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In Turkey, “What Is This Black Friday? Why Friday?”
by Hugh Fitzgerald
Ordinarily one may be wary of Mustafa Akyol, but in this article he cannot be faulted.
Millions of Americans rushed to stores all across the United States Nov. 24 to take advantage of Black Friday, the day when most retailers offer promotional sales. Back in Turkey, some major department stores in big cities tried to emulate this foreign tradition, declaring major sales for “Kara Cuma,” as Black Friday translates in Turkish. In return, however, they received an unexpected tsunami of condemnations for insulting Islam. To many Turks, the term sounded like a rude term for Friday, Islam’s holy day.
The storm began with the hashtag #KaraCuma. “Friday is blessed. Black is only the color of those whose hearts are deprived of its sacred light,” wrote one angry Twitter user, condemning the “heretics” who brought the term into use in Turkey. Another declared, “The crusader mentality that calls Islam’s holiest day #BlackFriday is apparently filled with fear. But fear will not save them.” Then he quoted the Quran: “God will perfect his light even if the unbelievers dislike it.”
Thousands of similar messages filled the Turkish social media scene in just a couple of hours. Angry protesters began to share lists of the Turkish companies running Black Friday ad campaigns. These companies were imagined to be involved in an effort to “ban their employees from [Friday] prayers.”
The anger turned physical. In a shopping mall in the central Anatolian town of Bolu, a small group walked into a department store and demanded workers remove the Black Friday posters, telling them to do so “if you are a Muslim.” The video of the scene was posted online and went viral.
The pro-government media either remained silent on the frenzy or joined it happily. The daily Yeni Safak announced, “Black Friday made Turkey angry,” and shared social media messages against the “intentional” campaign. “They especially chose the day that Muslims have declared as sacred,” read the story, referring to some undefined enemies of Islam.
Hamza Yerlikaya, an official adviser to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, joined the choir. “What is this Black Friday? Why Friday? Friday is light, peace and blessing,” he tweeted, asking, “What operation is this? What perception is being built on this special day?”
The bewildering part is that none of these Turks who condemned Black Friday bothered to learn what the term really means — that it has nothing to do with Islam’s holy day, let alone “insulting” it or carrying out an “operation” on Turkey and its Muslim-ness.
A few commentators tried to explain. Baris Esen, an economist writing for Bloomberg Turkey, tweeted, “Black Friday means companies in the United States moving from loss to profit in their balance sheets. Loss is signified with red and profit is signified with black. Do not forcibly invent other meanings.” [this is a more recent explanation of the term’s origin; the earlier one, which appears to have the weight of greater authority, apparently refers to all the congestion, vehicular and pedestrian, caused by shoppers on that day].
Yet those already angry at Black Friday seemed uninterested in such facts or simply preferred not to read the the writers who offered them an explanation.
What must one make of all this? Well, on the one hand, the anti-Black Friday frenzy is a tragicomical story rather than a serious one. It has already calmed down, and it will probably be all forgotten soon. The only lasting affect may be that next year Turkish companies will find another way to promote their sales.
On the other hand, however, this incident is just one of the countless manifestations of the anti-Western mood that has dominated Turkey in the past couple of years. So many people are now so sure that Western powers are cooking up conspiracies against Turks and other Muslims that when they hear a term like “Black Friday,” they can imagine only something sinister.
This anti-Western attitude has deep roots in Turkish society, as various political camps from nationalists to Marxists to Islamists have long believed in covert Western schemes to weaken, destabilize and divide the nation. Still, the Turkish affinity for conspiracies has never been as cultivated and orchestrated as it is now under Erdogan.
Since he ostensibly became convinced of a Western plot to topple him during the Gezi Park protests of June 2013, Erdogan has interpreted every obstacle on his path as part of a coordinated scheme by a mysterious “mastermind.” This view has been relentlessly promoted by his giant propaganda machine, which now makes up the majority of Turkish media. Worse, the propaganda seems to reflect genuinely held convictions of the new ruling elite.
The sheer craziness of minds on Islam can be seen in this fury over “Black Friday.” First, let’s keep clearly in mind where the modern use of the term comes from. At history.com we find this:
Back in the 1950s, police in the city of Philadelphia used the term to describe the chaos that ensued on the day after Thanksgiving, when hordes of suburban shoppers and tourists flooded into the city in advance of the big Army-Navy football game held on that Saturday every year. Not only would Philly cops not be able to take the day off, but they would have to work extra-long shifts dealing with the additional crowds and traffic. Shoplifters would also take advantage of the bedlam in stores to make off with merchandise, adding to the law enforcement headache.
By 1961, “Black Friday” had caught on in Philadelphia, to the extent that the city’s merchants and boosters tried unsuccessfully to change it to “Big Friday” in order to remove the negative connotations. The term didn’t spread to the rest of the country until much later, however, and as recently as 1985 it wasn’t in common use nationwide. Sometime in the late 1980s, however, retailers found a way to reinvent Black Friday and turn it into something that reflected positively, rather than negatively, on them and their customers.
