Thursday, January 14, 2016

Turkey Is Not In Bed With ISIL: New Age Islam’s Selection From World Press, 14 January 2016

Turkey Is Not In Bed With ISIL: New Age Islam’s Selection From World Press, 14 January 2016
New Age Islam Edit Bureau
14 Jan 2016
Turkey is not in bed with ISIL
Mustafa Akyol
Arab Israelis are citizens, not punching bags!
Yossi Mekelberg
Turkey’s Big Security Gap against Jihadists
By Emre Uslu
Regime’s Attacks on Turkish Academics: Rise Of Islamist Fascism?
By İhsan Yilmaz

Turkey is not in bed with ISIL
Mustafa Akyol
13 Jan 2016
On January 12, on a sunny winter day that visitors saw as a blessing, Istanbul was hit at its most popular tourist spot: A suicide bomber blew himself up in front of the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, known also as the Blue Mosque, next to the ancient Egyptian obelisk placed in the 4th century by the Romans.
The immediate victims were foreign tourists - 10 people, nine of them from Germany. Also hurt were Turkey's sense of security, its peace, and its tourism industry.
In the first hours of the attack, who had carried out the attack was unclear, as the usual suspects included not just the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL), but also Kurdish militants affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). I pointed to ISIL as the likely culprit, as this was an attack that hit Western tourists, which would not be strategically helpful to the PKK, but would be desirable by ISIL.
In a couple of hours, the Turkish government announced that the suicide bomber was an ISIL militant: a Saudi-born Syrian citizen. Nabil Fadli, 27, had entered Turkey from Syria very recently. The press also found a photo of him, taken last week when he was in an official office in Istanbul for some paperwork.
Heart of Istanbul
The question, then, is that if it was ISIL, why did they hit Turkey right in the heart of Istanbul? ISIL militants had carried out two other deadly suicide attacks inside Turkey in the past six months - one in Suruc on July 20 and another in Ankara on October 10, killing a total number of 135 people.
Both of those bloody attacks, however, were directed at a specific ideological target: the secular, left-wing, pro-Kurdish political line in Turkey.
In that sense, both of those attacks could be seen as the encroachment of the ISIL-Kurdish war into Turkish territory, or, as I argued then, the spilling of the Syrian civil war into Turkey.
Yet, the latest on Sultanahmet Square was of a different kind. The target was not the secular, left-wing, pro-Kurdish line; it was random tourists, an iconic Istanbul site, and ultimately Turkey itself.
On New Year's Eve, Turkish policemen had arrested two would-be suicide bombers who were planning another deadly attack in Kizilay, the very heart of Ankara, during  the midnight celebrations.
Both that unsuccessful plot in Ankara and the sadly successful in one Istanbul show that ISIL is now targeting Turkey directly, with a focus on soft targets.
This should come as no surprise, since the conflict between Turkey and ISIL has been deepening since last July, after the first major suicide attack in Suruc and following a United States-Turkey deal allowing US warplanes to use the Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey against ISIL.
'Apostate regimes'
Soon, ISIL publications had upped the rhetoric against Ankara, condemning it as one of many "apostate regimes" allying with the "crusaders". In the Turkish-language ISIL digital monthly Konstantiniyye (Constantinople), an article promised the "conquest of Istanbul" and also ran a poem that read:
"Oh, Istanbul, you have allowed disbelief in your avenues. You have filled your streets with sins, but surely you will be conquered. You will bow down to the takbirs [declarations of God's unity]."
Furthermore, only four days before the attack on Sultanahmet, Turkish forces in northern Iraq, located as the Basiq camp near Mosul in agreement with Iraqi Kurdistan authorities, were attacked by ISIL fighters.
Turkish forces had repelled the ISIL fighters and reportedly killed 17 of them. Meanwhile, at home, Turkish authorities have arrested about 1,200 people inside Turkey through the past year, many of them Turkish citizens, for suspected links with ISIL.
All of this means that Turkey is at active war with ISIL. It also debunks the conspiracy theory, popular among certain voices - within the Turkish opposition, some parts of Western media, and also, lately, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his media - that the Turkish government is in secret collaboration with ISIL. That is incorrect and unfair.
