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A shameful response to Turkey’s generosity at Gallipoli

13 April 2019 3 comments

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– Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, first President of Turkey (b. 1881 d. 1938)

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When President Atatürk uttered those words* in the plaque at the top of this page, it was an act of humanity, love, and generosity that few other leaders of a nation have demonstrated. Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela spring to mind, but the list is depressingly short.

Consider the compassion of the man. British Imperial forces made up of Australian and New Zealand soldiers landed on Turkish soil in April 1915 in a doomed eight month invasion that cost  250,000 Allied casualties, including 44,000 dead.

The Turkish defenders also suffered 250,000 casualties, but with a higher number killed: 87,000.

When we in Australia and New Zealand cry, Lest We Forget our  fallen soldiers, we should also never forget President Atatürk’s comforting words.

And not just words either. Turkey has walked-the-walk. Every year, thousands of Australians and New Zealanders make a pilgrimage to the shores of Gallipoli.

The Turkish government and people not only tolerate this annual “re-invasion” of thousands of foreigners on their soil, commemorating an invasion that took the lives of thousands of young Turkish men, but assist with infra-structure from everything from road signage in English to facilities for the thousands who attend;

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With this Turkish generosity, the Dawn Service proceeds every year;

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You have to ask yourself one simple question: would we be so benign?

Would we be so welcoming to thousands of foreign young people; government officials; and representatives of their military , to commemorate the dead soldiers of an alien invasion force that had landed on our shores, killing many thousands of our own troops?

In case anyone thinks the answer is a simple ‘yes’ – it is by no means “simple” at all.

Afghanistan war veteran, Simon Strombom, from the Titahi Bay branch of the Returned and Services Association (RSA), had planned to invite Newlands Mosque imam, Mohamed Zewada, to say a brief prayer at its dawn service on Titahi Bay Beach. The prayer would have lasted about sixty seconds, in rememberance of the fifty murdered people, and others injured, at the Christchurch mosques on 15 March.

The response was an apalling torrent of resentment, abuse, and threats that went from the intolerant;

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Anzac Day came about to recognise all those who went overseas and served their country and returned, and those who never returned. That is the significance and the only justification for Anzac Day, and I feel it should stay that way.” – Dave Brown,  (former manager) Porirua RSA

The Titahi Bay Club, well, you’re completely disrespecting New Zealand culture on a day that is uniquely shared between us and Australia.” – Brendon Walton, New Plymouth

Dawn service is to honour the Anzacs. Anything else can be done at civic services.” – Peter Downie, (Malaya war veteran) Cambridge

We shouldn’t mix the two events. We have traditionally been a Christian country in terms of our services and that type of thing. Obviously we are a multicultural country now so it’s up to individual RSAs, but they are two separate events.” – Graham Gibson, Auckland RSA president

I was, to be quite honest, I was pretty disgusted. These people – and again, I’m trying not to be nasty about it because that’s not my intent – but New Zealand has been very, very welcoming for all people’s, all races, all beliefs and all religions which is absolutely fantastic, but we can’t step away from our tradition. A terrible tragedy has just happened and I feel for the people that died but Anzac Day is not that day for them – it is a day for our guys.” – Lee Sutton (former RNZAF)

I mean we’ve just had a global recognition of that last Friday so I don’t think there is a need to do it again on Anzac Day.” – Bob Davies (former New Zealand Army)

“It’s going to be a huge police presence, security is going to be a major issue, so from our perspective, while we respect exactly what happened and the feeling of the community, this is Anzac Day, and it’s a different purpose.”Pete Dawson, Christchurch RSA president

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… to outright threats;

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The threats became so severe that Stromberg consulted with Police and eventually decided against inviting the imam to give his one minute prayer.

Sometimes the threat of a terror attack is sufficient to achieve desired outcomes by the intolerant and fanatical. (Meanwhile, free speech advocates were nowhere to be heard or seen during this assault on our much-vaunted multicultural values.)

Whilst a rabid, vociferous minority (hopefully, a minority?) spewed their toxic racism, other social media commenters understood the inconsistancy of our people attending ANZAC services en masse in Turkey, a muslim country;

” #ANZACDay has nothing to do with Muslims…..right??? Except #Gallipoli, where #ANZAC soldiers fought, is in a #Muslim country. Where #ANZAC troops were trying to invade a #Muslim country. On behalf of the colonial power of the UK.”

Porirua Mayor Mike Tana also pointed out the rank hypocrisy of opponants to the imam’s one minute prayer;

We go to Turkey and say our prayers, perform our haka and sing our song and we are welcomed by people in a predominantly Muslim country.

The most significant thing I can think of was Atatürk allowing people into Anzac Cove to remember our people. If there’s an example of kindness, it’s that.

