Harun Yahya, creationism and a media empire

Adnan Oktar, better known by his pen name Harun Yahya, is a Turkish Islamic creationist, cult leader and televangelist. He was sentenced to 1075 years for sexual offences, abuse of children and running a criminal organisation. A pseudo intellectual, Yayha distributed creationist literature and DVDs worldwide, and established a particular theologically-based cult of creationism.

Arrested in 2018 along with 200 of his followers, Oktar was sentenced earlier this year. His imprisonment gives us an opportunity to examine the rise and fall not only of this particular televangelist and cult leader, but also to examine the creeping influence of creationism – and its modern-day theological equivalent, intelligent design – on our own society.

Oktar’s pseudoscientific-based theology, a version of Islamic creationism, reached widespread audiences in the millions. Beginning his career as a TV speaker, railing against Jews, Freemasonry, Communism and evolutionary biology – all of which are interlinked enemies in his fevered imagination – he reached the high point of his fame with his 800-page Atlas of Creation. Distributed to leading academics, scientists, museums, journalists and experts across the world, he claimed to have refuted evolution which he mischaracterised with the scare-word ‘Darwinism’. That book was only one among many produced by Yahya’s burgeoning media empire.

It would be a mistake to dismiss Yahya as a crackpot or lunatic. He organised a very politically-and-business savvy empire, replete with educational materials and devoted followers. In 2007, Yahya seemed to be on top of the world, with access to a vast TV audience and increasing influence for his creationist views. While his sect was the subject of numerous sex scandals and legal investigations, in 2011 he started his own online TV channel.

Surrounding himself with blonde-dyed, sometimes scantily-clad young women – whom he called his ‘kittens’ – Yahya continued his prolific efforts to purportedly debunk evolutionary biology, and reach an English-speaking audience beyond his dreams. With his TV platform, backed by his Science Research Foundation, Yahya seemed unstoppable. His Versace harem was gaining popularity. But his fall was not long in coming. The Turkish authorities finally caught up with him and his sexually-charged proclivities.

The denial of evolutionary biology, not unique to Yahya, enabled him to make friends in numerous unexpected places. Yahya emerged from the turbulent political milieu of the 1980s, when the Turkish military and associated far rightist paramilitaries were attacking the labour unions and the Left. Yahya found his voice by advocating an Islamic-Turkish Union, a pan-Turkic neo-Ottoman project combining the various Central Asian republics. He found a readymade scapegoat for the ills afflicting Turkey – the nefarious Jews.

The Turkish ultranationalist Right, imbued with racism towards non-Turkic peoples, advocated a conspiratorial worldview. The Jews, along with doctrines perceived to be ‘western’ in origin, were targeted. This included the phantom of ‘Darwinism’ – a scientifically meaningless term, but one with sinister undertones.

Evolutionary biology, by positing natural causes to explain the diversity and radiation of species, was seen as a frontal assault on the notion of God and the supernatural. The notion of ‘Darwinism’ was mobilised by Yahya, among others, to denounce the materialistic godlessness of the West – backed up of course, by the always conspiratorial Jews.

His attacks on atheism and the associated bogeyman of ‘Darwinism’ gained Yahya adherents among ultrarightist Zionist Jews and orthodox rabbis. While Yahya had penned books in the 1990s denying the Holocaust, this did not stop him from gaining a platform in Israeli media, allying with equally far right Zionist politicians. Ultranationalist Israelis have long desired to replace the Al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem with a Third Temple for Jewish people to pray – a position Yahya has spoken of sympathetically.

His organisation has cultivated links with Christian creationist figures in the United States as well. The anti evolutionary message of Yahya’s publications has found receptive audiences across the globe. There has been extensive analysis of the evolution-creation debate already, and there are numerous resources debunking Yahya’s publications. These topics can be discussed in another article.

The purpose here is to demonstrate that while proponents of creationism – and is modernised incarnation known as ‘intelligent design’ – wrap themselves in the mantle of academic freedom and scientific inquiry, advocate a strongly political theocratic project. Yahya may be an outlier, but he is hardly alone or an exception. The United States has its own equivalent televangelist Yahyas, misdirecting the public on science education.

Does every single creationist belong in gaol? No, of course not. Is every televangelist a serial sex pest? No, they are not, although there growing numbers of them being exposed as moral hypocrites. Yayha was held accountable for his crimes, arrested in 2018, and gaoled earlier this year. It is high time to closely scrutinise the activities of the cultish televangelists in our own midst.

