Turkey, G-20 and challenges of terrorism

Being a frontline state of Syria and Iraq, the international community expects Turkey to take concrete military action against ISIL, or Daesh, as it is called in Arabic. The international community has pledged its support to Turkey in carrying out the counterterrorist operations against Daesh, which has dismantled the territorial conception of the nation-state by establishing a caliphate in the contiguous parts of Iraq and Syria.

The US, Russia and, of late, France have already launched military air strikes against ISIL strongholds within Syria, however, without much significant gain. After all, one form of tribalism cannot be defeated by another form of tribalism. If 9/11 was a tribal action, the American response to the incident in the form of the invasion of Afghanistan was, at best, a tribal reaction that resulted in producing far more Islamic terrorists over a decade since 9/11.

The Russian and French militarily retaliation against ISIL is another version of American tribalism, albeit for different reasons, and hence would meet the same fate as the American one. To be precise, in all its violent reactions to terrorism in the name of the War on Terror, the West has lost much of its soft power and is lacking sufficient moral courage to effectively counter this menace — a minor tendency, though prevalent in all civilizations and cultures, and currently being manifested with its Islamic locale. Universalism, not tribalism, is the antidote to terrorism.

The term tribalism is used here to denote a “self-centered localized reason” and in no way refers to the lifestyle of any tribal group.

Western military action would cripple the coercive, logistical and financial capacity of ISIL. However, the ideas and conditions that gave birth to ISIL if not addressed adequately will continue to grow in different forms and organizational shapes, and in different places. Within the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, the turn towards Islamic radical ideology took place not on the account of the appeal of Islam, which remained a live reality in the form of inspiration, myths, social idioms and norms, identity and multilayered traditions, but in the context of the failure of secular states to address the social, economic and political concerns and the rising aspirations of middle-class youths. The Islamic terrorists multiplied and thrived in the conditions of a vacuum, destabilization, weak states and relative material deprivation — all accelerated by the Western tribal reaction of invasion — and sustained itself by the promise of a “good life” with the establishment of an Islamic state/caliphate in this world or by the achievement of “martyrdom” in another world.

Given this conjecture, how does Turkey respond to the emerging threat of ISIL? Does it have enough material resources and willpower to confront the menace that is ISIL? Under international pressure, Turkey has intensified its operations against ISIL, both in the name of protecting its ethnic brothers, the Turkmens, and to ward off any ISIL threat to Turkey in the future. However, Turkey is a reluctant player in the War on Terror game. Not so long ago, Turkey was suspected, in the eyes of the international community, of being the gateway for jihadists’ entry into Syria, as well as of arming and financing terrorist groups, including ISIL, as part of the Turkey-Qatar-Saudi Arabia axis against the Russian-Iranian-Hezbollah-backed Assad regime. For a long time, Turkey did not even list ISIL as a terrorist group.

Secondly, by lumping the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) with ISIL as terrorist groups, partly for the benefit of electoral gains in the recently concluded parliamentary election, Turkey has mainly focused its operations against the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the peshmerga forces who with the support of the US air military attack were/are instrumental in resisting the advancement of ISIL in Iraq and Syria, so as to cripple its capacity to form any Kurdish state along the Turkish border. Turkey considers the consolidation of the PYD and its potential to form a Kurdish state adjoining the Turkish border far more dangerous than the phenomenon of ISIL. In fact, towards this end, Turkey remained neutral over the prospect of ISIL taking over Kobani. As a result, Turkey is lacking a clear-cut national priority, strategy and doctrine in its fight against ISIL and often suffers from internal contradiction.

Third of all, Turkey, under the current Justice and Development Party (AKP) Islamist government, is itself, of late, displaying a caliphate vision of Muslim rule and thus is inherently capable of arresting the growing appeal of ISIL/Daesh among a section of Muslim youths. Both share an authoritarian, centralized and homogenized conception of “Islamic Order” vis-à-vis the “Other,” to which the degree may vary. As a party operating within the Islamist notion of things, the AKP has an inherent conceptual limitation to de-legitimize the violent politics of ISIL. The Erdogan regime is fully aware of a favorable opinion of a section of Turkish Sunni Muslims on ISIL and conducts its politics and military actions within this national limitation.

Finally, and probably the most important, is the fact that the Erdogan government is systematically delegitimizing and destroying the very material forces that are required in the long run to effectively counter the menace of terrorism. The Hizmet movement, with its chain of secular educational institutions and dialogue centers throughout the world, is one such authentic Islamic universal voice, represented by its spiritual mentor Fethullah Gulen.

Instead of securing the support of such an authentic Islamic voice, the Erdogan government, in its irrational fight to finish off the Hizmet movement, has gone to the extent of creating a fictitious terror organization called FETO (Fethullahist Terrorist Organization), by pointing to Gulen as one of the most wanted terrorists and illegally taking over Hizmet-inspired institutions and confining a good number of Hizmet volunteers on the grounds of being linked with FETO.

In this regard, the cynical use of discourse on terrorism by Erdogan’s government to silence critical voices has crossed all rationally defined boundaries of terrorism and, in turn, also demonstrates the hollowness of its political commitment to genuinely fight the phenomenon of terrorism. It is ironic that the international community led by the West has remained silent on the growing authoritarianism of the Erdogan regime and prefers to bargain for “authoritarian stability” in exchange for Turkey’s help in stemming the tide of Syrian refugees towards Europe and confronting the threat of ISIL.

However, it may be noted that terror and terrorism often grow under the fertile conditions of political authoritarianism, democratic deficit in governance and relative cultural and material deprivation. As Turkey is beset with its own internal problem of a falling economy and deep fault lines within its society, the democratic, populist, nationalist authoritarianism of the Erdogan regime would end up destroying state institutions and alienating more sections of society, which in turn would erode its moral, physical and political capacity to fight terrorism — both internal and external. Once this happens, one fears the return of the “Pakistanization of terror” in Turkey.

SOURCE: TODAY’S ZAMAN

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