What converting Hagia Sophia into a functioning mosque really means

10th July 2020, a Turkish Court order approved Hagia Sophia’s convertion from a museum to an operational mosque.

For many Christians around the world, aborting a historical monument that represented the centuries of Byzantine Eastern Orthodox with Ottoman faith-inspired culture in the region, to having it reclaimed as a faith space for Islam, is a vilifying act of disrespect. The region has been affected by territorial tensions for millenia and many in the Balkan and Western Asia Minor, have experienced relocations, marginalisation, faith based extradition, torture and incarceration.

It is a non surprise western Turkey struggles with their record on human rights abuses, and corruption has been developmental to the Greek economy even in modern times.

Looking past the historicity of the region, and the unsettled air Erdoğan’s latest move has created, I can attest to the following:

– Erdoğan has three years left before the next election.

– The Hagia Sofia move was his check mate to Europe beyond the Greco-Turkish spats.

– Erdoğan doesn’t want to join EU (and all the monitoring and regulations), the EU will not have Turkey as it is today, but to make sure they don’t interfere, he needed to growl over his territory.

– Putin will turn a blind eye, despite Russia’s Orthodox Church affinity. Faith is only useful when it serves one’s interests by masking transparency. Christian links to the European church history are problematic for Putin’s and Erdoğan’s dark and underhanded populist and divisionary operations.

– Unmonitored, anyone challenging Erdoğan like the Kemalists, will end up in jail or dissappear.

– Turks in Turkey, Germany and the UK love Erdoğan. He took power and water to the favelas. He is making profits from the Syrian refugees that have no labour rights but plenty of will to do whatever yet not get paid or paid scraps of peanuts when they do (a 10th of the Turkish labour rates according to reports).

Noone wants drama on their doorstep. Turning adversity to positive stories is a way for populist governments to get away with the uttermost abuse of human rights.

Minorities and culture are the capital nasty regimes use for political coercion.

Coercion to domestic opposition, and coercion in international relations contexts.

Threatening securities makes vulnerable populations anxious and puts actor resources at high risk and alert. This costs actors money and make populations more predatory between them. Double win.

Hagia Sophia is the starting line of an incredibly narcissistic performance we will expect to see from Erdoğan in the next three years.

I can only hope there will be limited loss and blood lost in the process, but not set on having any hopes at this point.

In the middle of a pandemic, reclaiming a museum to a faith institution is a bold move.

To be continued…

Herd politics

Let’s clear up a few things.

So there are a lot of generalised assumptions and fear tactics by media and fake media out there. There has also been pressure on populist political leaders to begin taking scientific advice seriously. There is often more than one scientific advice, based on different modelling approaches. An acquaintance’s COVID-19 modelling presentation has been misrepresented by the news and slaughtered as if it was political advice. Let’s get this right, political decisions are not made by science researchers. Researchers, do exactly this, they research and present their findings. Politicians then, in theory, should compare it with other researchers’ advice, compare it under socio-economic contexts and implications, and make policy decisions. Scientists and boards can make ethical decisions on research pieces involving directly the community, more often than not, in clinical settings. As the COVID-19 virus is not a domestic issue, but one that requires international cooperation, I quote the World Health Organisation’s principles on the ethics of bioethics. The most commonly identified
principles are:
1) individual autonomy (the ability to make decisions for oneself);
2) beneficence (the obligation to “do good” for others);
3) nonmaleficence (the obligation to avoid causing harm to others);
and
4) justice (the value of distributing benefits and burdens fairly).

Now I won’t go into much detail on how elastic these can become in domestic policy context, but I refer to them as a signpost of considerate practice.

So going back to the politics. Assuming the politicians understand the principles, they have been called to make political decisions and introduce relevant policies. Policies are drawn on the elites’ understanding of the value of social investments. Social investments are education, health, livelihoods, self-determination/individual voices aka sustainable communities. To date, we have seen the third market crash was no longer dependant on corporations, and that the corporate market may not be salvaged by cash injections alone. Corporations are always dependent on the people that work for them. When people can’t go to work, or refuse to, and corporations can not replace them by informal or imported or illegal labour due to travel restrictions, the value of the local labour offer increases. Thus the involuntary small cash injections from populist governments to the people’s hands.

Their objective remains the same: feeding the corporate machine to jump-start the economy. The value of sustaining a trained workforce, on basic income streams, state-funded, is worth investing so a) corporations don’t fold, and continue funding the political elites and their parties and b) subduing existing breadline populations from rioting against corporations or striking. I believe as long as corporations keep running, things will go back to normal at the end of this pandemic.