Haitian workers in the Bahamas struggle to rebuild after Hurricane Dorian

Hurricane Dorian hit the northern Bahamas in September 2019. Making landfall early that month, the Category 5 hurricane devastated the communities of Abaco and the Grand Bahama Islands. The scenes of destruction were indescribable, with 84 deaths and hundreds missing. At least 70 000 have been left homeless.

What is important to note here is that thousands of Haitian migrant workers, living in shanty towns and upon whom the tourist industry depends, face stigma as ‘outsiders’ and are fighting the prospect of deportation. The Haitian population, resident in the Bahamas for generations, perform all the menial and low paying jobs which sustain the tourist marinas and luxury hotels. Haitians farm the land, work in construction and repair the infrastructure used by wealthy Bahamians and incoming tourists.

Haitians must undergo a rigorous and onerous process to register as a Bahamian citizen, and most Haitian workers are undocumented. Seeking refuge from the political violence and US-backed dictatorships that have plagued their home nation, the Bahamas provided an opportunity to start a new life – a reasonably wealthier country in the Caribbean.

Hurricane Dorian not only left a trail of destruction and trauma, but also exposed the economic inequalities that underscore the capitalist structures in the Bahamas. The Mudd, once a shanty-town home to thousands of Haitians, was flattened in minutes. As David Smith wrote in The Guardian newspaper:

Natural disasters often expose the gap between the haves and have nots and Dorian was no different. While the Bahamas has a reputation as one of the most desirable tourist destinations on earth, its luxury hotels and homes depend on a life support system of fishermen, hotel workers and laborers. Once again, it is the poorest who have been hardest hit when catastrophe strikes.

While the Bahamas is a tourist paradise – and an offshore tax haven – it comes at an enormous social and economic cost. International business entities in the Bahamas do not have to pay corporate tax unless the income is generated locally. The nation is also one of the most starkly unequal societies in the Caribbean.

Let’s get one misconception out of the way – the question which inevitably arises after such an extreme weather event is – ‘was it caused by climate change?’ Such a question is misleading, because no single weather event – not hurricane, flood or drought – can be individually attributed to human-induced global warming. The more fruitful question would be ‘was this hurricane worsened by climate change?’ The emphatic answer is Yes.

The oceans absorb enormous amounts of carbon dioxide, and warming surface waters contribute to the energy of hurricane formation. The duration and ferocity of hurricanes is increasing, with Dorian being the severest one to hit the Bahamas. Dorian had one minute of 185 miles per hour winds. The country has been struck by hurricanes in recent years – in 2016 with Hurricane Matthew, and 2017 with Hurricane Irma.

The majority of the victims of the 2019 hurricane occupied shanty towns – makeshift ramshackle residences – of the Abaco Islands. This indicates that the relationship between the Haitians and Bahamians was fraught with inequality prior to Hurricane Dorian. The Bahamian tourist economy was heavily dependent on Haitian day labourers, and the government has maintained their temporary status through a series of bureaucratic and legal measures.

As the survivors have fled into shelters, and accommodate wherever they can find it, the Bahamian government has ramped up the existing xenophobia. Haitians, while of similar Afro-Caribbean heritage as their Bahamian counterparts, face discrimination and cultural hatred, dismissed as lowly-educated buffoons only fit for labouring work. The government in Nassau has taken steps to ‘reclaim’ land once occupied by Haitian workers.

The prime minister, Hubert Minnis, has lamented the generational devastation of Hurricane Dorian, but has not actually defended the Haitian community from racial hatred. When visiting the catastrophic scenes in Abaco Islands, he deliberately made a gesture of kicking in the door of a shantytown home, denouncing illegal immigrants, and declaring that he will do his utmost to make them leave. The attorney general stated that any Haitians who have lost their jobs ‘need to go home’ regardless of whether or not their work permits have expired.

Before any Australian readers sympathise with the statements of the Bahamian government and repeat the oft-heard contemptuous phrase – ‘ go back to where you come from’ – consider the following. Haiti is already a food-insecure nation, with running water, electricity and health care scarcely available. In the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, thousands of Haitians became refugees, and sought work in the Bahamas.

Haiti was forcibly occupied by the United States in 1915, and has endured repeated interventions in its internal political and economic affairs in the years since. The resultant political instability in that nation prompted an outflow of Haitian refugees.

Rather than resort to lazy, obnoxious slogans, it is high time for the Bahamian economy to look after its Haitian labourers. In times of crisis, whether a hurricane or a pandemic, it is the cleaners, caterers, labouring people and health care workers who keep the economy going.

