Ahmet Davutoglu, How Turkey's Next PM Got It All Wrong

While Erdogan rises to the presidency, his ally and foreign minister Davutoglu is set to be the new Turkish prime minister. His intellectual gifts are matched only by his political failures.

Turkey's next PM Ahmet Davutoglu
Turkey's next PM Ahmet Davutoglu
Ahmet Hakan

ISTANBUL — The name Ahmet Davutoglu, now set to become Turkey's next prime minister, first came to my attention many years ago in an intellectual Islamic magazine. He wrote long and insightful articles, thinking outside the box on international politics with a completely different perspective.

One day, I asked a friend of mine who worked at the magazine: “Who is this Ahmet Davutoglu?” My friend described him as extremely well prepared, with top academic credentials and foreign language skills. "He is someone who has proven himself to both the East and the West.”

I also wound up reading Davutoglu's sharp critiques on Samuel Huntington's famous “Clash of Civilizations” thesis. My friends and I loved the pieces: “This is how you answer the West,” we would tell each other.

Then I met Davutoglu; we had conversations. He would speak about even the smallest matter in detail. “There are five reasons,” he would say, and then break the five points into 15, or even more. It was sometimes hard to follow what he was saying — and impossible not to be impressed.

Davutoglu, of course, went on to become a key member of the Justice and Development party (AKP) party, ultimately serving as Turkish Foreign Ministry since 2009. His political rise was a development that brought hope. Even if he could put into practice just 10% of his bright theories, it would be more than enough.

And he had a good start:

• He embraced the lands Turkey had turned its back on.

• He looked to make friends with all of our closest neighbors.

• He even turned Syria, a longtime antagonist, into a close friend, and the route across the border from Gaziantep-to-Aleppo filled with travelers.

• Fewer countries demanded an entry visa from Turkish citizens.

• “We are from Turkey” was a very cool thing to say in Beirut.

In short, his theories on a new Turkish role in the world were becoming a reality — and it was good. Then, we woke up from this sweet dream and the nightmare began.

• The neighbors became hostiles, one by one.

• Turkey and Syria arrived at the brink of war.

• Relations were tense with Iran and Iraq.

• Turkey became the only country to both have problems with Israel and demonize Hezbollah.

• All attempts made regarding Egypt were a fiasco.

• There were even problems with the Arabs of the Gulf.

• The West was left watching it all unfold with sudden surprise.

Davutoglu with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif — Photo: VOA

Why did this happen? How did Davutoglu fail after seeming to be on the verge of such great success? Now, it is my turn to prepare the answer in five points, which Davutoglu may divide into 15 if he so chooses.

1. Davutoglu did not, could not or did not want to recognize that there were other outside global forces that had cleared an area in the Middle East for the AKP government to enter, and his earlier successes were largely because of this.

2. Instead of practicing politics that were in line with the relative power of Turkey, he practiced politics that would require far more than the power Turkey actually possesses. Then, when he was challenged many times to put his money where his mouth is, he was left with no other answer than “No one should try to test our power.”

3. He could not understand that the Middle East does not stand still as it might seem in academic textbooks. He did not learn the lessons from the adventures of many mighty men who tried to conquer the Middle East, and ended in tragedy. He could not grasp the challenge that he was facing the most complicated and dangerous area in the world.

4. In the first term, he was following the hope of a “peaceful and prosperous Middle East,” and in the second term he cast Turkey as a power broker, saying “Not a single leaf stirs in the Middle East without our knowledge.”

5. While he was supposed to not repeat the mistakes of the traditional foreign politics of Turkey, he simply dismantled it. He could not benefit from the experienced corps of Turkish diplomats, and ultimately failed to understand that there are times in diplomacy when tradition is the most precious value.

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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