Nothing to do with insulting Muslims, though I’m sure Recep Tayyip Erdogan would disagree. It’s“Black Friday,” of course, because Thanksgiving falls on a Thursday. And the day after Thanksgiving signals the start of the Christmas shopping season. Had Thanksgiving fallen on any other day of the week, there would never have been a Black Friday. Nothing sinisterly anti-Islam about it. But once the hysteria about an anti-Islam “Black Friday” started in Turkey, appeals to common sense were in vain.
Turkish Muslims, are now ruled by a man who is given to fits of hysteria — Erdogan has described the Germans and the Dutch as “Nazis” because they forbade his men from campaigning among Turks in Germany and the Netherlands, has repeatedly called Israel, for its Gaza campaign, as “even worse than Hitler,” has predicted a European war coming between “the cross and the crescent,” and continues to denounce the United States for failing to hand over Fethulleh Gulen. Erdogan himself did not wade into the discussion of “Black Friday,” but with all around him doing so, we can assume he shared their suspicions of an anti-Muslim conspiracy. After all, as a major newspaper, Yeni Safak, put it, “they [the Infidel] especially chose the day that Muslims have declared as sacred.”
That “Black Friday” might be an intentional attempt to link the Muslim holy day with the powers of blackness is just the sort of thing Erdogan, with his over-the-top attacks on Germany, the Netherlands, Israel, and the United States, might well believe, but allow others, in this case, to speak for him.
His senior adviser Hamza Yerzlikaya certainly sounds as if he is channeling Erdogan:
“What is this Black Friday?” “Why Friday?” “Friday is a holy day of light and blessings.”
Yerlikaya suspected there was more to the U.S. post-Thanksgiving retail fest that meets the eye.
“What perception is being created on this special day?” he asked. “What operation is being carried out?”
The ludicrousness of the charge, given the history of when and where the term first came to be used, is telling. Apparently no Turkish journalist, or retailer, thought to spend a minute to research online the origin of the phrase “Black Friday.” No political figure in Turkey stepped forth to patiently answer Erdogan’s senior adviser’s dark suspicions.
There were calls for the removal of “Black Friday” ads by merchants. Turkish social media had many thousands expressing their alarm over this insult to Muslims. There were groups of protesters entering stores, ripping up “Black Friday” posters. What was notable was how over the top was the reaction of so many to this perceived slight to Islam. But Muslim societies are particularly prone to hysterical reactions. After all, if your faith discourages skeptical inquiry, and encourages the habit of mental submission, it is more likely that you may be more easily swayed by rumor and falsehood about imaginary “insults” to Islam. Which is exactly what happened in Turkey.
No doubt next year, Turkish merchants will be careful to avoid the term “Black Friday,” and either move the shop-till-you-drop day to “Black Saturday,’’ or not move it, but rename it as “White Friday.” This episode is one of so many that show the hypersensitivity of Muslim populations whenever they detect the slightest possibility of insults to Islam. These volatile populations are quick to take offense, slow to try to discover the truth, and not always mollified even when they do. Think of the Muslim mobs in Pakistan, for example, that are routinely whipped up by rumors of blasphemy by Christians, or by rumors of Ahmadis who may be trying to pass as Muslims. Think of those Muslims in Egypt who become inflamed over posts by Christians expressing their faith in God, posts that they interpret as “insults to Islam” — as here, and take out their fury by attacking Christian villages. Think of “moderate” Indonesia, where Muslim mobs, enraged at the news that elsewhere in the country, Christians have fought back against Muslim attackers, attack other Christian enclaves closer to home, as here.
But even if Turkish merchants, chastened by this year’s outcry, promise to abandon any “Black Friday” plans for next year, Erdogan can still use the perceived insult as part of his rhetorical war on the West. Why shouldn’t he, at the next meeting of the O.I.C., ask its members to share his outrage and take a pledge never to allow the observance of “Black Friday” in their own lands? And to take it one further step, he might ask that the members of the O.I.C. collectively demand that the Western countries stop using the term “Black Friday,” because, he claims, it is demeaning, wherever it is used, to Islam and to Muslims worldwide. I can hear Erdogan now: “Why should we allow others to link our holy day to blackness? Even if we were to believe, and I am very doubtful, their story that “Black Friday” was never meant as an insult, what counts is surely how we experience it. Why must Muslims suffer for the sake of what is nothing more than an ad campaign? Why can’t those who in do not share our faith, are unable to be nourished by it, in Europe and America, at least cease to be indifferent to our feelings? Is it really asking too much, after centuries of colonialism, to ask our crusaders to choose another day of the week to offer their own peoples, whipped up into a frenzy by non-stop advertising, in some cases waiting all night outside stores so as to rush in first when the doors open and grab what they can, finding the summit of their happiness not in spiritual matters, as we Muslims do, but in ‘getting a bargain.’ We Muslims do not mock or insult them; we have no ‘Black Sunday’ and never will, but then, in Islam we respect all religions. And that same respect is all we ask of them.”
When put that way to fellow Muslims — especially with that appeal to the supposed superior “spirituality” of Islam — it might work. As for Infidels, I can see them willing to make all kinds of sacrifices to placate Muslims, but there are limits. When shopping is involved, I can’t imagine anyone in the Western world giving up Black Friday, just to please the likes of Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
First published in Jihad Watch.