Toward the ‘Islamist’ crossroad in the anti-terror fight

Toward the ‘Islamist’ crossroad in the anti-terror fight

For anyone who wants to see the glass half full, a perfect quote could be from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s speech that she delivered in a joint press conference on Feb. 2 in Ankara with her host, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.  

She said the two countries have pledged to each other for “closer cooperation” in the fight against terror.
For anyone who wants to see the picture a bit more clearly; the leaders’ exchange of words over the definition of terror could be worth a look.

Right before her words about stepping up cooperation against terror, Merkel also used the expression “Islamist terror,” along with “all other types” including the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Erdoğan objected to that and said to international media, “The expression of Islamist terror disturbs us Muslims seriously.” 

“The original meaning of Islam is peace, as I explained to Merkel [during the meeting]. If we bring the words of Islam and terror together because of DAESH [the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant – ISIL] it would upset Muslims. As a Muslim president, I cannot accept that,” he said. 

Erdoğan also underlined that it was only Turkey that carried out the “biggest fight against DAESH” as opposed to “only words by others.”

It was a tense moment, but Merkel did not step back. “In Germany we give much importance to freedom of religion. There is a difference between the terms Islamic and Islamist,” she said.

She was giving reference to a debate currently ongoing in Western politics about the use of the adjectives “Islamic” and “Islamist,” which was also an issue during election debates between U.S. President Donald Trump and his rival Hillary Clinton.

Generally speaking, the adjective “Islamic” is used to define a faith, culture and a way of life, whereas “Islamist” is used to define a political line with the ultimate target of the domination of Islamic Sharia law as a political system. Erdoğan, like many other Muslims, has been opposing to the use of the term because of his concern that ordinary men would not care too much about the linguistic difference and develop Islamophobic feelings. 

It seems that we might observe, in the future, a similar exchange of words that would reveal the differing perspectives of NATO members in the fight against terror.

An exclusive story by Reuters on Feb. 2 reported that the Trump administration “wants to revamp and rename a U.S. government program designed to counter all violent ideologies so that it focuses solely on Islamist extremism.” It reported that the program “Countering Violent Extremism,” or CVE, could be changed to “Countering Islamic Extremism” or “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism,” also excluding groups of white supremacists, who also carry out fatal acts of terror. The story said that reactions from within Muslim groups have already started in the U.S.

That could add up to problems in the anti-terror fight between the U.S. and Turkey, which is already at odds because of the U.S.’s support in the fight against ISIL in Syria to the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is the Syria branch of the PKK, an organization that was designated as terrorist also by the U.S. more than twenty years ago. There is also the issue of the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, an Islamist preacher living in the U.S. and accused of masterminding the July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, thus designated as the leader of a terrorist network by Turkey. The issue of Gülenist soldiers allegedly seeking refuge from Germany was also discussed in yesterday’s meeting between Merkel and Erdoğan.

Erdoğan last week said he wanted to speak to Trump on serious matters regarding terrorism and the Middle East, and diplomatic sources have said that a phone conversation between the two could be possible “nowadays.” 

It is not clear whether the definition of terror would be discussed between Trump and Erdoğan when they talk, but it seems that the Western alliance might be heading toward crossroads in the anti-terror fight.