Syria is not Afghanistan and Turkey is not Pakistan

Ceylan Ozbudak
Ceylan Ozbudak
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There is not a single day on which I listen to English-language broadcasts on the radio, watch a television interview, or read an American newspaper without the claim being made by some analysts that Turkey is assisting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

There is a perception - and it is exactly that, a perception - that somehow Turkey is responsible for ISIS simply because of its proximity to Syria. This perception is created to bully Turkey into giving in to supporting Washington’s momentary partners in a military fight against ISIS such as PKK and its Syrian branch PYD even though the PKK is accepted as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the EU. Turkey has never armed terrorists groups to topple a regime or another group like we saw the U.S. do in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union and in Libya against Qaddafi and many more before. The main difference between Turkey and the U.S. is that the former respects a universal comprehension of morality in diplomacy while the latter sees the Middle East as a lab and the inhabitants as test subjects.

In an aim to create a media campaign and provoke public opinion, first the fight against ISIS was reduced to “if you don’t support the YPG, you are supporting ISIS.” Then this motto was repeated numerous times through journalists who sell themselves as ventriloquist’s dummies for hire. In a simpleminded understanding of “the enemy of our enemy is our friend,” public opinion is being provoked.

Surely not all analysts fell directly into this trap. What exists is the flawed thinking in the mind of some analysts who do not speak Turkish or Arabic, who have no real access or understanding of how our societies work; a conclusion arrived at from the rise of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan during the Afghan war was that Pakistan was the clearinghouse for jihadists.

The main difference between Turkey and the U.S. is that the former respects a universal comprehension of morality in diplomacy while the latter sees the Middle East as a lab and the inhabitants test subjects

Ceylan Ozbudak

Peshawar was the HQ for Arab jihadists to mill about with Pakistani and Afghan Taliban. Extrapolating this example to ISIS and Turkey, they surmise that Turkey is Pakistan and Syria is Afghanistan.

These thoroughly ill-conceived analogies might make sense in some Western capitals, but they do not reflect reality. Turkey is a democracy and a Muslim-majority nation with no history of Muslim extremism of the Salafist or Wahhabist variety. Despite being a predominantly Muslim country, the number of people who have thus far joined ISIS from Turkey is less than the number of radicals some European nations sent to ISIS. There is no headquarters for ISIS or al-Qaeda in Turkey.

This conflating of imagination and ignorance, a failure to understand new dynamics, and the classic mindset of forever fighting the last war has led to the U.S. State Department naming two distinct and different countries (Afghanistan and Pakistan) as ‘AfPak” – Americanese for a conceptual framing of policy that has led to constant failures with governments and in handling terrorism.

On the other hand, Turkey shares a 800 km long border with Syria, and millions of refuges have taken shelter with us while the rest of the world will not accept them. In the meantime, jihadists cross the same border to join ISIS. Our American allies, who blame Turkey for lacking border control, can lead the way by sealing the Mexican border and bringing a solution to ever increasing Mexican migrants inside the U.S.. Yet we should not forget that those who illegally cross the U.S. border are mostly innocent Mexican civilians in search of a better life, not jihadists who are determined to die – and kill - for their cause.

The EU countries also can take no pride in border security. Just last December, we witnessed how a Turkish gunman who tried to assassinate Pope John Paul II visited his tomb in the Vatican and roamed around carefree. In the case of foreign jihadists, the EU holds more responsibility in terms of detecting those who have been dangerously radicalized. In the end, these people spend an ample amount of time in their European home countries in contact with radical individuals and organizations, planning their trip and going through security checks in European airports before reaching Turkey. Most of those who are detected and deported were caught through the work of Turkish intelligence and security officials without any heads-up from the European intelligence services.

Not being ignored

Thus, UK Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond recently praised Turkey in its border control efforts against ISIS saying, “Turkey is doing a fantastic job of intercepting people who are seeking to get across the border.”

The U.S. State Department also did not ignore Turkey’s efforts in cracking down on foreign fighters. Let’s not forget that over the last 30 years of Turkey’s fight against the PKK, sealing the border to Syria and Iraq has not been possible. If Turkey could control these borders completely, it would do so for its national interests.

The rise of ISIS is only a symptom. ISIS and terrorism are the direct outcome of atrocities committed during the Iraq war and as well as a reaction against Assad’s powerbase in Damascus. Blaming Turkey may well be in vogue, but removing Assad from government, a proven mass murderer, is apparently too tall a task for our allies. Let’s assume zero extremists crossed over Iraq and Syria to fight along ISIS: As long as those murderous ideologies remain in people’s minds, would the world be free of extremist violence? What do we think those hundreds of radicalized people in Western capitals do? The problem is not confined between the Syrian and Iraqi borders; the danger travels the world within the minds of the radicals.

With more than 700 years experience of statesmanship, Turkey will complete this era on a moral path, form closer alliances with the leading tribes in the region and create no more mass casualties, despite the intense campaign to push it into conflict.


Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. As a representative of the Harun Yahya organization, she frequently cites quotations from the author in her writings. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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