November 28, 2015

Enemy at the gate

Sevgi Akarçeşme

As authoritarianism looms over Turkey like dark clouds, Turkey underestimates a threat next door: the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or, as they call themselves following the declaration of a “caliphate” in Raqqa, the Islamic State (IS).

The problem and the atrocities of ISIL do not disappear when one calls it by its Arabic name, Daesh, in order to avoid using the word “Islam.” Whether or not we turn our heads away, facing the grand problem of ISIL, or extremism, is first on the shoulders of the Muslim world. However, at least in Turkey, there is constant denial, as seen in the example of the deadliest terror attacks in the history of the republic that took place in Ankara in October. ISIL has not been declared the perpetrator, despite all of the evidence.

The fact that the government regime has been killing journalism in Turkey certainly plays a role in the relative ignorance about ISIL in society. The most comprehensive and informative stories on ISIL come from the Western media. And one does not need to travel to Raqqa, once a secular Syrian city, to have an insight into ISIL. Last week there was an extensive story on “ISIL brides” who had been abused by the militants and who ran to southern Turkey that appeared in The New York Times. Yet we, Turks, learn about ISIL, an alternative universe that seems so far away yet exists even within our own borders, according to foreigners' accounts.

Following the Paris attacks, which for some, ignited the “clash of civilizations” amid rising fears of extremism in the West, objections -- sometimes accompanied by rage -- are on the rise against those who say “this is not the real Islam.” Yet despite the gravity of these atrocities of ISIL, little is heard from the Muslim world condemning them. It should also be debated whether the voices against extremism are loud enough in the Islamic world. However, a quite interesting fact becomes evident when you analyze the lifestyles of the ISIL terrorists who say they act in the name of God: Hardly any of them are actually religious! On the contrary, as was seen with the perpetrators of the Paris attacks, some frequent gay bars and use alcohol and drugs, and are certainly not practicing Muslims.

Apparently, networks such as ISIL provide immigrants who are stuck between different civilizations with an identity, a sense of belonging and a feeling of power.

Of course, it would be reductionist to explain the ISIL threat by saying that it does not include piousness and ideology. The initial appeal of ISIL for many young second-generation immigrants should be analyzed thoroughly. When you watch documentaries made by media outlets such as VICE, you realize that some of the recruits go to Raqqa with the dream of living in a caliphate and an “era of bliss” that imitates prophetic times. At this very point, it becomes essential to underline that holy texts should not be interpreted based solely on their literal meaning, but rather with the context from which they were born.

More importantly, Islamic scholars should come out and denounce extremism clearly -- as, for example, Fethullah Gülen has done, and remind all that Islam considers the killing of an innocent person equal to killing all humanity. As Gülen emphasized in a recent Wall Street Journal article, Muslims should not take refuge in victimhood to root out radicalism. I find it astonishing that in Turkey, many of those who ask what real Islam is are not able to see what the Hizmet movement, inspired by Fethullah Gülen, is, standing out with its commitment to education and peaceful coexistence. It is nothing more than shortsightedness. Those who become acquainted with the Hizmet movement are better able to see the remedies it offers, because they do not suffer from the “Hizmetphobia” that is particular to Turkey amid the current stigmatization of the movement.

ISIL will continue to be a headache for both Turkey and Muslims in the days to come. The remedy to this problem lies first in taking it seriously and then in making the accurate diagnosis. Unfortunately, Turkey seems to have been too late to recognize the enemy at the gate.

Published on Today's Zaman, 28 November 2015, Saturday