“Mother,” said little Pearl, “the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom. . . . It will not flee from me, for I wear nothing on my bosom yet!”
“Nor ever will, my child, I hope,” said Hester.
“And why not, mother?” asked Pearl, stopping short. . . . “Will it not come of its own accord, when I am a woman grown?”
This mother-daughter conversation between the innocent Pearl and the condemned Hester in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter reminds me of Professor Ismail Besikci, a persecuted Turk, in “modern” Turkey.
In colonial America, it was the “A” word, standing for adultery, emblazoned on the breast of the convicted women, that put the protagonist of Hawthorne’s novel, Hester, on the road to “hell” on earth.
In Turkey, it is the “K” word, standing for Kurds and Kurdistan, affixed to the identities of Kurdish researchers and patriots that has put Mr. Besikci on the road to Golgotha.
Professor Besikci has spent 17 years behind bars.
He has seen 32 of his 36 books declared as “seditious.”
Yet, like the man crucified by the Romans at Calvary—which incited his followers to love him more devoutly—the more heartlessly the Turks persecute Mr. Besikci, the more fondly he has embraced his cross of thorns for the Kurds, who are merely viewed and treated as fodder for the Turkish body politic.
Mr. Besikci, now in his 70s, is no longer openly battered by the Turkish government.
Uncle Sam, wittingly or unwittingly, has taken up the mantle.
On April 20, 2014, he was in line to board a plane to the United States.
He was scheduled to deliver two lectures, one at American University in Washington, DC and the other at Riverside Church in Manhattan.
He had his ticket as well as a visa—good for ten years.
But he was not allowed to take his seat. He was shown a last minute email from the U.S. Border Patrol instructing the authorities to deny him a boarding pass.
When I was notified of the news, I smelled a rat and suspected foul play by the Turkish police. I looked forward to a statement from the State Department backing my hunch.
But Foggy Bottom kept quiet as a hibernating bear.
A few days later, Namo Abdullah, a DC-based Rudaw journalist, went to the heart of the matter and asked the spokesperson for the State Department: did the United States revoke Mr. Besikci’s visa?
Ms. Psaki, visibly nervous, cravenly hid behind, “Section 22F” of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which supposedly prevents “disclosing details from individual cases.”
But Mr. Besikci was not invited to America to engage in private talks with his non-existent relatives.
Hundreds of people had spent thousands of dollars to hear his assessment of the vexing Kurdish Question.
The U.S. government flagrantly violated the First Amendment rights of all of us who wished to hear him speak.
Apparently, Dr. Tariq Ramadan, an apologist for Islam, was subjected to a similar experience.
But when the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the government on his behalf, the State Department was forced to acknowledge: “A U. S. consular officer has denied Dr. Tariq Ramadan's visa application. The consular officer concluded that Dr. Ramadan was inadmissible based solely on his actions, which constituted providing material support to a terrorist organization.”
Mr. Besikci is too poor to support himself—let alone others. And if he has to pass as an apologist for anyone or anything, line the words, basic human rights for all—no exceptions, for him.
Do we have to involve the ACLU to get a statement out of the government?
Five years after the ACLU suit, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in Mr. Ramadan’s favor, noting that the government was required by law to “confront Ramadan with the allegation against him and afford him the subsequent opportunity to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that he did not know, and reasonably should not have known, that the recipient of his contributions was a terrorist organization.”
A year later, Mr. Ramadan was issued a new visa, this time on the instructions of Secretary of State Hilary R. Clinton.
Nathan Brown, the President of Middle East Studies Association (MESA), in a letter to Obama Administration officials put it best: “Preventing a recognized scholar and intellectual from travelling to speak on his area of expertise at the invitation of an American institution of higher education is contrary to the principles of academic freedom, freedom of speech and the free exchange of ideas.”
The world is suffering from a deficit of freedom and America, alas, is contributing to it.
As Kurds, we, of course, resent Uncle Sam’s misguided and shortsighted mercenary position on the side of bigoted Turks.
Notwithstanding America’s coddling of Turkey though, there is another subtlety in the little Pearl’s observation that we should pay heed. She doesn’t know why her mom is carrying the letter “A,” but she is bright enough to know that it has condemned her to a world of her own, a dark place where the sun never visits.
Is this any different than Kurdistan?
Thank God, the English Puritans came with an expiration date; the Turkish Talibans, have faith, are the same and the travellers of the same road.
That said, work hard, and pray too, that the sun will soon shine on the Kurds and Kurdistan.