This is not the way to fight terror

This is not the way to fight terror

Another act of terror hit Istanbul on Dec. 10, the officially designated U.N. Human Rights Day. Some 38 people, including 30 being police officers, were killed and 160 people were injured.

An hour-and-a-half after the end of a match between Beşiktaş and Bursaspor, a van loaded with explosives went off next to a police vehicle, which was also about to leave the area, outside the Beşiktaş stadium.

Just 45 seconds later, a second explosion took place. It was understood later that a suicide bomber had planned to mingle with the crowd rushing to help, detonate the explosives on him, and claim more lives. But when police asked to halt, he detonated himself early and was only able to kill four policemen and one civilian, together with himself.

The first statement about the causalities was made by Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu six hours later.

President Tayyip Erdoğan said the next day that the terrorists would be “wiped out as deserved,” a cliché that has been used by successive Turkish governments for at least four decades. Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım also said on Dec. 11 that is was beyond any doubt that it was the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that carried out the attack.

Hours later, the Fighting Falcons of Kurdistan (TAK) a shadow organization of the PKK, claimed responsibility. 

Adding insult to injury, Interior Minister Soylu said they had for some time been receiving intelligence about a major planned terrorist attack in Istanbul, probably by the PKK. That raised new questions about how the attackers managed to get an explosive-loaded van next to a police vehicle in the middle of Istanbul, just a kilometer away from the prime minister’s office in the city. And that was on the same day as Istanbul police proudly announced that a “tranquility” anti-terror operation had been carried out, with the participation of 40,000 police officers.

Government officials were quick to call the victims “martyrs,” trying to sooth the people by noting that “martyrdom” is the highest achievement a Muslim can have and saying their places are assured in the next world.

But Salim Akbaş, the father of Mustafa Berkay Akbaş, a 19-year-old student of medicine in Ankara, who was in Istanbul for the weekend, was filmed saying angrily that he did not want his son to be a martyr. 

“He was murdered,” the father cried in grief. “He wanted to be a doctor but I will now carry his dead body back to his home,” home being the Black Sea province of Sinop.

Right after that sad remark, and right before an emergency security meeting chaired by President Erdoğan, Minister Soylu said there was “only revenge” on the government’s immediate agenda. That was an unfortunate word to use, implying that the government has no deep strategy in fighting against the current wave of terror - with all its social and economic dimensions - other than fiercely reacting against it.

Turkey is already in a state of emergency, declared after the bloody military coup attempt of July 15. Every act of terror is turned into a justification for a further tightening of measures, which turns into yet more limitations on freedoms but falls short of stopping acts of terror.

Taking the opportunity of renewed popular support after the coup attempt, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) had on Dec. 10 announced an agreement on a draft for constitutional changes, in line with Erdoğan’s desire for a shift to an executive presidential system, further concentrating power in the president’s hands. The formal announcement of that agreement came only hours before the attack.

Such terror attacks not only lead to more stringent police measures in Turkey; they are also used as justification for more concentration of executive power and even for bringing back the death penalty. Bringing back the death penalty would cause major damage to the country’s political and economic bonds with the EU and the West in general.

This time, unlike after the coup attempt, the U.S., EU governments, and the West in general were prompt in delivering remarks of solidarity, leaving the Turkish government no excuse to claim it was left alone in its fight against terrorism.

But Ankara’s current method is not the best way to fight terrorism. New acts of terror are likely to create new fault lines in society; that will jeopardize not only security and democracy in Turkey, but also security in Europe.