The Identity Crisis Fueling European Muslim Radicalization

by Abigail R. Esman
Special to IPT News
June 7, 2017

When tanks entered the streets of Istanbul and Ankara last summer in an attempt to overthrow the Turkish government, people swarmed the streets to fight them off. At the urging of their president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, they pushed back against the coup, some waving Turkish flags, others waving guns. “What else would you do?” A friend in Istanbul asked me some months later. “When your government and your country are attacked, you fight back. It’s to be expected.”

Less expected, however, were the crowds of Turkish-Europeans who also took to the streets in cities like Rotterdam, where dozens demonstrated on the city’s Erasmus Bridge, waving Turkish flags and, in some cases, crying out “Allahu Akbar.” For many non-Turkish Europeans, the action felt almost threatening: Were these people Turkish or European? Could they reasonably be both? Or did they represent a fifth column, aiming to overtake Europe from within?

In Holland, members of Leefbaar Rotterdam (Livable Rotterdam), the populist political party founded by the late Pim Fortuyn, determined to address the issue head-on. They held a public panel discussion last week to debate the question of who these demonstrators were: traitors? Dual citizens with torn allegiances? Could they be true to both their Turkish heritage and to the Dutch culture in which they were born and raised?

Left unspoken were the more pressing questions, the ones the non-Turks really meant: do Dutch Turks identify more with the Islamist policies and values of Erdogan and his regime, or with the secular Enlightenment, the democratic culture of the West? What, after all, to think of the fact that the vast majority of European Turks voted for Erdogan in the November 2015 elections, and again voted against democracy in Turkey’s April 16 referendum, which gave him virtually limitless powers until 2029?

While this particular debate took place in Rotterdam, once the home of the Renaissance humanist Erasmus, these questions have hovered over all of Europe since the 2004 terrorist attacks in Madrid and, even more, the 2005 attacks in London – and not only about the Turks, but about Muslim immigrants in general.

With Europe facing a near-continual onslaught of Islamist terrorist attacks often perpetrated by homegrown extremists, those questions feel more urgent than ever.

But both the issue and its urgency are far more complex than a matter of allegiance. For many second- and third-generation immigrant youth, especially those from Turkey and Morocco, it is also a matter of identity. As dark-skinned immigrants with names like Fatima and Mohammed, they are often discriminated against in their home countries. The values of their families and their religious leaders do not always mesh with the values of their communities and governments. But when they visit their cousins and grandparents in Anatolia and rural Morocco, they find they don’t fit in there, either.

Many counterterrorism experts maintain that this situation makes Muslim European youth especially vulnerable to radicalization and recruitment by terror groups. As Belgian-Palestinian jihad expert Montasser AIDe’emeh has noted of Belgian Moroccan extremists such as the Paris and Brussels attackers, “The Islamic State is giving them what the Belgian government can’t give them – identity, structure. They don’t feel Moroccan or Belgian. They don’t feel part of either society.” And speaking to PBS’s Judy Woodruff, Peter Neumann, director of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization, observed that “the cause [of radicalization] is ultimately a conflict of identity. It is about second- or third-generation descendants of Muslim immigrants no longer feeling at home in their parents’ or grandparents’ culture, at the same time not being accepted into European societies.”

If this is true, then what to make of the Turkish-European dual citizens choosing, as most have, to support Erdogan’s Islamist policies while living in the liberal West? Are they integrated, assimilated, into the cultures in which they live, as most insisted during the Rotterdam debate? Or are they rather true to the norms of a Turkey that is becoming increasingly religious, turning increasingly eastward, and to a president who is gradually unraveling the secular Western vision of the republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk?

At the same time, does waving the Turkish flag when the country is attacked mean they are not actually Dutch? Should Dutch Jews not fly the flag of Israel, or Dutch-Americans have left their stars and stripes at home after 9/11?

“It’s more than just flags,” Ebru Umar, a Dutch-Turkish journalist who moderated last week’s event, explained in an e-mail. “The flags symbolize who they are…. They claim to be soldiers of Erdogan.” Hence, she said, “the people [demonstrating] on the [Erasmus] bridge were and are seen as not integrated. Ask them and they’ll answer they are integrated. And [yet] they tell you of course they adore Erdogan.” Indeed, she noted, they even stated it at the debate: “‘You can’t ask a child whom they love more: mum or dad.'”

It is a false equivalency, however. This is not about loving one parent more than another, but about accepting one of two opposing sets of values: those of secular democracies, or those of Islamist theocracies. There is no combining the two. There is no compromise.

Which is what makes these questions so very critical right now – not just for the Dutch, but for all Europeans, as they confront a complex, existential dilemma. Should they continue to alienate the growing population of young Muslims, and should those same young Muslims continue to resist assimilation, they will together be laying out the welcome mat for recruiters for jihad. But should Europe instead accept the Islamist leanings of those same Muslim youth, it will soon discover there was a fifth column after all – a movement to Islamize the West. And it will have succeeded.

Abigail R. Esman, the author, most recently, of Radical State: How Jihad Is Winning Over Democracy in the West (Praeger, 2010), is a freelance writer based in New York and the Netherlands. Follow her at @radicalstates.

A Disappointing Silence on Erdogan’s Excesses

IPT NewsMay 18, 2017:

The man with the bullhorn already had been knocked to the ground, repeatedly kicked and beaten. Then the man with a mustache, wearing a sharp suit and a handgun on his hip, raced up and launched a fierce kick, hitting the man with the bullhorn square in the face.

