Former Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (left) and Turkish PM Erdoğan at a November 2006 meeting of the Alliance of Civilizations in Istanbul.
Time flies... It was nearly a decade ago that Turkish and Spanish leaders institutionalized their efforts to build interfaith dialogue and peace between the Islamic and Western worlds. Since then, at least a couple of million (overwhelmingly Muslim) people have been killed (overwhelmingly by Muslims in sectarian and other wars). Keeping a count of terrorist attacks on Muslim and non-Muslim targets by jihadists of this or that holy fraction would require meticulous academic work.
Today, few recall or talk about the initiative that went with the fancy name, "Alliance of Civilizations." The world instead debates grimmer topics that do not speak of alliances, but rather of mis-alliances.
For all the things that have gone wrong, Turkey's top cleric, Professor Mehmet Görmez, blames the "Islamophobia industry." In the words of Professor Görmez, it is Islamophobia that "is trying to spread fear to hearts by using clashes and incidents in the Islamic world for cruel propaganda against Muslims."
Mr. Görmez's own Alliance of Civilizations initiative has a longer name: The Peace and Moderation Contact Group. A "letter of goodwill" prepared by Islamic scholars will soon be shared with heads of states and religious leaders. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu were the first (lucky) people to receive the "letter of goodwill."
Let's hope that the Islamic scholars who prepared the letter of goodwill are not the ones who argue that "a knee-level skirt can arouse sexual desire, even for one's own mother," or that "girls can marry at the age of six."
In my own "letter of goodwill" ("How best to fight Islamophobia," Hürriyet Daily News, April 6, 2012) I wrote the following:
Your most strategic partners in the fight against Islamophobia are not Christians, but your fellow Muslims.
If Muslims stopped killing other Muslims because they belong to a different sect; stopped forcing their chosen practices on other Muslims; tolerated less pious Muslims; did not feel enraged if other Muslims did not abstain from alcohol or pork, or did not attend the mosque; did not kill men, women and children because they adhered to other faiths; did not blame rape on the length of a woman's skirt; did not murder their own wives because they spoke to strangers, or their daughters because they flirted with boys or because they were raped by rascals; did not wish to start World War III because some maverick cartoonist drew blasphemous caricatures; did not issue death fatwas because an author wrote a blasphemous book; or did not aim to spread their religion to the entire world, by the sword if necessary, then fighting Islamophobia would be much easier.
Professor Görmez, you are the top Islamic leader in a country where Adolph Hitler could get elected if he ran for parliament. When thousands of Turks marched with slogans saying, "We are Kouachi brothers," and "Yes, we are threatening," you were silent, just like you were silent when an atheist pianist was sentenced to 10 months in prison for a "blasphemous tweet," but your fellow Muslims threatened to kill in the name of religion.
Turkey's top Muslim cleric, Mehmet Gormez, says that Islamophobes are spreading "cruel propaganda against Muslims."
Just like you remained silent when Muslim scholars argued anti-government protests in Turkey in 2013 were "acts against Allah." Just like you were silent when a deputy from the ruling party associated Mr. Erdoğan with Allah, (a grave sin in Islam). Just like you will remain silent after pro-Muslim Brotherhood TV stations in Turkey issue fatwa after fatwa for the killing of Egypt's president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and the "journalists who support him."
It is understandable that you want global respect for your religion. When, in your own honest words, "Muslims must bend their heads [over Muslim atrocities and other shameful acts]," your duty is not to expect respect from non-Muslims and spread propaganda. Respect is earned, sometimes through hard work and honesty, but always without harboring any feeling of supremacy.
So, Professor Görmez, if you want to fight the "Islamophobia industry," your target audience is not non-Muslims. It is the Muslims who make Muslims bend their heads. You can always start by condemning those thousands of "Kouachi brothers in Turkey." I hope I am wrong to think that you will not.
Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a columnist for the Turkish daily Hürriyet and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.