Merkel, Erdoğan and ‘Islamist Terrorism’

Merkel, Erdoğan and ‘Islamist Terrorism’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Turkey further exposed the rift and tension not only between Ankara and Berlin, but also between Turkey and the Western world in general. First of all, Western politicians’ remarks on freedom of speech and democracy in general are now doomed to fall on deaf ears in countries like ours. It is not just that Western politicians are considered hypocritical concerning democratic and liberal values, but these values are increasingly being denounced as foreign or “anti-nativist” by the majorities and majoritarian politicians in non-Western countries.
Turkey’s society and its politicians, who have never been tolerant toward criticism, have become even more sensitive and reactionary after the rise of majoritarian/nativist/populist politics under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his party. 

Moreover, our president expects Turkey’s Western allies to adopt his account of events in Turkey and elsewhere; he thinks that the July 15, 2016, coup attempt perfectly justifies the manhunt for Gülenists and legitimizes the suspension of democratic rights and freedoms. Besides, Western allies are expected to evaluate the Kurdish issue in tune with the majority Turkish perspective that it is a simple matter of terrorism, not only in Turkey but also in Syria. It is impossible to reach even a minimum consensus, as Turkey’s Western allies recognize the Syrian Kurdish party and its military wing, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG), respectively, as allies in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), whereas Turkey considers them as the “Syrian branch of the terrorist organization PKK,” the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.

Finally, Erdoğan’s objection to Merkel concerning her use of the term of “Islamist terrorism” not only induced further tension but also exposed another major difference between him and Merkel. It is not just Turkey’s ruling elites – Islamists in general are “oversensitive” about the negative adjectives attached not only to “Islam” as a religion, but also “Islamism” as a political ideology due to the simple fact that they themselves are Islamists. Even though Islamist terrorism refers to ISIL in the case of Merkel’s speech, as well as ISIL, al-Qaeda and other violent groups in general, and even though a majority of Islamist politicians in Turkey and elsewhere have nothing to do with this brand of Islamism, they express all manners of annoyance. 

The reactions of Islamists must stem from the memory of the repressive politics in “the fight against Islamist terrorists” that targeted moderate Islamist politics. Nevertheless, it is also clear that even if the so-called moderate Islamists do not approve of violence and have nothing to do with the barbaric deeds of ISIL, Islamists in general have not succeeded in developing genuine political thought that is as far removed from authoritarianism and repression as moderate Islamism is from violence.

Besides, the idea of Islamic fundamentalism, be it as a state ideology as in the case of Saudi Arabia or as a peaceful Islamist ideology as in the case of the post-1990s Muslim Brotherhood or more radical and even violent versions of Islamism share the same understanding of religion, politics, society and culture. That is why Islamists feel uneasy about any criticism which is directed against Islamism and as long as the contours of “Islamisms” are not yet clearly drawn, they will feel offended whenever Islamism is questioned regardless of the brand.

After all, all manners of ideologies, including nationalist and religious ones, can be used to justify terrorism as a way of promoting those ideologies. Unfortunately, there are those who believe in terrorist methods to bring glory to their religion. 

It is definitely not a matter of religious belief but a matter of debate on political ideology.