The man with the bullhorn was protesting visiting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The man with the mustache is an Erdogan bodyguard. This beat-down, captured on video by the Voice of America, took place Tuesday, just 1.4 miles from the White House, where Erdogan met with President Trump.

Nine people were injured, including two who required hospitalization. A similar, but smaller brawl broke out last year when Erdogan was greeted by protesters outside a speech at the Brookings Institution.

The State Department issued a statement Wednesday saying it would tell the Turkish government that it is “concerned by the violent incidents …. Violence is never an appropriate response to free speech, and we support the rights of people everywhere to free expression and peaceful protest.”

It’s difficult these days for stories outside the White House’s struggle to contain the Russia investigation to gain much traction.

But events in and near the White House Tuesday should not get lost in the shuffle. Even without the violence by Erdogan’s goon squad, his White House visit should concern those who expected the Trump administration to follow through on its tough talk about confronting radical Islam.

For all the talk about naming radical Islamic terrorism where it exists, there appears to have been no mention of Turkey’s ongoing support for the Muslim Brotherhood and its terrorist offshoot Hamas. Rather, President Trump publicly lauded Erdogan, saying it was an honor to host him and that he looked forward to working together to create Middle East peace.

Erdogan is a favorite of U.S.-based Islamists, especially those with Muslim Brotherhood links, like Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Executive Director Nihad Awad. That may be due, at least in part, to his view that Hamas is not a terrorist group, but a national liberation movement.

Erdogan provided a safe haven for Hamas operative Salah Arouri even after Arouri was implicated in the deadly kidnapping of three Israeli teens that led to the summer 2014 war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. In that conflict, Erdogan predicted that Israel would “drown in the blood that they shed,” and likened the Jewish state to Adolph Hitler: “Just like Hitler tried to create a pure Aryan race in Germany, the State of Israel is pursuing the same goals right now.”

Arouri was asked to leave Turkey only last year, as part of an effort to restore diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey – relations Erdogan severed in 2010.

But that doesn’t mean Erdogan has turned a corner. In February, Turkey hosted a meeting of Hamas officials and affiliates. Last week, Erdogan repeated the baseless claim that Israel is an apartheid state, asking, “What’s the difference in Israel’s current practices from the racist and discriminatory policies implemented towards the blacks in America in the past, and in South Africa more recently?”

The ignorant talking point ignores the equal voting rights enjoyed by Israeli Arabs. The International Committee of the Red Cross rejected Erdogan’s rhetoric outright: “There isn’t a regime here that is based on the superiority of one race over another; there is no disenfranchisement of basic human rights based on so-called racial inferiority.”

In addition, Erdogan was slow to stem the tide of foreign fighters crossing his border in order to join ISIS in Syria. When he does act, he often targets U.S.-backed Kurdish forces fighting ISIS – a stateless minority Turkey oppresses.

While Erdogan and Trump praised each other publicly, ABC reports that “they made little progress to deal with their sharp differences on issues like terrorism and Syria.”

Erdogan, meanwhile, has purged tens of thousands of government employees, teachers and jailed scores of journalists in a clamp-down on any potential opposition. His crackdown is not limited to his own borders, as European critics have been targeted for arrest and surveillance.

Under his rule, Turkey’s secular education system has been weakened as religious training schools known as imam hatip grew more than 15 times in enrollment since 2003. His radical Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) wants Turkey to be governed by an Islamist authority that demands adherence to strict religious tenets.

The White House meeting lasted about 20 minutes, McClatchy reports. Beforehand, 81 members of Congress issued a statement urging the president to raise Erdogan’s human rights abuses in the meeting.

“Erdogan and his allies have mounted an assault on the rule of law, particularly using sweeping state of emergency authorities to stifle fundamental rights including free speech, undermine the independence of the judiciary, and quash any opposition to their undemocratic actions,” they wrote.

There is no indication whether that topic was discussed. After the meeting, Erdogan expressed appreciation for the president’s hospitality. That’s fine, but the failure to openly challenge Erdogan’s increasingly Islamist, authoritarian direction is disappointing. Turkey’s help is needed in the fight against ISIS. But if the United States intends to confront radical Islam, it missed a golden opportunity on Tuesday.

President Trump did ask that Turkey release jailed American pastor Andrew Brunson, the White House readout of the meeting said. The two leaders also plan to meet again next week during the president’s first official international trip.

Unless he challenges Erdogan then, the lasting images of this will be the unprovoked violence Erdogan’s armed bodyguards inflicted on peaceful demonstrators in the heart of the nation’s capital instead of a direct and honest challenge to Erdogan’s ongoing and egregious support for Islamist terrorists.

Also see:

Trump Defies Turkey, Approves Heavy Weapons for Syrian Kurds

AFP

Breitbart, by John Hayward May 9, 2017:

In a decision bound to infuriate Turkey, a senior Trump administration official said that heavier weapons would be approved for Syrian Kurdish forces as they close in on the Islamic State capital of Raqqa.

The anonymous senior official was quoted by the Associated Press as part of its coverage of Defense Secretary James Mattis’ meetings on Syria. NBC News published similar quotes by two unnamed defense officials, who said the Kurds could receive rifles, ammunition, armor, communications gear, and engineering equipment, delivered by ground convoys and air drops. NBC’s sources did not go into detail about what type of heavy weapons might be sent to the Kurds.

