ISIL, Islamophobia and a typical dilemma

ISIL, Islamophobia and a typical dilemma

There was a time when, in these colorful opinion pages of the Hürriyet Daily News, me and my column neighbor Burak Bekdil appeared as “sparring partners.” We had rebuttals and counter-rebuttals on the then burning question of whether the AKP (Justice and Development Party) was a positive or negative force in Turkey. Basically, I was a big optimist on the AKP, whereas Mr. Bekdil was a bleak pessimist. 

That was the first decade of the AKP, from 2002-2012. Yet, in the next three years, I grew disillusioned and disappointed with the AKP experience. So, I will give that to Mr. Bekdil; on that old debate, he basically turned out be right, at least more right than me, and albeit for different reasons. I respectfully admit it. 

That is partly why when I opened my copy of the Hürriyet Daily News yesterday, I was curious to see that Mr. Bekdil had opened up a new debate, this time, on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other militant Islamists. He referred to my recent HDN piece, “Don’t give ISIL the Islamophobia it wants,” and asked:

“Why do we advise the victims of terror after a horrible act of terror and not the members of the culture of the perpetrators?”

The argument of Mr. Bekdil, if I may sum up, was that ISIL hates the “infidels” and “apostates” merely out of it religious ideology. So, instead of asking the West not to create a context for this ideology by its own actions, we should deal with the ideology itself. Instead of advising “victims of terror,” we should rather focus on the terrorists.

In return, this is my argument: Of course, what drives ISIL is a hateful ideology that can be defined as Takfiri-Salafi-Jihadism. Of course, this ideology refers to certain texts in mainstream Islamic sources about “infidels” and “apostates.” And of course, it is the sane Muslims’ duty to deal with this poison.  

However, no ideology exits and spreads in a vacuum. ISIL’s hate campaign not only includes (often out-of-context) passages from the Quran or the hadiths but also news of how the “infidels” (or “Crusaders”) are actually targeting Muslims with their armies, their drone attacks and their “insults.” That is why the Western overreaction to ISIL, in the form of disastrous military expeditions or Islamophobic campaigns, will only help strengthen ISIL’s propaganda. 

Mr. Bekdil also asked why there were no “Christian terrorists who plan to bomb Mecca?” Well, there are indeed hardly any Christian terrorists in the world today (at least in the West), partly because Westerners have something more powerful than AK-47s: The world’s most powerful armies. And these armies do sometimes bomb Muslim lands, even occupy them, deepening the vicious cycle I am taking about (Mecca is often not on the radar, but U.S. politician Tom Tancredo actually did suggest “bombing Mecca” as a response to terrorism in 2007).

The dilemma here, whether terrorists exist because of their ideology or their context, is in fact similar to a debate we have had in Turkey for decades: Where does the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) come from? For the right, the PKK merely came out of its radical ideology - a blend of Kurdish ethno-nationalism with Marxist-Leninism. For the left, the PKK merely came of the suffering of the Kurds under the Turkish yoke.

For me, the right answer is a combination of both arguments. The PKK does have a radical ideology, but the state’s humiliation of Kurds and its brutal “counter-terrorism” made that ideology more appealing. The same is true for ISIL, I believe. And while ISIL’s ideology is a religious matter that we Muslims should face, its context is a global matter that the West should also understand.