Akyol is a Turkish writer and author of ‘Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case
Speaking with Aarti Tikoo Singh, Akyol, who contributes to the New
York Times and Hürriyet Daily News, discussed the recent Istanbul attack,
Turkey’s clash between secularists, Islamists and Kurds – and how the West can
best handle moderate versus radical Islam:
State claims responsibility for the Istanbul airport attack – but Turkish PM
Binali Yildirim said this was linked to Turkey’s success against Kurdish rebels
and mending ties with Israel and Russia. Do you agree?
agree. That’s a narrative the Turkish government has been trying to sell – but
it’s just wilful blindness.
IS has its
own ideological reasons to commit terror. Russia and Turkey spoke to each other
only a day before the attack – it’s impossible that such a deadly attack could
be planned at such short notice.
other reasons to create this mayhem.
although Turkey is ruled by Islamic conservatives under Tayyip Erdogan, which
draws a lot of criticism worldwide. Turkey is still a secular state – a secular
state that doesn’t implement Islamic Sharia law is an apostate regime by IS
for IS, theologically, Turkey is an enemy state and eligible for attacks.
attacks are also a reaction to Turkey’s war against IS in Syria.
of which, as Turkey fights Islamist terrorists, isn’t it also hostile to
Turkish and Syrian Kurds fighting IS too?
is a conundrum Turkey faces. It’s been fighting home-grown rebels, specifically
Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), but the Kurds are an effective force against IS
jihadists in Syria.
the peace process between the Erdogan government and PKK fell apart. Turkey’s
lax control of the Syrian border benefited IS – that put Turkey at odds with
its western allies in the war against terrorism.
last one year, Turkey’s taken a clear stand against IS – but Turkey continues
to fight its own Kurdish rebels.
government must solve this conflicting position strategically. The Erdogan
government needs to decide which of the two groups it can negotiate with – the
smart thing for the government would be to make peace with its own home-grown
At the end
of the day, there can be no diplomatic agreement with IS – but it’s possible to
talk to the Kurds and put all resources effectively in the war against IS.
think Turkish and Syrian Kurds’ aspiration for an independent country is a
political demand is legitimate – as long as one is not trying to pursue it
through violence. Kurdish terror attacks are wrong and completely unacceptable.
As it is, most Kurds don’t want an independent state.
But I see
no problem with holding a referendum on the Kurdish question.
British could hold the Scottish referendum, why can’t we?
ruled by an Islamic conservative party. Has Turkey’s socio-political space
radicalised or is there a liberal backlash against this?
not a liberal but a secular backlash in Turkey – and it’s not liberal at all.
Erdogan’s conservative authoritarian politics aimed at social engineering of
Turkey towards a more Islamised society, we have fundamentalist secularists who
believe in suppressing religion and religious symbols, such as the head scarf.
makes the country highly polarised.
both. Let there be freedom for everyone – both for those who want to wear the
head scarf and those who don’t.
should Turkey deal with such polarisation?
to be a big spectrum that can make a distinction between violent Islamists, who
are threats to our security, and non-violent Muslims who may be a political
force, such as Muslim Brotherhood.
Islam is possible. We should welcome that. We have reformist views within
Islam. It’s not impossible to revive that tradition.
should be the role of the West in this?
should not give itself to the far right and the Islamophobic trend emerging
internationally, in Europe, in the rise of Donald Trump in the US, in ‘us vs
them’ notions – that will only empower radicals.
Jihadis and the far right in the West agree that Islam and democracy are not
compatible – the West should not give into that view.
a confrontation, the West should have a conversation with the Muslim world.