Turkish conference underlines growing role of Ankara as key driver of global Islamist extremism

Aug 3, 2021 | Oved Lobel

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his intelligence chief Hakan Fidan meet with Hamas leadership, including US Specially Designated Global Terrorist Saleh al-Arouri, in Turkey, August 2020 (credit: Office of the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his intelligence chief Hakan Fidan meet with Hamas leadership, including US Specially Designated Global Terrorist Saleh al-Arouri, in Turkey, August 2020 (credit: Office of the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey)

The Turkish government’s decision to co-sponsor an “academic conference” in June, organised by the Istanbul Sabahattin Zaim University’s Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA), has brought to the fore Turkey’s central role in the global Leftist-Islamist alliance dedicated not only to destroying Israel, but to encouraging antisemitism, terrorism, and Islamist sedition throughout the Middle East and Europe.

CIGA is headed by Sami al-Arian, a convicted operative of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) – designated as a terrorist group by almost the entire Western world, including Australia. Arian was deported from the US to Turkey in 2015, where he, like much of the leadership of Hamas, has found a new home under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s auspices.

The 5-day conference, titled “Challenging Apartheid in Palestine: Reclaiming the Narrative, Formulating a Vision,” featured not just open terror supporters, but also several leading US academics and representatives of international NGOs. One participant was Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), a key advocate of anti-Israel boycotts and lead author of a recent HRW report accusing Israel of “Apartheid”.

Organiser al-Arian himself was not shy about voicing his own goal of destroying Israel at the conference. In one panel, he called Israel a “racist movement” that works in a “Zionist onslaught” to replace the “indigenous people,” and called for the destruction of Israel, saying “the essence of the struggle should be to dismantle this structure”. Numerous other participants spoke in a similar vein.

Meanwhile, online, a wave of ongoing cyberattacks – not just trolling but efforts to shut them down through sustained and consistent “denial-of-service” attacks –  have targeted Turkey’s Jewish media outlets since May, apparently from Turkish sources. Given the nature of the Turkish state and the targets, these are almost certainly state-sponsored. Some of these have been claimed by the IBDA-Cyber Front, allegedly the cyber arm of the “Great Eastern Islamic Raiders Front” (IBDA), a terrorist group pledged to the ideology of Necip Fazıl Kısakürek, a Turkish Islamist ideologue who is a primary source of inspiration for Erdogan.


The antisemitism emanating from the AKP government

Kısakürek’s worldview, like all Islamist ideologies, revolves around virulent, conspiratorial antisemitism that puts Jews at the centre of all events.

There is little that Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have not blamed on Jews and Israel – including the Gezi Park protests in 2013; the Egyptian military coup that same year; the Kurdish independence referendum in Iraq in 2017 and even Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) attacks in Turkey throughout the 2000s. Erdogan’s obsession with the “interests rates lobby” is also barely disguised antisemitism.

In 2006, one of the largest budgetary productions in Turkish film history, “Valley of the Wolves,” featured a Jewish doctor stealing organs from Iraqis to sell in Israel, on top of its broader theme of Muslim war with the US. Meanwhile, in 2017, Erdogan himself personally promoted an openly antisemitic television blockbuster series on Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II, “The Last Emperor”.

A spike in antisemitism against Turkish Jews occurred in 2009, with Turkey’s Education Ministry mandating schools hold moments of silence for Gaza’s dead children and antisemitic articles appearing in Turkish media supercharging already powerful grassroots antisemitism across Turkey, which the government did nothing to discourage.


Erdogan’s anti-Israel obsessions

One of Erdogan’s goals since his accession to power was destroying Turkey’s alliance with Israel and isolating the Jewish state from NATO. Always an open supporter of the terrorist group Hamas, Erdogan welcomed its rise to power in Gaza in 2006 and used its war against Israel as an excuse to bar the Israelis from NATO exercises in 2009.

In 2010, Erdogan’s AKP party provoked the Mavi Marmara incident, apparently intentionally, thus damaging Israel abroad and rupturing Israel’s relationship with Turkey. It then utilised the fallout to justify Turkey becoming a primary base for Hamas beginning in 2011, facilitating its intelligence and terrorist operations across the West Bank, helping them establish front companies to fund themselves in Turkey, and becoming a conduit for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) funding for the group.

