31 August 2016
On March 31, 2016, Newsweek published a piece entitled, “It’s Impossible to Beat ISIS with Erdoğan in Power”. The author, MICHAEL RUBIN, a Middle East expert, made the point that Erdoğan’s refusal to recognize those who justify violence through religion both increases Turkey’s own vulnerability to attacks and also cheapens its broader counterterrorism effort.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the 12th President of Turkey continued to live in denial of the radical Islamism’s onslaught on the world. He did not accept it even when the “Islamic State” jihadists 49 Turkish diplomats and truck drivers in Mosul, Iraq and rather bent over backward to avoid calling them terrorists.
But, after the Turkish wedding attack perpetrated by an IS-linked minor suicide bomber killing 54 people, including 39 children, the Turkish President has vowed to ‘completely eliminate the Islamic State militants from its border region’. At a news conference in Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said using an Arabic name for the ISIS: "Daesh should be completely cleansed from our borders and we are ready to do what it takes for that".
Though ISIS did not claim the responsibility for the wedding attack, it had previously claimed to have “covert units” in Turkey. Given this, the Turkish government’s pledge to strike the Islamic State and its terrorism is solicited in the country.
But the Turkish President needs to ponder how he can counter the ISIS and its violent jihadist ideology when he himself displays an Islamist-caliphate mindset and even supports outfits with the political Islamist ideology. No counter-terror strategy can stem the tide of the global terrorism— championed by the self-imposed Islamic caliphate— by just vowing to eliminate the terrorists and ranting against them.
In fact, the ideology of all the radical Islamist movements across the region is the same. It is distressing to note that the Turkish President endorses the political Islamist movements like the Ikhwan al-Muslimun (Muslim Brotherhood) and Rabita al-Alam al-Islami (The Muslim World League) – a pan-Islamist movement massively funded by the Saudi government to expand the Salafi-Wahhabi network. More to the point, Erdoğan even soured its relations with the new Egyptian government which launched a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and banned the books of Sayyid Qutb, Hasan al-Banna, Shaikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi and all other ideologues of the Muslim Brotherhood, accusing them of fomenting ideological extremism among the Muslim youths. Notably, the Egyptian Ministry of Religious Endowments has removed Muslim Brotherhood’s literature from mosques, madrasas and libraries across the country.
But, instead of emulating the Egyptian government’s committal and uncompromising stance on the radical Islamism, Erdoğan lends support to the Muslim Brotherhood and its extremist ideologue and Qatar-based Salafist televangelist Shaikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi. No wonder then, since Erdoğan’s victory in the last presidential elections in Turkey, al-Qaradawi has been singing praises for him declaring Istanbul as the “capital of the Islamic caliphate”.
Recently, al-Qaradawi wrote a letter of allegiance to the Turkish President Recent Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as president of the World Federation of Muslim Scholars. In the wake the failed coup in Turkey, he tweeted in Arabic:
الله معك، وكل الأحرار في العالم معك، ونحن علماء الأمة الإسلامية معك..والملائكة بعد ذلك ظهير
(“Allah is with you [O Erdoğan], and the righteous believers in the world are with you. We all Islamic scholars support you, while the all angels are your backers”).
Clearly, this is a politically motivated use of the religion to earn Erdoğan support of the global Muslim community. It inspired many of the Muslim Brotherhood’s supporters in the region to elevate the Turkish President to the highly revered position of “the promised Imam Mahdi”, or the awaited messiah who is believed to emerge in the end time as saviour of mankind from the clutches of evil. “Turkey is the ‘mother of the world’ and Erdoğan is the ‘awaited Mahdi'”, tweeted an avowed supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, Dr Jasim Khalfan who tweets at @Dr Jasim Khalfan.