It is fair, however, to argue that the Turkish government woke up to the ISIL threat belatedly and only gradually. One reason has been the long-time fixation on the Assad regime as being the only evil in Syria. Another reason was Turkey considering ISIL, at least for a while, as a counterbalance to the Kurdish resurgence in northern Syria.
Islamo-nationalist ideology
A third one is the latter-day Islamo-nationalist ideology of Turkey's ruling AK party, which assumes that all the problems of the Middle East are created by conspiratorial Western powers and no Islamist actor can ever threaten Turkey, no matter how extreme it is.
Moreover, it is also fair to remind ourselves that the authoritarian measures the Turkish government is relying upon in the face of terror do not help. The gag order imposed on the media after every terror attack only makes the opposition more suspicious of the government's intentions.
Meanwhile, the condemnation of every critic of the government's war on the PKK as "traitors" and a "fifth column", as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did on the very day of the Sultanahmet attacks, serves nothing other than to further polarise the society.
With the serious threats coming both from ISIL and the PKK, along with other troubles created by the Syrian civil war, the crisis with Russia, a slowing economy, and declining democratic credentials, Turkey does need "national unity" as both Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu often call for.
But this itself needs a more constructive leadership, which will seek national unity not under the narrow ideological banner of the AK party, but a broad umbrella that will welcome all different colours of Turkey's complex society.
Mustafa Akyol is a Turkish journalist, regular opinion writer for Al-Monitor, and author of Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty.
Arab Israelis are citizens, not punching bags!
Yossi Mekelberg
13 January 2016
It may be naïve to expect a politician to refrain from scoring political points, even the very trivial ones. When it comes to Arab-Israeli/Palestinian citizens, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t miss any opportunity to pander to his constituency by using the Arab minority as a punching bag.
The most recent opportunity was presented to him by a lone gunman, Neshat Melhem, an Arab Israeli. In a callous attack Melhem claimed the lives of three Israelis, two in a bar in Tel Aviv and of a taxi driver as he escaped. With a terrorist still at large, the need of the hour was a message of national unity. Instead Netanyahu chose to deliver one of his most chilling and divisive messages. His speech pointed fingers at one fifth of the Israeli population though their only ‘crime’ was being Arab.
To create maximum impact, Netanyahu chose the site of the Tel Aviv shooting to cast doubt on Arab-Israelis’ loyalty. In his customary hollow demagogue, he said: “whoever wants to be Israeli must be Israeli all the way.” This can be said about any citizen anywhere in the world. However, this was only the beginning. His speech turned more venomous as he suggested that Arabs in Israel are running a state within a state, which is lawless and plagued with Islamist propaganda, weapons and criminal elements.
Not only was this a very unflattering description of nearly 1.8 million people but also viciously incorrect. Isn’t he their prime minister as well? If there are such serious issues, is it not his duty to protect the vast majority that is not involved in criminal and extremist activities among the Arab-Israelis? It is obvious that his populism is aimed at garnering support of his supporters and covering up his failed premiership.
Taking responsibility
Mr. Netanyahu cannot escape the fact that if his false depiction of the Arab community in Israel was correct he must bear at least some responsibility. He has been the prime minister of Israel for a total of 10 years and continuously since 2009. How come he has this revelation only when an Arab-Israeli, for still unclear reasons, commits a crime which most Arab-Israelis condemned? One of its victims was an Arab himself. I cannot recall Netanyahu, or any other member of his government, trying to implicate, and rightly so, all half a million illegal settlers in the West Bank when an individual or a small group among them burnt an entire Palestinian family alive.
Incidentally, this took place in a week in which the Israeli government admitted that many of the issues among Arab communities in Israel, including higher levels of criminality and radicalization, derived from decades of neglect by Israeli governments and society. Only three days before Netanyahu’s attempt to further delegitimize Arab-Israelis, his government approved a proposal to allocate 15 billion shekels ($3.86 billion) in funding to Arab communities in addition to what was already in the state budget.
Additional funds invested in the development of housing, transportation, industry, education and healthcare are desperately needed to close gaps between the amount invested in the Jewish communities versus the Arab ones. Prime Minister Netanyahu, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel deserve credit for pushing for this long overdue plan and for accepting and internalizing that much of the maligned problems among Arabs in Israel are the result of ongoing neglect. They made this move despite vociferous opposition from within their government.
