Gay Pride and Prejudice – Of Use and Abuse of Minorities

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In a region as diverse as Central Europe, minorities have always played a major role. Numerous ethnic, religious, cultural, political, language-defined and more groups have emerged, evolved, survived, some benefiting from power relationships, others being persecuted. The Habsburg Empire basically consisted out of minorities. The history of Austria-Hungary is, if you want to look at it that way, a history of the interaction of small, overlapping clusters of people and their relations towards each other.

Clinging to a hegemonic system of old, not realising how the world turned under their feet, the Habsburg Empire ultimately failed. Nowadays, some of the former national minorities have their own states, but the question of who has a voice and whether it is heard remains acute. It is always a good idea to look at how “the power”, in this case the Hungarian government represented by Fidesz, handles minority issues and ask – have they learned?

So, I joined Budapest’s gay pride parade last weekend. As opposed to the last time I attended such an event, there was no police violence, but there were interesting observations to be made nonetheless.

Homosexuality, like anywhere else in the world, is a topic of ongoing debate in Hungary. Only recently, a court has overturned an older verdict, according to which labelling someone (namely ruling Fidesz party’s top-notch politician Máté Kocsis) as homosexual was to be considered as “defamation of good character”. A logic which only makes sense if A) you assume being homosexual comes with negative personal traits or B) legally speaking, something being offensive solemnly depends on whether or not someone is feeling offended by it – in which case I here and now declare that I feel personally offended by any exam grade that is not the highest grade.

But back to the pride walk.

It was generally an awesome thing. We danced through the streets, it was like a million degrees, very colourful, mainly young people around. It started at Budapest’s heroes square and ended in front of the Kossuth tér in front of the parliament.

Two noteworthy things I want to discuss about the pride walk in respect to my aforementioned question.

First of all, the police did seemingly everything possible to let no-one know about the pride walk. They prohibited anyone to join the march or even access the major streets in on its path anywhere except for at the starting point, hda even these gates closed until roughly half an hour after the march started. In some points, the fences were built 50m away from where the march would pass, and near the parliament, the perimeter was so far off, it was probably impossible to see the event from anywhere outside. Even though it is, according to organisers, dangerous to walk through Budapest with rainbow flags and the likes, this isolation of the march cannot be explained away with security measures.

I personally think that the city fathers (currently, there’s a Fidesz mayor) are somewhat embarrassed about events like this to take place in public spaces such as the Andrássy street, a world heritage site, and on the symbolism heavy Kossuth tér. They probably have use and no understanding for such emancipation movements, so trying to make it invisible – exactly the contrary of what pride walks are about – is the solution.

The other noteworthy observation I made was a Roma minority flag – a wheel on a blue and green background – hung on the main wagon.

Why a Roma flag on a queer pride walk?

In simplified terms, Roma and sexual minorities are enemies of the same ideology, one which advocates homogeneity, cultural hegemony and interprets derivation from the norm as dangerous.

Let me quickly introduce you to the concept of “group-focussed enmity” as researched for example by Bielefeld-based sociologist Andreas Zick: Scientists theorise an „ideology of unequal worth of groups“. As soon as people adopt the assumption that some groups are somewhat more valuable than others, they are prone to transfer this assumption to other groups, which is called group-focussed enmity. In other words:

  1. You assume that one group of people (say “gypsies”) are a homogenous group which is less valuable than “normal” people, hence its members share certain traits (other than the defining ones, whatever that is for gypsies; say you think all gypsies are being notorious thieves).
  2. You now transfer this idea to other groups and also assume that, say, refugees are one homogenous group of lacking worth, which’s members not only all share the defining trait that they seek refuge (which makes them refugees) but also share, for example, a hatred for women.
  3. Obviously, the groups considered of lower worth than your own will be endowed with negative traits. About the order “lower worth -> negative traits” rather than “negative traits -> lower worth”, I will write below.

What Zick and others found out, for example, was that in times of increased enmity against a new group – in their research Moslems in Germany – also enmities against other groups – such as classic antisemitic stereotypes – are on the rise. Even though aspects such as expression of enmity varies for different groups, there appears to be the common basis of an underlying mindset necessary for believing enmity against groups to be justifiable.