As a matter of fact, Erdoğan emerged as the regional supporter and promoter of the Muslim Brotherhood’s international network since the 30th June revolution in Egypt. He hosted several planning meetings held by the MB against the new Egyptian government. In an article published by Al-Arabiya Institute for Studies, Mohammad Abdel Kader notes that, “Turkey’s defence of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the tears of RecepTayyip Erdoğan when the Egyptian security forces attempted to storm the sit-in of Rabaa al-Adawiya, proved Erdoğan’s ties with the Muslim Brotherhood’s international organization and their mutual interest in restoring “the era of Islamic rule,” seen by the Brotherhood as the basis for protecting “the Islamic nation.”
If Turkey is truly serious about its pledge to combat the ISIS, it should first disassociate itself with the radical Islamist movements. Instead, Turkish government is battling the Hizmet movement, an educational, humanitarian and dialogue-oriented NGO which advocates a pluralistic, dialogic and progressive Islam. Thus, the Turkish President is hell-bent on curtailing a sane and moderate Muslim voice which is abysmally minimal in the Islamic world today. On the other hand, Turkey is welcoming the political Islamist hardliners with open arms. A strong case in point is Yusuf al-Qardawi’s staunch support for the Turkish President Erdoğan glorifying him as “ameer-ul-mominin” (the chief of the believers) and “an Islamic leader gaining support from heaven, angels and Allah”.
Notably, Qaradawi is also the contemporary ideologue of the Egyptian-origin political Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, which was conceptualised and championed by Hassan al-Banna in 1949 and Sayyid Qutb in 1966.
Furthermore, al-Qaradawiis the first contemporary Islamic scholar who sought to justify the jihadists’ suicide-bombing in his worldwide exposure via Al-Jazeera television, through his weekly program “Sharia and Life” (al-Shari’awal-Hayat). He also reaffirmed his statement in 2004 in his interview with BBC television:
“Allah Almighty is just; through his infinite wisdom he has given the weak a weapon the strong do not have and that is their ability to turn their bodies into bombs as Palestinians do.”
In his talk with Al-Jazeera, Al-Qardawi went to the extent of saying that “he was not alone in believing suicide bombings in Palestinian territories as legitimate form of self-defence for people who have no aircraft or tanks”. “Hundreds of other Islamic scholars are of the same opinion”, he said.
But it was the Turkish moderate scholar Fathullah Gulen who debunked this virulent viewpoint. He came up with a hard-hitting refutation of the radical Islamists’ theological justification of suicide bombings underpinned by the present-day political Islamist ideologue Shaikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who fervently supports Erdoğan. Rebutting al-Qardawi’s justification of suicide bombings, Gulen wrote:
“Apparently, Qaradawi has said that this (suicide bombing) is legitimate in Islam since they (Palestinians) have no other weapons to use. I was deeply saddened when I heard this statement by Yusuf al-Qardawi (b.1926) because he, like Ratib al-Nabulsi (b.1938), Saeed Ramadan al- Buti (d.2013) and Hassan al-Turabi (b.1932) is well-known in the Muslim world. These are not average people; they are well-known. When they speak, it is as if they speak on behalf of Islam and, as a result, Islam is negatively impacted by this statement. How can he legitimise such an act? On what Islamic rule or principle does he base this opinion? That does not mean I am suggesting that we remain indifferent to what is happening there – I die with every person I see dying in those lands. But this form of action is not in accordance with the “pleasure of God” or with reason.’
Such thoughts of Fathullah Gulen are practical examples of genuine counter-extremism. It shows that Gulen is a moderate Turkish Islamic scholar battling takfirism, political Islamism and violent jihadism living in self-exile. But the religious justification of suicidal violence underpinned by Shaikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the political Islamist ideologue fervently supporting Erdoğan is alarming.
Erdoğan cannot fight a war on ISIS with his binary approach towards violent extremism. He first needs to tackle the ideological sympathizers of political Islamism— Yusuf al-Qaradawi and his ilk who influence the extremist religious goons in the Muslim world. At the same time, he must stop his crackdown on the moderate and progressive scholars and free thinkers in the country. By backing the political Islamists and persecuting the moderates, it cannot rescue the country from the creeping extremism.
Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a scholar of Comparative Religion, Classical Arabic and Islamic sciences, cultural analyst and researcher in Media and Communication Studies.
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