A divided Turkey will be unable to deal with ISIL.
Turkey remains as polarized as ever. In fact, jihadist terrorism is exacerbating the sharp divisions that already exist in Turkish politics between the secularist and Islamist camp. Most secularists hold Recep Tayyip Erdoy-an responsible for having created domestic political conditions that turn a blind eye to jihadist activities within Turkey.
Polarization between secularists and Islamists in Turkey often fails to capture the complexity of Turkish politics, in which not all secularists are democrats and not all Islamists are autocrats. In fact, there was a time when Erdoy-an was hailed as the great democratic reformer against the old secularist establishment under the guardianship of the military. The secularist-Islamist divide also fails to capture the rift between the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the GE-len movement that has become a major source of polarization in Turkish politics. This is why I still believe it is sociologically more accurate to analyze the polarization in Turkey as one between democracy and autocracy rather than one of Islam versus secularism.
However, it is hard to deny that the religiosity and conservatism of the ruling AKP on issues ranging from gender equality to public education have fueled the perception of rapid Islamization in the country. The anti-Western foreign policy discourse of Erdoy-an, and the fact that Ankara has been strongly supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood in the wake of the Arab Spring has also exacerbated the secular-versus-Islamist divide in Turkish society.
Another major reason why ISIL terrorism is exacerbating Turkey's polarization is related to foreign policy. A significant segment of Turkish society believes Erdoy-an's Syria policy has ended up strengthening ISIL. In an attempt to facilitate Bashar al-Assad's overthrow, the AKP turned a blind eye to the flow of foreign volunteers transiting Turkey to join extremist groups in Syria. Until last year, Ankara often allowed Islamists to openly organize and procure equipment and supplies on the Turkish side of the Syria border. Most of the links were with organizations such as Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar ash-Sham and Islamist extremists from Syria's Turkish-speaking Turkmen minority.
Although Ankara has hardened its stance against ISIL by opening the airbase at yncirlik in southern Turkey for use by the US-led coalition targeting the organization with air strikes, the AKP doesn't fully support the eradication of jihadist groups in Syria. The reason is simple: The Arab and Turkmen Islamist groups are the main bulwark against the expansion of the de facto autonomous Kurdish enclave in northern Syria. Ankara is concerned that the expansion and consolidation of a Kurdish state in Syria would both strengthen the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and further fuel similar aspirations among Turkey's own Kurds.
If you listen to President Erdoy-an's remarks, after ISIL's recent terrorist attack in ystanbul, you will quickly realize that the real enemy he wants to fight is still the PKK. He tries hard after each ISIL attack to create a "generic" threat of terrorism in which all groups are bundled up together without any clear references to ISIL, but a clear effort to prioritize PKK as enemy number one.
Under such circumstances, Turkish society will remain deeply polarized among Islamists, secularists, Turkish nationalists and Kurdish nationalists . ISIL terrorism only exacerbates these divisions and the fact that the US strategy consists of using proxy forces such as Syrian Kurds further complicates the situation. I believe US Vice President Joe Biden's visit made it clear that there will not be real progress in Turkey's fight against ISIL and in Turkish-US relations unless there is rapid return to the peace process between the AKP and the PKK. It is only after some level of peace is restored in Turkey's Kurdish regions that the AKP will be able to understand that ISIL is the most serious threat to national security.
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