The Hungarian civil society, as almost any other society in Europe, has a long history and tradition of discriminating against Roma. Roma are generally viewed as a very homogenous entity, which is bullocks. Hungary alone has three major Roma groups speaking three major dialects of Romanes, the biggest one being Lovari. Generally, all variants of Romanes are influenced by other languages they came in touch with, hence varying all over Europe. Not even the nomadic aspect usually associated with Roma can be generalized, especially in modern day and age. The truth is; as soon as Roma no longer live up to Roma stereotypes, they are no longer visible as such and “disappear”.

These stereotypes in their negative form, in turn, exist and are nurtured to legitimize the marginalisation of the group. As discrimination studies have shown, what comes first in this process is not the stereotype out of which results a social conflict (“they are filthy, hence we must oppress them”) – but a social conflict out of which stereotypes result to justify social realities and power relationships (“they deserve how they are being treated because, uhm, they are filthy”).

The only thing that’s homogenous about Roma is the stereotype, the gypsy motive. This motive (more accurately the two motives; the mystical wildling and the parasitical thug; both nomads outside of “civilised” society), however, has been very stable and similar all over Europe since a bit more than 200 years.

The discrimination of Roma has been accordingly stout. Not so long ago, for example, thousands of people, most of the Roma, were evicted from their homes in Miskolc on an at best loose legal basis. I listened to the report of an ombudswoman to the Hungarian police about this incident, and it sounded like a pogrom. Reactions by officials to her report were somewhere between vague and ignorant and hence somewhere between sad and not surprising.

Now comes the interesting part: According to the ombudswoman, in this as well as in other incidents, affected Roma who tried to leave the country were stopped from emigrating at the airport. Apparently, the families were picked out from the cues by security in some kind of racial profiling. Why? I can only guess that at some deep level, an understanding of Roma being the doormat of the majority has entrenched itself in the collective police mind.

Ignorance and resentment – is this all Hungary’s current government has for minorities? Definitely not so.

Above Kossuth tér, two flags are hanging from the parliament building. One is, of course, the Hungarian flag, but the other one is the flag of the Székler.

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Parade end point at Kossuth tér. The Székler flag is on the parliament building right above the stage.

What are Székler?

These people are a minority speaking a variety of Hungarian and living in Transylvania – yep, the vampire place. Next to featuring the noble undead, this region used to belong to the Hungarian “half” of the Habsburg Empire. After the First World War, the newly emerged Hungary was considered a defeated power and thus stripped of vast lands, many of which were inhabited actually in majority by Hungarians (others not). Ever since, the associated Treaty of Trianon is viewed with grim in Hungary and strongly shapes the national identity and politics up until today.

Nowadays, Transylvania is part of Romania. Which makes sense, given that, even though it’s a very diverse region, the majority of the population and of the regions surrounding it speaks Romanian and considers itself Romanian since Romania exists.

The Treaty of Trianon was signed almost a hundred years and several major historical events ago, including the Second World War, in the wake of which Hungary sided with the Nazis, partially to regain the lost lands. It is unthinkable that Trianon is going to be revoked, and Fidesz doesn’t explicitly demand this. By hanging up the Székler flag on the parliament, the Hungarian government communicates perhaps not the wish to actually change anything about the geographical realities in Central Europe – but they certainly raise the claim of being a “big brother” to Hungarian minorities abroad, which is in turn welcomed by Hungarian nationalists and revisionists.

I tried to research what the Székler think about another country’s unilateral decision on Székler affiliation, but couldn’t find anything. They are probably split in opinion. After all, they have neither been asked, nor does this improve their standing with the Romanians and their government – which is obviously pissed.

For the Hungarian government, however, this is an easy way out. It weakens its ties with a neighbour country, sure, but improves the standing with large parts of its own population, which is taught in schools about how Trianon was the most unfair event of history. Also, big plus in the eyes of a populist: A cause which can never be reached is a useful banner to unite followers behind if all you care about is being the banner carrier. Doesn’t make sense? Look at Britain; the populist leaders reached their goal and now don’t know what to do with it. Every next step they can take will ultimately cost support. Fidesz will never take over the multicultural melting pot that is north-western Romania. Fidesz will just sit there, sulking at the unfairness of history and pretending to be the knight in shining armor to the oppressed.

