Can Islamic countries unite to fight terrorism?
The latest atrocity in Egypt by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has clearly shaken President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. This was apparent from his remarks about this attack against innocent Muslims attending prayers in a mosque on Nov. 24. In an unprecedented move, Ankara has even declared a day of mourning for those killed
“Daesh has shown its un-Islamic face with its cowardly attack in Egypt. How can we refer to these people as Muslims? They are murderers who have nothing to do with Islam,” Erdoğan said.
He then underscored the need for a “move against new terrorist formations in the region,” and speaking in the context of the attack in Egypt he must have been referring to “new formations” acting in the name of Islam.
In addition to Erdoğan’s remarks, Defense Minister Nurettin Çanikli was in Riyadh over the weekend for a meeting of the “Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition,” attended by defense ministers from 40 predominantly Muslim countries.
At the meeting, Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman, angered by the attack in Egypt, vowed that his country would eradicate the radical interpretation of Islam. “We will pursue it until it disappears completely from the surface of the earth,” he said, adding that “the greatest danger of extremist terrorism is in distorting the reputation of our tolerant religion.”
Salman’s speech followed his recent pledge to return Saudi Arabia to “moderate Islam.”
Erdoğan and the crown prince’s statements sit well on paper, but it is hard to dismiss the difficulties they will both face from within the Islamic world in this struggle.
The problem starts with Salman’s remarks about “moderate Islam.” These words riled Erdoğan, who has long insisted there is “only one” Islam. His supporters often refer to the idea of “moderate Islam” as a Western invention imposed on true believers and reject it.
The fact, however, is that Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, has moderate and radical faces. It cannot be denied that those acting in its name to commit atrocities believe they are the true Muslims.
Addressing this problem requires education, whether in Saudi Arabia, Turkey or elsewhere, in order to open minds up to what true Islam is and to prove that those using this religion for their radical purposes are fundamentally wrong.
But what we see instead are attempt to “relativize” atrocities committed in the name of Islam by claiming that the reason for these attacks should be sought outside the Islamic world.
We saw this again in Turkey after the terror attack in Egypt, when pro-government Islamist papers were quick to display knee-jerk reactions and claim that the U.S. and Israel were behind the attack.
Such religiously held beliefs will remain in circulation for a long time to come, unless education in the Islamic world is allowed to explain what is valid and what invalid as far as arguments about “Islamic terrorism” are concerned.
There is also the problem in the Islamic world of agreeing on who is a terrorist. For example, following Egypt’s lead, many Arab countries have declared the Muslim Brotherhood a dangerous terrorist organization.
Egypt arrested 29 people last week, accusing them of spying for Turkey and joining a terrorist organization, meaning the Muslim Brotherhood. That is unacceptable for Erdoğan and his supporters, who feel a close affinity to the Brotherhood.
The question is not whether this group is a terrorist organization or not, but the fact that many Arab regimes consider it to be so.
The bottom line is that it is all very well for 40 predominantly Muslim countries to get together and agree to fight against terrorism using the name of Islam. It is far from clear, however, whether all these 40 countries are on the same page in this regard.
If some key differences are not honestly ironed out, these countries are unlikely to achieve much in fighting radicalism.