by Ghassan and Intibah Kadi for the Saker Blog
With all eyes globally poised at COVID-19 and the impending economic meltdown, Black-Lives-Matter activism, and the protests in the USA and some Western countries, little attention is given to the rise of a potentially more formidable religious fundamentalism base for ISIS-style and orientation than ISIS itself; and indications are pointing to this happening right now, in today’s Turkey.
Al-Qaeda and ISIS are/were rogue organizations with relatively little resources, little prowess, and no international standing to offer them a safe haven under which to hide and protect themselves from the wrath of the world, so to speak.
But this was not the case for the Saudis over the last few decades. Saudi Arabia is an internationally recognized political entity, a member of the United Nations, a G-20 member with enormous wealth and a commodity that the world needs; oil. Saudi Arabia used its dollar power to spread the fundamentalist Wahhabi version of Islam based on the interpretations and teachings of Ibn Taymiyyah.
The Saudis spent billions of dollars, tens and even perhaps hundreds of billions building religious schools and mosques throughout the entire globe. They sponsored, fostered and abetted preachers, including highly controversial violent radical preachers in order to promote their version of Islam. They financed and equipped most fundamentalist terror groups, all the way initially from the Afghani Mujahideen, the Somali Al-Shabab, to the Nigerian Boku Haram; just to name a few. Their program commenced in the late 1960’s, during the reign of Saudi King Faisal who initially wanted to eradicate the growing doctrine of Marxism in the Muslim World.
And when the Saudis believed they had it made, when they felt the road was paved and all obstacles removed, they launched the multi-billion dollar attack on Syria.
By then, fundamentalist Sunni Muslim youth across the globe were banking on Saudi leadership and had put all of their faith and hope in them to lead the Muslim World towards a new era in which Wahhabi Islam was expected to make a series of gains on the global arena; with a covert intention to gain world control.
As the Saudis were beginning to fail in fulfilling their promise, ISIS made its mark in the minds of Muslim youth when world media aired videos of ISIS tanks in the streets and main squares of Mosul; Iraq’s second largest city. Just before and after the fall of Mosul, the advance of ISIS looked unstoppable; reminiscent of the bygone days of Muslim conquest and glory, as perceived by many sympathetic Muslim youth.
It was not a surprise therefore, that when ISIS leader/Caliph Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi called for a Jihad in 2013, he not only rounded up the fundamentalist Sunni sector already radicalized, but he also managed to charm other previously moderate Sunnis who were amazed at his achievements.
It must be remembered here that in as far as Muslim religious battles and conquests are concerned, perhaps the last such great conquest of them all in the Western hemisphere, was the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453. But this conquest of Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II was the result of a huge effort, strategic planning, determination, patience, perseverance and the ability to employ the best in the world in terms of weapon development and specifically cannon manufacturing.
With the Saudi failure in Syria and its utter inability to score any victory in Yemen against all odds that favoured its highly privileged position, Saudi Arabia began to lose its stature as the leading nation of Muslim fundamentalism.
As I have written many times before, Erdogan is a combination of a religious fundamentalist zealot and a Turkish nationalist. He also has his own egocentric agendas, aspiring to be a mega Muslim leader and an empire builder.
In his quest for leadership, he has taken the role of an opportunist, a blackmailer and a scavenger, among other things.
As an opportunist, he rode on the anti-Syria bandwagon and walked the Qatari-Saudi talk. They flooded him with money and promises. He opened his borders with Syria to the terrorists they funded.
Later on, he used the Syrian refugees in Turkey to blackmail the EU with, opening the floodgate of refugees at will and demanding financial bribes, mainly from Germany, to close the gates after receiving his ransom price, courtesy of the lack of wisdom and short-sightedness of Angela Merkel.
As a scavenger, he is capitalizing on what the Saudis have invested in, to his own benefit.
Erdogan promised his supporters back in 2011 to pray in the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus after defeating Syrian President Assad, but he failed. He promised Turkish people to have ‘zero problems’ internally and externally. He failed. He expected to force Russia into accepting his terms prior to the 15th of March 2020 meeting, and he also failed. He was hoping to score a swift victory in Libya, and he is clearly failing.
What he fails to recognize is that he already is biting off more than he can chew, yet he is preparing to bunker down in Azerbajian.
