This week’s guest for Monday Talk has said that Turkey will have to make a choice regarding whether it now decides to treat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as a friend or a foe.
“Turkish leaders cannot condemn terror attacks outside while feeding ISIL militants internally. Turkey has a mistake — thinking that the world does not see this hypocrisy is foolish. Turkey will have to choose its line regarding ISIL internally and externally. However, we have not seen such a will in that direction,” said academic Maya Arakon whose work focuses on terrorism and violence, security, the Kurdish question in Turkey and human rights.
French authorities have said the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, which killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more, were planned in Brussels by 28-year-old local man, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who fought for ISIL in Syria and was killed during a police siege of an apartment in the Paris suburb of Saint Denis last week.
Meanwhile, Turkey has recently detained a Belgian citizen of Moroccan origin who is suspected of having links to the Paris attacks and who was seeking to flee to Syria.
As Turkish fans booed during a minute’s silence held for the victims of the Paris attacks before a friendly international football game between Turkey and Greece in İstanbul, no government officials in the country condemned the stance.
The Turkish media has widely reported that ISIL has maintained sleeper cells in provinces such as Ankara, İstanbul, Sakarya, Adıyaman, Hatay, Şanlıurfa and Gaziantep. The twin suicide bombing attacks by ISIL in the heart of Ankara last month once again revealed that ISIL freely traveled around the country.
Answering our questions, Arakon elaborated on the French intelligence and security failures, Turkey’s involvement in anti-ISIL operations and more.
First of all, what is your general evaluation of the Paris attacks and ISIL’s connection to it?
There is still a question mark; ISIL, which assumed responsibility for the Paris attacks in 24 hours, did not assume responsibility for the Suruç and Ankara massacres — because if ISIL did, it would have meant they were able to beat the police and the intelligence agency. And this would have made them look quite prestigious. The Turkish government claims that ISIL staged them but ISIL never assumed responsibility for those attacks. Secondly, some societies have questioned why the Paris attacks made such big headlines while attacks in Ankara or Beirut did not. The answer to that is that if there were to be a similar attack in Sydney, yes, we would be very sad, but would we feel threatened? No, because we perceive it as very far away. Probably, that’s how it seems from Europe: that Ankara and Beirut are far away. But having an attack in Paris made people from the West feel quite vulnerable. That’s actually one of the goals that terrorist acts strive for; people feel threatened and change their behavior — for example, if they usually take underground trains, they now do not because of their fear of being attacked. Thirdly, we see that ISIL, for the first time, was able to stage coordinated attacks in the middle of Europe.
Coordinated attacks were among al-Qaeda’s tactics. What differences or similarities do you find between ISIL and al-Qaeda?
In 2013, al-Qaeda leader al-Zawahiri made an announcement saying that non-combatant women, children and Muslims should not be attacked. ISIL does not make such a distinction; it’s very cruel. This is the difference between them. When it comes to similarities, both organizations recruit locally and ISIL organizes multiple and simultaneous attacks like al-Qaeda.
When you look at the place of the attack in Paris, what do you observe?
That points to another difference between al-Qaeda and ISIL. Al-Qaeda attacks targeted landmark buildings with symbolic meaning — the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, HSBC headquarters in İstanbul, the British Consulate, etc. However, ISIL did not attack the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre Museum. The importance of the 10th and 11th districts is that it is a neighborhood similar to Cihangir in İstanbul where there is a mixed way of living in a multi-cultural environment. The neighborhood is middle income. ISIL sees it as the center of “decadence”, which it emphasized in its statement following the Paris incident. But this type of attack can happen anywhere, especially with such serious security lapses. For example, Samy Amoumir is a suspect whom French security forces were following because of his criminal record but authorities somehow lost track of. He ended up in Syria where his father went to find him. Once he found him, his father was not able to convince him to return home to Paris. Despite the existence of an international arrest warrant for him, he was able to go to Syria and re-enter Paris. There is an apparent and serious security gap.
‘French intelligence and security have failed’
Was France not taking it seriously — even though it is hard not to after attacks on Charlie Hebdo in January 2015?
