Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

Cook examines developments in the Middle East and their resonance in Washington.

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Ankara on Paris: Disturbingly Equivocal

by Steven A. Cook
January 12, 2015

French President Francois Hollande is surrounded by head of states including (LtoR) Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Council President Donald Tusk, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah of Jordan and Queen Rania Al Abdullah as they attend the solidarity march (Marche Republicaine) in the streets of Paris (Yves Herman/Courtesy Reuters). French President Francois Hollande is surrounded by head of states including (LtoR) Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Council President Donald Tusk, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah of Jordan and Queen Rania Al Abdullah as they attend the solidarity march (Marche Republicaine) in the streets of Paris (Yves Herman/Courtesy Reuters).

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I have been reluctant to comment on the attacks in Paris. As with a whole host of people who have popped up on television to make sense of last week’s violence, terrorism and European Muslim communities are not my areas of expertise. There has also been so much excellent written commentary on the topic that even if I were inclined to write, I would not have much to add. That said, I find the Turkish leadership’s response to the events in France striking. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu took part in the solidarity rally in Paris on Sunday, but among the near universal denunciation of the Charlie Hebdo massacre and subsequent killings at the Hyper Cache market, the Turkish reaction was disturbingly equivocal. In a public statement after the assault on the magazine, the foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu declared, “Terrorism and all types of Islamophobia perpetuate each other and we stand against this.” It is hard to disagree. Islamophobia, of which there is much in Europe and the United States, is bad, and terrorism is bad. Both are scourges that need to be fought, albeit in different ways. And while Davutoglu was more direct in his condemnation, cloaked in Cavusoglu’s outrage against anti-Muslim bias and terrorism, the foreign minister was saying something else entirely: The people targeted specifically in the Charlie Hebdo attack were Islamophobes who brought Cherif and Said Kouachi on themselves, producing a cycle of more Islamophobia and thus more violence. More broadly, Cavusoglu was signaling that the West is to blame for terror because it is irredeemably anti-Islam.

Anyone who has been paying careful attention to Turkey understands that the foreign minister’s statement was calibrated and consistent with a message the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been hammering away at for some time. It is hard to tell whether the Turkish leadership believes what they are saying or whether it is invoked as a political strategy to keep the party’s core constituency mobilized. Either way it is dangerous. To be fair, the Turks are not completely wrong. Although American officials and members of Congress bristle at the idea, U.S. policy in the Middle East and South Asia has contributed to the radicalization of people who are at the other end—intentionally or otherwise—of the awesome firepower of the United States. For the Turks, however, the problem stops with the American/Western alleged war on Islam. They steadfastly refuse to recognize that there are some people like the Kouachi brothers, Amedy Coulibaly, and, apparently, Hayat Boumedienne who believe that they are engaged in a violent struggle in the name of Islam against what they believe to be unbelief, separate and apart from what the United States or the satirists of Charlie Hebdo are doing. Despite the outpouring of attention because 16 non-Muslims were murdered in Paris, the people who the Islamic State and al-Qaeda kill are overwhelmingly Muslim, including Ahmed Merabet, the police officer gunned down on the street in front of Charlie Hebdo’s offices. On the same day that the Kouachi brothers went on their rampage, al-Qaeda slaughtered thirty-seven people in the Yemeni capital Sanaa with a car bomb. Are all these dead Muslims Islamophobes?

For the longest time, there was a belief among analysts, government officials in the United States and Europe, and academics that Turkey, imbued with a tolerant and mystical variant of Islam, was “a moderate voice” of the Muslim world, as condescending as that sounds. Turkish officials would often make this claim to their Western interlocutors when making the case for Turkey’s EU membership. Now, officials in Ankara—well, at least the foreign minister—implicitly justifies murder based on something that is real, Islamophobia, but not actually a factor in the Charlie Hebdo or Hyper Cache murders. The cartoonists and editors at Charlie Hebdo may have harbored animus for Muslims, but it is hard to make the case that they were uniquely anti-Islam. According to the always-excellent Arun Kapil, they seemed most of all to dislike the combination of authority and hypocrisy. If the magazine did not exist, the perpetrators would likely have found other targets to attack in their war against non-believers.

