Turkey's Twin Terror Threat
01 Jul 2016
Turkey is at war with extremism on two fronts, religious and political. Denouncing this terrorism is not a sufficient response to the challenge the country faces.
Like millions around the world, I grieve in solidarity with Turkey. A place that played a key part in my personal religious journey is suffering again, this time in Islam's holiest month. Turkey, home of the majestic Blue Mosque, and resting place of the great Muslim love poet Mevlana Rumi, is now under monthly terror attacks.
The suicide bombings at Istanbul airport this week were only the latest.
Denouncing the terrorism that has befallen Turkey is not a sufficient response to the depth of the challenge the country now faces. Too often, our headlines and concerns are only about the spilling of blood and the lives lost. Our enemies then exploit our shock to further advance their bids on a toll of dead bodies. We owe it to the dead and the living not to be cowed by terrorism and go deeper into the root causes of which the violence is a tragic symptom.
We must recognise that violence is a strategy, not the ideology. Unless the ideas behind terrorism are refuted, then the violence continues to grow. That is why our governments and religious leaders in the West and inside the Muslim world must be more vocal and direct in rejecting the political goals of the terrorists.
There's a reason this is happening to Turkey. The country is at war on two fronts with extremists, both religious and political. The religious ideologues of ISIS and al-Qaeda are more typical of the conflicts of this century, while the violent Marxists of the PKK (the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party) are a throwback to the previous one. Taken together they represent a massive threat to Turkey's future.
ISIS and al-Qaeda, alongside the myriad of ideological affiliates, are sworn enemies of Turkey. They do not consider Turkey to be a sufficiently Muslim nation, abhor secularism, and despise Turkey's ties to the United States.
Of the seven previous major terrorist attacks that have occurred inside Turkey this year, ISIS is responsible for two incidents. In January and March 2016, ISIS suicide bombers killed a total of 17 people in Istanbul's Sultanahmet Square and Istiklal Street and authorities believe they were ISIS-related.
The remaining five attacks across the country in Ankara, Diyarbakir, and Midyat, which killed closed to 70 people, were believed to be carried out by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, or TAK, an offshoot of the PKK.
Who is responsible for killing almost 50 people this week, and wounding some 200? Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim suspects that this attack was the work of ISIS, and Turkish officials now say there is strong evidence that ISIS leadership was involved in the planning of the attack, but initially did not rule out the Turkish militants. Either group has yet to claim it. But both organisations seek to bring mortal harm to innocents in pursuit of political ends.
European governments must tell the PKK that they cannot carve out a Marxist homeland in the heart of the Middle East by forcefully taking territory from Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran. In a region riven by sectarian and jihadi conflict it is hard to imagine a more ludicrous and harmful political project, a relic from the last century.
In pursuit of this aim, they have killed over 40,000 Turkish nationals over three decades, including in terror attacks. Shamefully, they enjoy support in several European capitals, most prominently in Brussels. This kind of encouragement led to a British parliamentarian getting questioned in Turkey earlier this year. In contrast, the democratic Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq (KRG) rejects an alliance with the PKK and maintains excellent relations with Turkey.
We in the West must be forceful in supporting Turkey against the domestic insurgency it faces. Resounding silence and a reluctance to openly reject the nationalist separatist ideology serves only to ignore the cause of the terrorism.
Just as the West must condemn and reject the aims of the PKK, so must Muslims in Turkey and elsewhere refuse the da'wah (or "call") from Islamists and jihadists in the Middle East.
ISIS is only an outcome of a widespread extremist theology that calls for a distorted version of literalist sharia to be made law of the land. ISIS seeks control of governments in Muslim countries.
Muslim leaders in the Middle East cannot merely condemn ISIS' atrocities, while at the same time harboring sympathy for the trappings of an "Islamic State," such as, for example, the widespread condoning of sharia as state law.
And therein lies the problem. Mainstream Muslim scholars, such as the globally influential Shaikh Abdullah bin Bayyah, who reflect 1,400 years of Muslim learning, have repeatedly stated that a caliphate or an Islamic state is not a central aspect, or a pillar (rukn), of Islam.
But the modern, politicised Islamist activists nonetheless seek their utopian "Islamic State." Why? Islamists do not depend on scripture, but street power. They hold sway at university campuses, teachers' unions, and oppose Israel and Arab dictatorships. That heady cocktail of control is currently more attractive than sober, serene scholarship.
The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists dream of this eventual "Islamic state" mostly through non-violence, but the jihadis have taken up arms and created ISIS. In its protection and consolidation, they undertake further violence against enemies.
Make no mistake about it. Terrorism is on the increase globally and it is not random or accidental. There are determined political aspirations behind the men and women prepared to kill and be killed in the process to make their worldview supreme.
This is a battle of ideas.
But the solution is clear: To stop the violence, we must end the spread of their ideology by actively rejecting it wherever it raises its ugly head.
This article was first published on CNN.com