By Ceylan Ozbudak
3 January 2015
You don’t “get it,”’ said a Turk to an American.
‘Why wouldn't you kill those who desire to kill you?’ protested the American.
‘You have to disarm his mind, and he will drop his weapon. If you kill him, you fuel his grievances and his ideology produces more terrorists.’
I have witnessed conversations like the above on countless occasions. Sometimes the modern West and many of its citizens do not understand the deep appeal of a religious fraternal spirit, the deep impact of ideology, and the power of conviction despite the apparent, statistical fact that radicalism is only fuelled by military solutions. Our enemies are not all born psychopaths, but at some point they were convinced to be so – and they can be convinced otherwise. The real challenge is getting inside the minds of the violent. In order to achieve this, we do not have the luxury to have the governments behave as violent actors.
The year 2014 was the centenary of WWI, which led to the European powers carving up Ottoman lands. Not only was the 650-year-old Ottoman Empire dismantled, but that ‘Great War’ was marketed to the world as the ‘war to end all wars’, nothing could be further from the truth. Wars do not end wars. Weapons, which were built for destruction and misery, cannot bring peace and prosperity. Violence breeds violence. It is diplomacy, understanding, reconciliation and peace making that ends wanton violence. In this, Turkey has actively pursued the path of persistent, principled peace, and avoided drone attacks and wars.
Pope Francis, Vladimir Putin, Hassan Rowhani, NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg, American VP Joe Biden were some of the leaders who visited Turkey in 2014. It is a fact that when it comes to diplomacy, Turkey has insight and experience. The 49 Turkish hostages held by ISIS in Mosul in 2014 were not beheaded or killed. In the meantime, Turkey delivered aid to the Peshmerga without announcing it; despite awful Western press propaganda that Turkey was doing nothing to help the Kurds in the area.
This alone is testament to Turkey’s back-channel diplomacy, maturity in the face of false propaganda, skill in understanding the mindset of the extremists and the major tribes in the vicinity.
Iraq and Afghanistan
Remember when the U.S. decided to invade Afghanistan in 2001 then Iraq in 2003 and asked Turkey to be a part of the process, Turkey saw a much different picture and stayed out of it - despite overwhelming pressure - and warned the U.S. and the UK about the consequences of such an action. Saddam was a dictator and he had to go, but this wasn’t the way to do it. Today as the region burns in flames, we are all forced to discuss the wisdom and foresight behind those invasions. From this process, Turkey emerged as a trustworthy actor, a solid diplomatic force on the table and a trade partner.
On the issue of Iran, where the Western allies of Turkey have long applied economic sanctions, Turkey has been trading Turkish liras for oil and natural gas, which Iran could use to purchase Turkish gold, in order to keep the regime afloat. The U.S. could not understand why a NATO ally would not cooperate; yet again, Turkey saw a bigger and broader picture. Apart from the ancient friendship Turks and Persians share, Turkey knew that Iran was subject to change and that more moderate elements were rising into positions of power. Turkey understood Iranian politics better than the U.S. and knew a brighter day might well be on the horizon. Turkey kept Iran close, mediated to find a peaceful solution to Western complainants. Today, Iran still needs to undergo many fundamental changes but at least we have a regime, which celebrates Hanukkah of the Jews and the Christmas of the Christians, which can at least talk about acceptance, dialogue and renovation.
The ‘War to End all Wars’ gave us the Second World War, and a whole raft of subsequent conflicts, not least of which was the Cold War, created civil wars and proxy armies. It should be quite obvious that we must change course and simply stop thinking that more wars and further loss of life in Syria, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq or South Sudan will offer stability or peace. Even though the world is spending a fortune on the military war on terror, terrorism related deaths have increased five-fold since 2000, proving that this way of fighting terror simply does yield results. Turkey has its fair share of terrorist threats from the communist terror group PKK, but they are not targeted en masse because we do not regard human lives as collateral damage, and we do not believe in killing people for their aspirations and ideas; instead, we must engage in the more sophisticated work of changing their minds and altering their modus operandi. Countering their ideology through books, conferences and candid information are important means of changing minds.
Recently, Jonathan Powell wrote a powerful book entitled ‘Talking to Terrorists’: As a person who knows first-hand the limitations of military power, Powell’s message of changing the minds of terrorists is pertinent, but similarly, governments must understand that we cannot kill our way out of terrorism and warfare. Politicians often forget that leadership involves more than making speeches. People need to be led by hearts as well as minds if they are to give their best. We have to talk with and dissuade our enemies. In this endeavour, Turkey can be an experienced ally.
Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. As a representative of Harun Yahya organization, she frequently cites quotations from the author in her writings.