Interestingly enough in Germany, the policy decision, after a consistent containment of the virus and early-on testing, smaller businesses will open for business next week. Germany’s policy decision tells us two things: a) they have backed up their scientific modelling with clinical and community-based research and b) the independence of small and medium-sized business owners is the bedrock of healthy and thriving communities. In British conservatism, this would translate into a lesser dependency on state-cash injections directly to the individuals when they are out of work.

In summary, get people safe, provide them the assurances they need to return to work and the community aka let the economy trickle-sustain with prioritising average Joe, because average Joe is doing all the hard work of keeping the fine balances on a local level. Without the local level of support sustaining economic reproduction, there will be no feeding loop.

Interestingly enough populist politicians are looking at Germany for guidance yet without having invested in social care protections in their own domestic policy decisions. They are suggesting opening businesses as usual however ie USA’s and UK’s economic systems are structured entirely differently to that of Germany. A German factory worker is directly linked in value to the German stock exchange. The US or British worker is owned by the corporation they work for, who calls the price of their labour, hence less worker rights and so on. Now the outcome of this means, it is in Germany’s interests to keep this worker secure, and import more workers that can be developed to this capacity, vs the model of disposable workforces in UK and the US (Windrush in the UK, abandoned industries in the US, minorities leading the populist moment against other minorities/xenophobic sentiments).

Furthermore, many of the populist politicians are coming up to election time or will be soon enough. We know, the lax policy adoption of herd immunity without the social investment, is economic suicide for corporations and corporate funded political systems. We also know those very political elites will be left unscathed, unless the corporations pull the rag from under their feet. We also know those corporations will move on to the next guy that will have them, and will sponsor the next guy’s campaigns instead.

So how do those populist politicians intend to close the gap between the average local Joe in the UK and the US and a sustainable community, when we know the cash injections are in fact an insult of a gesture when social-care infrastructure has been disassembled bit by bit (Obama care, NHS and so on).

The supporters of populist ideologies, aka no or limited state investment, may have not realised that without state-funded infrastructure, there is no monitoring, no data (ie lack of health free healthcare services), no statistics from the community (no outreach healthcare services) that can serve the interests of the community.

So scientists can model all they want, but without data, modelling is pretty useless. To put it plainly, these people in the communities don’t exist, or have any chance of benefitting from designs that could be made for their benefit. They will not account towards any losses other than some economic by their corporate employers, who might find/informalise/eventually import a replacement or may not depending on the level of loss and risks to corporate business.

Bio-scientists, then can get together with vaccinologists and jump hoops and do their uttermost best (privately or state invested – doesn’t really matter right now, beggars can’t be choosers).

Even when they come up with the ‘solution’, politicians will still need to drought in the social care investment of distribution, prioritisation and access. And we also know populist politicians have interests in specific balances. And these balances are clearly becoming more about patterns, not who is the perceived winner ie who markets themselves as being the top dog, but perhaps a multilateral consensus about who sustains their position better and leaves average Joe the least unscathed.

Then, for the sake of managing a global issue, there’s a call for serious investment in international knowledge-sharing, energized by today’s very real post-Westphalian conditions.

Facebook smearing the Open Society Foundations

Friday evening arrived with this in my inbox. I will likely be revisiting tactics used by Facebook to test our patience further. The next question is how to stop Zuckerberg from exerting so much uncontrolled energy into current affairs.

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Patrick Gaspard <contact@opensocietyfoundations.org>
Date: 16 Nov 2018 11:48 am
Subject: Our Response to Facebook’s Smear Tactics
To:
Cc:

Dear friends,

Earlier this week, in response to a New York Times storydetailing how Facebook had used a PR firm to smear the Open Society Foundations and George Soros, I sent a letter to Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, which you can read below.

She followed up with a phone call yesterday and I appreciated the chance to speak with her and tell her that we need a thorough and independent inquiry on Facebook’s lobbying and PR work, and that the results should be made public within three months.

Our hope is to turn this disappointing moment into an opportunity for debate about how Facebook can be used to push out fake news and hate and the threat disinformation campaigns pose to democracy more broadly.

At this time of upheaval, uncertainty, and fear, it is imperative that the stewards of the world’s most powerful information platform act responsibly. We’re honored to stand with our grantees, partners, and friends—and we’re dedicated to making sure that the kind of destructive behavior outlined by the New York Times does not go unaddressed.

Sincerely,

Patrick Gaspard
President
Open Society Foundations

11/14/18

Sheryl Sandberg
Chief Operating Officer
Facebook
1 Hacker Way
Menlo Park, CA 94025

Dear Ms. Sandberg:

I was shocked to learn from the New York Times that you and your colleagues at Facebook hired a Republican opposition research firm to stir up animus toward George Soros.

As you know, there is a concerted right-wing effort the world over to demonize Mr. Soros and his foundations, which I lead—an effort which has contributed to death threats and the delivery of a pipe bomb to Mr. Soros’s home. You are no doubt also aware that much of this hateful and blatantly false and anti-Semitic information is spread via Facebook.

