TCS Daily


Lawyers of Allah

By Kemal Silay - June 5, 2006 12:00 AM

"We are the Soldiers of Allah! Allah is Great!"

These were the words of a Turkish lawyer named Alparslan Arslan who, on May 17th, 2006, entered the Second Bureau of the Turkish Council of State with a Glock handgun and opened fire upon five judges who were then in a legal session. Their "crime" was to have previously ruled in a case involving the ban on the headscarf. Arslan, age 29, with a law degree from Istanbul's Marmara University, attempted to take their lives, inspired by the instructions of a medieval "law" and the front page of the jihadist newspaper Vakit, which had published the pictures of these judges and signaled them as targets. He succeeded in killing one judge and wounding the four others.

Arslan has an Islamist background. The ideology of hate that he espouses is known as "Türk-Ýslam Sentezi" ("Turkish-Islam Synthesis"). He regularly attended the Hizbullah meetings in Istanbul's Üsküdar Gökçen Dormitory during his student years and he was sent to Iran for Hizbullah training. He is also involved heavily in the wide-spread Turkish organized crime network called "çek-senet tahsilatý" or "çek-senet mafyasý" ("check mafia"). The law firm that he worked for, the Yeditepe Hukuk Bürosu, is under investigation by Turkish law enforcement and anti-terror units for its connections with the Turkish Hizbullah (undoubtedly the bloodiest Islamist terror organization of Turkey).

The "qualifications" of this terrorist perfectly reflect the political, social, and economic realities of the Republic of Turkey since the 1980s. The September 12, 1980 military coup successfully crushed the Turkish "leftist danger" but also opened unlimited opportunities to all forms of Islamism and organized crime. Coupled with the implementation of a primitive version of Western capitalism, these groups not only "contribute" to the economic development of Turkey but also germinate their seeds of hate and destruction more widely throughout the society.

Turkish legal and media records of the last ten years are filled with stories of human devastation at the hands of these underground and quasi-legitimate crime organizations. There is little or no scholarship published on the organizational nature and hierarchal structures of these groups or their connections to international Islamist terror networks; but almost every other month, up pops a new "mafia" or, as it is commonly referred to in Turkish, a new "çete." There are literally hundreds of these so-called çetes in present-day Turkey.

With the exception of some successful law enforcement operations to crush them, the overwhelming majority of these organizations have been operating in Turkey freely and with the government's full knowledge of their existence and operations. There is little evidence that the Turkish government's efforts have even begun to weaken the power of these networks. Victims of these organizations are often afraid of going to law enforcement officials or hiring a lawyer to receive help since many events have proven that these çetes frequently receive significant assistance from "law enforcement officials" themselves or members of the government.

As Alparslan Arslan and his crime partners are in custody and the investigation is still unfolding, the world is watching to see how Turkey will deal with this terrorist attack and whether the government will properly punish the perpetrators involved and crack down on the ideology behind which they hide.

A similar case occurred in 1995 when a Turkish jihadist named Ýzzet Kýraç killed the Head of the Gümüþhane Bar Association, Ali Günday, in the name of Allah. Ali Günday had approved the court decision to ban the entrance of lawyers into court if they were wearing a headscarf. Before the jihadist attack, the Akit daily (the previous name of today's Vakit) had signaled Ali Günday as a target with the headline "Sick Minds." Ýzzet Kýraç was sentenced to life in prison and managed to spend only six and a half years behind bars. Today he is free and making the following statement: "I do not recognize any other law but sharia" (Quranic law).

The Alparslan Arslan event is a wake-up call symbolic of what Turkey has become in the last twenty years. Unfortunately, this traditional ally of the West, the United States, and Israel is beginning to resemble its totalitarian and theocratic neighbors more so than the State that was defined and shaped by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. However, this latest attack on Turkish secularism is also awakening the masses and mobilizing them against Islamism. At the funeral for the judge murdered by Arslan, thousands of people joined the mourners and turned the event into a protest against the government in power. The funeral procession-turned-protest made its way into the streets of the capital city, Ankara, and hundreds of thousands continued on to the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Modern Turkish Republic.

