It was August 2012. Most Greeks did not know that their financial agony would last for several years in one of the most punishing economic crises in their modern history.
But the agony was there: Elderly people who had suddenly become homeless. Suicides. Skyrocketing crime rates. Young, well-educated people suddenly jobless. Breadline in front of churches. Families trying to help less fortunate relatives. Those who got their salaries badly slashed were the lucky ones. It was time for not belt-tightening but for worse. Austerity. Default.
A year earlier, in 2011, Bartholomew, the Archbishop of Constantinople and New Rome, advised the Greeks that the solution to the punishing economic crisis was a return to God and Christian values, prompting this columnist to write “His All Holiness: God is not your central banker.”
From that column: “Now we have another His All Holiness, this time Anthimos of Thessaloniki, who recently preached that ‘We are obligated to protect our people, especially the priests.’ Since the priests of the Church of Greece are not in physical danger, the Metropolitan of Greece’s second biggest city (Thessaloniki) must have been referring to some other kind of ‘protection.’ Never mind, His All Holiness, members of Greece’s most financially viable corporate entity are already well off. But would doubling wedding, baptism and funeral charges satisfy the Metropolitan? I don’t think so.”
Enter Turkey’s currency crisis. Fortunately there is no clergy in Islam. But there has always been a made-up one, like the caliphate, which is nowhere in the holy script. The 20th century Turkish fabrication is Diyanet, or the Religious Affairs Directorate, now a presidency under the president.
Listen to what Diyanet’s president, Professor Ali Erbaş, a respected theologian, had to say in Mecca, after he advised Turks to use the national currency and avoid extravaganza:
“Use the national currency. Use national products. Avoid luxury and extravaganza. Our nation will defeat these multi-dimensional attacks [the currency crisis].”
It makes sense? Partly. It makes sense that a nation with barely $8,000 per capita income and facing fundamental economic problems should avoid luxury and extravaganza. But the “makes sense” part stops making sense when we know that the president of Diyanet himself is chauffeur-driven in an armoured Mercedes worth a few hundreds of thousands of euros. Professor Erbaş is simply telling the Turks to go “Made in Turkey” when he is in the comfort of his armoured Mercedes. Nice? Maybe not. But very much in line with the typical clergy thinking.
What, for instance, could Professor Erbaş should be thinking about extravaganza and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s 1,100-plus-room palace? That’s modesty. Extravagancy must be a white-collar Turk buying 250 grams of French Camembert. A $600 million palace does not count.
It is fascinating how best friends and allies His All Holinesses of all monotheistic religions would make. All the same we cannot blame the official and unofficial clergy for all the hypocrisy. As one imam forcefully reminded me in California in 2009: “You will be right, not us, if you can find billions of followers for your views.”
He was right.