The success of Islamist Caliphal politics of President Erdogan depends upon fulfilment of: First, he must emerge and be recognised as the leader of Muslim world, this demands a de-democratisation of Turkey and freedom from any democratic constraint in his governance; second, a thorough de-legitimisation, rather criminalisation, of Arab state actors, mainly Saudi Arabia and the UAE
The multiple bombings, including suicide blasts, targeting the mass congregation at Catholic churches, hotels and other public places in Sri Lanka have once again drawn the concern of the international community over the danger of Islamist terrorism and radicalisation of a section of Muslim youths across the globe. The civilised world, including the Muslim religious and secular intelligentsia, was swift to condemn the abhorrent attacks, which took more than 250 lives, and expressed concerned about the failure of Sri Lankan state to the repeated warnings from India and its local intelligent units as well as the ability of the ISIS and other international Islamist terrorist organisations to wreak havoc.
While such incidents have routinely brought into the question the role of Wahhabi-Salafisation in raising a radicalised generation of Muslim youths with conception of “enemy other” to commit genocide, the contribution of Turkey under Islamist leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the process of radicalisation of a section of global Sunni Muslim youth has hardly been focussed upon. If one aspect of Islamist bombing in Sri Lanka, as claimed by the perpetrators, was to avenge the killing of Muslims in New Zealand by white supremacists, one is constrained to bring into focus the statement of President Erdogan, which may have implication in further motivating the radicalised Islamist elements to commit barbaric acts.
During the campaign of municipal election in Turkey last month, President Erdogan lambasted the politics of Islamophobia in the West, showed a video clipping of the Christchurch mosque shootings, and stated: “Turkey would make the attackers pay for his act if New Zealand did not.” Calling upon New Zealand authority to restore death penalty, Erdogan further stated on March 19 in an election rally, “You (Brenton Tarrant, the Australian attacker in Christchurch) heinously killed 50 of our siblings. You will pay for this. If New Zealand doesn’t make you, we know how to make you pay one way or another.”
If one looks at the rhetoric and tone of these statements of President Erdogan, one would find that it is not different from the rhetoric and semantic of non-state Islamist radicals and terrorists. It is another matter that statements and terrorist actions of non-state Islamist actors are routinely condemned, but world leaders hardly condemn the statement and action of state actors. It happens because, first, terrorism has been understood essentially as “non-state phenomenon”, and second, the state practice of political pragmatism, which tolerates such state figures for the consideration of wider economic and political interest.
Such alarmist Islamist politics on the part of the Erdogan regime is not difficult to understand. It is likely to increase in near future for three important reasons. First, the Islamist politics is centrally linked with Erdogan’s personal ambition of resurrecting the institution of Caliphate in 1924 — the 100th year of abolition of Caliphate by the Kemalist state of Turkey. Second, the deteriorating condition of Turkish economy is also pushing Erdogan to embrace Islamist politics. Third, Erdogan is losing domestic political ground as evident from his failure to win over mayorship in some of the largest cities like Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and other cities in March 2019 local elections. The AKP defeat in Istanbul is very symbolic for its survival. While the loss of its former Prime Minister and Speaker — Binali Yildirim — in Istanbul is a severe jolt to AKP’s hegemony, rubbing salt to their wounds is that the winner from CHP has a credible Muslim face. This explains why the Erdogan regime has decided to demand the re-election of Istanbul mayoral election despite twice recounting of the ballots and even formally lodged the complaint to Supreme Election Board (SYK) to derecognise approximately 13,500 votes, which belonged to dismissed, imprisoned officials alleged to be FETO (Gulen movement) members. Interestingly the AKP candidate, Yeldrim, lost to the CHP candidate in Istanbul with the margin of 13,500 votes. The prosecutors of Turkish state has now launched more than 32 investigations into the alleged irregularities in Istanbul mayoral election held last month and summoned more than 100 polling station officials for questioning as suspects, much after declaration of result !
The success of Islamist, Caliphal politics of President Erdogan depends upon fulfilment of certain conditions. One, President Erdogan must emerge and be recognised as the leader of Muslim world. This has pushed Erdogan to embrace aggressive, authoritarian style of politics with foremost anti-Israel, anti-west Muslim face who is also championing the cause of Muslim minorities living into non-Muslim majority countries. With physical liquidation of Al Qaeda and ISIS and the near absence of other anti-west, anti-Israel Muslim political figure, a good section of Muslim world looks into Erdogan a modern day Saladin. This authoritarian Islamist brand of politics of Erdogan demands a de-democratisation of Turkey and freedom from any democratic constraint in his governance. This brought him into conflict with the Gulen movement internally, which refused to cater to the demand of Erdogan to promote him as global Muslim political leader through its global network of schools and dialogue centres, at domestic level and in the European Union.
Second, the Caliphal politics of Erdogan requires a thorough de-legitimisation, rather criminalisation, of Arab state actors, principally Saudi Arabia and the UAE, with a view to remove them as legitimate leader of global Sunni Muslim community. As a result, the Erdogan regime has closeted itself to Islamist allay, primarily Iran, Qatar and Hamas, and increased its physical intervention in neighbouring Syria and Iraq to bolster it neo-Ottoman image on the one hand and leave no stone unturned in criminalising and diplomatically isolating Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The increase in anti- Saudi, anti-UAE rhetoric on the part of the Erdogan regime has another aspect also: to show to the Muslim world that the recent embrace of pluralism and diversity by the UAE and Saudi Arabia is a weakness of Islamic tradition and project his brand of Islamist authoritarian anti-pluralism politics as real Islamic and in line with Caliphatic tradition.
Two recent examples expose this mischief of the Erdogan regime. The first concerned the Jamal Khashoggi incident, which was badly exploited by Turkish state to expose the Saudi state in bad diplomatic taste and deprive the Kingdom of its Islamic legitimacy to rule and claim the rightful custodian of Mecca and Medina and leadership of Sunni Muslim world. The other is the attempt of Turkish state to criminalise the UAE by arresting two Palestinians for spying for the UAE in Istanbul, one of which is alleged to have committed suicide in jail while in solitary confinement. There is a strong indication of foul play by the Erdogan regime in this case, which was committed to defame the UAE, for the fact of the matter is that during last three years Turkey has witnessed 51 cases of suicide inside Turkish jails, including the suicide cases in solitary confinement. In none of these cases, the Turkish authority has ever carried out autopsy to ascertain the reason of death.
Today Turkey has become a rogue state, with its hobnobbing with ISIS and other Islamist terrorist elements being widely reported. President Erdogan has emerged as one of the principle sources of radicalisation of the Muslim youth across the world, particularly in Indian subcontinent where the second largest Muslim community of the world is living as religious minority with historical sense of discrimination and legacy of Kh?lafat movement. There are already reports that publications regarding Kashmir has tremendously increased in Turkey during last three years. The Government of India must be cautious in dealing with the Erdogan regime and must deny him the opportunity to radicalise the Indian Muslims.
(The writer is Senior Fellow with Policy Perspectives Foundations. Views expressed are of the author and in no ways represents the view of PPF)