Orlando: A Collage of Views on the Background

June 20, 2016

Phrases like “radical Islam”, “jihadist terror”, “Islamic extremism” and “Islamophobia” have been with us for quite some time. The Orlando massacre must have galvanized the behind closed doors debate on them. And, while some use them openly and with fury, others find it wiser to avoid doing this.

Mr. Trump, suggesting that all Muslim immigrants posed potential threats to America’s security, has renewed his call for a ban on Muslim migration into the United States and extend it to cover all nations with a history of terrorism. Mrs. Clinton said that a ban on Muslims would not have stopped the attack and neither would a wall. She also said that she’s not afraid to say “radical” Islam as she countered attacks from Mr. Trump that she’s too politically correct to use the phrase.

Although we are less than five months away from the November 8, 2016 US presidential election, I prefer to focus on what President Obama has said following the Orlando massacre. Here are excerpts from his statements:
… So there’s no magic to the phrase ‘radical Islam’. It’s a political talking point; it’s not a strategy. And the reason I am careful about how I describe this threat has nothing to do with political correctness and everything to do with actually defeating extremism. Groups like ISIL and al Qaeda want to make this war a war between Islam and America, or between Islam and the West. They want to claim that they are the true leaders of over a billion Muslims around the world who reject their crazy notions. They want us to validate them by implying that they speak for those billion-plus people; that they speak for Islam. That’s their propaganda. That’s how they recruit. And if we fall into the trap of painting all Muslims with a broad brush and imply that we are at war with an entire religion — then we’re doing the terrorists’ work for them…”
“… Are we going to start treating all Muslim Americans differently? Are we going to start subjecting them to special surveillance? Are we going to start discriminating against them because of their faith? We’ve gone through moments in our history before when we acted out of fear — and we came to regret it. We’ve seen our government mistreat our fellow citizens. And it has been a shameful part of our history…

All countries condemned the attack which targeted a popular LGBT nightclub. In the case of Western countries, China, India and Japan this was done at the highest level. Reaction from Muslim countries generally came not from leaders but from foreign ministries. This is also the practice in Western capitals when scores of people lose their lives in suicide attacks in the Middle East. In an interview with CNN, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani used strong language. After all, he did not have a choice; the killer was an American of Afghan decent.

The debate has led me to read for the umpteenth time, Samuel Huntington’s 1993 essay, “The Clash of Civilizations”. He had said:
“… It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future…
“… differences among civilizations are not only real; they are basic. Civilizations are differentiated from each other by history, language, culture, tradition and, most important, religion.
“… the processes of economic modernization and social change throughout the world are separating people from longstanding local identities. They also weaken the nation state as a source of identity. In much of the world religion has moved in to fill this gap, often in the form of movements that are labeled “fundamentalist.”
“… As people define their identity in ethnic and religious terms, they are likely to see an “us” versus “them” relation existing between themselves and people of different ethnicity or religion…
“After World War II, the West, in turn, began to retreat; the colonial empires disappeared; first Arab nationalism and then Islamic fundamentalism manifested themselves…
“… This centuries-old military interaction between the West and Islam is unlikely to decline. It could become more virulent… Some openings in Arab political systems have already occurred. The principal beneficiaries of these openings have been Islamist movements. In the Arab world, in short, Western democracy strengthens anti-Western political forces…
“… A world of clashing civilizations, however, is inevitably a world of double standards: people apply one standard to their kin-countries and a different standard to others…
“… . Global political and security issues are effectively settled by a directorate of the United States, Britain and France, world economic issues by a directorate of the United States, Germany and Japan, all of which maintain extraordinarily close relations with each other to the exclusion of lesser and largely non-Western countries. Decisions made at the U.N. Security Council or in the International Monetary Fund that reflect the interests of the West are presented to the world as reflecting the desires of the world community. The very phrase “the world community” has become the euphemistic collective noun (replacing “the Free World”) to give global legitimacy to actions reflecting the interests of the United States and other Western powers…
“… The West in effect is using international institutions, military power and economic resources to run the world in ways that will maintain Western predominance, protect Western interests and promote Western political and economic values…
“… Western ideas of individualism, liberalism, constitutionalism, human rights, equality, liberty, the rule of law, democracy, free markets, the separation of church and state, often have little resonance in Islamic, Confucian, Japanese, Hindu, Buddhist or Orthodox cultures. Western efforts to propagate such ideas produce instead a reaction against “human rights imperialism” and a reaffirmation of indigenous values, as can be seen in the support for religious fundamentalism by the younger generation in non-Western cultures…”

“The Clash of Civilizations” was written nearly a quarter of a century ago. Samuel Huntington passed away in December, 2008 without seeing what the Arab Spring was to bring.

