In the aftermath of the attempt by Hamas supporters to breach Israel's Gaza blockade, more questions should be asked about Turkey's relationship to Hamas--and about the U.S. attitude toward Turkey and its pro-Hamas associates. One point is already obvious: Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) is a backer of the antiblockade campaign. The antiblockade operation was organized, by the Turkish “charity” Insan Haklary Ve Hurriyetleri Vakfi (IHH), which has been designated by both Israel and the U.S. as a supporter of Hamas. IHH is backed by fundamentalist Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Al-Qaradawi’s leading Western partner is the Swiss-born Muslim academic Tariq Ramadan.
In his effort to define a new U.S. policy toward Muslim countries, President Barack Obama has done his best to make friends of both Erdogan and Ramadan. Obama made a point of visiting Turkey in April of last year, prior to his Cairo speech. He met with Erdogan, addressed the Turkish parliament, and appeared to desire a closer relationship with the Erdogan regime.
The Obama administration also lifted the visa ban on Ramadan--which was based on Ramadan’s financial contributions to Hamas--and welcomed him to Washington in April 2010 with fulsome speeches by administration officials Farah Pandith, Hillary Clinton’s “U.S. representative to Muslim communities,” and Rashad Hussain, U.S. representative to the Saudi-based Organization for the Islamic Conference.
One wonders if the Obama administration paid attention to any of many warnings about the anti-Israel direction of the Erdogan government, and to the radical, Jew-baiting views of the AKP’s leaders, no less than to the extremist views of Ramadan. Given its apparent obliviousness to these facts, the Obama administration’s decision to abandon Israel at the U.N., as eloquently described here by Elliott Abrams, seems less than surpising.
Until now, radical Islam in Turkey has been widely considered a second-tier example of “soft” Muslim fundamentalism, overshadowed by the acute examples of al Qaeda, Saudi-financed Wahhabism, Pakistani jihadism, the Pakistani Deobandi movement that inspired the Taliban, and Khomeinist clericalism.
But the movement of the Erdogan government away from Turkey’s long-standing alliance with Israel and its new alignment with Iran and Syria are deeply worrying. The ruling AKP party has ambitions of reviving Turkey's expansive role in the region of its former empire, which until the beginning of the 20th century ruled from the Balkans in Europe through the Middle East, including Libya, the coasts of the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. In addition, five former Soviet republics speaking Turkic languages--Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzia--and the Muslim-majority of western China are within the Turkish culture area.
The alliance of the AKP government and Hamas can be seen as one of many expressions of these resuscitated imperial pretensions--except that it long preceded the election of Erdogan in 2002. While the Turkish Republic and its “state party,” the Republican People’s Party (known as the CHP) were strictly and even fanatically secularist after gaining power in the 1920s, an Islamist opposition penetrated the state and society using the spiritual practice of Sufism as a cover. Members of some Sufi groups were leading figures in the establishment of new Turkish Islamist parties. They included former prime minister Necmettin Erbakan.
In 1995 Turkish elections resulted in a governing coalition between secular conservatives in the True Path party and Islamists in the Welfare party, headed by Erbakan. Erbakan, who was named prime minister, was notable in calling for an orientation away from the West and Israel and toward the Arab countries, and for his Jew-baiting. Although he was removed from power in 1997, and the Welfare party was banned, Erbakan is the political mentor of Erdogan, and the Welfare party is a direct antecedent of Erdogan’s AKP. Erbakan maintains considerable influence through a transnational network called Milli Gorus (MG) or “National Vision.” MG cooperates with al-Qaradawi and Ramadan through the so-called European Council for Fatwas and Research (ECFR) headed by al-Qaradawi.