In 2013, Erdogan described Zionism as a crime against humanity at a United Nations conference on Islamophobia. However, since the conflict between Israel and Hamas in May, his rhetoric has become qualitatively more worrisome, as have his attempts to cooperate with Iran.

The AKP has deep, pan-Islamic ideological sympathies with the Iranian regime. Ankara has facilitated IRGC sanctions evasion, aided the Iranian nuclear program, and provided cover for Hezbollah attacks. Erdogan came to the defence of Hezbollah after they assassinated Lebanon’s Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and reportedly facilitated weapons shipments to Hezbollah during 2006, something which continued through 2009.

Since the May conflict, he has been calling on Iran and Turkey to coordinate their responses to Israel. He condemned Austria for hoisting the Israeli flag:

Hoisting the flag of a terrorist state over an official building such as this one is equal to leading a life that is projected by terror. The state of Austria is apparently trying to make Muslims pay the price for the Jews it subjected to genocide.

He also tried to incite violence against Jews using the well-worn trope of non-existent Jewish attacks on Al-Aqsa mosque, a claim Muslim leaders have been using to incite Muslims to attack Jews since long before the establishment of Israel:

Every attack the Jews, who are under the protection of Israeli security forces, carried out against Al-Aqsa Mosque has the effect of a bomb whose fuse has been lit. History of the world is full of examples bloodshed in streams, enormous conflicts and destructions caused by the bombs fired in Al-Quds.

The official summary of the same speech said “President Erdoğan further stressed that Turkey will provide every kind of political and military support concerning the international steps to be taken for Al-Quds’ liberation,” an explicit declaration of intent.

He went even further in another speech, implicitly threatening open war with Israel:

We are both worried and furious in the face of the oppressions of the terror state Israel, which can exercise his power over only innocent infants, helpless women and the wronged trying to protect their homes and properties. Turkey’s stance on this issue is completely a matter of principle. With whatever enthusiasm we yesterday supported the struggle Azerbaijan put up to save Nagorno-Karabakh and its lands under occupation, we are today taking action with the same feelings against the oppression going on in Al-Quds and the Palestinian cities. Just as we did not allow the terror corridor sought to be formed along our Syrian border yesterday, we are objecting with the same determination to the hands intruding on the privacy of the al-Aqsa Mosque today. Just as we did not allow the partition of Libya only last year, turn a blind eye to the abandonment of Somalia, on which everyone turned their backs, to its fate, consent to the annexation of Crimea and just as we raised our voice against the atrocity committed in Bosnia in the past, we will not tolerate Israel’s oppression today even though the whole world ignores it… This terror state, which has recklessly attempted to loot a city like Al-Quds that is home to holy places of Muslims, Christians and Jews alike, has already crossed all the lines.


Encouraging anti-Western extremism

But it isn’t just Israel’s destruction and antisemitism that Turkey encourages and exports. The West, too, including Australia, is under threat from the extremism promoted not only by Erdogan’s ambivalent – to put it charitably – relationship with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS), but also because Turkey openly attempts to incite sedition among Turkish and Muslim minorities in Western countries.

For instance, after the Christchurch terrorist attack against Muslims in New Zealand, Erdogan replayed the horrendous live-streamed footage of the attack over and over at his rallies, openly threatened to kill Australians and New Zealanders, and implicitly tried to get Muslims to launch revenge attacks against the West – which he said had created the Christchurch gunman’s racist manifesto – as well as against his political opposition.

Last year, after the beheading of French teacher Samuel Paty following an incitement campaign by Islamists against him for showing the Muslim prophet Muhammad cartoon published by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo as part of a class on Freedom of Speech, Erdogan called for a boycott of French goods and said that Muslims were being “subjected to a lynch campaign similar to that against Jews in Europe before World War II.”

