Poll’s finding on Islam and violence should ring alarm bells

Poll’s finding on Islam and violence should ring alarm bells

“We have been following with great concern what is happening at the Fatih Mosque in Istanbul,” a Western diplomat told me, in reference to demonstrations of support of the Kouachi brothers who attacked the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last month.

The diplomat was referring to the group who had gathered for funeral prayers for the Kouachi brothers - after the attack that killed 12 people - carrying banners reading “We are Cherif Kouachi” and “We are Said Kouachi.”

According to an opinion poll conducted in Turkey by the Metropoll research company last month, 56 percent agreed that Charlie Hebdo (which published the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad) had insulted the Prophet, but said it was wrong for them to be killed. However, 20 percent of respondents said they had “got what they deserved” for insulting the Prophet. Only 16 percent said the Charlie Hebdo killings were an attack on freedom of expression.

The demonstrations in support of the Kouachi brothers substantiate the findings of the Metropoll report. Some 73.6 percent of those polled said they were against the use of violence in the name of Islam, while 20 percent said they would condone “the use of violence in the name of Islam in certain instances.” In another poll conducted last September, the latter figure was 13 percent. In Metropoll’s January poll, 34 percent of AKP voters said they would condone the use of violence in the name of Islam in certain instances.

The presence of a group that sympathizes with cruel killers is worrying. The fact that 20 percent of people in Turkey believe the victims got what they deserve is even more worrying, as this is no small amount. But there is another point that is even more terrifying. Let’s assume that this number was, for example, less than 10 percent. That would not minimize the terrifying fact that some in Turkey found the courage to go onto the street carrying banners that essentially said, “You have done the right thing by killing them.”

This is incitement to violence, and normally it should be punishable by law.

We have a president who loves talking at every occasion on nearly all subjects. But not one word was uttered to condemn those who openly showed their sympathy to those who claim to be killing in the name of Islam.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan tells us when we should get married, how many children we should have, why we should quit smoking, and what type of bread we should eat.

When the Charlie Hebdo attack took place, he condemned the killings in written statement. When he spoke, he chose to put the blame not on radical Islamists, but on the Islamophobic Europeans.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu attended the march in Paris organized in support of the victims. He said the attack had nothing to do with Islam. So, you would expect him to condemn those in Turkey who supported the attack. Nope. Not a word.

Davutoğlu then followed in the steps of Erdoğan, and after his initial statements he also started to talk about Islamophobia within the context of the Charlie Hebdo killings.

When you hear anti–Western rhetoric from the top two officials in Turkey, you should not be surprised by another finding of the January poll, which shows that while only 31 percent believe that the attack was carried out by a radical Islamic group, 44 percent believe it was carried out by foreign intelligence agencies. Some 56 percent of ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) voters believe the attack was carried out by foreign intelligence groups.

Giving credit to conspiracy theories is nothing new in Turkey. But when the country’s leaders talk, it is one thing to resort to anti-Western rhetoric to boost their popularity, it is another thing entirely to remain silent to those who openly support cruel murderers.

Both the president and the prime minister have also attacked the Cumhuriyet newspaper for publishing Charlie Hebdo’s most recent issue in solidarity with the magazine. The paper actually refrained from publishing the caricature of the Prophet Muhammad, but this did not save it from the fury of Erdoğan and Davutoğlu, as two of its columnists chose to print it with their columns. Upon the reaction of the president and the prime minister, prosecutors were quick to open an investigation into the two columnists. Meanwhile, to my knowledge no action has been taken against those in the Fatih Mosque.

That is why the Turkish leadership’s rhetoric of disassociating Islam from violence is not found at all convincing.