Albert Einstein, social justice and his relationship with Zionism

Albert Einstein (1879-1955), the world’s first celebrity-scientist, thought deeply about physics, and originated the theories of special and general relativity. The ubiquitous image of him is that of the disheveled, shaggy-haired absent-minded professor, delving deeply into scientific problems, but unable to remember where he last left his coffee cup.

This stereotype, while appealing, is also quite misleading. As much as Einstein worked on physics problems, he also thought deeply about social justice and anti racism issues. He used his platform to speak out against racism and antisemitism. Having witnessed, and been victimised by, European antisemitic bigotry, he supported the efforts of the Jewish community to organise themselves, but remained critical of the Zionist nationalism inherent in constructing the Israeli state.

Einstein was nonreligious, abandoning the tenets of Judaism at a very young age. He maintained a rationalist perspective – not the monotheistic God of divine origin and supernatural revelation, but a logical pantheism in the manner of Spinoza.

He was also a cultural Jew, and did his best to support the Jewish community. Europe, and in particular Germany, was experiencing a resurgence of anti-Semitism in the immediate aftermath of military defeat – the end of World War One. That antisemitism motivated Einstein to support Jewish efforts to construct their own future.

Einstein joined up with the Zionist movement to build the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Founded in 1925, Einstein cooperated with Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Organisation (WZO) to promote its construction. Attending the opening of the university, Einstein hailed what he viewed as the progress of secular, scientifically-inclined Jews to build a new society where Jewish people would feel safe and free.

However, he was a critic of nationalism and militarism, and he opposed the militaristic trends in Zionism. Attending the Sixteenth Congress of the WZO in 1929, Einstein was widely known to be a non-Zionist participant. In various speeches and public pronouncements, Einstein distanced himself from the ideology of Zionism. For instance, in 1938, he stated his desire to see a binational state within the borders of Palestine, and was appalled by the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian towns undertaken by armed Zionist forces.

On his single trip to Palestine, Einstein warned that building an exclusively Jewish state constitutes a repudiation of the spiritual nature of Judaism. He was elaborating his opinion that Zionism, with its army and militarised-garrison ideology, was in contradiction to the spirit of the Jewish faith. He warned of a narrow nationalism overtaking the Jewish people in the process of building the Zionist state, and opposed any partition of Palestine.

In 1948, Einstein, along with numerous Jewish-origin intellectuals, signed an open letter to the US government and President Truman. The purpose of this letter was to warn the Zionist-supportive US administration of the racist and fascistic tendencies in the newly-recognised state of Israel. Condemning the Herut party, the political expression of the Irgun terrorist gangs that had massacred Palestinians, Einstein and his co-signatories described Herut in its methods and philosophy as closely akin to Nazi and fascist parties.

Herut is one of the constituent forerunners of today’s rightwing Likud party, headed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The significance of this letter, written so soon after the end of World War 2 and the Holocaust, cannot be underestimated. Einstein and his co-thinkers demonstrated the gulf that separated pro-Zionist politicians and the wider humanist community. In fact, if Einstein were alive today, he would face condemnation as a ‘self-hating anti-Semite’ from Zionism’s political partisans. Offered the presidency of Israel late in his life, Einstein refused.

In 1919, with observational confirmation of Einstein’s equations of general relativity, he became a scientist-rock star. In 1921, at the behest of the WZO, he traveled to the United States for the purpose of promoting – and fundraising for – the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Greeted by cheering crowds in New York, his celebrity status was confirmed. He never rested on his laurels – he deployed his fame to speak out against racism and the European drift to war.

While Einstein was still in Germany, he joined the international campaign to free the Scottsboro boys. The latter were a group of nine teenage boys falsely accused of rape by a white woman. A miscarriage of justice, their convictions, and the attendant racism upon which the case was built, was challenged by the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), the Communist party USA, and various civil rights organisations. Einstein used his platform to attack racial segregation in the United States.

This was not just a once-off occurrence. Einstein befriended and supported African American activists, such Paul Robeson, and the first black Harvard University PhD graduate WEB Du Bois. Einstein, making Princeton University his home ground from 1932, mixed with black neighbourhoods in racially-segregated America, gave impromptu lectures, and supported civil rights for African Americans.

He routinely refused honorary degrees – regarding them as illegitimate credentials; but he did make one notable exception. Invited by Lincoln University, an African American institution, to give the commencement address in 1946, Einstein condemned racism as a problem of white people.

Whether he was critiquing Zionism, or American racism, Einstein the celebrity-scientist stayed true to his social justice commitment. While never an official politician, he was never afraid to speak out about contemporary political issues.

