Sports and politics have always been uncomfortable bed-fellows, despite the best efforts to keep sports as a unifying nonpartisan activity. From Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics to the American hockey team from the 1980 Miracle on Ice, sports heroes have had a way of rankling authoritarians.
And so it is for Enes Kanter, a Turkish-born NBA star currently playing for the Portland Trailblazers, following the failed Turkish coup in 2016. Kanter has been made a wanted man for his criticism of Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan. He was not able to travel with his New York Knicks teammates back in January to play the Washington Wizards in London for fear of being kidnapped or killed. And in December 2017 he was sentenced to four years in prison in absentia. Enes Kanter's father was also fired from his university position and is now serving a fifteen-year sentence in prison, some say as backlash for his son's criticism of the government.
A devout Muslim, Kanter was labeled a "terrorist" by Erdogan only to respond that "the only thing [he] terrorizes is the rim." This 6 foot 11 NBA player has become a persona non grata in his native Turkey, but his foundation runs free basketball clinics around the world to spread a love of sports and competition to young people everywhere.
Now however, Erdogan's long authoritarian arm has apparently reached even youth sporting. On June 2nd, Kanter published this message on his Twitter feed:
One reply to Kanter's tweet declares Islamic Association of North Texas (IANT) Richardson as the organization that initiated the boycott of the basketball camps.
A Twitter user by the name of THEOLOG writes,
"I knew it, Yusuf Kavakci was an Islamist and Erdoganist Imam whose daughters and even grand children have governmental positions in Turkey. Shame on this masjid, I led some salahs when I was there! They are so political and erdoganist sadly!!!"
The Twitter user THEOLOG makes a valid point. Yusuf Kavakci was previously a board member for the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and for a time was president of the Islamic Tribunal that caused such a stir for openly stating that it would use Sharia to resolve disputes within the Muslim community during the tenure of Mayor Beth Van Duyne in Irving, Texas.
Today Yusuf Kavakci's younger daughter Ravza Kavakci Kan is a deputy for Erdogan's AKP Party for the city of Istanbul. She is a member of the AKP's powerful Central Decision Executive Committee. His older daughter Merve is a consultant for the U.S. Congress on the Muslim world and a columnist for Turkish conservative daily Vakit newspaper. She is also the Turkish ambassador to Malaysia.
As previously reported in the American Spectator, Erdogan's regime is increasingly using connections with domestic-based U.S. Islamist groups, like Muslim American Society (MAS), Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) to exert political influence in the United States. And now Erdogan is utilizing those connections to put pressure on a children's basketball clinic held in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas.
But it's been an extremely unusual year — even for the radicals. Remember, back in early May, the Muslim American Society (MAS) Islamic Center in Philadelphia released a video on its Facebook page, which was later translated by Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) and posted on YouTube of Muslim children singing about chopping the heads off of Jews and subjecting them to eternal torture.
By comparison Kanter's free basketball clinic would seem to be a better option. Unfortunately, the problems of Turkey are being visited upon the next generation, with the sad result that these children of religious Muslims are being told to stay home for fear of exposure to the "traitor" Enes Kanter.
And for Kanter, there just does not seem to be enough punishment for his betrayal of Erdogan and AKP. His father's fifteen-year sentence is not punishment enough. His complete inability to communicate with his family back in Turkey for fear of the government's backlash against them, well, that's not even close to enough. Kanter's persecution has now arrived in full force in the country that he repeatedly calls safe, and in the meantime, Erdogan's connections have slowly been spreading like a fungus all the way to the leafy suburbs of Dallas, Texas.
Anne-Christine Hoff is the Dallas associate of the Counter Islamist Grid.