It goes to show how far the AKP has moved Turkey from a self-proclaimed bastion of moderation and tolerance to impetuous and implicit defender of extremism by invoking Islamophobia. Contrast Foreign Minister Cavusoglu with the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. It is true that the Egyptian strongman has a significant amount of blood on his hands and is decidedly not above blaming the West and the United States for a litany of his own self-made problems. However, on December 28, Sisi gave a speech before Egypt’s clerical establishment at the famous al-Azhar University in which he called for introspection about “Islamic thinking,” and not Islam per se, that strikes fear in the hearts of non-Muslims. It may very well be that historically Islam is no more violent than other religions, but Sisi’s call for critical examination—though it is not clear he fully grasps what he is implying—is a lot more productive than declaring the West made the Kouachi brothers do it.

Post a Comment 5 Comments

  • Posted by Mahmoud Rateb

    IT IS INTERESTING THAT NO ONE CARED TO SHOW THE CORAAN”S VIEW.
    THE CORAAN ORDERS MOSLEMS IF THEY HEAR SOMEONE MAKING FUN OR MOCKING VERSES FROM THE CORAAN TO “NOT SIT WITH THEM UNTIL THEY CHANGE THE SUBJECT”
    BY ANALOGY ,THIS APPLIES TO ANYONE MOCKING THE PROPHET “PEACE BE UPON HIM”,
    THEREFORE THERE IS NO MENTION OF EVEN ARGUING WITH, LET ALONE KILLING SOMEONE FOR SUCH AN ACTION.
    FURTHERMORE A CIVILISED SOCIETY DOES NOT ALLOW ANY ONE TO MAKE FUN OF OTHERS’ BELIEFS UNDER THE BANNER OF FREEDOM OF EXPRESSIONS.
    THEREFORE,I AM NOT CHARLIE

  • Posted by Omerli

    Pathetic and sad Mr. Cook. I cede to no one in my opposition to this government but your pathetic attempts to show them as defending the horror that happened in Paris are beyond the pale. What you could have been and what you have become – a shrill and strident voice for Sisi just to oppose the AKP – only weakens Turkish democrats and exposes your unprincipled and opportunist stance. You could cave been so much better. Sad indeed. Still, though it helps to have useful opponents like you for the AKP, we will support your right to have your voice heard. At the end of the day we will triumph because we have a principled stance on freedom of thought and a secular polity. NOT because a lack of courage forced us to back track on our democratic ideals.

  • Posted by Chris

    Drawing a comparison between terrorism and Islamophobia is also equivocating.

  • Posted by Gautan

    President Al-Sisi of Egypt at Al-Azhar University, the most prestigious and ancient centre of Islamic learning, made a startling speech on December 28th 2014 also broadcast on Channel 1 of Egyptian TV. A substantial extract available on video ( http://www.memri.org/clip/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/4704.htm ) .

    “We spoke earlier about the importance of religious doctrine. I would like to reiterate that we are not doing enough with regard to true religious discourse. The problem has never been with our faith . Perhaps the problem lies in ideology (fikr) and this ideology is sanctified with us. I am talking about religious discourse that is in keeping with its times”

    ‘I am addressing the religious scholars and clerics. We must take a long, hard look at the current situation. I have talked about this several times in the past. We must take a long, hard look at the situation we are in. It is inconceivable that the ideology we sanctify should make our Umma a source of concern, danger, killing, and destruction all over the world. It is inconceivable that this ideology. . . .I am referring not to ‘religion’ (deen) ,but to ‘ideology’(fikr)—the body of ideas and texts that we have sanctified in the course of centuries, to the point that challenging them has become very difficult. . . .”

    “It has reached the point that [this ideology] is hostile to the entire world. Is it conceivable that 1.6 billion [Muslims] would kill the world’s population of seven billion, so that they could live [on their own]? This is inconceivable.

    I say these things here, at Al-Azhar, before religious clerics and scholars. May Allah bear witness on Judgment Day to the truth of your intentions, regarding what I say to you today. You cannot see things clearly when you are locked [in this ideology]. You must emerge from it and look from outside, in order to get closer to a truly enlightened ideology. You must oppose it with resolve. Let me say it again: We need to revolutionize our religion. . .”
    .
    “Honorable Imam [the Grand Sheik of Al-Azhar], you bear responsibility before Allah. The world in its entirety awaits your words, because the Islamic nation is being torn apart, destroyed, and is heading to perdition. We ourselves are bringing it to perdition.”

  • Posted by chuck

    @Mahmoud Rateb: I’d be interested to read those verses in the Qu’ran. Any chance you can post them here for us to read ourselves?

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