Green Money, Islamist Politics in Turkey
To the Editor:
With regard to Michael Rubin's article, "Green Money, Islamist Politics in Turkey" (Winter 2005), please note that an industrial enterprise such as ours—a world trademark whose products are known and in demand in more than eighty countries—is damaged when associated with untrue political interpretations and allegations.
In the article, Rubin states that "According to numerous Turkish diplomats and officers in the Turkish General Staff, the Turkish military refuses to buy Ülker products for its conscripts so as not to subsidize Islamism. Nevertheless, since [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan's accession, Ülker has become increasingly visible, perhaps as businesses seek the prime minister's favor."
We object to this characterization connecting Ülker Gıda San ve Tic AŞ to the Justice and Reconciliation Party (AKP); this connection is absolutely untrue. The prime minister has never been a shareholder in the Ülker companies nor is he connected to the Ülker family. Mr. Rubin has exaggerated an old and minor (12 percent) holding by the prime minister in just one distributor out of Ülker's more than 600 distributors. Moreover, Erdoğan sold these shares.
We remind Mr. Rubin that this allegation has been declared in writing to be untrue by an official statement of the 13th Civil Court of First Instance in Ankara (File No 1998/332) (Annex A) and the statement of the Turkish General Staff written in response thereto and dated June 24, 1999 (Annex B). In the latter, M. Ercal Şenel, a judge major-general of the Turkish General Staff, confirmed in writing there is no decision against Ülker products by the military.
Mr. Rubin has repeated an old and discredited allegation, one that originated in gossip spread by some of our competitors. Moreover, the 13th Civil Court of First Instance in Ankara (File No 1998/332, Decree No 1999/699; see Annex C) found that the allegations were unfounded. Those who asserted these allegations were subsequently sentenced by the court of law.
Ülker, in existence more than fifty years, has never at any stage or in any way taken an interest in politics, something well known in Turkey. This being the case, it is unacceptable that the good name of the seventeenth largest provider of food enterprise in the world should be referred to in a political context.
In light of ethical norms, we know that you will agree to correct this misinformation and misperception, especially as this article originated in the United States, a country so sensitive to freedom and human rights.
Mr. Ali Ülker
Ülker Gıda San ve Tic AŞ
Michael Rubin replies:
Ali Ülker's letter seeks to absolve Ülker from its legacy and confuse the reader about the secular Turkish establishment's concerns with the company and its politics. The case to which he refers—an allegation of linkage to the Fetullah Gülen movement in a 1998 magazine article—was not even referred to in my article.
Mr. Ülker may object to the characterization of Ülker as being involved in "Green Money" businesses, but Ülker brought Faysal Finans, a Saudi-founded firm, from Haşim Bayram's Kombassan Holding in 1998. Faysal Finans remains one of Turkey's largest Islamic financial houses. The general staff remains concerned about this.
Ülker's problems with the Turkish military have a history. Ülker had close ties with the Islamist government of Necmettin Erbakan (1996-97). Following the fall of Erbakan (the military eased him out of office in response to his violating constitutional provisions regarding secularism), Ülker made donations to various military institutions in an unsuccessful campaign to convince the Turkish General Staff to purchase Ülker products.
Ali Ülker has provided a translation of a June 24, 1999 letter from the judge major general of the Turkish General Staff saying that the chief of the general staff could find no record "to the effect that such an instruction or notice of the specified character [a reference to the banning of Ülker products] was sent to the military unions." However, during interviews I conducted five years later, in July 2004, several officials of the Turkish General Staff said that the military banned and continues to ban Ülker products because of its concern about the company's links to Islamist causes. Perhaps the ban is informal. If Mr. Ülker wishes to pursue the issue further, he could provide evidence that the Turkish military does purchase Ülker products.
Mr. Ülker mentions that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has sold his financial holdings in one of Ülker's chief distributors, Emniyet Foods. My article, "Green Money, Islamist Politics in Turkey," raised questions about this and only subsequent to its publication did Erdoğan sell his interest in the company. I am gratified that he took this step to mitigate conflict-of-interest concerns. It marks a step forward for transparency in Turkish politics.
Post-Zionism and the Sephardi Question
To the Editor:
In "Post-Zionism and the Sephardi Question" (Spring 2005), Meyrav Wurmser labeled me a post-Zionist. Any reasonable analysis of my work makes clear that I am not.
