Washington Kurdish Institute
By: Mehmet Gurses Feb 23, 2016
Turkey, under the Justice and Development Party (AKP), has adopted an increasingly anti-Israel discourse, moved closer to Hamas and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (MB), and has been accused of turning a blind eye to, or even supporting, the Islamic State (IS, also known as Daesh or ISIS). These positions raise serious concerns and important questions about a country that is secular democracy, a NATO member, and historically a strategic ally of the United States (US).
To be sure, there are important social, historical, and cultural differences between the AKP, MB, and IS. Moreover, the tactics that these groups and parties regularly use differentiate them from one another. The AKP’s rise to power occurred through legitimate democratic means, despite a clear lack of commitment to democracy by AKP founding member and current Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In spite of an ambivalent relationship with the Egyptian state, the MB for the most part has embraced a conciliatory approach. IS, on the other hand, has resorted to brutal tactics to expand and sustain its power throughout parts of Syria and Iraq.
Notwithstanding the differences between the AKP, MB, and IS, their ideological affinity sheds some light on this seemingly unlikely alliance. The bond that ties them together is a certain type of Islamism that sees a reality shaped using the dichotomy of “we” versus “them”, essentially separating Islamic civilization from all others, but particularly from “Western” civilization due mainly to a history of war and confrontation with “the West.” All three groups view reality through this globalist Islamist prism, perceive the West as a coalition of forces that seeks to divide the Muslim world, and blame ongoing crises and bloodshed in the Middle East on an ‘anti-Islamic’ Western alliance and its Muslim pawns.
This civilizational approach recognizes the nation-state concept as a Western ploy to sow the seeds of division among Muslims. This line of thinking accounts for Turkish Pres. Erdogan’s furious verbal attacks on alleged Western plans to divide the Muslim world. A few months after the IS seized control of Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, Pres. Erdogan referred to the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 that laid the blueprint division of the Middle East between British and French spheres of influence, lashing out at the West and concluding that Lawrence of Arabia (i.e., Western interference in the region) is greater threat than IS. Along similar lines, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu recently avowed that “Turkey will always mobilize a uniting spirit against the disruptive understanding of ‘Sykes-Picot’ and its pawns.”
Similarly, IS, in one of its first propaganda videos following the capture of Mosul, apparently recorded on the internationally recognized border that divides Syria and Iraq, blew up a border post and declared “the end of Sykes-Picot.”.
Hassan al-Banna, the founder of Egypt’s MB, was, in part, inspired by the collapse of the Muslim Ottoman Empire after World War I and particularly by the abolishment of the Ottoman Caliphate by the newly established Turkish Republic in 1924. The MB movement sought to reestablish the Caliphate and save Muslims from the Western invaders. Relatedly, it is important to recall that, in the aftermath of the 2013 military takeover in Egypt that deposed the MB-dominated government and later declared the group a terrorist organization, several high ranking members of the MB found refuge in AKP-ruled Turkey.
The AKP’s opposition to the Kurdish gains in Syria and Iraq, and its policies toward the IS cannot be solely explained by the fact that the IS serves as a useful instrument with which to weaken the Kurdish movement that Turkey deems as a threat to its national security. These policies also stem from the desire to help create a new Syria governed by Sunni Islamists with whom the AKP share an ideology. Supporters of the AKP as well as IS have accused the Kurds of being pawns of the Western powers. Pro-AKP writers and journalists who hail from the same Islamist background have strongly argued for Turkey to reclaim its Islamic Ottoman past. They have advocated the formation of a close alliance with other Sunni Muslim countries (e.g., Qatar, Saudi Arabia) or Muslim groups such as the MB of Egypt. They go even further to suggest that they would prefer an Islamic State-controlled Syria over a regime shaped by foreign powers such as the US, Russia, or Shi’ite Iran. Thus, it is no surprise that after the Kurds’ June 2015 capture of Tel Abyad, which lies on the Turkey-Syria border and served as a key supply route to IS stronghold of Raqqa, a pro-government Turkish newspaper warned that “PYD [the dominant Kurdish party in Syria] is more dangerous than IS.”
Yusuf Kaplan, an influential Islamist ideologue, has, in his columns for the pro-AKP Yeni Safak daily, repeatedly called for joining forces with other Muslims against the century-old Western incursion into and colonization of the Muslim world. Describing the ongoing war in Syria as a Western front, a ploy to “break the backbone of Sunni Islam” by creating a second Israel, a Kurdish state, in the heart of the Middle East, he urges rapprochement with an Egypt that has reconciled with or is preferably governed by the MB. Reminiscent of Sayyid Qutb of Egypt who, in his influential tract Milestones — a booklet laying out rules and procedures for how to establish Islamic order — portrays all forms of governments that are not based on sha’ria law exhibit jahiliyah, (i.e., a state of ignorance), Kaplan, too, paints a civilizational picture in which Muslims form a distinct camp against the Western occupiers.
Undoubtedly, different historical trajectories have given rise to different forms of Islamism across the Muslim world. Nonetheless, despite important differences in the means utilized to achieve the goal of establishing an Islamic order, the AKP of Turkey, MB of Egypt, and IS share a common ideology that draws a solid line between Islamic and non-Islamic ways of life. Such an ideology hence implies an inherent incompatibility and an innate hostility between Islamic and Western civilizations.
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