It is easy to think about conspiracy theories in Turkey but we need to look into French society as well. French people are quite keen on their liberties. In most public buildings, there are no metal detectors. Also, French intelligence and security have failed, which needs to be investigated. In France, nationalist sentiments are now rising, which is only to be expected in the wake of terrorist attacks. President François Hollande’s speech was almost the same as George W. Bush’s speech after 9/11. My fear is that a potential war in the Middle East might now be legitimized.
Do you think NATO might be involved?
France might want to have Article 5 [of the Washington Treaty] invoked regarding collective defense. It was the case after 9/11. Collective defense means that an attack against one ally is considered as an attack against all allies. Alliances between Russia, the US and France are already in the news.
Paris responded to the deaths of its citizens with a massive bombing of Raqqa by French forces. What can it achieve, if anything?
If France increases air force attacks, this will be no use. With air strikes, France can only tell French people that they are doing something, that’s it. Terrorism cannot be stopped by air strikes. In Turkey, polls reveal that 8 percent of the population support ISIL. ISIL has an advantage here. Bombing ISIL would lead to more recruits for ISIL. Now we will have a security vs. liberties dilemma. Hollande suggests changing the constitution and apparently he will not suggest increasing freedoms. Are we going back to Leviathan? And how can we stop terrorism? These are the questions now.
How do you think terrorism can be stopped? Can you offer any ideas?
You can negotiate with national groups such as the [Basque] ETA, the [Irish] IRA and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), because their demands are clear. However, you cannot do the same with international groups. How can ISIL be negotiated with? They say that they want Sharia law in the Middle East. Who can allow it? Who can negotiate it? It is very hard to control such international organizations. Also, such organizations give birth to other ones, too, such as, Boko Haram. Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, anti-Western ideas have been rising. We need to think about this and how to approach this issue even though it is quite late. Secondly, people with criminal records need to be tracked in much better ways. Thirdly, we need to think about why youths who are raised in so-called Western democracies turn out to be such haters and killers. ISIL recruits locally. What is going wrong with the young people who are recruited by ISIL? We all know that if you are “other” in any particular society, you are marginalized and discriminated against; you are treated as potential criminals. Apparently, something is wrong in those societies.
‘Coming against the PYD is laughable’
Some people in Turkey are convinced that such a security lapse is unlikely to occur here and that Paris overlooked this impending attack. What is your opinion of this?
It is unlikely that this happened at governmental levels because if it did, France would send those people to The Hague and French people would start an uprising.
As the Paris attacks and the G-20 summit overlapped, terrorism more seriously entered the leaders’ agenda. What Russian President Vladimir Putin said was the most interesting, as he said that there were supporters of ISIL among the G-20 leaders. What do you think?
A Reuters report stated last year that despite Turkey’s denials, its arms support to ISIL was proven in documents. Putin probably meant that, in addition to Saudi support for ISIL.
With renewed commitment to act against ISIL alongside the United States, do you think Turkey can still insist on acting against the pro-Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD)?
It still does. In domestic politics, this is the card played out all the time but we will see how much Turkey can be insistent on this line. In the international arena, coming against the PYD is laughable as it is the PYD that is the main fighting force against ISIL in Syria.
Yes, there is support for ISIL in Turkey but there are expectations from the West from Turkey, too, right?
Turkish leaders cannot condemn terror attacks outside the country while feeding ISIL militants internally. Turkey has made a mistake — thinking that the world does not see this hypocrisy is foolish. Turkey will have to choose its line regarding ISIL internally and externally. However, we have not seen such a will in that direction. Turkish leaders do not even refer to ISIL as ISIL, as the world does, but uses other words to refer to ISIL, including Daesh [the arabic acronym for ISIL] and the DH. Psychologists can explain this better but using different names to refer to the same thing is usually done to complicate and confuse. We lost young people in the Suruç and Ankara attacks and Turkish officials called it a “cocktail attack” committed by ISIL and the PKK. I’ve been studying terrorsim for 20 years and I have not heard such a term as “cocktail terrorism.” Turkey’s first priority should have been a fight against ISIL and not a fight against the PKK because apparently ISIL is more dangerous than the PKK and most certainly poses imminent danger.