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Yusuf Kanli: Daesh has been an illness of Muslim Arab societies through ages

It was because of the 1925 uprising that Turkey accepted to relinquish its claim on Mousul
Thursday 25 December 2014

Shaffaf Exclusive:

How does the Islamic State turmoil and the dislocation of Syria and Iraq look from a Turkish perspetive. A discusion with Hurriyet Daily News columnist, Yusuf Kanli.

Shaffaf- How does the Daesh/Islamic State in Iraq and Syria look from Turkey? Would you say it is rather an "Islamic" or "Arab" development (Arab countries as "failed societies"? Your free thoughts on this new phenomenon?

Yusuf Kanli- I must say we have two Turkeys on this issue.

According to the secularist approach, Jihadism, Salafism or Daesh, irrespective how to put “radical Islam”, appears to be totally incompatible with Islam in view of the teaching that killing one person is tantamount to killing the entire humanity. Furthermore, not only Islam but all monotheistic religions underline that “Thou shall not kill”. Looking from Turkey Daesh appears to be an organization which is barbaric and dangerous not only for the non-Muslims, or non-Sunni Muslim societies such as Nusayris, Alevis, but for the entire region and global peace.

Regarding the Sunni majority of Turkey, on the other hand, while Daesh is publicly an “unacceptable” group, in private there is sympathy and support.

That is indeed why Daesh has a high number of recruits from Turkey. It is no secret either that Daesh recruitment offices – the radical Islamic bookstores – are still operating in the heart of Ankara even though officially Turkey finally condemned the group as a terrorist organization. This hypocritical approach of the government – which, indeed, is often accused of being obsessed with forging a Sunni alliance in the region – became even more complicated with the Daesh attacks on Kobane or Ayn al-`Arab. The Kurdish population and many Alevite or non-Alevite Turkish intellectuals and leftists of Turkey demanded Turkish intervention to save the city. Such a move would mean Turkey entering a war with Syria. Eventually Turkey allowed northern Iraqi armed Peshmerga travel through Turkish territory to Kobane but even today there are allegations that some local Turkish elements are helping the Daesh.

Daesh, unfortunately, has been an illness of the Muslim Arab societies all through ages, but the current problem is a by-product of the Gulf War and the subsequent dissolution by the Americans of the Iraqi regular army . Foreign interference in affairs of people of this geography unfortunately never ever produced good results. Border arrangements by foreign powers, like the Sykes–Picot Agreement, brought artificial resolutions but permanent divide among the Arab populations. Perhaps it is high time to consider domestic remedies to domestic problems.

Shaffaf- How come Turkey, the country of the last Caliphate, has avoided the rise of Islamic terrorist movements? Thanks to its "secular’ regime? Or to the Sufi origins of Turkish Islam? Or, to other reasons?

Yusuf Kanli- Turkey suffered a lot from Islamic terrorist movements. When the Greeks were approaching towards Ankara in the War of Liberation, there were some 30 uprisings throughout the country, one of them in Konya. It was because of the 1925 uprising that Turkey accepted to relinquish its claim on Mousul. Why? Just because it wanted the British, who were supporting, or believed to have been supporting the uprising, to stop their support.

Surviving pre-Islam shamanic traditions of Anatolian people

Many people consider the 1925 uprising as a Kurdish uprising, but, in fact, it was a radical Islam uprising led by the radical Muslim Kurdish Sheikh Said.

Over the past 90 years or so Turkey nurtured a democracy understanding through secular policies. Unfortunately the secularism principle, often misunderstood as atheism, was a serious trauma lived by the pious segments of the society. Still Turkey effectively managed to make democracy a way of life. The progressive Alevite segment of the society, the surviving pre-Islam shamanic traditions of Anatolian people and of course the tolerant Sufi interpretation of Islam helped Turks develop a coherent and tolerant relationship with all sects and all religions. The Ottomans being a multi-cultural empire helped as well to develop a tradition of tolerance to all faiths in the Turkish society.

Shaffaf- Some Turkish citizens have joined Daesh: Do we have any figures? Is it a marginal development for Turkey?

Yusuf Kanli- We do not have any figures regarding Turks who joined Daesh. Some put the figure in as high as 10,000 or more; some claim the figure is in hundreds. In any way, joining Daesh is not a national sports for Turks… Still, as I said earlier, there are claims that, in the border areas with Syria, as well as in big cities, the gang is still “freely” operating its recruitment offices. The government, of course, angrily reacts to such reports in the media, but a visit to the old quarter of Ankara might reveal the very sad reality of hopeless conservative youngsters joining Daesh for various reasons.

Shaffaf- Could the rise of Daesh pose a threat to Turkey itself? Meaning, to its social cohesion?

Yusuf Kanli- The rise of Daesh, as well as the Turks involved in Daesh, is of course a threat, today as well as tomorrow, for Turkey. Eventually, this problem will be over this way or the other and Daesh will be dissolved, until it regroups next time who knows when. What will happen to those Turks who were accustomed to all kinds of banditry, cruelty, savagery in Daesh? They will become a serious risk for Turkish security. Already there are claims that Turks returning from Daesh are causing troubles n their home cities.

Shaffaf- Until AKP came to power, Turkey had kept a distance from Arab affairs in general. In the light of developments in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, etc., would you say that Turkey should be better off if it went back to its old policy of turning its back on Arab affairs?

Yusuf Kanli- In today’s world Turkey is a reality. Even if Turkey does not want, it is obliged to play a major role in affairs of its region. We should not look at issues as “Arab Affairs” or “Mediterranean Basin Affairs”, or “North Afrian Affairs” or such stereotypes. These are regional problems and Tufkey as a regional power cannot remain idle to them irrespective whether it has a Kemalist, nationalist, Islamist or even a snobist government.

Shaffaf- would a Turkey led by a "Kemalist" party have fared better than the AKP in the present situation in the Arab region?

Yusuf Kanli- Definitely so… A Kemalist Turkey would try to play the role of mediator rather than becoming a partner itself, be it the Syrian civil war or in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Turkey, as a regional power, must be interested in regional problems but must stay at equal distance to all antagonists in order to play the role of peace broker, being the big regional power. Acting as former colonial power or with a neo-Ottomanist mentality can only add further problems to the already problematic climate of the region.

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