Military Times reported over the weekend that elite YPG fighters are already armed with advanced American combat gear, including night-vision goggles, digital camouflage, body armor, and the type of rifles used by American special operations forces. Photos of YPG commandos with American gear began appearing online during the battle to capture the strategic town of Tabqa, west of Raqqa, in late March.

U.S. military officials have only acknowledged supplying the YPG with Russian-made weapons, such as the ubiquitous AK-47 rifle. Officials “offered only ambiguous responses” when asked how the Kurdish fighters acquired American gear. Military Times anticipated Turkey would be “infuriated.”

Dana White, chief spokeswoman for the Defense Department, issued a statement on Tuesday formally acknowledging President Trump’s decision:

Yesterday, the president authorized the Department of Defense to equip Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces as necessary to ensure a clear victory over ISIS in Raqqa, Syria.

The SDF, partnered with enabling support from U.S. and coalition forces, are the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future.

We are keenly aware of the security concerns of our coalition partner Turkey. We want to reassure the people and government of Turkey that the U.S. is committed to preventing additional security risks and protecting our NATO ally.

The U.S. continues to prioritize our support for Arab elements of the SDF. Raqqa and all liberated territory should return to the governance of local Syrian Arabs.

The fight for Raqqa will be long and difficult, but will ultimately be yet another defeat for ISIS, and another step toward eliminating the ISIS threat to peace and security in the region and the world.

Turkey’s response will largely depend on whether they acknowledge a significant difference between the Kurdish YPG militia and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an umbrella group of Arabs, Assyrians, and other groups led by the Kurds against ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the Syrian regime.

American analysts have expressed a high degree of confidence in the training, discipline, and fighting ability of the SDF. The U.S. military has such a good relationship with the SDF that some American soldiers participated in an SDF ceremony recently at which some 250 female veterans of the YPG militia were inducted into Syrian Democratic Forces ranks.

The U.S. Central Command reportedly sent Mattis a request last week asking to arm the Kurds. Defense officials and analysts said Mattis and President Trump were likely to approve the plan, which envisioned a mixed Kurdish and Arab force supported by American artillery and airstrikes to push ISIS out of Raqqa. The Obama administration also believed Kurdish troops would be key to recapturing the city, but President Barack Obama was said to be reluctant to approve the plan for Raqqa so close to Trump taking office.

Reuters described Mattis as “upbeat” after meeting with a Turkish official in Copenhagen, Denmark on Tuesday. Mattis said the administration intended to “work with the Turks, alongside one another, to take Raqqa down, and we’re going to sort it out and we’ll figure out how we’re going to do it.”

However, U.S. officials said Mattis was not signaling a new agreement with Turkey about the battle plan for Raqqa, and maintained the Trump administration is skeptical of Turkey’s claims that it can manage the liberation of Raqqa without Kurdish help.

Turkey adamantly insists that the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia is allied with the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey, a Kurdish separatist organization that both Turkey and the United States classify as terrorist in nature. On the other hand, the U.S. views the YPG as an invaluable battlefield ally against the Islamic State, and quietly rejects Turkish characterizations of the Syrian Kurdish militia as an offshoot of the PKK.

Turkey has not merely been critical of the YPG – it has attacked Kurdish positions in Syria, prompting military responses from the Kurds. One of Turkey’s professed strategic goals in Syria is preventing the Kurds from annexing all or part of Raqqa. Kurdish leaders have said that if the people of Raqqa wish to join their autonomous “democratic federal” system after the Islamic State is defeated, that would be fine with them.

The U.S. military has been patrolling the Turkey-Syria border to discourage further Turkish attacks on the Kurds. Turkish officials have suggested they might not care if American troops get in the way during their next operation against the YPG.

Mattis also said that he was reviewing the Russian proposal to create “safe zones” for refugees in Syria, a proposal co-sponsored by Turkey and Iran.

“It’s all in process right now,” Mattis said en route to Copenhagen Monday. “Who is going to be ensuring they’re safe? Who is signing up for it? Who is specifically to be kept out of them? All these details are to be worked out and we’re engaged.”

Mattis said another important consideration was whether the safe zone proposal would affect the battle against the Islamic State – a distinct possibility, since the safe zones are supposed to be no-fly zones for all military aircraft, including those belonging to the United States and its anti-ISIS coalition partners.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump on May 16. Erdogan has already suggested the American alliance with Syrian Kurds would be the top item on the agenda.

Also see:

Europe: More Migrants Coming

Gatestone Institute, by Soeren Kern, May 5, 2017:

  • “In terms of public order and internal security, I simply need to know who is coming to our country.” — Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka.
  • Turkey appears determined to flood Europe with migrants either way: with Europe’s permission by means of visa-free travel, or without Europe’s permission, as retribution for failing to provide visa-free travel.
  • The migrants arriving in Italy are overwhelmingly economic migrants seeking a better life in Europe. Only a very small number appear to be legitimate asylum seekers or refugees fleeing warzones.
  • The director of the UN office in Geneva, Michael Møller, has warned that Europe must prepare for the arrival of millions more migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

The European Union has called on its member states to lift border controls — introduced at the height of the migration crisis in September 2015 — within the next six months.

The return to open borders, which would allow for passport-free travel across the EU, comes at a time when the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean continues to rise, and when Turkish authorities increasingly have been threatening to renege on a border deal that has lessened the flow of migrants from Turkey to Europe.