So have those currently in charge in Hungary learnt from the past?

The surprising answer is “yes”.

It would definitely be “no” if the question was asking about if they learnt how to improve the situation of marginalised minorities, strengthen their voice and thus, strengthen democracy and civil society. But I fear that the core question Fidesz strategists ask themselves is rather something along the lines of “How can we use minorities for our own good?”. Which, monarchist romanticism aside, probably was the same question Habsburg leaders and the subordinate aristocracy had foremost in mind. And probably most other leading circles anywhere, anytime. At first comes maintaining power, then making sure said power is used for good.

Final note: The Hungarian parliament building also has, as ornaments inside and on the outer walls, statues of medieval kings of noblemen perceived as Hungarian. Not in the sense of trophies, but as legitimization. Same goes for the Holy Crown of Hungary, also medieval, displayed inside. This building is perhaps the most beautiful structure I ever saw with my own eyes, but it’s also a recourse to a glorified past, designed as the expression of a certain idea of leadership and a romanticised, timeless, frozen Hungarian identity.

Why Ankara affects us all

IMG_20151008_161923 - KopieOn the 10th of October 2015, a twin bombing on a peace rally in Ankara has killed more than ninety people. It is likely that we will never find out who is responsible for this most cynical attack, but that it will be one more name and date on the long list of unsolved political crimes in Turkey.

The message is clear: War is inevitable and your lives are in our hands. It is a plot which I cannot imagine to be the solemn product of raging hatred, but of cold-blooded calculation.

One day earlier, on the 9th, I posted a picture into my German university’s facebook group, the one you can see on top of the page. It shows a banner hanging in the uni’s grand hall. It’s common to put up such banners here in Bielefeld. As you see there’s another one next to it, calling for clothing-donations for refugees.

The banner in question consists out of three parts: A popular phrase from a Jewish holiday celebration in which items are being smashed; a sneaker kicking a light bulb, visibly the symbol of Turkey’s ruling AKP; and the words AG Ergenekon.

AG is the abbreviation for Arbeitsgemeinschaft, describing a project group. Ergenekon on the other hand is an – alleged – clique of nationalist plotters in Turkey. It’s unclear whether it really existed, as membership to the group was primarily used by the religious-conservative AKP to detain political enemies. However, the principle idea is based on actual formations, namely the Grey Wolves. The Grey Wolves are a right-wing terror organisation with mafia-like structures, responsible for several pogroms against minorities as well as uncounted murders.

We have many AGs focussing on various issues at Bielefeld university, but there is no record of an AG Ergenekon. Hence, I posted the picture to facebook, asking if anybody had an idea what this was about and what the AG represents.

We didn’t find the answer yet. But what was bound to emerge instead was a seemingly disconnected, lengthy, rather emotional debate about guilt and accusation in Turkey’s Kurdish issue, the PKK, war crimes, the role of the pro-minority HDP, the role of German arms traders*, and so on. All in German.

Germany and Turkey have a special bond. Today, one in twenty people living in Germany is of Turkish descent. We tend to – realpolitikly – think of nations in terms of stiff geography, but in real life, our societies merge like societies always did. Who is German, who is Turkish, both, nothing – in the end, everybody has to decide for his- or herself.

The victims of the massacre of the 10th of October have ties to German communities, and so do their murderers.

Among the suspects are also the Grey Wolves. As it seems, the Grey Wolves have been somewhat active in Germany since the 1970s – rarely noticed by the public eye, apparently widely ignored by Germany’s inner security. I wouldn’t know about trustworthy statistics to their activity. Our secret service’s incompetence in fighting right-wing terror is famously boundless., its interest in investigating the death of German Turks is limited. Hence, it cannot see it as a reliable source.

The deliberate radicalization that’s being shoved upon Turkey as well as the reactions to it mirror themselves on German streets, in German mosques, culture groups, or, as above, in universities. It is an issue that we need to debate in public, simply because many of those directly affected are long since part of the „we“.

It’s obviously not just conflicts and döner that are imported, but also other features of Turkish society. During my time in Istanbul, I sensed a resentful stubbornness regarding politics. People demand participation – a notion also Germany, just as any other democracy, depends on.