The man is desperate for a win. There is no better score he can mark on the board than the equivalent of Sultan Mehmet II’s conquest of Constantinople; albeit take two.
The big difference here is that prior to the fall of Constantinople, it was the capital of the Byzantine Empire and its fall was the result of a military defeat at the hands of the Ottomans. Oddly enough however, the Erdogan propaganda machine is portraying the change of status of Hagia Sophia from a museum to a mosque as a great achievement. His supporters are chanting slogans claiming that turning Hagia Sophia into a mosque is tantamount to a conquest that was predicted in the Hadith.
Something must be amiss here. It is either that those supporters do not know that Constantinople/Istanbul had already been under Muslim/Turkish rule for more than five centuries, it is either that they don’t understand what conquest means, or that they are simply trying to festoon Erdogan with someone else’s achievements.
The real reason is more sinister. Erdogan has not been able to score any decisive military victory in all of his gambles, hence he decided to capitalize on the work of his ancestors. Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II took Constantinople after a long journey of strategic planning, but Erdogan thinks he can exhume the remains of vestiges of bygone glory and cloak himself with remnants of slogans of historic milestones and call them his own, thereby reclaiming an icon already under his control, and then audaciously call himself an all-time victor. Instead of having to go to battle to prove his worth, he chose the convenience of the stroke of a pen, and voila, he transformed himself to an instant great Muslim Fatih/conqueror. This is historic plagiarism at its worst.
In essence, in claiming such a great victory over Hagia Sophia, Erdogan has ‘photoshopped’ a triumph based on a fabricated virtual reality that is aimed to win him more support from the fundamentalist Sunni Muslim street; one that is least driven by rationality.
In all of this, Erdogan has not only benefited from the ground work of the Wahhabi Saudis he is fundamentally opposed to as being a Muslim Brotherhood man, but with his understanding of how to manipulate the vulnerable minds of Muslim youth, all the monies the Saudis have spent have inadvertently turned into a pay-it-forward scheme that he hopes will elevate him to the top of the Muslim World hierarchy.
Thus far, manipulating those vulnerable minds both domestically and within the broader Muslim World has been the only area in which Erdogan has been successful.
That said, the difference in international clout between Al-Qaeda/ISIS and the Erdogan leadership is much larger than that of such organizations and the untouchable Saudi Arabia. Turkey is not only a state, a member of the UN, a member of the G-20, but it is also a NATO member with a huge army.
But unlike the Saudis who do not have any history of strategic planning, technological prowess and entrepreneurial achievements other than paying foreigners to build them palaces, Turkey can play a more pernicious role, after all, it is a nation that has had a long history of empire building; and if and when Turkey decides to rise in a fundamentalist way, the world must take notice.
Under the protection of the above, and knowing that the West will not deal with any part of Turkey like it did with Tora Bora, Erdogan feels at liberty to incrementally convert the public school system into a fundamentalist one, but according to an Erdogan propaganda video, with its Arabic captions designed to recruit support from the Arab Sunni world, he indicates he is building the army of the future for the ‘Ummah’ by radicalizing the youth via the re-vamped schools. The Youtube has been removed, but here’s a screenshot of it.
In an article published nearly two years ago in the NYT, Erdogan’s plan of changing over the education system into a religious one is well presented. Public schools are systemically replaced by the religious Imam Hatip schools, of which Erdogan himself is a graduate. Whilst those schools teach regular subjects, around 50% of which are religious, and a student must pass those subjects before he/she can graduate. With this approach in fact, Erdogan could be leading Turkey into not only becoming a theological state, but also a nation that does not have enough technocrats and STEM graduates at a time when he is trying to build an empire and an advanced army. What is also of note is that affluent secular Turkish parents will send their children to private, non-religious schools, and the new generation of doctors, engineers and teachers will be mainly comprised of them.
In a propaganda video, a noisy and loud Erdogan supporter makes a statement saying that whoever stood up for the victory of Hagia Sophia will do the same for the mosques of Jerusalem, Cordoba (in Spain), Yemen, Mecca and Medina.
The main danger of Erdogan, globally speaking, is that he understands both of the fundamentalist Muslim as well as the liberal Western minds, but the West does not have this full understanding; no doubt to its own peril. Until he is either stopped, or falls on his own sword, he will continue to see the world as open slather for his fundamentalist and expansive adventures, because his mind is set in stone in the age of conquests and religious glory.