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The Mavi Marmara Returns to Istanbul: What's Being Celebrated Anyways?

December 27, 2010

My Pakistani doppleganger came to town this weekend (though a day late because of the absurdly awful European weather, but I digress). Most of the weekend was taken up doing the usual: drinking, talking about how he’s been promoted like 5 times since I’ve been twiddling my thumbs for the past two years, mumbling through Urdu phrases. We got bored with each other for enough time to go take a walk through Tarlabasi up to Suleymaniye and from there to Sehzade Camii.

As we walked across the Ataturk Bridge over the Golden Horn, a pneumatic pump was clacking away at a methodical pace. I made a crack that the pump noise was ominous, and indeed there was a bit of a Night of the Living Dead to it. The grey rainy weather and general glumminess of the industrial reach of the Golden Horn added to it.

Little did we realize that we were in Peter Hitchens’ nightmare. The day the Mavi Marmara returns to Istanbul. The ship has taken a lot longer to get back then the people on it, as it had to get repaired along the way and people go to hospitals for that sort of thing etc. But the scene along Ragıp Gümüşpala, the Golden Horn Shore Road, was of people pretty, pretty, excited for the ship. People were flocking over to Sarayburnu from throughout Fatih. The march to the protest held a resemblance to a Hijabi version of Internet Anonymous.

There’s also pretty much no question that the muhijabeen had better hair

(even though yes I get it you can’t see the hair don’t ruin my jokes)

Lots can and will be said about the celebration today, a celebration that has been billed as a “Hero’s Welcome.” And the Hurriyenglish talks about a return trip, Martyrs’ Parks, and other such hibbie-jibbie inducing things. All of which evades a pretty frustrating point. IHH and the collective supporting it would rather make waves for Supporting Palestine then actually support Palestine, it would seem.

The easiest and thickest set of reading on this would be Yigal Schleifer’s 10 stories on the subject over at Istanbul Calling.

Far more to the point, however, is the inimitable CarpetBlogger, back from when she was talking about the Davos Incident:

A Turk gesturing on behalf of oppressed Palestinians is about as politically courageous as an American advocating for a “democratic transition” in Belarus: There’s absolutely  nothing at stake and everyone gets to feel good about themselves. Turkey has no aggrieved Palestinians occupying valuable political real estate. There’s no chance of instability on its borders. And, it has a population (definitely not a tribe) that needs no excuse to wave flags and express outrage at perceived slights. We don’t see any downsides to Erdoğan’s outburst except, oh, perhaps a missed opportunity for Turkey to serve as a levelheaded mediator in the conflict, something that could actually help the Palestinians! Maalasef.

And then following that with a wonderful:

Banners and booths on Istiklal promote fundraising efforts on behalf of the Muslim brothers, the proceeds of which will almost certainly reach the poor Gazans, minus the necessary administration fees, of course.

So one should really note, this whole thing is of course not as anti-Israel as it is pro-Palestinian. And it’s not NEARLY as pro-Palestinian as it is pro-Turkey.

It also stands to notice that huge masses of peoplehood coming out of the Turkish woodwork to protest at a tragic loss of life is not new and is not only about Islam. One only has to see the protests/vigils/sign-carrying after the Hrant Dink assassination:

The signs say “We are all Hrant Dink” and “We are all Armenians”

They do not say “We are all in favor of a well-mediated turn to recognition

of our mutual and antagonistic grievances”

As anyone who has spent time around DC can tell you: protesting is easy. Honoring a ferry liner with a hero’s welcome is easy. Making the brave decisions to affect real change: actually kind of hard.

I don’t mean that in a “Look at the Turkish SHEEPLE!” sort of way, I mean it in an “IHH and AKP have the tendency to play political/fundraising games instead of doing what they are purportedly on a mission to do.” I have a lot of respect for what both acronyms are all about and I really think that they are doing many things in the right way. I’m just not convinced that this is one of those things.

Anyone can yell at Israel, anyone can use Islam as a political tool. It’s what you do after that that matters. Ever since the AKP has turned more outwardly Islamic (something I would tack unfairly at around the Davos/Cast Lead affairs) people have been waiting for the AKP to use this potential they have been accruing to do something Big. They simply haven’t yet, Iran dealings and NATO assuaging aside. IHH has used the Mavi Marmara to take them a step ahead of their standard Kimse Yok Mu? projects and feeding of the homeless. But they are still mostly using the Mavi Marmara to fundraise.

After Sehzade, we hung out a bit in Fatih Parki then went over to Fatih Camii (sadly under construction and not really worth the walk or gawk). Right by the mosque, sitting on a dilapidated side street, is the IHH headquarters. It didn’t catch my eye for the Palestinian flags, those are everywhere in this neck of the woods. I noticed the building because it’s finished in peach stucco and has picture windows. You could eat bal-kaymak off of the steps up to its automatic door. It had the image of a foreign consulate in Kabul. Perhaps not the bristling weapons of the United States’. But certainly the out-of-place glitz trying to act austere to fit in with the poverty of the neighborhood. Or perhaps Kabul is the wrong example. The IHH would make a great stand-in for the Belgian Embassy of Absurdsvani.

And of course, the well-appointed lobby is never going to be the face of the IHH the way a decades-old vapur will be.

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