Wurmser cited my book, Hatikshoret Beyisrael: Merkaz vePeriferia: Sikuran shel Ayarot Hapituah (Tel Aviv: Breyrot, 1993), which analyzes the image of Israel's periphery in the national media from the perspective of the center. My research emphasized media work routines. It did not focus on the inter-ethnic relations within Israeli society. The underlying research instead examined the workings of Israeli media organizations and how they cover marginal places.
Wurmser misrepresented the context of my work when, summarizing themes of media portrayals of Mizrahim, she added (on p. 26) the parenthetical reference to Ashkenazim in the quote, "an inability to be 'like us' [Ashkenazim]." I consciously did not refer to Ashkenazim in this context but rather used the phrase "residents of the center" to stand in contrast to those on the periphery. In the future, Dr. Wurmser should take more care before sticking labels on people.
Department of Communications
To the Editor:
Meyrav Wurmser fails to make her case in "Post Zionism and the Sephardi Question." Her criticism of Ella Shohat is unfair. Nowhere in Shohat's "Sephardim in Israel: Zionism from the Standpoint of Its Jewish Victims," for example, does she question Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state.
While Wurmser and Shohat agree on many of the problems that the Mizrahi community has faced, Wurmser argues that Shohat and other post-Zionist Mizrahim do not have much base among Arab Jews in Mizrahi society in Israel. Perhaps true, but political isolation is not necessarily indicative of historical or analytical weakness. Shohat may simply be ahead of her time. Her analysis may very well become the mainstream of Mizrahi thinking in the not too distant future, especially if assimilation fails to address adequately their political and cultural concerns. Indeed, the very relevance of Shohat's work is belied by Wurmser's decision to write such a long rebuttal.
Shohat deserves credit for debunking the myth of smooth assimilation of Mizrahi Jews to Israeli society. She also identified the cultural dilemma that some Israelis are both Jewish and Arab. Assimilation, which in the case of the Mizrahi was a de-Arabization process, was in many cases far from successful.
Senior Lecturer of International Studies
University of Denver
To the Editor:
Meyrav Wurmser's article ("Post-Zionism and the Sephardi Question") errs in the definition of Sephardi. Like most Ashkenazi and Mizrahi writers, she assumes that non-Ashkenazim are automatically Sephardim. As a Jew of Spanish and Portuguese background, a true Sephardi, I find disappointing the confusion between the Western Hispanic Sephardic Jews and the Afro-Asian Mizrahi Jews.
When the Sephardim were in charge of the Jewish community in the Holy Land under the Ottoman Empire, similar generalizations occurred about the Ashkanazim. All Ashkanazim were lumped together under the pejorative term Tedesco (German). After the British occupation of Palestine during World War I, the Sephardim lost power because they remained faithful to the Ottoman Empire; the Ashkanazim, with British help, took over leadership.
In Israel, the Mizrahim today have the presidency, the chief of staff, and even our Sephardi grand rabbinate, which has not seen a Sephardic rabbi since the 1950s. Soon, the Mizrahim will challenge the Ashkenazi power base. But as for us, the Sephardim, small in numbers—not more than 300,000 in Israel—we have none of our previous power. The only thing we have is our Hispanic heritage and the knowledge of being Sephardim. And even that is in danger because of the tendency to overextend and dilute the meaning of the term Sephardi.
Dr. Albert de Vidas
Meyrav Wurmser replies:
I should not have labeled Eli Avraham a post-Zionist, but he is practicing self-revisionism when he argues that center versus periphery discounts the Ashkenazim versus Sephardim and Mizrahim context.
Rob Prince's comments miss the point: Ella Shohat is not the subject of my article. Her work was reviewed and criticized in the context of a larger intellectual movement within Israel and abroad. Shohat's argument that Mizrahi Jews should define themselves as Arab-Jews suggests she views Judaism as only a religious identity, not as a nationality. Such an argument is at the root of post-Zionism. Moreover, Shohat is hardly a visionary with regards to the Mizrahim in Israel. Her insistence that Mizrahim should redefine their identity as Arab-Jews ignores political realities. As a voting block, Mizrahim tend to lean towards the Right. They do not identify with Arabs and view them as enemies of Israel. It is counterproductive to embrace theories that discount reality.