The Israeli elections, ultranationalist parties and a victory for the late Meir Kahane

The latest Israeli elections have produced an electoral stalemate, but it was also a victory of ultranationalist and far right parties that collectively ascribe to the philosophy of Kahanism. The Israeli far right can best be understood as the ideological successors to the doctrines of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, an ultrarightist and Judeo-supremacist political operator.

While his party, Kach, never achieved mainstream success during his lifetime, the parties that trace their ideological origins to Kahanism can best be described as the Israeli equivalent of the KKK. Kahane himself was assassinated decades ago, but his ultranationalist and Judeo-supremacist ideology looms large in Israeli society. It is to these Kahanist parties, including the KKK-equivalent Jewish Power party, that current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is appealing for political partners to establish a coalition government.

Institutionalised hateful incitement is the role that Kahanism plays in Israeli politics. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and his Likud partners, tolerate this incitement of anti-Arab hatred, and welcome its inclusion in the mainstream.

This was the fourth general election in two years; political instability is set to continue, with electoral deadlock the outcome. Netanyahu’s Likud right wing bloc secured 52 seats, short of the necessary 61 to govern outright in the 120 seat Israeli parliament, the Knesset. The other seats are occupied by various ultranationalist and soft Left parties, whose only common feature is hostility to the Likud.

The Kahanist far right parties, while having their tactical differences with each other, strongly agree on the basic platform of anti-Arab racism, expansion of settlements in occupied Palestinian Territories, and maintaining Judeo-supremacist character of the Zionist state.

Netanyahu embraces the far right

While Kahanism has remained on the margins of parliamentary politics, there is no doubt that Netanyahu and his far-right supporters have consciously cultivated cooperative relationships with Kahanist parties. Itamar Ben-Gvir, the leader of the Kahanist Jewish Power party, has routinely called for the expulsion of the Palestinians, advocated the expansion of Israeli settlements leading to annexation, and has praised Israeli Kahanist gunman Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Palestinians in 1994 at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

The Religious Zionist party, of which Jewish Power is a part, has long advocated for a strictly Orthodox religious basis of Israeli society, platforming fundamentalist and homophobic views. These are the plausible coalition partners that Netanyahu is considering bringing into government.

During the election cycles, the Likud party – and its Labour Party rivals – have adopted and platformed ultranationalist talking points. Calling the Arab minority a potential fifth column, Netanyahu has done his utmost to demand the continuation of settlement building, denouncing concessions to the Palestinian Authority as treasonous, and passing laws to maintain the Judeo-supremacist character of the Zionist state.

In fact, what Netanyahu’s political calculations have done is expose the logical continuity from so-called mainstream Zionism to Kahanism. The late Rabbi Meir Kahane, during his brief time in the Knesset, did make one correct observation – the state of Israel could either be exclusively Jewish, or democratic; it could not be both. When Zionist politicians condemn and outlaw mixed marriages (between Jews and non-Jews), and denounce relations between Jews and Arabs, they are unwittingly exposing the Judeo-supremacist and nondemocratic nature of the Zionist project.

Not outside the mainstream

Parties such as Jewish Power, and its Kahanist cousins, have attracted their fair share of condemnation, to be sure. However, the ideology they represent are not outliers, nor are they completely outside the mainstream of Israeli society. The construction of a Jewish Ulster – and Zionism is the equivalent Orange Order of the Jewish community – then numerous Meir Kahane-types are bound to arise.

The late Rabbi Meir Kahane, born in the United States in 1932, devoted his life to promoting a militant ethnic chauvinism combined with religious nationalism. As a young man, he worked with the FBI, advocating pro-Vietnam War sentiments on college campuses as the student and antiwar movements were gathering momentum. However, it was with the Judeo-supremacist ideology of Zionism where he found his natural calling.

Condemning the secularism he found in Israeli society, Kahane found a position of marginalised, but appreciated, respectable extremism. While his efforts to found a new political party were doomed to failure, the ideas he advocated found a receptive far right audience inside Israel. Eventually losing his seat in the Knesset, Kahane returned to the US. He was murdered by an Egyptian-born American gunman in November 1990.

After Kahane’s death, the mantle of Kahanism was taken up by various ultrarightist forces, and eventually working their way back into the Knesset. However, a parliamentary seat was not necessary for the Israeli far right to thrive – in November 1995, a Kahanist militant assassinated then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, for the ostensible reason that Rabin signed the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians.

The 2021 elections will only further expose the far right trajectory of official Israeli politics, and showcase the malign but ultimately foreseeable influence of Kahanism. Let’s dispense with the tired and worn-out cliche that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism, and instead have an honest conversation about dismantling Israeli apartheid.