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Why did I visit the Wailing Wall?

by Kerim Balcı, Today's Zaman on . Posted in Columns

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This Monday, the former military chief of Turkey appeared at the 58th hearing of the trial of the “Action Plan to Fight Reactionaryism,” a suspected military plot devised to overthrow the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and tarnish the name of the faith-based Gülen movement.

The retired general was asked during cross-examination about a photo of him on DVD #51 -- part of the evidence in the Ergenekon case -- which shows the former military chief in front of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. The retired general didn't reply to this question, but his lawyer, İlkay Sezer, did. And his response was altogether problematic.

I was able to put together the full version of Mr. Sezer's response by combining two different reports from Turkish newspapers. Apparently, pro-government newspapers didn't want to see the question at all, perhaps thinking that asking the question was not a clever move on the part of Judge Hüsnü Çalmuk. I may be wrong about this; maybe they simply didn't find this detail worth publishing. And the anti-government newspapers realized that the response of Mr. Sezer would harm his client and therefore simply omitted that detail. Only Zaman and Habertürk published Sezer's words, and both of them only partially. It seems, in its entirety, he said: “The question the judge asks, even if we leave aside freedom of religion and conscience, puts my client in a position to answer claims that roam the Internet. This issue has been taken to the level of my client's ethnic background. This is a complete lie and is being used to denigrate my client. There are visuals of my client's visit to the mosque [al-Aqsa Mosque], but they have not been used. We reject all of these claims.”

The first problem with Mr. Sezer's response is that he is replying to the claims that roam the Internet (this is what he says; I have never seen them, and I assume this Internet gossip claims that the former military chief was in fact a crypto-Jew) and not to the question posed by the judge, who was asking whether the former military chief knew how this photo found its way onto DVD #51. The answer to this question was important for the Ergenekon case, because it would possibly illuminate a mechanism of the Ergenekon organization's intelligence gathering mechanisms. Well, the former military chief may well wish to answer that question at future hearings of the trial, or maybe he doesn't know the answer.

Let's turn back to the even more problematic part of Mr. Sezer's response: its content. Presumably the former military chief would have hired one of the best lawyers in the country. This “one of the best lawyers” should know very well that for a Muslim man, visiting the Wailing Wall is a matter of freedom of movement rather than of freedom of religion or freedom of conscience. If you go to Jerusalem on an official visit, the Wailing Wall is already on your visiting list and it wouldn't be politically correct to take it off the list. If you are there for a personal visit, go there! It is a historical and religious site for a Muslim, too! When Muslims go to the Vatican, they should visit St. Peter's Basilica. That won't make them good Christians, that will make them good tourists! But come on! Don't explain that under freedom of religion. That is pure freedom of movement and we all have to respect that.

I have visited the Wailing Wall countless times. I explain those visits under freedom of movement -- I guided tourist groups there -- and under freedom of expression -- I filmed a documentary there -- but not under freedom of religion.

Mr. Sezer does not make it clear what kind of ethnicity is attested to his client on the grounds of being photographed at the Wailing Wall, but he makes it clear that this particular ethnicity claim is denigrating his client and is rejected totally. Since Mr. Sezer speaks about ethnicity, I use the freedom to speculate that this is not in fact a religious identity issue. Otherwise, his response would count as clear anti-Semitism. But in any case, it is clearly anti-some-ethnicity. I would suggest he say something such as “of course every ethnic background is worthy of respect, but these claims are not correct.”

I don't bother surfing the Internet looking for roaming rumors.

By the way, Mr. Sezer, had I seen the photos of your client at the al-Aqsa Mosque in the press, it wouldn't have made him a better Muslim in my eyes -- Ariel Sharon had photos taken of him in the mosque -- and had the judge seen such photos on DVD #51, he should be asking the same question: How on earth did those photos find their way onto the DVDs of a terrorist organization?