As ISIL puts Turkey on enemy list and targets Istanbul
A video message by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) hit social media in Turkey on the morning of Aug. 18. In the video, a man in his mid-forties, an apparent ISIL commander in a typical Jihadist outfit and calling himself “Emir,” was speaking in fluent, urban Turkish without any apparent accent and calling people in Turkey to rise against the non-Muslim state in Turkey, denouncing Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and current President Tayyip Erdoğan as “evil” and asking Muslims to capture Istanbul from “atheists” and the “pawns of the crusaders.”
The fact that Atatürk and Erdoğan represent two different political understandings of modern Turkey, Atatürk being staunchly secular, patriotic and Western-oriented, Erdoğan highlighting Muslim characteristics rather than national one and Islamic world-oriented, did not matter for the - probably Turkish citizen - ISIL commander. The Turkish state was un-Islamic, so it had to be put down like all other un-Islamic ones.
It is not a surprise that the message came after the reveal of a deal between Ankara and Washington about Turkey’s opening up of its strategic Incirlik air base and also fully joining the U.S.-led coalition to fight ISIL in Syria and Iraq. Turkey had already put ISIL on its black list in 2013 but was criticized a lot in the West for turning a blind eye on ISIL’s recruitment of Western foreign fighters via its borders, because of Ankara’s main focus being the removal of Bashar al-Assad from power in Syria. Now, as Turkey takes a firmer position against ISIL, especially after an ISIL suicide bomber killed 33 people in the Turkish town of Suruç on the Syrian border on July 20, ISIL has sharpened its language against Turkey, and in Turkish, in order to not be misunderstood or misinterpreted.
The message coincided with a key speech by Mehmet Görmez, the head of Diyanet, Turkey’s top religious body to regulate relations between the state and religion, on Aug. 17. Addressing the muftis of all 81 provinces of Turkey in Ankara, Dr. Görmez, a professor of theology himself, said what movements like al-Qaeda and ISIL have been doing was “terrorism” and all good Muslims should unite against their deception. Because ISIL brutally uses weapons and religion as tools for their purpose, “Islam as a religion, culture and civilization is forced into an existentialist struggle,” Görmez said.
“This fact cannot be ignored as the provocations of ‘exterior conspirators,’” Görmez continued. “We have to ask ourselves: ‘What have we done wrong that those provocations had found ground?’” He was complaining that ISIL has started to deceive young Turkish Muslims into its ranks.
That was like an answer to remarks in the final report of The Ditchley Foundation conference on March 19-21, 2015, under the title “Global ambitions and local grievances: understanding political Islam.” The report said “The extremists themselves came from within today’s Muslim communities [...] Those Muslims who were violent extremists always said that they were acting in the name of Islam. Muslims could not just dodge that issue.”
Diyanet had actually issued a concise report a week ago, on Aug. 10, under the title “Aims, activities and Islamic understanding of the terrorist organization Daesh,” using its Arabic initials, like in most Western governments. The report now will be a reference for both Diyanet and Turkish government activities to struggle with ISIL, along with military and police efforts in coordination with the U.S.-led coalition and NATO partners.
Perhaps it could be asked what took Turkey so long to make that decision. On the other hand this is an unprecedented threat for the entire world, not only for the Islamic one, and security experts agree it would take a long time before it starts to descend.
But it can be easily said that following the Incirlik agreement, the Diyanet report and the ISIL threats against Turkey, the Turkish struggle against ISIL, inside and outside Turkey, is just beginning.