Erdoğan is a firewall against radical Islam
Migration issues expert Professor Murat Erdoğan once told me that many migrant communities resent their host countries.
“All migrants in Europe harbor some kind of anger, whether justified or unjustified, towards the communities in which they live. Turks resent Germany and Moroccans resent France,” he told me in an interview.
This anger has a potential to radicalize, turning some into terrorists who join vicious groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The phenomenon of Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTF) has been defined as “individuals who travel to a state other than their state of residence or nationality for the purpose of the perpetration, planning or preparation of, or participation in terrorist act.” FTFs have come to pose a serious threat, especially in the wake of the Syrian civil war.
Over 25,000 foreigners went to fight in Syria between the start of the civil war in 2011 and September 2016, according to a report from the U.N. counter terrorism office.
This issue has been a cause for concern for European countries, not so much for the violence they perpetrate in the Middle East but for the threat they might pose on their return.
According to a report from the International Center for Counter Terrorism based in The Hague, the majority of European FTFs come from Belgium, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. These countries harbor substantial immigrant communities. When the FTF phenomenon began making headlines in the Syrian war, I started asking European diplomats about the number of Turkish FTFs in their countries. Each time, they said the numbers were insignificant.
In other words, Turks living in European countries are less likely to become radicalized. That might not be because they are fond of their host country. On the contrary, as professor Erdoğan said, Turks are normally angry with their host society.
Several factors prevent such anger from morphing into radicalization. The first is language. European governments, especially the German and Dutch, often criticize Turks for not being enthusiastic learners of their host country’s language and for maintaining Turkish roots at the expense of integration. But this same obstinacy has also sheltered them from radical Islamist groups that recruit in Arabic.
The Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DİTİB), which is the German branch of the Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet), acts as another firewall. The DİTİB should be given credit for obstructing the penetration of Wahhabi radical teachings in German-Turkish communities, even if its activities frequently stir controversy in Germany.
The German government is critical of the DİTİB, which it sees as an arm of the Turkish government. But it also seems to acknowledge its role as radicalization-preventer. Germany hopes to coordinate with the DİTİB in the Balkans to fight radical movements, according to my sources in the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
European communities resent the Turks’ conservative way of life. In conservative families, parents are more active in their children’s lives, to say nothing of neighborhood watch.
I believe you can add another reason to this list: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. When Moroccans or Pakistanis consider their homelands, they see autocracies walking hand-in-hand with Western powers. They see a patron-client relationship. In their eyes, the governments of their home countries are no different from the host countries they resent.
That is not the case with Turkey and Erdoğan. He is a leader of the only Middle Eastern country on the same playing field as Western powers. He is a leader who they see defying and challenging Western leaders. He recently headed criticism of the U.S. over its decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
It may seem counterintuitive, but Europeans should not disregard this aspect of Erdoğan.