The effect of Turkey’s pro-democratic movement on Germany’s political culture is hard to measure, but visible if you know where to look. One can see numerous able politicians and journalists as well as private individuals drawing upon their observations from abroad to gain a better understanding of what’s happening in Germany. Lessons learnt from Turkey’s social defence can improve ours. As to the structure of grassroot-democratic movements, for example, or in the detection of threats.

The massacre of Ankara and the reaction of the government are a tragic example for this.

Our brothers and sisters in Turkey are being targeted by a terror that is meant to break their will, to instill hatred for each other. Divide and conquer – that’s what’s behind the attacks, to which’s true perpetrators of course points no reliable evidence. And when there’s no evidence, people draw on their basic instincts. Intellectuals blame the AKP, nationalists the communists, Kurds the MHP, and so on. The solidarity between the people of Turkey crumbles. Who profits are those who always profit from a lack of social unity; so-called strong men, radicals, ruthless industrials, plotters in the dark. The enemies of freedom and just distribution of wealth.

I’m not in the position to allege the Turkish government of involvement. But it clearly plays its part, via the media and news blackouts. These blackouts delay public debate and leave room for speculation. When the networks function again, and information can be shared again, rage-born positions might already have fortified.

We must declare solidarity to the victims of the cowardly attack of Ankara. An attack on decency and cohesion in Turkey is, indirectly, an attack on decency and cohesion in Germany, since terror, regardless of creed, isn’t halted by borders.

At the same time, when the pro-democracy movement in Turkey is strengthened, so is participation in Germany – already due to the many people who take part of both societies, or at least exist in both. And the Turkish pro-democracy movement is resilient. That it shows these days.

Radicalization cannot be fought by ignoring it. It can only be battled by open and public exchange of opinions and information. Yet, while we would be well advised to keep track of the butchers lurking in the shadows, we ought not forget the benefits – and the inevitability – of cultural exchange. I personally have found beauty in the vigor with which a German-Turkish freshwoman lectures an elderly conservative on his rotten stance on integration.

* Ever wondered where Eastern Germany’s armory went to after the GDR was dissolved? Apparently, the unified government sold them. German warships sailed off to Indonesia’s dictator Suharto, German tanks soon rolled through Kurdish villages.

Hitler and I

So far, I’m not old enough for certain suspicions to be raised. But sooner or later, I will reach an age at which people will start wondering whether my olfactory organ has undergone plastic surgery, or if my nose is naturally as beautiful and magnificent as it is. It’s uncertain what I will do at that age, where I will be, what my profession will be. But this one thing is for certain; I will still be facing Hitler.

“Facing Hitler” is my name for a phenomenon every travelling German knows. Well, not every. I have at least one German friend who was completely unaware of it. Then again, that friend’s name is Ayla, and even though she is undoubtedly German, she doesn’t specifically look like your stereotypical Hans Landa.

Facing Hitler comes in many different shapes and forms. Sometimes as admiration, like in your foreign partner’s parents welcoming you with the Hitler salute because they think you would like it. As confusion, like in your colleague abroad getting congratulated for her “little Nazi” after giving birth. Or as a weird kind of rivalry, as in Russians bragging about “their”megalomaniac mass-murdering dictator beating “yours”.

Holocaust memorial in Berlin. Right next to our parliament, where it belongs.

Holocaust memorial in Berlin. Right next to our parliament, where it belongs.

All of these incidents are awkward and highly upsetting. “That’s normal”, you might think, “who likes to talk about his country’s ugly past?”. Indeed, I’ve chatted up Cambodians about Pol Pot and earned little more than embarrassed silence. On the other hand, I actually enjoy discussing history, including Nazi era topics. Just when I met enthusiastic Nazi fanboys abroad, my blood regularly boiled before I learned how to deal accordingly with such situations. Besides, Hitler’s undeserved fame isn’t matched by other charismatic figures, dictators or otherwise. I doubt Cambodians face Pol Pot supporters abroad so often, nor do Russian travellers find Stalinists all over the globe, Brits aren’t patted on their back in acknowledgement of Churchill’s deeds and outside of Turkey, no-one actually knows Atatürk.

