When we do and do not like colonialists

When we do and do not like colonialists

One of the commanders of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has reflagged itself to a more compact “Islamic State” (IS), has thanked Turkey for growing strong enough to conquer large swathes of Syria and Iraq.

To begin with, it is a nice gesture that the jihadists simplified their caliphate’s name; they must have noticed the worldwide confusion over acronyms like ISIS and ISIL. Secondly, it is good to know that the jihadists are not ungrateful barbarians; they know how to thank.

In an interview with the Washington Post on Aug. 12, the commander, who identified himself as Abu Yousef, said the IS received most of its supplies from across the Turkish border until a recent crackdown against the militant group.

“We used to have some fighters — even high-level members of the Islamic State — receiving treatment in Turkish hospitals. And also, most of the fighters who joined us in the beginning of the war came through Turkey and so did our equipment and supplies,” Yousef told the Washington Post. Good, the jihadists are not outright liars either.

And they have a sense of humor too: Yousef said it was no longer easy for IS members to cross the border and come to Turkey. The jihadist commander had come to Reyhanlı in southern Turkey to be interviewed by the Washington Post.  Maybe it was because of that irony the Washington Post’s article suggested Turkey’s recent measures could prove “too little, too late.”

The IS is a more recent entry into a list of Turkey’s old friends/new foes – the colorful list includes Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, Libya, the UAE, (interchangeably) Saudi Arabia, a rich menu of IS-like jihadist groups, the Shia government in Baghdad, Egypt and Hassan Nasrallah’s Lebanon. The list has the potential to grow further since Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s Turkey is no exception to the typical Middle Eastern malady of succeeding to build tactical alliances based on a common enemy, but almost always failing to build strategic alliances based on common well-being.

In a recent speech, Mr. Davutoğlu said, “We are working day and night to remove colonialists from the Middle East.” That effort is perfectly consistent with the minister’s long-held view, which he highlighted in his magnum opus, the 600-page “Strategic Depth.” In his book, Mr. Davutoğlu argues Muslim nations in the Middle East should ward off western powers from their backyard and resolve their problems themselves.

That’s a nice wish. All the same, in reality, it was Mr. Davutoğlu’s country that militarily supported a western allied force that toppled the Libyan regime; called for western military action against Mr. al-Assad; encouraged U.S. political intervention to stabilize the government in Baghdad and iron out its differences with the Iraqi Kurds; called for concerted western action to punish Egypt’s president who, eventually, was elected just like the man he had ousted (and with even a bigger slice of the Egyptian registered vote); knocked on NATO’s doors when it (presumably) felt threatened by Syria, and, most recently; gave a silent nod to U.S. air strikes on IS targets.

Mr. Davutoğlu should make up his mind at once if he does not wish to look, to put it mildly, deeply inconsistent. Do we want major western powers and colonialists in our backyard in this part of the world, or are we working day and night to get rid of them?

The frequent journey the Middle East’s Islamists make between two extremes, a deep hatred of “satan” and a pragmatic need for its services, is too startling not to notice.

A better (more realistic, more honest and less humiliating) rhetoric could be to say, “We don’t want major western powers and colonialists in our Muslim backyard – unless we need them to better fight our other Muslim brothers.” Of course, the part after the hyphen can always be read in three or four times a lower pitch.

To really ward off western colonialists, Turkey and all Muslim nations in the Middle East should at once build an Islamic NATO and an Islamic EU. Both would be fun to watch.