I do not believe for a moment that the hostility and threats expressed against the proposed prayer by an imam would have corrupted our precious ANZAC ceremony.  No more than the thousands who visit Gallipoli in any way create harm to the people and threaten the social thread of Turkey.

In 1915, we were warring with Turkey.

One hundred and four years later we are friends with that nation and they welcome us to their shores to commemorate our fallen ancestors. Turkey offers us the charity that we profess to value as a so-called Christian nation.

I witnessed very little Christian charity from the bigots who attacked Stromberg’s invitation to the local imam. In fact, it was the same intolerance and hate that they accuse Islamist extremists of.

Those bigots, I believe, are a noisy, unpleasant minority. Like fat blowflies.

Most New Zealanders would not fear the End of the World had the imam uttered his one minute of prayer. Civilisation would not collapse. The sun would still rise tomorrow. And we would have been a better nation; a more tolerant one.

We are better than those bigots. In fact, we’ve seen it with our own eyes.

In the years and decades to come, our Day of Infamy on 15 March 2019 will be remembered. Just as we now remember the attack on Parihaka. It will be a defining point in our history: we were tested, and I believe – despite all the scabs and warts – we emerged knowing ourselves a bit better. We are tolerant, in the main, and we do show compassion.

Despite everything, the Kiwi Way of giving others a Fair Go survives.

We should be damned proud of that.

And just as important, we have shown the world what the road to tolerance, compassion, and love looks like. Muslim and non-muslim alike, we locked arms – literally – in unity. We grieved together as a nation. We have a Prime Minister who caught the world’s attention. An act of barbaric violence was met with love and forgiveness.

After the darkness of 15 March, the willingness of people to forego hate and vengeance shone through. It seemed a collective, spiritual response reminiscent of  the Christmas Miracle of 1914.

Not bad for a little nation at the bottom of the world.

 

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[* Postscript: There is some debate whether or not Atatürk ever said those words. Like characters in the Bible, and other famous figures in the past, there will always be contentious views who-said-what throughout history. My story focuses on the sentiment expressed through those words, regardless who uttered them. – Frank Macskasy]

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References

NZ History: The Gallipoli campaign

NZ Herald: Muslim prayer at Anzac Day service upsets RSA veterans

Radio NZ: Muslim prayer dropped from Anzac service after threats

Fairfax/Stuff: Muslim prayer at Porirua Anzac Day service scrapped over security concerns

Twitter: Stories from the Sea – 4 April 2019 1.57PM

CNN: One week after Christchurch shootings, hundreds form human chain around New Zealand mosque

The Guardian: The Christmas miracle

Radio NZ: Christchurch mosque attack survivor Farid Ahmed – ‘I have chosen love and I have forgiven’

Sydney Morning Herald: ‘Johnnies and Mehmets’ – Kemal Ataturk’s ‘quote’ is an Anzac confidence trick

Related

NZ Herald:  Paul Little – RSA has had enough of support for New Zealand’s Muslim community since attacks

Other Blogs

Bowalley Road:  Shadows Of The Past.

Liberation:  John Moore – Anzac Day cultural wars

The Standard: This Is Who We Really Are

Previous related blogposts

15 March: Aotearoa’s Day Of Infamy

The Christchurch Attack: is the stage set for a continuing domino of death?

War – the line between rememberance and glorification

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 8 April 2019.

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A Tale of Two Head Coverings – a personal-essay

11 November 2015 1 comment

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break the chains of racism

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A recent incident in Auckland highlighted that racism is still very much alive in our country. The case of Fatima Mohammadi being denied employment because she wore a piece of fabric on her head is indicative how far New Zealand has yet to go on being the tolerant society we would like to think we are.

According to some in our society, this is acceptable;

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fashion headscarf

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The garb of two internationally-recognised women below is very acceptable, and the wearers held in high regard by many throughout the West;

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This is not acceptable, and elicits fear, prejudice, and intolerance;

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One of the four women above was denied employment at a job interview, because she wore a head-scarf.

Can you guess which?

Clue: she’s not caucasian.

By any measure, this is a form of racism. Those who mask their racism by insisting that employers have a “right” to base their employment decisions on race, religion, ethnicity, etc, are trying to hide their prejudice behind the mask of “free choice”.

“Free choice” ends where racism begins.

Otherwise, we end up with “free choice” being expressed like this in cafes, buses, and other public places;

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WeWashForWhitePeople

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“Freedom of  choice” to be racist has a corollary – it denies another human being the right to participate on an equal footing, based solely on religion, race, etc.

Do we really want to see signs like this springing up around New Zealand;

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no_muslims

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Perhaps the most bizarre way  racism is couched  is the proposition that forcing muslim women to abandon their headscarves is a “feminist” stance. Like the “freedom of choice” excuse, the “feminist” excuse is pseudo-progressiveness which masks the real ugliness that is racism.

