather severe looking female singer by the name of Bulent Ersoy who it turns out was once a man.

People can't seem to get enough of her. She seems to be hosting a different show every night, her photos are on the front pages of most newspapers, people are talking about her plans to adopt children and about what her 23 year old husband was doing with another woman last week.

It seems very strange at first to find that they have elevated a transgender performer to the pinnacle of their entertainment pyramid, and it should be noted that this is not just a freak-show curiosity since most everyone really appreciates her singing talents and her bravery. There is a surprising readiness to accept LGBT people in the world of entertainment even if these people aren't readily accepted in the more mundane workplaces of the everyday world. As a very young child in Istanbul I remember asking my Mother why people said Zeki Muren was a man when he clearly looked, dressed and sang like a woman. Later when I moved to the West I confused him with Liberace who engendered the same question.

As a youth I remember watching Mick Jagger strut on stage like a preening girl more or less kissing Keith Richards while tough-guy biker-types in the crowd roared their approvals. As an aside, for years I confused Ron Wood with Rod Stewart (another male performer with clearly gay mannerisms). Freddie Mercury of Queen also strutted around on stage like a prima donna but by this time I had chalked it up to the understanding that British people were just more pimp and circumstance than the rest of us. It never really occurred to me that these people might be gay; It's just how rock stars behaved.

If you survey the pantheon of pop music you will find a very lengthy list of male rock stars who were either gay or behaved in a stereotypically gay manner on stage. They wore makeup, tight tight jeans, wiggled their asses and stroked their bodies like strippers. The hair bands of the 80's represented the extreme manifestations of this tendency.

During my teenage years it was so much fun watching Robert Smith of The Cure prance around in Love Cats that it almost made me want to wear mascara, hairspray and elaborate jewelry. The straight male population is accepting of this style even if most of them aren't accepting of gay culture in general but the female populace seems to simply adore it. Most heart-throbs marketed to little girls are soft smooth effeminate boys who are also highly attractive to the gay male population. It baffles straight men why women are more attracted to pretty-boys over manly men but the advent of the Metrosexual seems to be an effort to appeal to this tendency in women.

This is not new. Dionysus, the original rock star gave the women of Thebes ecstatic fits and the men were so drawn to the spectacle that they dressed up and joined the women in their adoration of Dionysus. The Dionysian is often aligned with the feminine spirit of humanity while the Apollonian is aligned with the masculine. Meaningful art results when both are twined in an interplay of the forces of human natures. Whether you are drawn to Apollo or Dionysus you cannot help but appreciate the art that results in their admixture and even the hardened men of a militaristic middle power like Turkey appreciate the beauty of art made by a creature borne of a mixed spirit. Rock stars as well as audiences seem to know this intuitively.