Al-Qaeda’s nemesis: Turkish-American partnership

Ceylan Ozbudak

Published: Updated:

After a decade of war with terror in the Middle East and after a thousand pages of know-how given by Muslim countries to the U.S. explaining how weapons cannot eliminate terrorism, our American friends at last seem to have come to their senses. To their credit, this time America also seems to have chosen the perfect ally for the job in defeating al-Qaeda's ideas: Turkey.

Let me explain.

Are people we consider to be evil born this way, or do they become so through environmental exposures, upbringing, indoctrination, education, or some combination of all of the above? Whatever the answer, it did not take humanity long to discover and practice evil deeds. Our Abrahamic texts teach us the third human ever to live, murdered the fourth. The tale of humanity has been filled with murder, deceit, and destruction ever since. Al-Qaeda is not the first. Why evil began and what causes some of us to fall into it, is a question for philosophers and scholars to debate for many more generations, as they have for many past ones. But how we slow it down and erase a good bit of it from the future of our civilizations is a question for all people of the world today.

Turkey stands out as the only Muslim-majority nation in the Middle East free from the cancer of extremism.

Ceylan Ozbudak

In our era, we are again called to be courageous. We are called to unite and be with one voice, like a chorus of angels, silence the inner demons of our present world. There are times when we are 196 countries, and there are times when we must act as one world. Ideologies of evil must not be countered with a whisper, but with a roar. The troubles of our day are not small, but vast. The simple problems have been solved. It is the hard work that remains, and it is that, which was left to us. The work we must do, and the battles we must now fight, require a different set of parameters for a different set of challenges. Industrial Age weapons will not be the tools of victory in the Information Era. It will not be weapons made of iron that will prove decisive. The wars of our current world are a battle of ideas, and those with nerves of steel and the courage of their convictions will triumph.

Enter Turkey and the United States.

Last week at a meeting in New York during the United Nations General Assembly, we launched the creation of a $200 million fund, co-chaired with the United States, to combat violent extremism. This fund aims to undercut the ideological and recruiting appeal of jihadists in places like Somalia, Nigeria, Yemen and Pakistan. Formally called the Global Fund for Community Engagement and Resilience, it will for the first time combine financing from both government and non-governmental entities to identify credible local organizations; develop, monitor and evaluate programs; and channel funds to local projects that target groups and individuals vulnerable to appeals from terrorist groups. This fund was launched by the Global Counter Terrorism Forum which Turkey and the U.S. chair together. Important allies such as the EU, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and others work together to defeat terror.

This type of long-term strategic investment in the battle of ideas has been long overdue.

Eliminating radical ideas

Even though Turkey had its ups and downs with pluralism in modern times, starting from the late Ottoman period, radicalism never impacted the Turkish Muslim scene. The Ottoman Empire displayed a relatively high degree of traditional, or de facto, pluralism composed of non-Muslim millet system, Muslim religious orders (tarikats) sects, tribes, clans, craft guilds, charitable foundations (vakıf), and the like. This tradition was transferred to secular modern Turkey rather successfully, resulting in a religious Muslim majority society, tolerant of all ideas.

Islam in Turkey is moderate and adapted to modern life. Turkey’s mosques are open to all. Non-Muslims are always welcome in Turkish mosques. A university student can be seen to enjoy her night at a club and go to a nearby mosque without being judged or shunned when it’s the prayer time. The vast majority of Turkish Muslims was horrified at the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and condemned the perpetrators as un-Islamic fanatics. What the West needs to understand is, Turkish Muslims came to this accommodating understanding through decades of education. When you put out targets such as “we have to wipe out al-Qaeda,” al-Qaeda is not a fixed number of people. Al-Qaeda is an ideology, a way of looking at life. We cannot defeat al-Qaeda by taking out its members one by one, just like we couldn’t stop communist ideology in Vietnam by bombing the coastline of Vietnam by B-52 planes day and night.

Turkey therefore understands the importance of education and re-education in eliminating radical ideas. Turkey stands out as the only Muslim-majority nation in the Middle East free from the cancer of extremism.

I can't tell you for certain if there are people born bad or not. But I feel certain I have seen some of the good ones. Many of you will remember the day in 1989 when a man in China stood in front of a tank and stopped it with nothing more than courage. I remember the day that same year when an ideology of hope overcame an ideology of fear and brought the Berlin Wall down. Just this week, we've seen a remote and desolate area of Pakistan fed by the food and clothed by the generosity pouring forth from many around the world. An earthquake may have shaken the ground beneath them. But humanity from all corners of the globe moved mountains to try to save them. The earthquake was a disaster that built an island. The love shown by humanity was the hope that built a bridge.

Billions are spent on the killing machines to slaughter thousands of innocent people. A fund with 200 million Dollars is a good start but it doesn’t go far enough. Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Davutoğlu should realize this is just as important if not more as the Arab-Israeli peace process, Iran and the next big conflict. In the end, conflicts are all born out of bigotry, intolerance and indoctrination. Rather than dealing with the symptoms, these two important countries should focus on the virus causing the disease. Excellent start. Long way to go…

Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. 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.