Hussein on Trial

Turks are a delight for the weary American voter

Entering the endgame of a presidential election, gloves come off and campaigns often resort to less-than-honorable tactics to energize supports or sow doubt among an opponent’s potential voters. The McCain-Palin ticket has epitomized this fourth-quarter retreat into murky tactics, for example, with its use of Barack Obama’s middle name, Hussein, as political ammunition. Appealing to the worst of voters’ prejudices, such tactics are particularly fiendish for their ability to degrade even those who speak out against them.

A friend of mine, stalwart of the Republican information network that he is, regularly forwards to me chain letters that proclaim themselves revelations, bringing real Americans the news withheld by the sinister liberal media. Several of these letters have seized upon the apparently shocking fact that Senator Obama’s middle name is a name common in the Middle East—among Muslims!

These letters, of course, appeal only to those willing to inhale alarmist propaganda without a moment’s worth of fact-checking. Yet the true disappointing consequence of these outlandish suggestions is that the defenders of Obama’s good name unwittingly dig in to positions they should never have taken. To defend Obama as John McCain did—as not an Arab, but a “good family man”—is to concede that Muslim heritage is somehow intrinsically disturbing.

The notion of fighting over whether someone is or is not Muslim seems especially preposterous against the backdrop of chaos and crisis gripping Turkey right now over a terrorism trial unprecedented in its scale. Turkey may seem exotic and far removed from the American collective consciousness with Nov. 4 fast approaching, but the long-term importance of this crisis over Muslim identity cannot be dismissed. On Monday, the first court session of this trial had to adjourn because of the crush of people in the courtroom as protesters thronged Silivri prison-court.

Tensions are high in Turkey, not because of empty political wrangling, but rather because dozens of prominent Turkish men, including former top army officers, face charges for planning alleged attacks and assassinations to destabilize the Turkish state. Government prosecutors have accused the men of comprising the Ergenekon group, a secret network allegedly so sinister it had composed a menu of targets to be eliminated as part of a plan to give the army a pretense to take over the government.

Americans should follow this trial not because its details sound lifted from the next James Bond film, but rather because its intrigues do resemble a higher-stakes version of our own party politics. What makes this case pertinent is that those prosecuting the group have been accused of representing the pro-Islam government, the ruling AK Party, in revenge for a failed court attempt to ban the party this summer for undermining Turkey’s secular government system. For years, secular Turks have battled more Islamic Turks over the direction of their country.

The result of this case and any cases that follow could very well dictate the long-term direction of the Turkish state. With a large military and ambition to join the European Union, a rebound and triumph of secularism, or the rise of an increasingly Islamic agenda could have ramifications extending across Europe and even back home to the United States, where the political discourse revolves around anti-Islamic name-calling.

With our election at hand, Americans should look to Turkey. We need to realize that when these campaigns end, we must move beyond politics of insinuation and inertia. In the rest of the world, the stakes are much higher.

Alexander R. Konrad ’11, a Crimson editorial writer, is a history and archaeology joint concentrator in Quincy House.