Turkey's Islamist government, now squeezed in a political drama in which it lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since 2002, has in many recent years boldly challenged its Western allies by calling them to join an allied fight against terror. But the target was not al-Qaeda, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or one of the dozens of different Islamist groups designated by the civilized world as terrorist.
Instead, Turkey wanted the West to fight the "terrorist state, Israel."
Turkey's Islamist rulers have a deeply corrupted perception of which acts count for terror and which ones do not: Anyone who kills in the name of a cause other than Islamism is probably a terrorist.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan once publicly declared a 15-year-old boy, who was shot by the police and died after many months in a coma, "a terrorist." In a claim never proven, Erdogan said the boy was carrying a slingshot in his pocket. He was hit in the head by a tear gas canister fired by anti-riot police. In Erdogan's thinking, the boy was a terrorist because he was hit during anti-government protests, he was carrying a slingshot and he was an Alevi (a member of a heterodox Muslim Shi'ite religious minority).
In 2013, the world was shocked at the dramatic death tolls in Kenya and Pakistan, when jihadists, in separate attacks over one weekend, killed more than 150 innocent people -- with the Kenya attack claiming victims aged between two and 78. Erdogan, then prime minister, looked very sad indeed -- but not for the victims of the terror attacks. He was mourning Asmaa al-Beltagi, a poor, 17-year-old Egyptian girl who had been shot dead by security forces in Cairo, as she was protesting the ouster of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohamed Morsi, in a coup d'état. Asmaa's father was a senior Brotherhood figure; after her death, Erdogan once even shed tears during a televised interview. He then commemorated the girl at almost every election rally.
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (then prime minister) cries over the death of a teenage Egyptian Islamist activist during a televised interview in 2013. (Image source: Cihan video screenshot)
Last November, after a meeting in Paris with French President François Hollande, Erdogan accused "those who try to portray ISIS as an Islamic organization...." Fortunately, he did not claim that ISIS was a Jewish organization. But funny, the organization he says is not "Islamic," flags itself as the "Islamic State"...
The Turkish Islamist show of ridiculous denials continues on at full pace. The latest wave of Islamist violence, in five different corners across the world, once again unveiled Turkey's hypocritical take on terrorism. On June 25, ISIS attacked a Kurdish town in northern Syria and slaughtered over 140 people, including women and children.
Then, on June 26, there was the terrorist attack at a tourist hotel in Sousse, east Tunisia. The attack left at least 37 people dead, including many foreign tourists, and injured 36 others. In a separate attack the same day in Kuwait, 25 people were killed and 202 were injured in a suicide bombing that targeted a Shia mosque during Friday prayers. ISIS claimed responsibility for both attacks. Meanwhile, Yassin Salhi, who murdered one man (his employer) at a U.S.-owned industrial gas factory in southern France, was reported to be well known to the French intelligence service for his alleged links with Salafist groups.
Finally, on July 1, the Islamic State killed 50 people in attacks in Egypt's north Sinai.
That put the one-week death toll at nearly 260.
Did the Turks watch a weeping president on television in the face of such violent human tragedy, as he had wept for the poor girl from the Muslim Brotherhood? Not at all.
Instead, quite dry statements from Erdogan's office and the Turkish foreign ministry merely condemned the killings in Tunisia, Kuwait and France. "These bloody assaults, which target Kuwait and Tunisia's peace and stability and aim to trigger sectarian clashes in Kuwait, reveal the importance of regional and international cooperation in fighting against terrorism," Erdogan said in a written statement.
Erdogan should be able to understand that fighting terrorism cannot succeed without a necessary first step: Why are these terrorists terrorizing? What is the ideology they fight for? Are they fighting to impose onto others by force the laws stipulated in Christian, Jewish, Hindu or Shintoist holy books? If their acts of terror are not related to Islam, what are they related to?
Erdogan will never be viewed as a reliable partner in any anti-terror fight before he gives honest and public answers to those questions.
This must be how Erdogan's Western partners engage in private, top-secret dialogues with him in their anti-terror fight:
President of an ally: "You know, Mr. President, the acts of terror they commit in the name of Islam..."
Erdogan: "No, shut up, they have nothing to do with Islam."
President of an ally: "But President we all know why they kill, and mostly they kill other Muslims..."
Erdogan: "It has nothing to do with Islam."
President of an ally: "But Mr. President..."
Erdogan: "Nothing to do with Islam."
Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a Turkish columnist for the Hürriyet Daily and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.