Erdogan: No Moderate Islam
By Burak Bekdil
December 4, 2017
Turkey's strongman, President
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, may have exhibited all possible features of political
Islam since he came to power fifteen years ago, but at least he has been bold
and honest about his understanding of Islamism: There is no moderate Islam, he
This comment does not mark any U-turn, or a radical deviation
from his earlier freshman-self back in the 2000s. The problem is that his
Western "allies" have stubbornly preferred to turn a blind eye to his
poster-child Islamism. Worse, they still do.
Several years ago, Erdogan's ideological-self clearly stated
that "Turkey is not a country where moderate Islam prevails." In the
same speech, his pragmatic-self -- the one that wanted to look pretty to a
chorus of Western praise -- added that, "We are Muslims who have found a
middle road." But which "middle road?"
In the several years that followed, Erdogan proudly exhibited
another feature of Islamism in a make-believe assertion: Muslims never do wrong;
if a Muslim does wrong then he is not Muslim.
In 2009, when Sudanese paramilitaries committed acts of genocide
against the population of Darfur, and Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, was
guilty of the crimes for which he was indicted by the International Criminal
Court, Erdogan simply said:
"It is not possible for those who belong to the Muslim faith to carry out
genocide." Instead, he said, Israeli "war crimes" in Gaza are
worse than anything that has taken place in Sudan. As he said that, victims in
Sudan had already numbered in the hundreds of thousands.
Erdogan famously claimed that "there is no Islamic
terror" in 2010.
In February, at a meeting in Ankara, Erdogan slammed
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's phrase "Islamist terror." He angrily
said to his guest, "Islam means 'peace,' it can't come with 'terror'."
When Erdogan (then prime minister) famously claimed that
"there is no Islamic terror" in 2010, the satire website Zaytung
fabricated a story,
the lead paragraph of which read: "Erdogan's claims that 'There is no
Islamic terror' have left several Islamic terror organizations heart-broken. A
press release from al-Qaeda's press office read: 'The prime minister's remarks
are very discouraging. We are doing our best!'."
In 2011, when Hamas' charter called for the annihilation of the
State of Israel by means of violence, Erdogan claimed
that "Hamas is not a terrorist organization." Instead, he said:
"I don't see Hamas as a terror organization. Hamas is a political party --
it emerged as a political party that appeared as a political party. It is a
resistance movement trying to protect its country under occupation."
In a similar show of ideological wishful thinking, Erdogan has
often come out in defense
of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, despite international pressure against the
movement, particularly from the United States, which has debated listing the
group as a terrorist organization. Erdogan
said he did not consider the Brotherhood one because "it is not
an armed group, but is in actual fact an ideological organization."
In a 2010, President Obama praised Erdogan's Turkey as a
"great Muslim democracy."
The Obama administration sounded as if it were trying to deal
with the Turkey it wished it had, instead of dealing with the Turkey it had.
In a 2010 interview with the Italian daily Corriere della
referred to Turkey as a "great Muslim democracy." Obama
should have seen that a democracy is a democracy -- without any religious
prefix. He would see in later years the difference between a democracy and a
But it took Obama many years to see that. In 2011, Tom Donilon,
Obama's former national security advisor, said
that the U.S. president regarded Erdogan as "a man of principle, and also a
man of action." In a 2012 Time
interview, Obama named Erdogan as one of the five world leaders with
whom he had the strongest bonds.
The U.S. can either deal with the Turkey it has or
the Turkey it wishes it had.
Seven years after Obama's pathetic diagnosis about the kind of
democracy Erdogan brought to an otherwise secular country, the Turkish president
that "There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. There is only one
Islam." Worse, he claimed
that the term "moderate Islam" had been fabricated by the West in
order to weaken Islam. From the Muslim democracy to the former U.S. president,
The U.S. ambassador to Ankara from 2003 to 2005, Eric Edelman, said,
"We basically have turned a blind eye to Erdogan's drive towards an
authoritarian, one-man system of rule in Turkey." The journalist Jeffrey
Goldberg wrote in The
Atlantic's April 2016 issue:
Early on, Obama saw Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the president of
Turkey, as the sort of moderate Muslim leader who would bridge the divide
between East and West — but Obama now considers him a failure and an
The Trump administration has two options: It can either deal with
the Turkey it has or the Turkey it wishes it had.