This is the tale of two Netanyahus exposed to the public within a few days. The first Netanyahu has good insight into what is necessary for the good of the country, derived from years of experience in top political job in the country. Sadly the dark side of Netanyahu, which is exposed way too often, is the populist petty politician. He would jump on to any opportunity, as tragic as it might be, to gain favor with a section of the Israeli-Jewish electorate.
Statistics support claims that there is a higher level of criminal offence among the Arab population in Israel than the Jewish one. However, this racist view distorts the causality of it and blames it on their ethnicity. A more empirical approach would surmise that criminality and political-religious-ideological extremism are closely correlated with years of neglect, discrimination and institutional racism.
Acts such as killing in Tel Aviv bar deserve utter condemnation. Nevertheless, ignoring their root causes and conditions where they emerge would be either naïve or worse criminal negligence. The inequality of the Palestinian citizens of Israel is entrenched and results in the loss of opportunity, higher levels of unemployment, lower standard of living and shorter life expectancy.
Admittedly, some changes and reforms need to take place from within the Arab community. Radical elements do exist and are related to the lack of a peaceful solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians, not to mention political, social and ideological developments across the region. Nevertheless, much of the malaise among the Palestinians in Israel can be resolved through a change in approach by the Jewish establishment and the society.
There is need for an approach which recognizes Arab-Israelis as equal citizens and their welfare, concerns and sensitivities taken seriously into account. This would be beneficial for the country as a whole. Netanyahu’s populist opportunism where blood was spilled can only lead to more discord and division and deserves condemnation.
Yossi Mekelberg is an Associate Fellow at the Middle East and North Africa Program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, where he is involved with projects and advisory work on conflict resolution, including Track II negotiations. He is also the Director of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program at Regent’s University in London, where he has taught since 1996. Previously, he was teaching at King’s College London and Tel Aviv University. Mekelberg’s fields of interest are international relations theory, international politics of the Middle East, human rights, and international relations and revolutions. He is a member of the London Committee of Human Rights Watch, serving on the Advocacy and Outreach committee. Mekelberg is a regular contributor to the international media on a wide range of international issues and you can find him on Twitter @YMekelberg.
Turkey’s Big Security Gap against Jihadists
By Emre Uslu
January 13, 2016
The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has once again hit Turkey's most popular tourist spot, Sultanahmet, İstanbul, and killed at least 10 and wounded 15 people. Turkish authorities have been saying the same old stories: “Turkey is a secure country to travel to,” and “There is no intelligence failure,” etc.
Is this really the case?
For a long time, I have been arguing that there is a big security gap in Turkey, in which ISIL or other jihadist networks operate. Because of my warnings, I have faced criminal charges; however, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government's attempts to silence me and other analysts who underline similar problems doesn't change the reality on the ground. Jihadists continue to kill and security agencies continue to fail.
Those who follow this column would recall that I outlined reasons why Turkish law enforcement agencies have failed to prevent ISIL and other jihadists attacks inside Turkey.
Mainly, because the realm of “jihadists” is exclusively handled by the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT), we don't know what kind of relationships ISIL and other jihadist groups, especially al-Nusra Front, have with MİT.
For instance, we don't know what happened in the investigation of Diana Ramazanova, a Russian-national suicide bomber who targeted the İstanbul police in January 2015. “It was revealed that the suicide attacker came from Russia and is affiliated with an Islamic terrorist organization. Interestingly enough, the Turkish police, for the first time in its history, didn't reveal the name of the terrorist organization. Three people were arrested for their connection to the attack, but no one knows who they are and what terrorist organizations they belong to,” I have previously written.
As I said during the aftermath of the Ankara massacre, because of the shady relationships between intelligence agencies and jihadists, the gendarmerie and the police cannot conduct intelligence activities targeting jihadist groups. With indoctrination from MİT, prosecutors and judges have refrained from launching any domestic legal action against ISIL and jihadists.
MİT headed by AKP member
“The second source is the politicization of the intelligence agency. MİT's head is a member of the AKP, and his efforts to use the agency to promote the AKP's interests have been met with resentment within the organization. Rumors have it that MİT head does not trust anyone within the agency. It is even claimed that when he moves from one building to another, the buildings are evacuated for security considerations,” (Today's Zaman, Oct. 11, 2015).
