OPINION

Turkey in the Eyes of the Storm By Cemal Yigit

“Every terrorist act carried out in the name of Islam profoundly affects all Muslims, alienating them from fellow citizens and deepening the misperceptions about their faith’s ethos.” Fethullah Gulen

Turkey is indeed in the eyes of the storm. The signs are visible, and it calls for great concern from all stakeholders. On 11th December 2016, there was a twin bomb attack outside a football stadium in Istanbul that killed 38 people and injured more than 160 others. On 20th December 2016, the Russian Ambassador to Turkey was shot dead by a Turkish police officer. On new year eve, a gunman opened fire in a nightclub in Istanbul killing more than 39 people.

These three incidents are amongst the long list of terror attacks and insecurity in Turkey in recent times. Much as this calls for great concern from the relevant stakeholders, it would be pertinent to try and trace the root causes of the spate of insecurity in Turkey.

The first issue is the growing radicalization going on in Turkey that has led to damage to the traditional mainstream understanding of Islam, which had always resisted any form of religious extremism and a radical interpretation of Islam. There has also been an upsurge in the political expression of Islam brought about by the AKP party led by President Recep Erdogan who over the past 12 years has taken Turkey away from the secular state into the fold of Islamism. One way the rise of Islamist dictatorship in a country can be noticed is when there is an increase in the number of mosques, religious schools, and prisons. Can this be said to be happening in Turkey? Your guess is as good as mine. Let me attempt to break it down in simple terms.

The Justice Ministry said the government would build 174 new prisons within the next five years and create space for as many as 100,182 people. Ebubekir Isik in his article on how the purge in Turkey would accelerate Islamist radicalisation was of the opinion that the government decree that shut down and seized thousands of private science schools is in itself a crucial indicator of how the social fabric of the country is being changed. He further averred that many of the private science schools which were confiscated after the coup attempt are now being transformed into religious education facilities (Imam Hatip schools).

Imam Hatip is state-run religious schools; that could pass for an imam training school. As at 2014, the number of children studying in Imam hatip schools had risen to 983,000 from 63,000 in 2003. Erdogan attributes the growth in such schools to a climate in which students are questioning western-centric education. Since 2002, 17,000 new mosques were built by the government, while plans are underway to build an enormous mosque more than 150,000 square feet in size.

And the result is the birth of extremism which has somewhat led to an increase in the level of insecurity in Turkey today. Many scholars have written extensively on this topic, with some arguing that President Erdogan, together with AKP party has dealt Turkey a huge blow.  Some argued that “the impact of the post-coup era can be seen already in many aspects of Turkey’s social and political patterns because the current rise in homegrown Islamist radicalization is another sign that Turkey’s social fabric is undergoing a noxious change.”

I would want to agree with this school of thought using the example of the police officer that went berserk and pulled his trigger. Which ironically would become routine for Turkey in the months and possibly years to come. Two things are responsible for this. One is that Erdogan has succeeded in using religion and incitement for short-term gain. Two is that he declared war on the Hizmet movement that has witnessed unprecedented purges in all sectors of the Turkish society.

And this can be buttressed by the act of the young police officer that went berserk because he was recruited when Erdogan began his witch-hunting and demonization program that saw the exit of thousands of well-trained police offers. Painful as this might sound, some questions are begging for answers. And one of them is whether the police officer acted alone and in isolation. While this issue cannot be explained, it can be suggested that there is a tendency that there might be one of two persons he shared his thoughts with, or who share the same ideology with him or possibly have been brained washed from the same source because he is part of the “religious generation” Erdogan wants to raise. According to Magnus Frank in an article he wrote, he stated that “Since Erdo?an and his Justice and Development Party took power more than ten years ago, much has changed. He has enacted measures to raise a “religious generation,” that would do his bidding. But he made a mistake because, in the long—run, he won’t be able to contain the situation that has started manifesting in Turkey.

Fethullah Gulen in one of his articles stated that “it is important to promote a holistic understanding of Islam, as the flexibility to accommodate the diverse backgrounds of its adherents can sometimes be abused. Islam’s core ethics, however, are not left to interpretation. One such principle is that taking the life of a single innocent is a crime against all humanity (Quran 5:32). Even in an act of defense in war, violence against any non-combatants, especially women, children and clergy, is specifically prohibited by the Prophet’s teachings.” Need I say more?

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