Critics say that lifting the border controls now could trigger another, even greater, migration crisis by encouraging potentially millions of new migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East to begin making their way to Europe. It would also allow jihadists to cross European borders undetected to carry out attacks when and where they wish.

At a press conference in Brussels on May 2, the EU Commissioner in charge of migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, called on Austria, Denmark, Germany, Norway and Sweden — among the wealthiest and most sought after destinations in Europe for migrants — to phase out the temporary controls currently in place at their internal Schengen borders over the next six months.

The so-called Schengen Agreement, which took effect in March 1995, abolished many of the EU’s internal borders, enabling passport-free movement across most of the bloc. The Schengen Agreement, along with the single European currency, are fundamental pillars of the European Union and essential building-blocks for constructing a United States of Europe. With the long-term sustainability of the single currency and open borders in question, advocates of European federalism are keen to preserve both.

Avramopoulos, who argued that border controls are “not in the European spirit of solidarity and cooperation,” said:

“The time has come to take the last concrete steps to gradually return to a normal functioning of the Schengen Area. This is our goal, and it remains unchanged. A fully functioning Schengen area, free from internal border controls. Schengen is one of the greatest achievements of the European project. We must do everything to protect it.”

The temporary border controls were established in September 2015, after hundreds of thousands of migrants arrived in Europe, and when EU member states, led by Germany, gave special permission to some EU countries to impose emergency controls for up to two years. Since then, the European Union has approved six-month extensions of controls at the German-Austrian border, at Austria’s frontiers with Hungary and Slovenia and at Danish, Swedish and Norwegian borders (Norway is a member of Schengen but not the EU). Several countries have argued that they need border controls to combat the threat of Islamic militancy.

On May 2, Sweden, which claims to conduct the most border checks among the EU countries, announced that it will lift controls at its border with Denmark. Sweden received 81,000 asylum seekers in 2014; 163,000 in 2015; 29,000 in 2016, and the same is expected for 2017.

On April 26, Austria called for an indefinite extension of border controls. “In terms of public order and internal security, I simply need to know who is coming to our country,” Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said. Austria, which accepted some 90,000 migrants in 2015, also called for a “postponement” of the EU refugee distribution program, which requires EU member states to accept a mandatory and proportional distribution of asylum-seekers who arrive in other member nations.

On March 9, Norway extended border controls for another three months.

On January 26, Denmark extended border controls for another four months. Integration Minister Inger Støjberg said that his government would extend its border controls “until European borders are under control.”

On January 19, Germany and Austria announced that border controls between their countries would continue indefinitely, “as long as the EU external border is not adequately protected.”

Meanwhile, the number of migrants making their way to Europe is once again trending higher. Of the 30,465 migrants who reached Europe during the first quarter of 2017, 24,292 (80%) arrived in Italy, 4,407 arrived in Greece, 1,510 arrived in Spain and 256 arrived in Bulgaria, according to the International Office for Migration (IOM).

By way of comparison, the number of arrivals to Europe during each of the first three months of 2017 exceeded those who arrived during the same time period in 2015, the year in which migration to Europe reached unprecedented levels.

The trend is expected to continue throughout 2017. Better weather is already bringing about a surge of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Libya to Europe. During just one week in April, for example, a total of 9,661 migrants reached the shores of Italy.

The migrants arriving there are overwhelmingly economic migrants seeking a better life in Europe. Only a very small number appear to be legitimate asylum seekers or refugees fleeing warzones. According to the IOM, the migrants who reached Italy during the first three months of 2017 are, in descending order, from: Guinea, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Senegal, Morocco, Mali, Somalia and Eritrea.

In February, Italy reached a deal with the UN-backed government in Tripoli to hold migrants in camps in Libya in exchange for money to fight human traffickers. The agreement was endorsed by both the European Union and Germany.

On May 2, however, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel reversed course by saying the deal ignored the “catastrophic conditions” in Libya and would not curb migration. He said that Germany now favored tackling migration by fighting instability in Africa:

“What we are trying instead is to help stabilize the countries on the continent. But that is difficult. We will have to show staying power, stamina and patience. This is in the interest of Africans but also in the interest of Europeans.”

Gabriel’s long-term solution — which in the best of circumstances could take decades to bear fruit — implies that mass migration from Africa to Europe will continue unabated for many years to come.

Italy has emerged as Europe’s main point of entry for migrants largely because of an agreement the European Union signed with Turkey in March 2016 to stem migration from Turkey to Greece. In recent weeks, however, Turkish authorities have threatened to back out of the deal because, according to them, the EU has failed to honor its end of the bargain.

Under the agreement, the EU pledged to pay Turkey €3 billion ($3.4 billion), as well as grant visa-free travel to Europe for Turkey’s 78 million citizens, and to restart accession talks for Turkey to join the bloc. In exchange, Turkey agreed to take back all migrants and refugees who reach Greece via Turkey.

After the deal was reached, the number of migrants reaching Greece dropped sharply, although not completely. According to data supplied by the European Union on April 12, a total of 30,565 migrants reached Greece since the migrant deal took effect. Only 944 of those migrants have been returned to Turkey. Still, this is in sharp contrast to the hundreds of thousands of migrants who entered Greece at the height of the migration crisis. Turkey’s continued cooperation is essential to keep the migration floodgates closed.

On April 22, Turkey’s Minister for EU Affairs, Ömer Çelik, issued an ultimatum, warning the European Union that if it does not grant Turkish citizens visa-free travel by the end of May, Turkey would suspend the migrant deal and flood Europe with migrants.