Because of these two facts, the suicide attack in Istanbul was not prevented. Unlike previous attacks, this time, MİT publicly shared the possibilities of suicide attacks; yet, law enforcement agencies still failed to prevent the attack.
The political climate the police have experienced over last few years is what has prevented them from focusing on the jihadists, thus failing to prevent attacks. They are well aware of the imminent danger, as they know that those who have attempted to investigate jihadist networks inside Turkey are in prison now, and that if they themselves start investigating jihadists, they too would face imprisonment.
MİT had previously warned the public of a potential ISIL attack that did not happen. The question which needs to be asked is: Why are the police still reluctant to conduct operations?
It is because police intelligence units do not have any information about jihadists. Thus, they usually do not have actionable intelligence about their networks.
More importantly, police don't want to conduct thorough investigations because they know what they would face if they were to do so.
Furthermore, the intelligence that usually comes from MİT is not specific enough to conduct operations. In addition, it is a common tendency of MİT to blame other agencies if there is any failure. Consequently, under such circumstances, no police chief would take a risk to launch a serious investigation against jihadists who are conducting operations.
Regime’s Attacks on Turkish Academics: Rise Of Islamist Fascism?
By İhsan Yilmaz
January 13, 2016
The Justice and Development Party (AKP) regime was warned repeatedly against the Kurdistan Workers' Party's (PKK) advances in city centers during the so-called peace process, but they did not listen.
The intelligence services knew that the PKK was getting ready for war in urban areas in the case of the peace talks failing. We warned the AKP that while it was a must to continue with the peace process, it was wrong to turn a blind eye to the PKK's stocking of weapons and ammunition in metropolitan areas. The AKP regime and its cheerleaders in the media accused us of being enemies of peace and blood-sucking vampires. Now, the regime that is becoming increasingly totalitarian has fallen into the trap of the PKK that digs deep trenches around city centers and declares these areas emancipated. Instead of dealing with this terror and uprising with wise strategies, the AKP regime applies sheer and irrational force, surrounding the cities with military tanks.
Because of the curfew, people cannot go out and get their relatives bodies that have been shot dead and lie on the ground in the open for several days. Children have been shot, possibly by terrorists or by agent provocateurs, but it is the state that creates the climate that breeds this situation. As we cannot ask the terrorists to be nice guys, we of course ask the state to stick to the rule of law and not help the PKK's cause by making civilians' lives very difficult. A total of 1,128 academics, mostly from Turkey's prestigious universities, signed a declaration to call for an end to the ongoing fighting between Turkish security forces and the PKK. The declaration underlines the number of civilian causalties and calls on the government to restore the peace process. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan very fiercely criticized the academics for their statement and accused them of being a fifth column of foreign power. Erdoğan shouted: "I call upon all our institutions: Everyone who benefits from this state but is now an enemy of the state must be punished without further delay." And, instantly, the Higher Education Board (YÖK) stated that the institution will do whatever it deems necessary regarding the punishment of the academics who signed the declaration. YÖK blamed the academics for supporting terrorism.
A TV show host had to apologize after a teacher said live on his program that children were dying in the southeast of Turkey and asked for peace. It was by no means PKK propaganda, but still the AKP regime was very upset. The Doğan Media Group had to make a public statement, declaring that it obeys the state. A terrorism case will be brought against the TV station. On social media, a university student asked his university's rector, “will you sort out the academic that signed the petition, or should I sort him out myself?” The rector replied, “I will deal with him.”
And on Wednesday, Sedat Peker, a notorious figure who has been convicted on charges of organized crime, also threatened the academics. Peker is a staunch Erdoğan supporter who last year addressed crowds in a rally in Rize province and threatened those who criticize the government by saying that they will pay the price of their critical stance. He also said, "We will spill barrels and barrels of [Kurds'] blood." Peker labeled the academics who signed the petition for peace "so-called intellectuals." He wrote: "If those terrorists achieve the mission of causing the Muslim Turks' state to fail, then this is the beginning of frightening times for you. At that moment, the bell will toll for you all. We will spill your blood!" If all these are not steps of a march towards Islamist fascism, then what is? When I was told last year by an expert that the AKP regime controls about 30,000 mafia members and gangsters and uses them against the regime's critics, I flatly rejected to believe it. Now, I have my doubts…

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