Erdogan even blamed the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in 2015 on the West, implying that France had orchestrated the attack to have an excuse to crack down on Islamist terrorism. “As Muslims, we’ve never taken part in terrorist massacres. Behind these lie racism, hate speech and Islamophobia,” he said. He later continued, “We are following with great concern the attacks against Islam hidden behind the attack on the satirical magazine in France,” accusing France of starting a “clash of civilizations” for being attacked.

Already by 2009, after cartoons depicting Muhammad were printed in a Denmark newspaper, Erdogan said the world needed to abolish Freedom of Speech when it came to Islam and instead establish blasphemy laws.

Erdogan rejects the existence of Islamic terrorism. In his conspiratorial worldview the West is always responsible for every terrorist attack and any response to those attacks amounts to hatred of Islam and targeting innocent Muslims  In a recent speech, he declared:

The strategy of “demonizing Muslims” launched by the American administration after the 9/11 attacks served to trigger the virus of hostility towards Islam… This new racism against Muslims is sought to be softened by naming it Islamophobia. However, it is actually hostility towards Islam. Those, who used to legitimize hostility towards Islam by using the label of “Islamic terror” are now targeting all Muslims without discrimination.

As he’s done on countless occasions, Erdogan compared European attempts to crack down on Islamist radicalism to the antisemitism that sparked the Holocaust:

Europe, which is home to 35 million Muslims, including 6 million Turks, is now increasingly turning into an open-air prison for our brothers and sisters. I am putting it openly that there is no difference between the climate of hatred created against Jews before World War II and the atmosphere that is being instigated against Muslims today.

This rhetoric has real-world consequences, particularly because it is Erdogan – a long-serving leader of a large, powerful and influential Muslim-majority nation that is part of NATO – using it. Not only does Turkey share the distinction, alongside Qatar, of being the primary base of operations and propaganda for the Muslim Brotherhood, the progenitor of all Islamist terrorist groups, revolutionary movements and political parties, including Erdogan’s AKP, but it also has a special Turkish variant of subversive Islamism on which it can capitalise.

The Milli Görüs (National View), founded by former Turkish Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, Erdogan’s mentor, is one of the most influential Islamic organisations in Europe, particularly Germany. Like many political Islamist movements, it is inherently seditious, aiming to create an Islamic state from the ground up and destroy the West, including Turkey’s present Western nation-state form.

Moreover, Erbakan’s entire ideology revolved around antisemitism derived from books like the infamous forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, among others.

While Erdogan is not a member of Milli Görüs, there is no doubt he shares many of its views and instrumentalises its extremism to serves his own political ends in Europe more broadly.

Milli Görüs is also intimately intertwined with the International Humanitarian Relief Organization (IHH), particularly in Germany. IHH is indivisible from the AKP itself and has been the primary AKP vehicle for promoting the pan-Islamic jihad, most famously in Bosnia and now Syria, where Turkey has championed and protected jihadi groups like the erstwhile Ahrar al-Sham and its al-Qaeda associates. IHH was also the main body used in organising the Mavi Marmara incident to rupture relations with Israel.

Nowadays, Turkey retains a strange and uneasy partnership with the jihadists of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in Syria, which Ankara has technically designated a terrorist group. Turkey also turned a blind eye to, if it didn’t actively enable, the expansion of IS, and the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed by the US on the Turkish border, where he’d been living unmolested for at least several months. Other senior members of the group were also killed or captured by the US in Turkish-controlled areas of Syria. Al-Qaeda, HTS and IS financing and facilitation networks in Turkey continue to be designated by the US treasury, though there is no evidence to date that Turkey has moved against them.

Co-sponsoring an “academic” conference to destroy Israel led by a Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative is thus only the latest indication that the Turkish government has taken on an increasingly active role in promoting antisemitism and extremism beyond its borders.

Turkey openly champions Islamist terrorism and extremism, and its leadership actively incites violence not only against Israel and Jews, but against the West writ large. Though often dismissed as campaign rhetoric, Erdogan’s conspiratorial statements, which he no doubt believes, often appear explicitly designed to incite violence.

The result is that the Turkish regime is quickly becoming one of the primary engines of Islamist violence and subversion globally.


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