“We as Muslim Turks…”

“We as Muslim Turks…”

I was saddened when I read my sparring partner’s column and learned that he was put in a confinement room at Rafic Hariri International Airport and had to wait 10 long hours there before he was deported to Turkey because his passport contained a visa entry into Israel (How I got deported from Lebanon, Mustafa Akyol, Dec. 22, 2012). But I was also relieved because something worse could have happened. Only a few days after Mustafa was deported, the Turkish Embassy in Beirut issued a travel advisory, warning Turks against travelling to Lebanon.

I have no intention to spar with my sparring partner over an unfortunate incident he had to experience, and my sympathies for him about how he was treated by the Lebanese passport police are most sincere. We may often disagree or even spar but we are partners. And I found in his confinement room chronicles something very important.

“There is a larger picture that concerns me,” Mustafa wrote, “As a Muslim Turk whose sympathies are certainly with the Arabs in the Arab-Israeli conflict, I am deported and treated as a criminal not in Israel but in an Arab country.”

That can be a view shared by an overwhelming majority of Turks but when it also becomes the fundamental pillar of Turkish foreign policy it turns out we behave in the way we condemn others of when they do the same. I don’t mind if Mustafa or anyone else thinks that “as a Muslim Turk my sympathies are certainly with the Arabs in the Arab-Israeli conflict.” But I feel alarmed when very important men in Ankara think alike.

When religious adherence becomes the principal criteria with which we “take sides” in political disputes, we shall have no right to object when others do the same. I think it would be equally childish and dangerous for everyone if the Russian foreign minister formulated Moscow’s position along the line of, “We as Orthodox Russians should sympathize with the Greek Cypriots in the Cyprus dispute.” And is this not the same thinking we vehemently condemn when we claim the EU discriminates against Turkish membership because Turkey is Muslim? The “of course as a Muslim Turk...” reasoning legitimizes any European objection to Turkish membership on Christian vs. Muslim grounds. “We as Christian Europeans...”

That thinking could also have other practical problems in the complex world of international politics. It may fuel sectarian divides like it did in the Christian world in the past and as it does in the Muslim world today. Is this not why our sympathies are with the Syrian opposition since, “we as Sunni Muslim Turks...”

But what about conflicts between the same sects of the same religion? Or how should the adherents of a third religion feel about a conflict between two religions? How would the “as a Muslim Turk” thinking explain where Christians should stand in the Arab-Israeli conflict? Where should atheist, Hindu, Buddhist and Shinto states stand? And why did the pious Muslim Turk, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, sympathize with the Christian allied forces during Muslim Iraq’s occupation? What about the Jews who campaigned against Israel’s Gaza blockade? Should they have behaved along the lines of “we as Jews...”?

Politics, especially in the Middle East, has always been too complex to be explained with identities of nationality and religion. History is full of examples of bizarre alliances based not on common faith but sometimes the opposite. It is precisely for that reason why the “we as Sunni Muslim brothers” thinking has repeatedly failed to find peace between Turks and Kurds. If, in the case of common faith, we take out faith from the equation, what is left behind is that all Kurds should be thinking that “we as Kurds...” and unite against “them as Turks.” God forbid! It’s simple: If we don’t like that hooligan solidarity when others do it, we should not do it ourselves.

Never mind, Mustafa. One day you and I will go to Lebanon with Israeli stamps on our passports; the day when Ahmet Davutoğlu goes to the Palestinian capital of Jerusalem.