It might seem strange to non-Germans that we get so emotional here. I’ve been to seminars preparing young first-time travellers in Germany, where we spent hours talking about what to do when suddenly, your new friends abroad start sharing their sympathies with the Nazis. Now, it’s hard to imagine wearing another one’s shoes and feeling the pebbles stuck in them since 1945. So let me try to explain this to you.

First of all, hearing people talk positively about the Nazis is a completely new thing for us. It just doesn’t happen at home. Whenever someone utters something vaguely sympathetic towards Nazis, he better explain himself. Hence, you will find most Germans unprepared and somewhat unarmed when a stranger abroad happily tells him what a great a man Hitler supposedly was. Obviously, there are also Neo-nazis in Germany, people who deny the holocaust, etc. But those rarely make it into positions of public interest, and if they do, they keep their views undisclosed (still very dangerous – a Nazi with a tie is still a Nazi).

Secondly, the average German traveller is rather educated, usually being either an academic or a recent highschool graduate. If you’re being educated in Germany, you’re being confronted with the holocaust, the Nazi terror, Hitler’s surge to power, the numerous crimes, the “Schuldfrage” (question of guilt) and so on. Sure, there are racist educated people, too, but they don’t travel. Besides, if you objectively study genocidal autocratic dictatorships throwing their countries into wars with, like, everybody, plus additionally killing millions of innocents while losing the consequent bloodbath, you will notice that it’s hard to maintain a pro-Nazi stance unless you’re helplessly convinced of their cause beyond reason anyways. In fact, “it wasn’t all bad” is a common phrase we jokingly say when suspecting someone to be apologetic of the Nazi regime. I share an informed and researched opinion with (hopefully) all travelling Germans when I say: It was all bad. The few innovations which you could argue in favour of don’t even justify the humanitarian and physical losses of the first year of Nazi reign. Long story short, by the time young Hans and young Gretel walk their own trails abroad, in their mental backpacks they carry substantial knowledge of the crimes and failures of fascism. And then, we run into guys who know about Nazis as little as they know about Jews (but have solid opinions about both anyways), and still honestly believe they could tell us about Hitler.

It's great to live at a time when a German can visit Siberia as a friend.

It’s great to live at a time when a German can visit Siberia as a friend.

My third reason, surely not the last, is a bit psycho. By utilising almost all fields of culture for themselves, the Nazis managed to leave an imprint in our collective mental backyard till today. Among many other factors, such as issues with everyday words perverted by Nazi terminology, there’s the implied necessity for Germans to come to terms with the national past. Consciously or not, most Germans (probably excluding Ayla, again) at some point in their life wondered what their grand or great-grandparents were up to back then. Were they victims, heroes of the resistance or – much more likely – enthusiastic followers, soldiers, aspirants for the “Mutterkreuz”, seduced by hatred? Some seek the to find out, but the further away history carries us, the more figure that it’s no longer important for our lives today what the individual inhabitant of Nazi Germany did back then. And, well, others simply deny. But whatever path the educated German traveller in question might have taken, once his favourite barber in Istanbul, Lima or Mumbai jokingly utters the specter’s name, the traveller is unpleasantly reminded that, despite how we personally might or might not have overcome the spirits of the past, to most of humanity we’re defined by who we are least.

The obtruding question I bypassed earlier; why is this ill, weirdly bearded and to modern ears funny sounding Hitler more present and unnervingly popular than, say, Stalin, Mao, Chomenei? It’s not even the only thing people know about Germany. There’s football, beer, cars, and in my experience, near everyone outside of Europe knows more about all of those than about the actual Nazis. Then again, as it is with rulers, it’s about imagery rather than facts. Here are some of my ideas, feel free to add:

  • To an extent, the Nazis still incorporate the stereotypical German. Disciplined, emotionless, efficient. The average German, I learned, is also liberal in comparison, but who talks about that?

  • Wide spread anti-Semitism. Why Myths about and hatred of Jews are so global, yet so ungrounded, would require books to fathom. I recommend Hannah Arendt for long evenings.

  • Incomplete knowledge (“gefährliches Halbwissen” or “dangerous superficial knowledge” in German), as simple as that. How can you expect people from East Timor to know about European history when you don’t even know what East Timor is?

