Lawyers of Allah
"We are the Soldiers of Allah! Allah is Great!" These were the words of a Turkish lawyer named Alparslan Arslan who, on May 17th, 2006, entered the Second Bureau of the Turkish Council of State with a Glock hand gun and opened fire on five judges who were then in session. Their "crime," as stated by the assailant, was to have upheld a court order banning a teacher from wearing the headscarf. Arslan, age 29, with a law degree from Istanbul's Marmara University, attempted to take the lives of the judges, inspired by the instructions of a medieval "law" and the front page of the jihadist newspaper Vakit, which had published their pictures and signaled them as targets. He succeeded in killing Judge Mustafa Yücel Özbilgin and wounding the four others. Immediately after the attack, he was arrested by the police.
Ideologically speaking, Arslan has an Islamist background but his political foundations were heavily influenced by the ülkücü movement, a racist offspring of Turkish/Turkic ultranationalism, with an increasing record of violence and militancy. The ideology of hate that he espouses is known as "Türk-İslam Sentezi" ("Turkish-Islam Synthesis"). He regularly attended Turkish Hezbollah meetings in Istanbul's Üsküdar Gökçen Dormitory during his student years and he was subsequently sent to Iran for Hezbollah training. Arslan is also involved in the wide-spread Turkish organized crime called "çek-senet tahsilatı" or "çek-senet mafyası" ("check mafia"). Members of this mafia intimidate and/or punish those individuals who have "missed their deadlines" in making their "promised" payments to the Islamofascist business establishments. These Islamist terror networks do their jobs so "well" that more and more businesses are seeking their "services."
Depending on the militant power and "connections" (usually involving powerful people from the government or the state) that a given mafia has and based on their previous "success record," they can receive significant commissions from the Islamofascist businesses upon a "successful" operation. This can include anything from financial repercussions and psychological terror (surveillance, intimidation, threats of harming, kidnapping, or raping the debtor's family members, including wives and children), to the confiscation of their homes at gunpoint, and ultimately to murder, to name but a few of their "methods." Many of these mafia funnel the proceeds of their unlawful activities into organizations with known ties to international terror networks.
For example, the same law firm that Arslan worked for, the Yeditepe Hukuk Bürosu, is under investigation by Turkish law enforcement and anti-terror units for its connections with the Turkish Hezbollah, the most violent Islamist terror organization of Turkey.
Why did Arslan target the judges? After his capture, Arslan allegedly shouted out the motivations for his crime. His attack certainly illustrates the kind of retribution called for in the pages of the Qur'an: "Those that make war against Allah and His apostle and spread disorders in the land shall be put to death or crucified or have their hands and feet cut off on alternate sides, or be banished from the country. They shall be held to shame in this world and sternly punished in the next: except those that repent before you reduce them. For you must know that Allah is forgiving and merciful" (Al-Ma'ida, V:33, The Koran, translated with notes by N. J. Dawood, New York: Penguin Books, 1987, pp. 390-391).
It is highly probable that Arslan decided to declare jihad against the judges because he perceives them to be spreading "disorders in the land." Thus, in the usual Islamist manner, he reduces Islam to the pages of the Qur'an, to a piece of cloth called the headscarf, or any other icon. Islamism neither historicizes nor contextualizes the Qur'an, only its apologists do. In order to read an Islamist's mind, one needs to decontextualize the sources and icons of Islam. Though wrong in its essence, decontextualization would help an analyst get a handle on an Islamist's psyche. If an Islamist reads a line in the Qur'an which starts something like "today we should …" he does not contextualize the word "today" as "thirteen hundred some years ago" but actually reads it as today, like 2001, or 2006. An Islamist's mind is constructed around binary oppositions. For him, any given issue is either black or white. Contemporary methodologies which try to examine the gray areas often fail to understand this black-and-white mindset, thus resulting in apologetic explanations for the actions of an Islamist's unbending mentality. Especially when it comes to the Turkish Hezbollah, killing a judge or any other "enemy of Islam" is justified, and indeed this barbaric practice is an integral part of the organization's essence.
The Islamofascist qualifications of Arslan perfectly reflect the political, social, and economic realities of the Republic of Turkey since the 1980s. The September 12, 1980 military coup successfully crushed the Turkish "leftist danger" but also opened up unlimited opportunities for all forms of Islamism and organized crime to flourish. Coupled with the implementation of a primitive version of Western capitalism, these Islamofascist groups have taken advantage of the situation and have become an integral part of the economic development of Turkey over the course of the past twenty years. At the same time, they have used their newly found economic power to disseminate their seeds of hatred and destruction more widely throughout society.