On March 17, Turkey’s Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu warned that his country would “blow the mind” of Europe and renege on the deal by sending 15,000 Syrian refugees a month to Europe:

“We have a readmission deal. I’m telling you Europe, do you have that courage? If you want, we’ll send the 15,000 refugees to you that we don’t send each month and blow your mind. You have to keep in mind that you can’t design a game in this region apart from Turkey.”

In February 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had already threatened to send millions of migrants to Europe. “We can open the doors to Greece and Bulgaria anytime and we can put the refugees on buses,” he told European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. In a speech, he signaled that he was running out of patience:

“We do not have the word ‘idiot’ written on our foreheads. We will be patient, but we will do what we have to. Don’t think that the planes and the buses are there for nothing.”

In February 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (left) threatened to send millions of migrants to Europe. “We can open the doors to Greece and Bulgaria anytime and we can put the refugees on buses,” he told Jean-Claude Juncker (right), President of the European Commission. (Image source: Turkish President’s Office)

European officials say that to qualify for the visa waiver, Turkey must meet 72 conditions, including the most important one: relaxing its stringent anti-terrorism laws, which are being used to silence critics of Erdoğan, especially since the failed coup in July 2016. Turkey has vowed not to comply with the EU’s demands.

Critics of visa liberalization fear that millions of Turkish nationals may end up migrating to Europe. The Austrian newsmagazine, Wochenblick, recently reported that 11 million Turks are living in poverty and “many of them are dreaming of moving to central Europe.”

Other analysts believe Erdoğan views the visa waiver as an opportunity to “export” Turkey’s “Kurdish Problem” to Germany. According to Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Söder, millions of Kurds are poised to take advantage of the visa waiver to flee to Germany to escape persecution at the hands of Erdoğan: “We are importing an internal Turkish conflict,” he warned. “In the end, fewer migrants may arrive by boat, but more will arrive by airplane.”

The European Union now finds itself in a Catch-22 situation. Turkey appears determined to flood Europe with migrants either way: with Europe’s permission by means of visa-free travel, or without Europe’s permission, as retribution for failing to provide visa-free travel.

Greek officials recently revealed that they have drawn up emergency plans to cope with a new migrant crisis. Turkey is hosting some three million migrants from Syria and Iraq, many of whom are presumably waiting for an opportunity to flee to Europe.

Italy is also bracing for the worst. Up to a million people, mainly from Bangladesh, Egypt, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan and Syria are now in Libya waiting to cross the Mediterranean Sea, according to the IOM.

The director of the United Nations office in Geneva, Michael Møller, has warned that Europe must prepare for the arrival of millions more migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. In an interview with The Times, Møller, a Dane, said:

“What we have been seeing is one of the biggest human migrations in history. And it’s just going to accelerate. Young people all have cellphones and they can see what’s happening in other parts of the world, and that acts as a magnet.”

German Development Minister Gerd Müller has echoed that warning:

“The biggest migration movements are still ahead: Africa’s population will double in the next decades. A country like Egypt will grow to 100 million people, Nigeria to 400 million. In our digital age with the internet and mobile phones, everyone knows about our prosperity and lifestyle.”

Müller added that only 10% of those currently on the move have reached Europe: “Eight to ten million migrants are still on the way.”

Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.

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Turkish jets strike Kurdish fighters in Syria, Iraq’s Sinjar

A U.S. military commander (R) walks with a commander (C) from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) as they inspect the damage at YPG headquarters after it was hit by Turkish airstrikes in Mount Karachok near Malikiya, Syria April 25, 2017. REUTERS/ Rodi Said

Reuters, by Isabel Coles and John Davison, April 25, 2017:

Turkish planes bombed Kurdish fighters in Iraq’s Sinjar region and northeast Syria on Tuesday, killing at least 20 in a widening campaign against groups linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party.

A Turkish military statement said around 70 militants were killed in the operations inside the two neighboring states.

The air strikes in Syria targeted the YPG, a key component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which are backed by the United States and have been closing in on the Islamic State bastion of Raqqa.

The Turkish raids showed the challenges facing U.S.-led attempts to defeat Islamic State in Syria and risk increasing tension between NATO allies Washington and Ankara over Kurdish combatants who have been crucial in driving back the jihadists.

In Washington, the State Department said it was deeply concerned by the air strikes, which were not authorized by the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Turkey is part of the coalition of more than 60 countries.

“We have expressed those concerns with the government of Turkey directly,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters on a conference call. “These air strikes were not approved by the coalition and led to the unfortunate loss of life of our partner forces,” he added.

Toner said the strikes hurt the coalition’s efforts to go after the militants. “We recognize their concerns about the PKK, but these kinds of actions frankly harm the coalition’s efforts to go after ISIS and frankly harm our partners on the ground who are conducting that fight.”

A U.S. military officer accompanied YPG commanders on a tour of the sites hit near Syria’s frontier with Turkey later on Tuesday, a Reuters witness said, demonstrating the close partnership.

The YPG said in a statement its headquarters in Mount Karachok near Syria’s frontier with Turkey had been hit, including a media center, a radio station, communications facilities and military institutions.

“As a result of the barbaric strikes by the Turkish warplanes at dawn today against the YPG center … 20 fighters were martyred and 18 others wounded, three of them critically,” said spokesman Redur Xelil.

