A part-time jihadist

A part-time jihadist

Last week, I, because of an article, and a colleague at Today’s Zaman, because of a tweet on the same subject, unwillingly angered Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. In fact, “jihadist Erdoğan” was one of the slogans merrily shouted by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s supporters at a public rally, and received by him with smiles and thanks. I wrote: “One could have gone to jail for calling Mr. Erdoğan a jihadist hero. Fortunately, his party loyalists have now perfectly legitimized that description - Jihadist Erdoğan (‘Jihadist Erdoğan,’ this column, Jan. 1, 2014).” But Minister Davutoğlu disagrees.

And he does not only disagree. He told a TV interview, without naming names, why I and my colleague had called Mr. Erdoğan by the name that the prime minister greeted with smiles and thanks: “This is the crusader’s mentality. Or a reflection of the neo-orientalist mentality. This is an explicit attack, not only on the prime minister, but also on the Islamic civilization and faith.”

Furthermore, “It is an assault,” Mr. Davutoğlu asserted, “to cause our prime minister to be mentioned by a different code, especially by translating that word [the original Turkish word – ‘mücahit’] into English as ‘jihadist.’”

Any dictionary would give you either “jihadist,” “mujaheed” or “Islamist warrior” for the (originally Arabic) Turkish word “mücahit.” We certainly have a difficult but equally amusing situation here: It is a compliment to call the prime minister by an adjective, but an explicit assault on him and the whole Islamic civilization by referring to him with the only possible English translations of the same adjective.

If Mr. Davutoğlu would prefer “mujaheed” or “Islamist warrior” instead of “jihadist,” I should apologize. But I do not think this is a case of “lost in translation.” What is it then? I am trying to find out.

Why would, say, someone take it as a compliment if crowds called him a “communist” (or any –ist, for that matter) in a local (non-English) language, but get annoyed when journalists called him a communist (in English)? Would there be any logic in such behavior? Is the problem about being a jihadist? No. I have known hundreds of proud Arab jihadists who love to be called jihadists. What makes the case of a “Turkish jihadist” unique, then? Could the problem be about being called a jihadist in English only?

The pragmatic and shrewd Turkish jihadist (and I don’t implicate anyone here) is programmed to maintain a delicate equilibrium where he feels that he maximizes political benefits: He loves to be called a jihadist at home and on the Arab Street, but not on the Western Avenue. He is, instinctively, a part-time jihadist, playing the jihadist at home for domestic consumption and the blessed peacemaker in front of major world powers.

Mr. Davutoğlu inquired: “Why should he (Mr. Erdoğan) not be called a ‘mücahit?’” His Excellency: We did not call your prime minister a jihadist. It was his party fans, and the dictionaries did not give us many choices in translating the word into English (I wish Thesauruses gave us the options “humanist” or “environmentalist” for “mücahit,” but it did not). We have no objection to how Mr. Erdoğan’s loyalists call him. It’s their choice – as long as the prime minister is happy. Similarly, we can have no objection (save for our shy smiles) when the same supporters greet him in shrouds – they can greet him in any attire they deem appropriate. Just don’t accuse us of being part of an international conspiracy because we translated “kefen” into English as “shroud.”

All the same, your description of us couple of journalists was disappointing in one respect. Do you think we are only crusaders and neo-orientalists? Where is the Zionist linkage? Your analysis into our motives for calling the prime minister precisely as how his supporters called him was incomplete without the fancy touch of the miracle word “Zionist.”

By the way, I am a “köşe yazarı,” but don’t call me a “columnist.” That would be an explicit assault on myself and journalism. And it would make you a neo-orientalist crusader.