EMRE USLU

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EMRE USLU
April 30, 2014, Wednesday

Support for radical Islamism on the rise in Turkey

Sociologically speaking, radical Islamism in Turkey was on the wane in the early years of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Radical Islamism in Turkey had more local reasons than international ones.
 

With the AKP coming to power, most of the Islamist arguments had vanished as they had proven that Islamists could successfully come to power. It was even ironically said that "jihadists have become contractors," using a pun in the Turkish language. This signified a sort of normalization. It implied that Islamist jihadists had become normalized by joining the social and economic sphere.
 
A former jihadist once told me, sitting in his BMW, that he had sold off his parka and boots in Eminönü.
 
The world hailed the process in which the ruling AKP facilitated the participation of radical Islamists in the social and political sphere. Moreover, it was believed that thanks to the AKP's success, Turkey could serve as a "model" for the entire Muslim world. Efforts were invested into making this happen.
 
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was at the center of these efforts. He implemented reforms that indicated a peaceful coexistence of Western and Islamic values.
 
As was expected, the Erdoğan administration's reforms were met with appreciation and interest in Turkey grew. The Turkish model was marketed as an obstacle to the al-Qaeda form of radical Islam.
 
As it functioned as an obstacle to radical Islamism in its early years in office, the ruling AKP employed delicate political language. At that time, Erdoğan and the AKP would place empathic stress on democracy, human rights, common values with the West, etc. Erdoğan had even suggested in Egypt that secularism is a good system.
 
This language didn't allow the AKP's social basis to move away from the West and democracy and it prevented radical Islamist discourses from getting a hold on society.
 
However, in the wake of the crises in Libya, Syria and Egypt in recent years, the AKP's language changed. The new language is less consensual and tends to place greater emphasis on Islam, religion, the ummah or the global Islamic community. It otherizes the West and normalizes the languages of jihadists. Anti-Semitism and radical Islamist discourse are becoming more widespread.
 
For instance, the new discourse urges people to feel sympathy for a girl killed in Egypt but does not want their understanding for Berkin Elvan, who was killed by a gas canister fired by a police officer in İstanbul. The developments in Gaza are given more room on our agenda than what is happening in the Gazi neighborhood in İstanbul.
 
This language naturally causes the grassroots supporters of the AKP to adopt an increasingly Islamist discourse. Islamist rhetoric and symbols are now being seen and used to signify heroism.
 
For instance, a deranged man called Fatih Tezcan frequently makes appearances on AKP-controlled TV channels and his image is thereby being normalized. This person shares his photos taken with radical Islamists of Syria and Egypt on social network and calls on people to join the jihad.
 
The al-Nusra Front, which is viewed around the world as a terrorist organization like al-Qaeda, is praised on graffiti in Turkey and there are suggestions that it is a religious duty to join the al-Nusra Front as a soldier.
 
Turkey did not send many jihadists to the war in Afghanistan. The number of jihadists who engaged in wars in various parts of the world was limited and their drive would mostly be ethnic. For instance, the Chechens in Turkey might have lent their support for their kin in Chechnya when there was a war there. Likewise, the Bosnians and Kosovars in Turkey might have participated in the war in Bosnia. The basic driving force of these supports was largely ethnic.
 
However, in recent years, the support for the war in Syria has become largely religiously motivated and this motivation indicates the tendency of radical Islamism to expand its sociological basis in Turkey.
 
Worse still, the ummah rhetoric and anti-Western discourse of Turkey's leaders and their claims of leading the Muslim world have converged toward the discourse of radical Islamists.
 
This paves the way for the expansion of the sociological basis of radical Islamism in Turkey. Young people now see little difference between Erdoğan's rhetoric and the discourse employed by a radical Islamist urging them to join a radical Islamist organization, and they tend to nurture increased sympathy for radical Islamism.
 
I think this sociological fact is the reason why there has been an increase in recent years in the participation of Turkish youths in the jihad without ethnic justifications. This is a very dangerous trend both for Turkey and the world in the medium and long-term.
 
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