  • As a consequence, little informed people are apparently lead to the terribly false assumption that Germany’s current position in the world is in any way thanks to the Nazi rule. Google “Cologne 1945” and look at the pictures; you will see the Cologne cathedral, in its foundations hundreds of years older than fascist ideology, enduring in a desert of modern age debris.

The first time I encountered someone who told me in the face that he likes Hitler was in Russia. It wasn’t a Russian though, but another intern, and I had no idea how to react. I almost threw a tantrum, so I got drunk instead and did party stuff. To make it worse, it was an AIESEC party, a place where you would expect people promoting tolerance and peace. Since then, my reactions developed. There’s no one perfect response, but necessity to adjust to the situation. During my first trip to Istanbul, while discussing a text by a Jewish author in class, another student mentioned that she didn’t like Jews. I sensed that this wasn’t entrenched antisemitism but more profiling on what appeared to her as a safe topic. So I told her I was Jewish and she apologised. I accepted her apology and said I figure she didn’t mean it. I have no idea if that was the right thing to do, given that I am as Jewish as a christmas tree, but I don’t have the impression she turned more anti-Semite afterwards. It’s so hard to blame someone for the financial crisis when he politely asks to borrow a pen from you.

Same classroom, other seminar; another student who barely talks German told me he thinks Hitler is great and proceeds with saluting him. This time, I turn away in disgust. I had heard the student talk before in the little German he knew and figured; there’s nothing to win here, not for me.

And here comes the supreme discipline; I’m teaching a class that just recently started learning German, which is also the only language we communicate in. There is no way I can discuss heavy topics here, so I have a rule: No politics before completing B1 (which is vaguely the language skill you’d need to make sense out of this blog). Nevertheless, some of my students begin to perform the Hitler salute. I love teaching my kids, and I have to maintain a stable relation to them if I want them to learn from me. Naturally, I can’t do what I would do in Germany in a corresponding situation, but I can’t just leave it be, too. On a higher level, I would “talk the talk” with them, which might go so far as to include pictures of concentration camps. But they’re not advanced enough for that. In Turkey, respecting authorities is kind of important, so I communicated that this behaviour is highly disrespectful to me. They stopped saluting, but it would be naive to assume they understand the entire situation, or even what they have been saluting to.

There’s also another kind of situation. A student that goes on an excursion to Germany tells me she’s afraid of Nazis. Of course, this is absurd. The town we’re heading to is not nearly as dangerous for young girls as Istanbul, no matter their ethnicity. Just today, 10,000 locals have been protesting against racism there. For any Neo-nazi, there are dozens of German-Turks alone who would beat the living hell out of that piece of scum, plus all the other rightful people sticking around. At the same time I need to confess to myself, painful or not, that I cannot and never will be able to write the words I’d love to write: There’s no Nazi left in Germany.

The Nazi era is a wound that never closes. Yet though painful at times, this old injury has benefits besides saving money on flags. For history not to repeat itself, it’s healthier to be paranoid than patriotic.

War in Syria and Iraq would be so boring without Western converts

In Istanbul, there’s fear. Fear of an expected apocalyptic earthquake not so much as fear of the recent strokes of genius of ISIL’s propaganda & public relations cracks. A guy with a cheap shirt, an IS media officer, threatened to attack and “liberate” Istanbul unless Turkey abjures from using their power over the waters of the euphrate* to pressurize ISIL in Raqqa. Syrian-based terrorists creating paranoia is not specifically the number one topic in Istanbul’s streets, but it is one more piece of a jigsaw, contributing to what I call the “chain of lame”. Syrians get discriminated against in Turkey because people are afraid they’d take their jobs and blow up shit. Meanwhile, Turks get discriminated against in Germany because people are afraid they’d take their jobs and blow shit up. Meanwhile, Germans get discriminated against in Switzerland because Switzerland ist kind of the top of the food chain when it comes to believing you could do fine without the rest of the world and migration in particular. Chain of lame. Remember it.

I actually think ISIL knows the ways of spreading news about themselves rather well, for example in their usage of social networks (they appear to have a huge amount of zombie twitter accounts, for example). Then again, they have it easy.

After my costume choice at last year's halloween, I will probably never receive a visa for the USA.