Forcing a woman not to wear a certain style of clothing is no more feminist than telling her what she must wear. It is another  Orwellian concept which most of us are already familiar with;

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Anyone who thinks that it is ok for Ms Mohammadi to be discriminated against has obviously never been discriminated against. Otherwise they would know the intense feeling of humiliation such discrimination creates.

The feeling of humiliation was one of my first lessons in the nastier side of human behaviour. As a child, I witnessed first-hand racist abuse meted out to my mother by local half-witted young men at an A&P Show. Two or three louts (I can’t recall the actual number) overheard her telling me and my siblings to stay close and not get lost in the crowd.

They obviously over-heard her talking to us in her native language. Being from Eastern Europe, her different language and accent was obvious.

They surrounded my mother and told her to speak English. They told her to go back home. They shouted menacingly at us. Powerless, we clung to her, until they got tired of their racist ranting and walked off.

Not the best experience for a six year old.

I’ve never forgotten the experience. That kind of thing sticks with you for the rest of your life.

There are those – usually privileged white, English-speakers – who will maintain that was simply “freedom of speech” when they publically harangued, intimidated, and frightened us.

It didn’t feel like “free speech”.

Quite simply, this is not the Kiwi Way. In 1981, this country fought apartheid in a far-away country and there were mass protests in the streets as many New Zealanders resisted  state racism in South Africa.

Aotearoa’s stand on South Africa’s apartheid system was instrumental in that country’s democratic reformation.

If business-owners can discriminate on grounds on a headscarf, what is the next grounds for discrimination? As history shows, the human capacity for bigotry can start small and seemingly insignificant, and end up with a holocaust that forever impacts on the collective human psyche.

It seems that we have much work left here in Aotearoa to address our own attitudes.

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References

NZ Herald: Editorial – Clashes of culture call for tolerance

Other Bloggers

The Daily Blog: Cottonsocks – Response to NZH editorial

Previous related blogposts

A taste of racism

Random Thoughts on Random Things #1

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 7 November 2015.

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Categories: Social Issues Tags: ,

Thou Shalt not – I repeat, NOT! – be intolerant!

11 January 2012 5 comments

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Full Story

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Ok, back to reality, as determined by this particuular quantum spacetime continuum…

Now, maybe I’m an old fashioned kinda bloke… maybe I see things a bit more ‘grounded’… But the ways I sees it, the things that really do undermine the “future of humanity” involves the following;

  • climate change – all that pollution we’re casually pumping into the atmosphere cannot be good for animals, plant-life, the oceans, and little children.
  • the widening wealth-gap – creating a social dislocation which may ultimately lead to social unrest, revolution,  collapse of governments (hence the Arab Spring and the London riots, last year), increasing number of failed states, and the Rise of the Planet of the Apes! (Ok, the last bit may be a tad fanciful. Or not.)
  • resource wars for oil, water, food… whatever is in short-supply due to the burgeoning human population on this little planet.
  • over-population – which you, Mr Pope, can actually do something about! When Big Bro up in the sky said “go forth and multiply”, he didn’t mean until there’s standing room only! He kinda assumed that we had enough common sense to recognise limits to what Planet Earth can hold and feed. (Hah! Fat chance! This is the Human Gimmee-All-You-Got Race we’re talking about here!)
  • and greed. The Human Race does Greed very well. Heck, there are political parties founded on the ‘Nobility’ of Greed – just ask the Republicans and our own, home-grown, National/ACT parties!

Those are the things I’d be worried about, Pope Bro. Not what a couple of blokes may or may not be doing in the privacy of their own homes. I mean, really, two guys hugging? Even snogging? What do you want them to do instead – don battle-fatigues and go shoot up a village somewhere?

Look mate. I know the Bible sez a few things about gays. Like, stoning them.

But the Bible also suggests that’s it’s ok to call a woman a witch and burn her alive, whilst  tied to a stake. These days, that would be called pre-meditated murder.

Ditto for stoning to death service-station workers who work on Sundays. (Though some might still advocate that for unionised-workers, I’m thinking.)

Time to move on. This is 2012AD. Not 2012BC. Hassling gays is not cool. We don’t do shit like that anymore.

There are worse things in the world today. Like the stuff I outlined above. And intolerance. You know “intolerance”? It’s where a Christian go into a Northern Ireland bar and blows up other Christians, ‘cos they were the wrong brand of christianity. Or a muslim who does the same thing in a mosque, ‘cos the muslims inside were the wrong flavour of Islam.

Now THAT is a threat to the future of the Human Race.

Not Bert and Ernie saying they love each other.

Got that?

Good. Amen.

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