The debate on whether we are about to engage or already engaged in a clash of civilizations will continue regardless of the efforts to address the problem in such a way as to prevent further deepening of the cultural fault lines. Where Turkey stands in this connection deserves some attention. After all, Turkey was the ardent co-sponsor of “The Alliance of Civilizations”, an initiative proposed by Spain at the 59th General Assembly of the United Nations in 2005. But since that is history, a brief word not on our former ally Spain, but the present one, Saudi Arabia.

The world has recently witnessed a tense relationship between the Obama administration and Saudi Arabia and sharp media criticism of the Kingdom as an “incubator and exporter of radicalism”. Washington and Riyadh certainly differ on the Iran nuclear deal and the war in Yemen but underlying the current unease is essentially the Kingdom’s Wahhabi outreach.

On June 11, 2016, Joby Warrick reported in the Washington Post that Albania – NATO member and US ally – worries about the emergence of ISIL. He said:
“… More than 100 Albanians have traveled to the Middle East to join the terrorist group, and a few have gained prominence, using the Internet to beckon their countrymen. Their call to Islamist militancy has been echoed by a handful of ultra-conservative mosques that have sprung up in Albania in recent years, some of them built with help from Islamic charities and missionaries from Turkey and the Persian Gulf region… Foreign groups have been only too eager to assist in the country’s religious education. Starting in the early 1990s, Islamic charities, some with the backing of oil-rich gulf kingdoms, jetted into Tirana to begin building mosques and madrassas, or religious schools. The most promising young students were offered scholarships to study theology under the tutelage of fundamentalist clerics in Saudi Arabia and Turkey…. Today, one of the biggest construction projects in Tirana is a huge, $34 million mosque funded in large part by the Turkish government. While few officials would publicly question Turkey’s largesse, some privately expressed exasperation. Why a lavish new mosque in a country with so many critical needs, including schools, highways and infrastructure for Albania’s promising but underdeveloped tourism industry?
“Please,” implored one senior official, “we have needs other than mosques.”

It appears that others have similar worries about Kosovo.

On June 13, Steven Erlanger of the New York Times reported that the possibility of Turkey’s becoming a member of the bloc has inflamed the debate on whether to remain in the EU. Supporters of a Brexit are now saying that allowing Turkey in would leave Britain exposed to a new wave of Muslim immigration and more vulnerable to Islamic radicals. A decade ago Britain was supportive of Turkey’s bid to join the EU.

In his essay, Samuel Huntington also mentioned what he called “The Torn Countries”, prominently among them Turkey. He said:
“… The most obvious and prototypical torn country is Turkey. The late twentieth-century leaders of Turkey have followed in the Atatürk tradition and defined Turkey as a modern, secular, Western nation state. They allied Turkey with the West in NATO and in the Gulf War; they applied for membership in the European Community. At the same time, however, elements in Turkish society have supported an Islamic revival and have argued that Turkey is basically a Middle Eastern Muslim society. In addition, while the elite of Turkey has defined Turkey as a Western society, the elite of the West refuses to accept Turkey as such. Turkey will not become a member of the European Community…
“… To redefine its civilization identity, a torn country must meet three requirements. First, its political and economic elite has to be generally supportive of and enthusiastic about this move. Second, its public has to be willing to acquiesce in the redefinition. Third, the dominant groups in the recipient civilization have to be willing to embrace the convert. All three requirements in large part exist with respect to Mexico. The first two in large part exist with respect to Turkey…”

That was in 1993. At present, these two requirements no longer seem to exist in large or small part for Turkey and the third one was never there.

In the fall of 1966, I took a series of exams to join the Turkish Foreign Ministry. Among other things, we were asked to comment on a widely used metaphor, “Turkey is a bridge between East and West”. I wrote that throughout history Anatolia had been a meeting point of cultures and that Turkey’s future lied in creating a successful synthesis. During my later years in diplomatic service I continuously objected to the use of this metaphor arguing that a bridge belongs to neither of its banks and that Turkey had already made her choice. I believed that with the launching of accession negotiations with the EU in October 2005, we had passed the point of no return. Then difficulties started to emerge. Nonetheless, our political leaders said that even if the process led nowhere we would turn the Copenhagen criteria into Ankara criteria and continue with Turkey’s democratization. Today, in a reversal of fortune, the accession process is over and done with and we are being offered the Riyadh criteria. Everything else aside, had the EU process remained on track regardless of the final outcome, the fallout from the Arab Spring would have been less costly not only for Turkey and Europe but also for the peoples of the Middle East. Unfortunately, Europeans did not have the foresight and we did everything possible to prove that Samuel Huntington had misjudged Turkey’s capacity to meet the first two requirements.

When I mentioned the Joby Warrick article to a friend and the barely hidden hostility between Riyadh and Washington and the need for Turkey to avoid getting involved with Saudi Arabia in controversial projects, he responded by saying that it was the US and Saudi Arabia who created the Taliban. Perhaps, but there is the Turkish saying that “two wrongs do not add up to a right”. Suffice it to say, Turkey had never before been mentioned in a debate on the spread of radicalism. Our moment of truth may be nearer than we think.

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