Translations of this item:

  • Erdogan deliberately overlooked a significant difference between Hamas and Turkey's Islamist parties: Hamas specifically advocates violence, while Turkish parties operate within democratic politics.

  • Hamas is coordinating its efforts in the West Bank with logistical support from a command center in Istanbul.

In 2004, Turkish President (then Prime Minister) Recep Tayyip Erdogan labelled Israel "a terrorist state." Two years later, he hosted Khaled Mashaal, Hamas's leader. Alluding to Turkey's experience with Islamist parties, including his own, coming to power through elections, Erdogan said: "The choice of the people (at the ballot box) should be respected." Erdogan, citing Hamas's election victory in Gaza, apparently wanted to legitimize Hamas and terrorism.

However, he deliberately overlooked a significant difference between Hamas and Turkey's Islamist parties: Hamas specifically advocates violence, while Turkish parties operate within democratic politics.

Eight years after Mashaal's visit to Turkey, Hamas is coordinating its efforts in the West Bank with logistical support from a command center in Istanbul -- a fact that apparently annoys even the Palestinian Authority [PA], Hamas's "governing partner" in the Palestinian territories.

Turkey is also host to Salah al-Aruri, a Hamas commander whom the PA accuses of planning multiple attacks against Israeli targets.

According to the Israeli media, the Shin Bet has evidence that the deadly attacks against Israelis were planned at the Hamas headquarters in Istanbul. Turkish diplomats deny the claims, unconvincingly. Israel has reportedly requested NATO and the American government to take steps against Turkey's support for a terrorist organization.

It was, in fact, Aruri who, on Aug. 20, speaking at the World Conference of Islamic Sages in Turkey, admitted that Hamas had instigated the "heroic action carried out by the al-Qassam Brigades [the military wing of Hamas], which captured three settlers in Hebron." The three teenage boys were kidnapped and murdered by Hamas operatives, an incident that triggered the spiral of violence that led to the vicious 50-day war in Gaza this summer.

Most Western observers tend to explain Erdogan's love affair with Hamas with realpolitik and pragmatism – that Turkey has sought regional clout among Arab nations by setting out to become the powerful defender of the "Palestinian cause." This author thinks that there is also "a story of indoctrination" behind the love affair.

Turkish President (then Prime Minister) Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, meeting with Hamas leaders Khaled Mashaal (center) and Ismail Haniyeh on June 18, 2013, in Ankara, Turkey. (Image source: Turkey Prime Minister's Press Office)

One of the most influential philosophers and writers who inspired a young generation of Turkish Islamists in the late 1960s and early 1970s was Nurettin Topcu (1909-1975). His writings greatly influenced an emerging class of Turkish jihadists who gathered under the umbrella of the Turkish National Student Union (MTTB, in its Turkish acronym). Topcu's and other thinkers' theories founded what would later become known as the "Turkish-Islamic synthesis," or simply Turkish political Islam. In Topcu's views, "Islam is a Turk's spirit/heart and Turkishness his body." One of MTTB's most enthusiastic members of was Erdogan.

In a 2010 speech, Erdogan referred to Topcu, along with half a dozen other writers, as a "great thinker." In the same year, in another speech, Erdogan said that Topcu was "the mirror of this country." More recently, in an interview, Erdogan counted 11 names as the greatest writers in Ottoman and Turkish history." One of them was Topcu.

Today there is a cultural center and a number of primary schools, including in Ankara and Istanbul, which proudly carry the philosopher's name. This year, a deputy minister inaugurated a political school named Nurettin Topcu. Only last week, government bigwigs and bureaucrats organized a panel discussion on "Nurettin Topcu the Master and Our Education Cause."

But what makes the Sorbonne-graduate Turkish philosopher and his views so dear to the hearts and minds of Turkish leaders? Shortly after the Six-Day War in 1967, Topcu published three essays: "The Islamic Cause and Judaism," "Money and the Jew," and "Human Beings and Jews."

A pro-Erdogan newspaper columnist, Ibrahim Tenekeci, wrote in his column for the government-friendly Yeni Safak daily earlier this year: "[Topcu's 1967 writings] reflected a Muslim's rage… a noble challenge, an honourable stance." But what were the teachings of one of the Turkish president's favorite thinkers?

From Topcu's "Money and the Jew:"

"Mankind has two enemies, two Satans: money and the Jew."

From his "The Islamic Cause and Judaism:"

"As long as [the state of] Israel stands there, the Turkish and Islamic worlds will be in danger. The future belongs to either one (Israel) or the other (the Turkish and Islamic worlds)."

And from his "Human Beings and Jews:"

"Jews are... the eternal ordeal of mankind; they are the bloody and sinful hands…

"The Jewish nation was sent to the world in order to destroy every beauty, every solid foundation and every redemptive fact. To do harm to human beings and humanity is almost a Jewish instinct."

Topcu does not say "who" sent Jews to the world to do all the harm to mankind, or why. But apparently the 70s generation of Turkish Islamists have taken his theories too seriously.

Yes, President Erdogan is a pragmatic politician. But not always. Especially when his pragmatic-self meets with his emotional-self: That's heaven! Still wondering about his passionate love affair with Hamas? Read Topcu's excerpts once again. Then open up Hamas's charter, read the caricature-like text and compare its lines with the Turkish philosopher's. Now you can have a better reading of Erdogan's mind.

Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a Turkish columnist for the Hürriyet Daily and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

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Related Topics:  Palestinian Authority, Turkey
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