November 16, 2015

ISIL’s potential in Turkey

Mümtazer Türköne

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is an organization that is still alien to Turkey.

The amount of support for the organization is probably higher among immigrant Muslim populations in Western countries than among people in Turkey. In Central Asian communities, where religiosity has been introduced in only the last 25 years, support is also greater than in Turkey. The situation in the Arab states is obvious. Therefore, those who angrily ponder ISIL's social foundation in the wake of the Paris massacre should look to Turkey for the antidote to ISIL's terrorism. Unfortunately, this antidote is quickly diminishing.

Unlike the Arab world's formal and mechanical Salafi interpretation of Islam, Turks' Sufi tradition is based on mutual respect and peaceful coexistence, and reinforces consensus and social peace. Modern eras are more important. Turkey has had a long experience with democracy, beginning with the elected provincial assemblies in 1837. This experience has been affixed to the Sufi tradition with a capacity for peaceful coexistence and consensus between diversities. My intention is not to discuss this experience at length, but to describe its current crisis.

The Gülen (Hizmet) movement, which relies on the Sufi tradition's organization and human relations model, has created a strong network of social solidarity and is today treated as a "terrorist organization" because it represents a social opposition to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Using any and all of its resources, the state is now crushing the most important social alternative that is capable of preventing terrorist organizations from recruiting poor and underprivileged youths. Using his own media, Erdoğan has stigmatized and criminalized the Gülen movement, calling it a terrorist organization. The judiciary and the police have been unlawfully mobilized to exert severe pressure on the Gülen movement, even though no answer have been given to such questions as "Where are their weapons?" or "Which act of terrorism have they committed?"

The European Union's progress report on Turkey concludes that the crackdown on the so-called “parallel state” is conducted in breach of judicial independence. This implies a certain strategy of exercising power and governing people, and even points to a process of building a dictatorship. By overusing this ghost that is the parallel state he originally invented for political competition purposes, Erdoğan has removed parliamentary opposition from the game. Institutional opposition, too, has been neutralized in the ghost- and witch-hunt. Furthermore, the judicial independence has been undermined by using the same justification and the ruling party has opted to explain its unlawful acts with reference to this witch-hunt. Having neutralized them with the referendum of 2010, the ruling party then buried the hatchet with subversive generals and their support in covering up corruption charges. It has ensured their silence with reference to a “common enemy.”

The problem is growing. The witch-hunt is leading to total destruction of democracy and the opposition. In a breach of the Constitution, the ruling party used the government formation process to meddle with the opposition parties' internal affairs. The purpose of pressuring the media was to prevent the election from being conducted in a democratic manner. The ruling party's success in the snap election can largely be attributed to these pressures. The ongoing pressure on the media -- as seen in the recent decision by the state-owned satellite operator to drop the influential and critical Samanyolu Group's channels -- implies that freedom of the press is now fully at the mercy of the ruling party. There is no room for institutional opposition to express itself.

Under conditions in which there is no opposition and the ruling party defines religiosity as a tool of oppression on society, neither Sufi tradition nor pluralistic democracy can be maintained.

Given that the potential support for ISIL in Turkey will increase in line with the diminishing freedoms and democracy, the situation looks very bleak. Lack of democracy threatens not only the opposition, but also the society's healthy texture, preventing its synthesizing the antidote to terrorism.

Published on Today's Zaman, 16 November 2015, Monday