After the funeral for the slain judge, Hilmi Özkök, Commander of the Turkish Armed Forces and Chief of the Turkish General Staff, openly encouraged the secular crowds to continue their demonstrations on a regular basis against those who pose a serious threat to the secular and democratic foundations of the Turkish State. He interpreted the demonstrations as "hopeful" and congratulated those who participated in them.

Ahmet Necdet Sezer, President of the Republic of Turkey, not only strongly condemned the attack but also "damned" the "ideology it represents." He did not hesitate to link this attack with the previous Islamist assaults against the Republic and its secular and democratic formation. He underlined that these attempts to cripple the secular Republic will be answered with determination.

Those who watched and listened to these two most powerful guardians of Turkish secularism had no doubt that the warnings were being leveled at the Islamist and Islamofascist networks of Turkey. Curiously, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoðan chose not to attend the funeral because of a previously scheduled appearance at a tourism event in Antalya. Some of his ministers who did attend the obsequies were attacked by the secular crowds which called Erdoðan a "murderer" and chanted slogans exhorting the government to resign. The Minister of Justice, Cemil Çiçek, tried to sneak out the rear doors of a mosque in order to avoid facing the crowds.

On February 28, 1997, a "soft" coup d'état had put the brakes on Islamism when the Turkish National Security Council issued eighteen directives to the Islamist Necmettin Erbakan government. Today, it is hard to imagine a similar military intervention taking place due to the European Union process and the fact that Recep Tayyip Erdoðan has been struggling to eliminate the image of his Islamist past and his ties with Erbakan's radical Islamist National View (Millî Görüþ) ideology. Indeed, except for the headscarf (türban) issue, he has been surprisingly conformist to the demands and expectations of the President and the Turkish Armed Forces, and has recently pronounced the words Atatürk and secularism with respect more frequently than he ever had before in his long political career.

However, on the issue of the headscarf ban in Turkish schools, Erdoðan has been outspoken against the decisions of Turkey's highest courts, the President, and the Turkish Armed Forces. Erdoðan and the Head of the Turkish Parliament, Bülent Arýnç, are on record making numerous inflammatory statements regarding the unchangeable definition of laicism of the Turkish Constitution. Most Turks interpret their boldness as "irresponsible" and "provocative." It is also crucial to point out that the names of these two politicians have been circulating as candidates for the position of Turkey's President. The replacement of Ahmet Necdet Sezer with either of these individuals will no doubt create further discomfort and fear among the secular public, as the President has significant powers when it comes to the veto of decisions of the Turkish Parliament.

During the last four months, and especially after the recent Islamofascist attack by Alparslan Arslan, the debate over the headscarf issue in particular and the interpretation of Turkish secularism in general have resulted in a high level of disorder and large public demonstrations throughout the country. Although it would be unfair to blame Erdoðan directly for the latest Islamofascist terror attack, the political and military powers above him, many leading journalists, the opposition party, and hundreds of thousands of Turks protesting in the streets are either implying or ardently arguing that Erdoðan has assisted the creation of the right social and political climate for Islamism and its ideology of hate to rise again. It has already been suggested that Erdoðan is in the process of orchestrating a "silent" Islamist revolution in Turkey with the help of the political freedom that he has gained through his democratically elected government, and, of course, the European Union process, which automatically eliminates the possibility of another military coup.

It seems likely to me that, with the direct encouragement and support of the Commander of the Turkish Armed Forces General Hilmi Özkök and President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, along with the recent public awakening, a new kind of civil coup has already started curbing the power of the Justice and Development Party in the Turkish political and cultural arenas. Fears of Islamism and further Islamofascist terror, together with Erdoðan's warm relations with the terrorist Hamas government of Palestine and Iran's fanatical president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has brought Atatürkism to a level of appreciation that has not been seen in recent memory. In less than two days following the funeral, 300,000 Turks in Ankara visited Atatürk's Mausoleum (Anýtkabir), showing their respect and gratitude to the founder of their Republic. This indeed may be the harbinger of a major political turning point in Turkey unlike any other since the 1980s.

Kemal Silay is President of the Center for Islamic Pluralism in Washington, DC and Ottoman and Modern Turkish Studies Professor Indiana University, Bloomington.

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