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.
The crudity of Erbakan’s Jew-hatred cannot be exaggerated. In 2007, the Middle East Media Research Institute rebroadcast a television interview with Erbakan in which he alleged that Jews had sought world domination since the delivery of the Torah. According to Erbakan, “the safety of Israel . . . means that they will rule the 28 countries from Morocco to Indonesia. . . . All the Crusades were organized by the Zionists.” While the Crusades came long before the Zionist movement, and Jews were often among the victims of Crusaders, Erbakan insisted that “racist imperialist Zionism organized 19 Crusades just to reach its goals. To organize the Crusades, it used the Christians.” Erbakan, who referred to Jews as “bacteria,” also claimed Jews invented Protestantism. In a particularly notable flight of paranoia, he declared that a Jewish man named “Kabbalah” originated a scheme for world conquest. The last reference, which Erbakan repeated insistently, is drawn from the most disreputable precedents in Tsarist Russian defamation and persecution of Jews.
Erbakan was an early proponent of a Turkish alliance with Iran, and his Milli Gorus movement has gained influence among the three million Turkish Muslims living in Germany, where MG claims 200,000 members and control of 400-600 “prayer spaces” (often storefronts and private homes rather than mosques). Milli Gorus is also active among Turkish Muslims in the Netherlands. MG members have risen conspicuously in Erdogan’s administration. Through the Turkish state religious office or Diyanet, Erdogan’s government exercises extraterritorial authority over 900 major mosques on German soil. While in the past, preaching in Turkish state-controlled mosques in Germany was moderate, the mosques were alleged to serve as centers for political monitoring of the Turkish Muslims in Germany. Under the Erdogan government, a turn toward radicalism within them cannot be ruled out.
Prime Minister Erdogan is tied to Erbakan, al-Qaradawi, Ramadan, and Hamas, and Turkey now represents a major element in the global panorama of radical Islam. The response to this reality by the Obama administration, which appears to fantasize that extreme Muslim ideology is merely a product of social ills, rather than of official support in countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Turkey, no less than in Iran and Syria, is badly mistaken.