Turkish legal and media records of the last decade especially are filled with stories of human devastation at the hands of these underground and quasi-legitimate crime organizations. There is almost no scholarship published on the organizational nature and hierarchal structures of these groups or their connections to international Islamist terror networks, but almost every other month there pops up a new mafia or, as it is commonly referred to in Turkish, a new "çete." There are literally hundreds of these so-called çetes in present-day Turkey and, with the exception of some successful law enforcement operations to crush them, the overwhelming majority of these organizations have been operating in Turkey freely and with the state's knowledge of their existence and operations. There is little evidence that Turkey's efforts have even begun to weaken the power of these networks. Victims of these organizations are often afraid of going to law enforcement officials or hiring a lawyer to receive help, since many events have proven that these çetes frequently receive significant assistance from the law enforcement officials themselves or from high-level bureaucrats.
Since Alparslan Arslan and his accomplices were taken into custody and as the investigation continues to unfold, the world has been watching to see how Turkey will deal with this Islamist attack. It remains to be seen whether the government will properly punish the perpetrators involved and crack down on the ideology behind which they hide.
A similar case occurred in 1995 when a Turkish jihadist named İzzet Kıraç killed the Head of the Gümüşhane Bar Association, Judge Ali Günday, in the name of Allah. Ali Günday had approved the court decision to ban the entrance of lawyers into court if they were wearing a headscarf. Before the jihadist attack, the Akit daily (now known as Vakit) had signaled Judge Günday as a target with the headline "Sick Minds." It is a known fact that when such a powerful radical Islamist newspaper targets a secular intellectual with such headlines, that person usually becomes the next victim of Islamist terror. İzzet Kıraç was sentenced to life in prison but ultimately spent only 6 and ½ years behind bars. Now a free man, Kiraç continues to assert: "I do not recognize any other law but shari'a!" Kıraç, like the majority of other Islamists, cannot change or go through any kind of genuine transformation or "rehabilitation," since the universal ideology of Islamism that they believe in requires a blind and rigid acceptance and practice of it.
The long list of Turkish victims of Islamist terror ranges from journalists to university professors, to musicians and poets to judges and ordinary businessmen, is chilling, and there is little evidence that the Republic of Turkey is working hard enough to stop this nightmare. Twenty years ago, literary classics and handbooks of philosophy were bestsellers in Turkey; today, translations of jihadist tracts from Arabic, and Hitler's Mein Kampf are among the bestselling publications. The level of anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism is skyrocketing, as well.
The Alparslan Arslan event is a wake-up call that symbolizes what has become of Turkey in the last twenty years. Unfortunately, this traditional ally of the West, the United States, and Israel is beginning to resemble its totalitarian and theocratic neighbors more so than the State that was defined and shaped by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
However, this latest attack on Turkish secularism is also awakening the masses and mobilizing them against Islamism. At the funeral for Judge Özbilgin, thousands of people joined the mourners and turned the event into a protest against the government. The funeral procession-turned-protest made its way into the streets of the capital city, Ankara, and hundreds of thousands continued on to the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Modern Turkish Republic.
After the funeral for the slain judge, Hilmi Özkök, Commander of the Turkish Armed Forces and Chief of the Turkish General Staff, openly encouraged the secular crowds to continue their demonstrations on a regular basis against those who pose a serious threat to the secular and democratic foundations of the Turkish State. He interpreted the demonstrations against Islamism as "hopeful" and congratulated those who participated in them. Özkök, sometimes criticized for not being tough enough towards Islamists, has certainly upset many of them with such a straightforward stance against Islamism. Many in Turkey seem to hope that Özkök's very recent successor, General Yaşar Büyükanıt, will have a much more rigid approach in dealing with the Islamist danger in Turkey. Büyükanıt has been known as an uncompromising protector of Atatürkism and Turkish secularism. Despite the Islamofascist networks' anti-Semitic propaganda alleging that "Büyükanıt is Jewish" and a "Zionist" and therefore "should not be appointed as the Chief of the Turkish General Staff," on July 31st, 2006, President Ahmet Necdet Sezer approved the decision in appointing him as Özkök's successor.
Sezer himself not only strongly condemned the attack but also stated that he "damned" the "ideology it represents." He did not hesitate to link this attack with the previous Islamist assaults against the Republic and its secular and democratic formation. He underlined that these attempts to cripple the secular Republic will be answered with determination. Büyükanıt's appointment certainly seems to uphold the promise he made over two months ago.
Those who watched and listened to these two most respected representatives of Turkish secularism, Özkök and Sezer, had no doubt that the warnings were being leveled at the Islamist networks of Turkey. Curiously, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan chose not to attend the slain judge's funeral because of a previously scheduled appearance at a tourism event in Antalya. Some of his ministers who did attend the obsequies were attacked by the secular crowds who called Erdoğan a "murderer" and chanted slogans exhorting the government to resign. The Minister of Justice, Cemil Çiçek, tried to sneak out the rear doors of a mosque in order to avoid facing the crowds.
