Calling a terrorist a terrorist
No doubt, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has an absolutely legitimate point when he says that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is a terrorist organization. His complaint is also perfectly legitimate that a pro-Kurdish political party with parliamentary seats equal to that of a nationalist Turkish party meticulously refrains from saying what the PKK is. But, as always, he has a problem about even the simplest norms of consistency.
Last week, Mr. Erdoğan spoke of Selahattin Demirtaş, leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP): “One should ask this person [Mr. Demirtaş]: Can you declare as terrorist a terrorist organization that is declared terrorist by the United States and the European Union?”
Here, Mr. Erdogan brings an important jurisprudence into the often difficult political debate over who is a terrorist and who is not. In the president’s thinking, if an organization is on the U.S.’ and EU’s lists of terrorist organizations, that legitimately makes it a terrorist organization. Right? Right. Does Mr. Erdogan have a good point with this reasoning? He certainly does. All the same, it would have been nicer for his political position if he thought twice before offering this reasoning.
Here, your columnist is asking a question in the same plain language President Erdogan used: “Can the president declare as terrorist a terrorist organization that is declared terrorist by the United States and the European Union?”
He can. As long as it is the PKK. But there are other terrorist organizations on the U.S. and EU lists of terrorist organizations, like Hamas… (Despite a court ruling, the EU keeps Hamas on its terror list.) Could the president declare Hamas terrorist? Everyone knows the answer. He not only thinks that Hamas is a legitimate political party but also adores its ideology – which he no doubt fully shares.
Just like Mr. Erdoğan adores the “moderate” Islamists, the making of your prime minister’s “epic” Syrian policy. So, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are Islamists and Turkey’s ideological next of kin with guns and bombs in hand are “moderates.” What makes them moderate?
Is it that ISIL men ruthlessly behead infidels and moderates only execute them? That ISIL men release videos showing jihadist children beheading men and the moderates only recruit child soldiers? Or that ISIL’s jihadists kill en masse in lands they capture while moderates do not kill en masse because they are not powerful enough to capture the same lands? Is it that ISIL’s jihadists are Salafist jihadists and the moderates are just jihadists? What do the moderates think of the infidels, of Muslims drinking alcohol, of the other Muslims, like Shias? Or of gay people? Do the moderates respect other faiths and religious practices, including those Muslims who take the liberty to sin?
Mr. Erdoğan’s jurisprudence about the PKK being a terrorist organization because it is on U.S. and EU terror lists makes sense. His selectiveness about where and where not to apply this rule is self-ridiculing. A violent group of Kurds who kill in the name of a cause and appear on the West’s terror lists are terrorists but violent groups of Islamists and “moderate” jihadists who also kill in the name of a cause and appear on the West’s same terror lists are not terrorists. That is seriously problematic.
Mr. Erdoğan wants to play the sole legitimate international authority on deciding who is a terrorist and who is not. And he cannot empathize. He does not see that it is precisely for the same reason why millions of Kurds (and others) in the world do not view the PKK as terrorist but view Hamas and Mr. Erdoğan’s moderate Islamists as terrorists. It’s the same hypocritical rule that applies: Someone’s terrorist is someone else’s freedom fighter.
Sadly, both the president of the country and the leader of a party that has 80 seats in its parliament CANNOT “declare as terrorist a terrorist organization that is declared terrorist by the United States and the European Union.