Ilham Ahmed, a senior Kurdish politician who co-chairs the political wing of the SDF, said they wanted the United States to provide aerial protection against Turkey.

The Turkish military said the two regions it struck around 2 a.m. (2300 GMT) had become “terror hubs” and the aim of the bombardment was to prevent the PKK sending weapons and explosives for attacks inside Turkey.

Designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, the PKK has waged a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state for Kurdish autonomy. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict, most of them Kurds.

Turkish security sources said 13 PKK militants had been killed on Tuesday in operations backed by the air force in the largely Kurdish southeast of Turkey. Two Turkish soldiers were also killed when a roadside bomb planted by the PKK blew up in Sirnak province.

“NEW QANDIL”

Turkey has regularly bombed the mountainous border area between Iraq and Turkey where PKK militants are based since a ceasefire broke down in July 2015. But Tuesday’s raid was the first time Turkish forces have targeted its affiliate in the northwestern Sinjar area.

The PKK established a presence in Sinjar, bordering Syria, after coming to the aid of its Yazidi population when Islamic State militants overran the area in the summer of 2014 and killed and captured thousands of members of the minority faith.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said he will not allow Sinjar, around 115 km (70 miles) from the Turkish border, to become a “new Qandil”, referring to a PKK stronghold in Iraq near the borders with Turkey and Iran.

The presence of a PKK affiliate in Sinjar is also rejected by Kurdish authorities who run their own autonomous region in northern Iraq and enjoy good relations with Turkey.

Five members of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces, which are also deployed in Sinjar, were killed, and nine wounded in one of the Turkish air strikes, according to the peshmerga ministry, apparently by accident.

It called the attack “unacceptable” but blamed the PKK for being there and demanded the group withdraw from Sinjar.

Also see:

On Turkey, Trump Catches Spring Fever

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves after he visited the graves of three conservative late Turkish prime ministers, in Istanbul, Monday, April 17, 2017. (Yasin Bulbul/Presidential Press Service via AP)

PJ MEDIA, BY ANDREW C. MCCARTHY, APRIL 19, 2017:

Amid reports of significant ballot-box stuffing, roughing up dissenters, and other electoral fraud, Turkey’s sharia-supremacist strongman, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, hammered the final nail in the coffin of his country’s democracy. Last weekend, he narrowly prevailed in a referendum that formally concentrates in the presidency the autocratic powers he had previously usurped.

Afterwards, Donald Trump called to congratulate him.

You read that right. The president of the United States called to congratulate a terror-supporting Islamist ruler on completing his country’s turn away from Western liberalism.

Five years ago, I wrote a book called Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy. It was largely about Erdogan and Turkey. That story needed telling in order to explain why, far from a democratic revolution, the so-called Arab Spring would result in the ascendancy of political Islam in all its classic totalitarianism. The point was that we knew how the story would end in the Middle East and North Africa because the same story had already played out in Ankara.

And so it did.

Erdogan had seized the reins thanks to a constitutional quirk ironically designed to keep Islamists out of power. Gradually — in many ways, brilliantly — he strengthened his hand until, finally, he succeeded in his goal of eviscerating the secular, Westward-leaning society forged by Mustafa Kemal — Atatürk — out of the Ottoman Empire’s post-World War I collapse.

Spring Fever presaged what happened last weekend. Though he was still prime minister at the time (mid-2012, the height of Arab Spring exuberance), I contended that Erdogan’s goal was “the adoption of a new constitution with a powerful presidency that Erdogan would occupy.” Thus, my rueful conclusion that “‘Islamic Democracy’ begins to sound a lot like Russian ‘democracy.’”

It was always sadly amusing that Western devotees of “Islamic democracy” pointed to “the Turkish model” as proof positive that their oxymoronic fantasy could become Middle Eastern reality.

Even in their rose-tinted telling, the Arab Spring was supposed to be a mass transformation from dictatorships to democracy. Turkey, to the contrary, was already a democracy when Erdogan took over in 2003. He represented a shift from a secular, pro-Western orientation to sharia supremacism. There never was an Arab Spring, but Erdogan is the Turkish Winter, transforming democracy into dictatorship.

Steadily, he accumulated power though starting from a position of weakness. He was shrewd, but the tea leaves were never hard to read. “Democracy,” he proclaimed, “is just the train we board to reach our destination.” Erdogan never saw democracy as a goal, never aspired to adopt a culture of liberty and the protection of minority rights. For him democracy was nothing but the procedural means — mainly, popular elections in a Muslim majority country — to the desired end of imposing sharia, Islam’s societal framework and legal system. “I am a servant of sharia,” Erdogan was wont to say when he was Istanbul’s mayor — though he preferred to refer to himself as the city’s “imam.”

As prime minister, his masterstroke was to exploit the con-job known as European integration. Erdogan knew that, for all their flowery rhetoric, Germany, France, and the rest had no intention of welcoming a Muslim country of 80 million into the EU. Moreover, as an Islamist in the Muslim Brotherhood mold, Erdogan despises the West and had no intention of conforming in order to join. To this day, he exhorts Muslims to integrate into the West but resist assimilation. Indeed, he has described Western pressure on Muslims to assimilate as a “crime against humanity.” When it comes to Europe, Erdogan’s long range plan is to extort its accommodation of Islamic norms, not to become a partner.