In the subsequent days and weeks following the Arslan event, the Erdoğan government attempted to establish that the attack was not necessarily on Turkish secularism but rather on the government itself, thus suggesting that the orchestration was organized by some retired hardcore members of the Turkish Armed Forces. In an accelerated manner, several ex-members of the Turkish army were arrested, and an effort was made to try to establish their connections with some other mafias.
Among the most interesting of these new mafias that the government is cracking down on is the Atabeyler Çetesi. The government's police forces moved in quickly to execute a raid on the headquarters of this group in Ankara and arrest its members, some of whom possessed military identification cards, discovering various forms of weaponry and militant materials. The following day, Turkish newspapers published drawings of Prime Minister Erdoğan's house that were allegedly confiscated from the headquarters of the Atabeyler mafia, some with headlines reading "Assassination Attempt on Erdoğan." Many in the Turkish media have argued that these drawings were not authentic but that they were later planted among the items confiscated from the Atabeyler headquarters and that they were handed over to the media by some members of the police who are loyal to the Erdoğan government and its ideology.
On February 28, 1997, a "soft" coup d'état had put the brakes on Islamism when the Turkish National Security Council issued eighteen directives to the Islamist Necmettin Erbakan government. Today, it is hard to imagine a similar military intervention taking place due to the European Union process and the fact that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been struggling to eliminate the image of his Islamist past and his ties with Erbakan's radical Islamist National Vision (Millî Görüş) ideology.
Indeed, except for the headscarf (türban) issue, he has been surprisingly conformist (most critics and analysts interpret this "conformity" as part of Erdoğan's takiyye 'political hypocrisy' policy) to the demands and expectations of the President and the Turkish Armed Forces, and political observers have noted that he has recently pronounced the words "Atatürk" and "secularism" with respect more frequently than he ever had before in his long political career. After the Islamofascist attack, Prime Minister Erdoğan passionately declared: "We are going to make [Turkey] a safer country in order to protect the supremacy of laicism, democracy and law."
In contrast, on the issue of the headscarf ban in Turkish schools, Erdoğan has been outspoken against the decisions of Turkey's highest courts, the President, and the Turkish Armed Forces. Erdoğan and the Head of the Turkish Parliament, Bülent Arınç, are on record making numerous inflammatory statements regarding the unchangeable definition of laicism of the Turkish Constitution. The majority of Turks interpret their boldness as "irresponsible" and "provocative." The names of these two politicians have been circulating as candidates for the position of Turkey's President. The replacement of Ahmet Necdet Sezer with either of these individuals will no doubt create further discomfort and fear among the secular public, as the President has significant powers when it comes to the veto of decisions of the Turkish Parliament.
During the last four months, and especially after the recent Islamofascist attack by Alparslan Arslan, the debate over the headscarf issue in particular and the interpretation of Turkish secularism in general have resulted in a high level of disorder and large public demonstrations throughout the country. Although Erdoğan is not directly blamed for Arslan's attack, politicians and the military, many leading journalists, the opposition party, and the hundreds of thousands of Turks who protested in the streets have looked to Erdoğan as being responsible for the creation of the social and political climate that has allowed Islamism to operate and flourish. It has already been suggested that Erdoğan is in the process of orchestrating a "silent" Islamist revolution in Turkey with the help of the political freedom that he has gained through his democratically elected government, and, of course, the European Union process, which automatically eliminates the possibility of another military coup.
It seems likely that, with the direct encouragement and support of the Commander of the Turkish Armed Forces and President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, along with the recent public reaction to the attack on the judges, a new kind of civil activism has already started curbing the power of the Justice and Development Party in the Turkish political and cultural arenas. Fears of Islamism and further Islamofascist terror, coupled with what Erdoğan calls Turkey's "excellent" relations with the Palestinian government led by the Hamas terrorist organization and the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have brought Atatürkism to a level of appreciation that has not been seen in recent memory. In less than two days following the funeral, almost 300,000 Turks in Ankara visited the Anıtkabir, Atatürk's mausoleum, as a manifestation of their respect and gratitude to the secular founder of their Republic. This indeed may be the harbinger of a major political turning point in Turkey unlike any other since the 1980s.
[This article reflects CIP President Silay's remarks at a panel on "Turkish Islam: Nationalism, Religious Freedom and Europe," cosponsored by CIP and the Southeast Europe Project of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, November 29, 2006. This was the second event cosponsored by CIP and WWIC.]