The notion that your company, at your direction, actively engaged in the same behavior to try to discredit people exercising their First Amendment rights to protest Facebook’s role in disseminating vile propaganda is frankly astonishing to me.

It’s been disappointing to see how you have failed to monitor hate and misinformation on Facebook’s platform. To now learn that you are active in promoting these distortions is beyond the pale.

These efforts appear to have been part of a deliberate strategy to distract from the very real accountability problems your company continues to grapple with. This is reprehensible, and an offense to the core values Open Society seeks to advance. But at bottom, this is not about George Soros or the foundations. Your methods threaten the very values underpinning our democracy.

I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss this matter with you in person, and to hear what steps you might take to help remediate the damage done by this deeply misguided—and dangerous—effort carried out at Facebook’s behest.

Sincerely,

Patrick Gaspard
President
Open Society Foundations

Brazil, after Italy

I can’t even begin to imagine what it feels like for Brazilians.

Half will be sharpening their machetes while the other half are shuddering in terror.

This is the defining moment in contemporary history. Humans eating their insides, being fooled to put the blame on the most vulnerable, articulating things they are neither proud or representative of.

No excuses for fascists anymore. This is a true war and it will leave many souless bodies behind.

Tragedy, in the home of tragedies

This summer I went to Epidaurus (/ ˌ ɛ p ɪ ˈ d ɔː r ə s /; Ancient Greek: Ἐπίδαυρος Epidauros) was a small city in ancient Greece, on the Argolid Peninsula at the Saronic Gulf, because I always wanted to watch an greek tragedy in the ancient Greek open air theatre.

I picked the play Elektra because it is a classic and a true tragedy, set in the city of Argos a few years after the Trojan War, it recounts the tale of Electra and the vengeance that she and her brother Orestes take on their mother Clytemnestra and step father Aegisthus for the murder of their father, Agamemnon.

The play was directed by a relatively new director, Thanos Papakonstantinou, who has found increasing attention, in a relatively short space of time, and in a very competitive genre.

I really loved the drive to Epidaurus, in the late afternoon, nearing sunset, travelling through the mountains with many other thousands, for the one purpose, to be at this venue and watch an ancient play. My expectations were close to none, as it would have been my first experience. I only assumed, Elektra would have been translated into a slightly more modern version, as many other cultural references and movements in Greece nowadays do.

I only realized the enormity of the crowds gathering there when I saw the size of the carpark and the queues when we got to the theatre gates. The ancient stone carved and built space welcomed us with a stage made in the same shape of its roundness, all in white with a round hole cut out on the white backdrop, linking the stage with the backdrop, by steep dramatic steps.

Epidavros

The tragedy begun and it was a disorienting and confusing experience. There were women covered in see through cloths, moving effortlessly like on-screen ghosts from the 70’s era. They reminded me of Catholicism and that became even more apparent as the play evolved. They were judgmental and backbones-less. The main character squeaked and screamed in unconnected personas making it even more uncomfortable. Yes she was going through a huge trauma however she did not need to be portrayed in such a misogynistic way. She was neither a woman, nor a devil. She was bitter and lost but the character portrayed was uncharacteristically poltergeisted for the pain and revenge she was planning. The whole lot of the other characters played out the same, they were either too weak or a copycat of Dracula like comicon characters that lacked dimension – this was a huge disappointment. The director could have played out the roles much more and did not think about their human element. It felt like he imposed his impression of the story on the actors. This left me with the impression the actors did not connect with the Director, and that is was pretty obvious he had made little effort to collaborate them even between them.

At the end of the tragedy, a bigger one happened. As the actors were bowing to their audience and receiving lots of thanks, the director, Thanos Papakonstantinou, went to the stage, dressed in an outfit resembling a German soldier outfit from the 2nd world war.

I did not find that funny or creative. I understood well his tendency to associate with the dark wave movement in Athens, after all I once was part of it too and remember al the boys getting excited with memorabilia, only to find themselves very isolated in the end. His choice was distasteful and inappropriate given we are at the verge of fascism all over Europe.

Thanos Papakonstantinou, failed on all fronts. It sounds like someone is pushing him to the front stage, however unqualified.  The Greek economy may be small, and opportunists like him can get attention and success, however Greece doesn’t deserve people like him mocking the situation (this is not a creative license, whatever he may come up to say) and fueling the division in our society further.

I wish to not see Thanos Papakonstantinou getting opportunities any day soon and for greek stages to host the original grassroots talent that exists but doesn’t try to buy in their way, through controversy. This is not USA, and there is no reason to be wearing an offensive outfit, not un-similar to Melania Trump’s ‘I don’t care’ outfit as she visited the children immigrant detention centres.