Thus, we find the brilliance of Erdogan’s strategy. His main opponents when he took power were the Turkish military, which had staged coups throughout modern Turkey’s history to prevent an Islamist takeover, and the rest of the “deep state” guardians of the secular Kemalist order. So Erdogan undertook to leverage the endless European integration process in a manner that undermined his rivals. There was the Western insistence on civilian control of the military, which paralyzed Kemalists who might otherwise plot to remove Erdogan; the prime minister thus gradually installed his own loyalists. And while EU bureaucrats care little about Western religious traditions, they are indignant on the matter of religious liberty where Islam is concerned. As applied to Turkey, this EU integration metric gave Erdogan the cover he needed to ease Kemalist restrictions on the teaching and practice of Islam.

Meanwhile, Erdogan focused on restoring sharia norms in the culture and sharia tenets in the classroom. When it became clear that the armed forces would not dare overthrow him, he purged Kemalist officers, including in mass, trumped-up prosecutions. Ditto journalists: Erdogan’s Turkey imprisons more reporters than China, and is brutal generally toward dissenters.

Concurrently, he rolled out the red carpet for the Muslim Brotherhood, which turned Turkey into a center of movement gravity. He cultivated friendship with Iran, the world’s leading sponsor of jihadist terror, working to help the mullahs defeat American sanctions. He is one of the world’s foremost promoters of Hamas, maintaining that the Palestinian jihadist faction is a political party fighting against occupation — just like Hezbollah, Iran’s Shiite jihadist faction. And Erdogan’s determination to arm and train Sunni jihadists has contributed to the rise of the Islamic State, even if it has strained his relations with Tehran.

To summarize, Erdogan is an anti-Western, anti-Semitic, sharia-supremacist, jihadist-empowering anti-Democrat. As a ruler, he is a Putin wannabe who persecutes those who dare defy him, running his country like a mafia don. His referendum victory is the death knell for democracy in Turkey.

Last summer, candidate Donald Donald Trump lavished praise on Erdogan after the latter put down an attempted coup. The nominee did not realize, or perhaps did not care, that the revolt had been a last-ditch attempt to thwart the regime’s sharia authoritarianism and restore the secular, pro-Western constitutional order. This was bad enough — an early reflection of Trump’s indifference to the internal affairs of countries he perceives as potentially helpful (however well- or ill-informed such perceptions may be).

But it is simply mind-boggling that, as president, Trump would congratulate Erdogan for a stolen election victory that crushes democracy and accelerates Turkey’s Islamist turn.

After he won in November, I wondered aloud whether Trump grasped the reality of sharia supremacism. Sure, he deserved praise for his willingness to name America’s enemy — “radical Islamic terrorism,” he called it. Yet it remained to be seen whether he understood the enemy, particularly the ideology that drives the enemy.

Suffice it to say: I continue to have my doubts.

In his speech accepting the Republican nomination, Trump railed about the “radical Muslim Brotherhood” and put a positive spin on the Egyptian military’s decision to wrest control from the Brotherhood regime. All fine … except this came at the very same time he was lauding Erdogan, the Brotherhood’s key ally and ideological twin, for crushing a similarly motivated coup. Since then, Trump has opined that Turkey could be of great help against the Islamic State, notwithstanding that Erdogan’s empowerment of Sunni militants helped create the Islamic State.

Perhaps someone could explain to the president that although Erdogan, like the Brotherhood and other Islamists, has his disagreements with the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, he shares the jihadists’ commitment to sharia rule. That is, his worldview is more like that of totalitarian jihadists than of, say, NATO countries. Of course, when Turkey was permitted to join NATO in 1952, it was Kemalist. Now, though the alliance of democracies has added counterterrorism to its renewed mission of containing the Kremlin’s ambitions, Turkey is Islamist, anti-democratic, supports terrorists, and has cozied up to Putin.

There are two things to notice about Erdogan. First, he sees Islam as the foundation of life, with no division among the political, civic, social, and spiritual realms. Second, he emphatically rejects the concept of “moderate” Islam – recall his famous outburst: “It is an insult to our religion. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it.” That is why Erdogan so naturally champions the jihadists of Hamas and Hezbollah, and why he was so willing to provide logistical support, training space, weapons, and funding for Sunni jihadists headed to Syria.

Eventually, of course, jihadists began biting the hand that fed them, bombing targets in Turkey and kidnapping Turkish officials. It’s an old game, one Erdogan could learn about from the Saudis, Pakistanis, Egyptians, and other Islamist regimes that have similarly supported Muslim militants in the vain hope of controlling them and using them geopolitically. Only after ISIS struck Turkey did Erdogan begin posing as a committed ISIS enemy. But the new American president is kidding himself if he thinks he can bank on that, or that an Islamist dictator can be a reliable ally against Islamic terrorism while promoting sharia supremacism and continuing to support his preferred Islamic terrorists, such as Hamas.

Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s renowned jurist (and Hamas’s inspiration), has explained that Western democracy is incompatible with Islamic society because sharia is a comprehensive societal system that regards secularism as apostasy — a capital offense in Islamic law.

Al-Qaeda and its breakaway branch, the Islamic State, seek a global caliphate governed by totalitarian sharia, and thus attack governments that aspire to real democracy.

Now, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has snuffed out democracy in his quest to turn Turkey into an authoritarian sharia state.

And the president of the United States has called to congratulate him.

