The jihad against Europe by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is probably based on both ideology and opportunism. Fierce anti-Western rhetoric is an ideological sine qua non for Turkish political Islam; it is also a secure vote-catcher targeting conservative and nationalist masses.
Erdoğan's jihadism is not seasonal or a newfound system of political ideas. It is also not a reflection of peaceful sufism. Erdoğan comes from the ranks of Turkey's militant political Islamism that emerged in late 1960s under the leadership of the ideologue, Necmettin Erbakan, Turkey's first Islamist prime minister and Erdoğan's mentor. In Erbakan's rhetoric universal politics is simply about a struggle between the righteous (Islam) and a coalition of Zionists and racist imperialists -- all else is just details. In his thinking, the Zionists support Turkey's membership in the European Union in order to "get Turkish Muslims to melt in a pot of Christianity."
In a 2016 speech, Erdoğan talked of European countries: "These are not just our enemies... Behind them are plans and plots and other powers." Also in 2016, he said that jihad is never terrorism. "It is resurrection.... It is to give life, to build... It is to fight the enemies of Islam." In 2017, Erdoğan added that the German government's actions resembled those of Nazi Germany.
Last month, the Gaza-based leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), Dawood Shihab, said that Turkey was the bravest Muslim country to fight French President Emmanuel Macron's hostility toward Muslims. Turks thought flattering words from PIJ were not enough to crucify an infidel disguised as the president of a big European nation.
Erdoğan had to take the stage. Venue: A party convention in the heart of Anatolia. Décor: Huge posters of Erdoğan and Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev. Two more photographs: Azeri landscape and the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. Slogan: "Karabakh and Al-Aqsa mosque [in Jerusalem] are waiting for us!" [Nagorno-Karabakh is a disputed territory under Armenian occupation since the 1990s.]
The sultan speaks: "What is Macron's problem with Islam? What is his problem with Muslims? Macron needs some sort of mental treatment." Erdoğan apparently thinks that Macron has gone clinically insane because the French president vowed to crack down on radical Islamism in France, after the country was shaken by the beheading of history teacher Samuel Paty on October 16.
Turkey's latest jihadist export zone appears to be the Caucasus.
Erdoğan also accused the West of supplying arms to one of the warring parties only, Armenia, in the most recent military conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Nevertheless, a bit hypocritically, Erdoğan is also proud that Turkey has been equipping the Azeri military with drones, various other weapons systems and training.
Middle Eastern politics is always a trap for radical ideologues. In Erdoğan's mindset, the "infidel West" is militarily helping Armenia (the evil) and Turkey is militarily helping Azerbaijan (the righteous). Fine. What other nation is militarily helping Azerbaijan? A nation on the side of the righteous? Israel, a country Erdoğan deeply hates.
In 2016, Azeri President Aliyev said that his country acquired military equipment worth $4.85 billion from the Jewish state. An Azeri presidential advisor has said that Azerbaijan, in Nagorno-Karabakh, was using Israeli-made drones, including so-called "suicide drones" that can destroy a target on impact. So, Turkey and Israel are equipping the same military which is in an armed conflict with another.
That unwanted coincidence, however, will not deter Erdoğan's jihadist ambitions. From a report in late October:
Western intelligence agencies have revealed that Hamas' leadership has been operating a second clandestine office in Istanbul for cyber operations and counter-espionage against its enemies, including the Palestinian Authority and Hamas dissenters...
The Hamas headquarters were established approximately two years ago in order to purchase equipment that can be used to manufacture weapons, to implement cyber-attacks against enemies, including embassies of hostile Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East and Europe, and even against the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, as well as for surveillance and cracking down on dissenting members within its own ranks.
Turkey's latest jihadist export zone appears to be the Caucasus: Nagorno-Karabakh, to be specific. Although Ankara and Baku categorically deny accusations, press reports and independent human rights observers have confirmed the arrival of hundreds of jihadists in Azerbaijan to fight Armenia. Hydrocarbon-rich Azerbaijan could surely afford thousands of fighters, not just hundreds. But that could also mean angering Moscow which, as Azeris know very well, will not do any good to their infant state.
After the Turkish military's direct armed engagement on Iraqi and Syrian territories, proxy wars in Syria, Libya and Yemen, and military tensions on the Aegean and Mediterranean seas, Erdoğan's new jihadist adventurism has found a new theater of war in the Caucasus. What's next?
Burak Bekdil is an Ankara-based political analyst and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.