After my costume choice at last year’s halloween, I will probably never receive a visa for the USA.

In 2013, I celebrated halloween here in Istanbul. Me and one of my flat mates were the only ones who dressed up, though, she as a witch, and me as an Arab. Whenever someone would ask me why I dressed up as an Arab for halloween as Arabs aren’t specifically scary, I would routinely reply “Arabs aren’t scary? Did you check out the news in the past twelve years?”.

Now, very obviously, the vague social constructs referred to as Arabs and Muslims may be somewhat overlapping, but aren’t nearly the same thing. Just as for example Jews and Israelis aren’t, students and potheads aren’t and Robert Downey Jr. isn’t, in fact, Iron Man. But in all cases, both entities are associated with the same or similar respective stereotypes. And here’s what makes it easy for ISIL to find willing recipients for their propaganda; media and people love talking about radical Muslims. This is now news; I’ve heard a few times that Westerners shit their pants whenever someone mentions Islamists, Sharia etc., but I think it’s not really that. Instead, Westerners just like all humans enjoy to shake their head over the conceived backwardness of others and adjust their collars in blissful ignorance whenever they’re encountering strange cultures. It’s no different in other societies, so I wonder which aspects of Western culture are being exploited in foreign language media to make people feel better. I think it’s sexual freedom in Russian and general decadence in Arab papers, but I can’t read either language, so hell do I know. Anyways; bearded hoodlums with shabby clothing cutting of heads of journalists? Exactly what the Western reader requires to feel superior over barbarian desert dwellers.

What caught my interest though in media coverage of the war in Syria and Iraq was the inflational presence of Western converts (in this case including individuals who converted from a less radical interpretation of Islam to an extremist one) in all sites I’m viewing regularly – which are quite a few. The amount of such converts fighting for ISIL or similar groups is in the low or medium four digits, as part of a faction no-one knows the size of, probably not even ISIL. Besides PR, European converts appear to be used as low file fighters or workers, it seems, but again, the situation is grim when it comes to exact numbers and reliable sources. Luckily, exploring how ISIL works isn’t the idea behind this article.

A survey in Germany showed that most of the converts joining the fight in the Levant are male, young and have experienced failure at some point in their educational carreer. Undoubtedly, questions need to be asked. Why is the youth being radicalised, how were they made feel excluded from their native (i.e. European) socities, how can we prevent this etc. But reading the articles one at a time, it appeard to me as if those issues aren’t the key to the absurdly intense coverage of radicalised youths and ISIL. Instead, I got the impression that many journalists wondered how they could make the crisis in the Middle East more interesting for their respective audiences. You know, religious groups we never heard of slaughtering each other, unprecedented violence, Arab guys with little fashion sense threatening each and everybody, yeah, we got that. A direct link to our everyday lives was desperately needed. What’s closer at hand than brisking up conservative fears of terrorists lurking between us? Our youth, our most precious, being seduced my turban-wearing hate preachers in the midst of our society. That’s what evidently makes people read news. ISIL, apparently, knows this. A rapper originating from Berlin shooting music clips about successful ISIL-campaigns, an Austrian breakaway tweeting about how his scorn against not being including turned him into an ISIL fighting machine. That’s the stuff. And the more this is received in Western media, the more ISIL – just like Al Qaida in the past – can profilate itself as the bane of the Western world, your alternative if you really want to show it to the people who wouldn’t let you participate.

Actually, to harness the awesome power of stereotypes, ISIL should make their executioners eat kebab while beheading people. You know, just so that fat white viewers can relate oriental terrorists to minorities in their home countries even more easily, thus discriminate more and fueling conservative parties embracing in the make-belief danger connected with strange people and cultures and thus spawn more potential fanatics here and there. That’s what I call legit media advice.

Meanwhile, in Istanbul and any placeyou can find to it’s west as well, the events connected to ISIL deepen the dangerous predjudice towards anyone from the Middle East.

Istanbul's new old look after the supposed imminent conquest by radical forces? Probably not.

Istanbul’s new old look after the supposed imminent conquest by radical forces? Probably not.

*Turkey has power over the waters of the euphrate because of a controversial dam upstream from Raqqa and on Turkish soil, not because of Erdogans majestic water bending skills.