Turks Vote to Give Away Their Democracy

Gatestone Institute, by Burak Bekdil, April 18, 2017:

  • Alarmingly, Turkey’s proposed system lacks the safety mechanisms of checks and balances that exist in other countries such as the United States.
  • It would transfer powers traditionally held by parliament to the presidency, thereby rendering the parliament merely a ceremonial, advisory body.
  • “The conditions for a free and fair plebiscite on proposed constitutional reforms simply do not hold,” said a report released by the EU Turkey Civic Commission.

In a bitter irony, nearly 55 million Turks went to the ballot box on April 16 to exercise their basic democratic right to vote. But they voted in favor of giving away their democracy. The system for which they voted looks more like a Middle Eastern sultanate than democracy in the West.

According to unofficial results of the referendum, 51.4% of the Turks voted in favor of constitutional amendments that will give their authoritarian Islamist president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, excessive powers to augment his one-man rule in comfort.

The changes make Erdogan head of government, head of state and head of the ruling party — all at the same time. He now has the power to appoint cabinet ministers without requiring a confidence vote from parliament, propose budgets and appoint more than half the members of the nation’s highest judicial body. In addition, he has the power to dissolve parliament, impose states of emergency and issue decrees. Alarmingly, the proposed system lacks the safety mechanisms of checks and balances that exist in other countries such as the United States. It would transfer powers traditionally held by parliament to the presidency, thereby rendering the parliament merely a ceremonial, advisory body.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims victory in the April 16 referendum, at a rally the night of the vote. (Image source: VOA video screenshot)

Why did the Turks choose democratic suicide?

1. Erdogan’s confrontational Islamist-nationalist rhetoric keeps appealing to masses who adore him for his claims of being in the process of restoring the country’s historical Ottoman influence as a leader of the Islamic world. His rhetoric — and practices — would often echo an authoritarian rule in the form of a sultan. It was not a coincidence that the thousands of Erdogan fans who gathered to salute their leader after his referendum victory were passionately waving Turkish and Ottoman flags and chanting “Allah-u aqbar” [“Allah is the greatest”, in Arabic]. For most of Erdogan’s conservative fans, “God comes first… then comes Erdogan”. That sentiment explains why the vote on April 16 was not just a boring constitutional matter for many Turks: It was about endorsing an ambitious man who promises to revive a glorious past.

2. The ‘No’ campaign and its supporters were systematically silenced and intimidated by a powerful state apparatus, including its police and judicial powers. In contrast, the ‘Yes’ campaign enjoyed all possible government support, with full mobilization of state means and public resources. Worse, Turkey went to the ballot box under a state of emergency that was declared after a failed coup in July.

3. A European Union (EU) parliamentary organization warned before the referendum that the democratic legitimacy of the vote was in question. It mentioned that the lawmakers’ ability to campaign for the ‘No’ vote had been undermined by the government. “The conditions for a free and fair plebiscite on proposed constitutional reforms simply do not hold,” said a report released by the EU Turkey Civic Commission. It highlighted, among several other reasons, that the co-leaders of a pro-Kurdish political party who campaigned for ‘No’ have been imprisoned since November on charges of links with terror groups. In the 15 months leading up to the referendum, says a civil rights NGO, police used violence to stop a total of 264 peaceful demonstrations in support of the ‘No’ campaign.

4. With around 150 journalists in jail, the pervading climate was fear.

The great Turkish purge spells big numbers. According to Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu:

  • 47,155 people have been jailed since the coup attempt on July 15;
  • 113,260 people have also been detained;
  • 41,499 people have been released with condition of judicial control and 23,861 people have been released without any condition; 863 other suspects remain at large;
  • 10,732 of those who have been arrested are police officers, while 168 military generals and 7,463 military officers have been jailed as of April 2, 2017;
  • 2,575 judges and prosecutors, and 208 governors or other public administrators have been imprisoned. The number of jailed civilians, including handicapped people, housewives and elders, is 26,177
  • Over 135,000 people have been purged: A total of 7,317 academics were also purged as well as 4,272 judges and prosecutors who were dismissed due to alleged involvement in the coup attempt.

‘No’ campaigners were threatened and treated like terrorists. Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) confirmed cases of intimidation against the ‘No’ campaign across the country.

5. The main opposition Republican People’s Party claimed election rigging. It claimed the vote was manipulated in terms of content and method. Only an hour into the vote count, the Supreme Board of Elections declared as valid voting papers without official seals. That practice is clearly in violation of the election laws. The opposition also claimed that in some cities the election observers from the ‘No’ groups were removed from their polling stations. In Turkey, it probably does not matter what is in the ballot box; what matters more is who counts them.

The April 16 vote in Turkey meant more than a simple vote on a package of 18 constitutional amendments. With a narrow and controversial margin, the Turks voted to change regime in favor of a sultanate. It was not a coincidence that a news editor for Yeni Akit, a militantly Islamist newspaper and a pro-Erdogan outlet, tweeted after the referendum results, an obituary for the “Old Turkey.” In January, a columnist for Yeni Akit claimed that Erdogan would become the “caliph” if he wins the referendum and the presidential election.

Turkey’s soul-searching and societal wars never have a moment of truce. Turkey’s wars are not just between political leaders and parties; they are wars between the supporters of a democratic, secular country and those of a caliphate which Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey, abolished almost a century ago. As Kati Piri, the European Parliament’s Turkey rapporteur, said of the referendum: “This is a sad day for all democrats in Turkey”.

Burak Bekdil, one of Turkey’s leading journalists, was just fired from Turkey’s leading newspaper after 29 years, for writing what was taking place in Turkey for Gatestone. He is a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

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