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Islam and Politics ( 10 Jul 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Growing Salafi Influence in Turkey



By Hasan Kanbolat

July 08, 2014

Turks supported the Afghan Mujahids in their fight against the Soviet invaders in 1979.

Young Turkish people were particularly excited by the adventures of Rambo in Afghanistan. However, nobody knew at the time that hybrid Salafism was the main ideology of the Taliban who were being trained in Pakistan to wage war against the Red Army. For the Turkish people, the Taliban were holy warriors. Turkey did not concern itself with the fact that hybrid Salafism was the ideological foundation for those who committed the Sept 11 attacks. And nor did it pay attention to the delivery of CDs, brochures and pamphlets in the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion by the US in 2003, describing how to make bombs, and to the growing influence of al-Qaeda in this country, because it was as if these incidents were taking place in another galaxy.

The Syrian civil war in March 2011 proved that Turkey was not living in a separate galaxy. However, Ankara remained optimistic that the civil war would end within a few months. For this reason, the entire Sunni armed opposition was supported without heed to the ideological orientation of different factions. And today, Turkey’s approach to the ongoing civil war in Syria is pretty clear: “Anybody could take control in Syria; the only thing we need to concern ourselves with is that they should not be active in our territories.” Will Turkey’s indifference to Salafi organizations and groups protect it from the vicious cycle of hybrid Salafi terror and violence?

Hybrid Salafism in Turkey

The ongoing turmoil in Syria and Iraq exacerbates the security problems on the southern border of Turkey, where instability reigns. Non-state actors now hold control this area, creating de facto states. The emergence of Kurdish cantons in northern Syria, referred to as Rojawa (Western Kurdistan) by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the consolidation of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), domination and power in Iraq and some parts of Syria, and the expansion of Iraqi Kurdistan in Iraq, as well as its ambition for independence confirm that Turkey’s southern borders are being redefined.

It would be naive to think that the two Kurdistans on the southern borders of Turkey and a second Saudi Arabia in the same area will not affect Turkey. This refers to a probable Afghanisation of Iraq after Syria and Pakistanisation of Turkey. When will the Turks who have been bystanders to the developments so far wake up to the realities?

Turkey is now being affected by the recent developments along its southern borders. Thousands of young people from Turkey fight on the side of ISIL. A hybrid Salafi-jihadist ideology has gained popularity among young Turks in recent years. It is reported that ISIL enjoys a great deal of support among those in the southern cities of Turkey. We need to pay attention to what sort of life young people from not only Turkey, but also the West, who join ISIL would create in Turkey because most of these youngsters will prefer staying in the Middle East or Turkey rather than the West. What would hybrid Salafi violence target in Turkey?

Because their ideology claims to offer an alternative to the existing system, hybrid Salafis may target public buildings, head or branch offices of political parties, the shopping malls which are the new temples of the middle class (al Shabab committed a massacre at Westgate mall in Nairobi, capital of Kenya in September 2013), and Alevis, as they are considered non-Sunnis.

West Gives ‘One-Way Ticket’ To Salafi Jihadists

Unlike Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq are not quite so far removed from the West, and yet they are not so affected by Western influence. They have been integrated with the world for quite a long time. While the population of Syria is 25 million, there are also 40 million other Syrians outside the country. More than half of these people live in the West. The West is particularly terrified because it hosts such a large population of Syrians as well as Salafi-Jihadist young people.

For this reason, Western countries ask young people they view as prone to join the Salafi-jihadist groups to leave and never return. These people travel on a one-way ticket, anyway, so they do not intend to return to their country of origin. In other words, the European states seek to make sure that Turkey, which allows these radical young people transit to the Middle East, will never let them return to Europe again. As part of this, Turkey will be asked to carry out a struggle against a hybrid Salafi terror spreading from Syria and Iraq to the West and to fight in the name of the West. Such a possibility may take Turkey hostage in the future.

Turkey Is Not Aware Of the Approaching Danger

Conservative intellectuals, politicians and bureaucrats in Turkey act leniently towards Islamist groups around the world. They view the world as black and white, bad and good. Thus, they fail to see the hybrid organizations of the 21st century, the asymmetric war and organizational structures as well as the different tones and colors. For this reason, they are unaware of the sources and gravity of approaching dangers. The positioning of the army reveals that the state organization and structure in Ankara is stuck in the Cold War. The army is stationed in the West (Aegean, Marmara and Thrace) in Turkey. This is the result of assumptions based on the legacy of the Cold War era that Greece and Bulgaria are the main threats. This indicates that Ankara fails to appreciate the threat along its southern borders.

To combat Salafi terror, alternative ideologies should be supported, and the Salafi ideology should be put on the political stage. The best alternative to Salafism is Sufism and traditional Islam. Turkey also needs to benefit from the Pakistan experience due to its struggle with instability in Afghanistan. For this reason, the West, Russian Federation and Muslim world should create a mechanism of cooperation to deal with Salafi terror and violence and its ideological basis.