The Editor responds:
The editors, who are solely responsible for titles in the Middle East Quarterly, used the term Sephardic in the title of this article because most English-language readers are unaware of the term Mizrahi, a more accurate term that was in fact used throughout the text.
Beheading in the Name of Islam
To the Editor:
Timothy Furnish unfairly labels several professors and commentators "apologists" for their statements that beheadings have no theological justification in Islam ("Beheading in the Name of Islam," Spring 2005). Nowhere does he refute their statements. Muhammad Adam al-Sheikh's assertion that "beheadings are not mentioned in the Koran at all" clearly refers to beheadings as a form of execution. Asma Afsaruddin's statement that "[t]here is absolutely no religious imperative for" the beheading of hostages is not undercut by the fact that some Muslims have claimed religious justification for doing so.
The relevant question is whether execution of prisoners by decapitation is a recognized religious duty. It is not, and Furnish does not show that mainstream Islam accepts such a practice. Is Mawdudi, who died in 1979, really the earliest commentator who sanctions the execution of prisoners? It would have been more useful for Furnish to provide a survey of tafsirs (Qur'anic commentaries), along with other sources of Islamic legal tradition, and then discuss how exegetes and jurists have historically lined up on the issue.
The heart of the article's weakness is Furnish's statement that apologists are wrong to claim that hostage decapitation is devoid of "true Islamic content" because "Islamists justify murder and decapitation with both theological citations and historical precedent." Furnish can't have it both ways. If he is claiming that any argument by any Muslim on the basis of theological citations and historical precedent reflects authentic Islam, then how can he suggest that those he labels apologists are wrong in their own view of Islam? Furnish distorts the debate by comparing the lengthy arguments of some jihadis with only sound bite media statements by professors, making the latter look superficial.
Furnish does acknowledge that jihadis who practice hostage executions are a minority. So why is a Muslim who points out that the majority of Muslims do not accept the jihadis' claims an apologist?
State University of New York-New Paltz
Timothy Furnish replies
Professor Vinson excoriates me for several things I did not say. First, nowhere did I assert that "mainstream Islam" today "accepts such a practice." In fact, I said the opposite, referring to supporters of decapitation as a "determined minority." (p. 57). Likewise, I leave it to Muslims—unlike, it seems, Vinson—to ascertain just what is "authentic Islam." What I said is that just as there are voices in Islam that decry any Islamic roots of decapitation, there are likewise Muslim voices that find such roots. And as for my not citing tafsirs, Vinson seems to have overlooked that I cited Tabari and Zamakhshari.
He is incensed by my usage of the term "apologists." I find the term useful and appropriate to describe the likes of Muhammad Adam al-Sheikh and Asma Afsaruddin, who willfully turn a blind eye to the Qur'anic passages that enjoin beheadings. Vinson is correct that Al-Sheikh was referring to criminal executions but that does not affect my criticism of the inaccuracy of his saying that "beheadings are not mentioned in the Qur'an at all." If anything, I should have given further examples of apologetics, for example, those emanating from the Council on American Islamic Relations and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). All ignore the passages of the Qur'an that Islamists glorify.
Finally, Vinson ignores the long record I provide of decapitation as practiced through Islamic history—by the Murabits, Muwahhids, Ottomans, Saudis, etc. Why does he do so? Because these dynasties were not authentically Islamic—or because too many academics engage in advocacy more than in scholarly analysis?
 The three annexes can be read on the Middle East Quarterly website, at http://www.meforum.org/meq/issues/200509.
 Turkish Daily News (Ankara), May 4, 2003.
 Milliyet (Istanbul), May 19, 2003.
 Ayse Yuce, "Islamic Financial Houses in Turkey," Journal of the Academy of Business and Economics, Jan. 2003.
 Hürriyet (Istanbul), Jan. 5, 1999.
 Hürriyet, Jan. 2, 2004.
 Hürriyet, Feb. 25, 2005.
 In Anne McClintock, Aamir Mufti, and Ella Shohat, eds., Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997).
 "… representatives of nine Muslim and Arab organizations, including the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations CAIR and the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), endorsed a statement on June 19 expressing their outrage and condemnation of Johnson's murder and insisting the murder did not represent the tenets of Islam." "U.S. Muslims Condemn Beheadings," U.S. Embassy, Jakarta, June 25, 2004.