"No place in Islam" for al-Shabab, other terrorist groups
Turkey stands resolute in Somalia after an al-Shabab terror attack targeting women and children seeking Turkish scholarships.
By Alakbar Raufoglu for SES Türkiye -- 18/10/11
The Turkish government has pushed Somalia to the forefront of its foreign policy agenda, as the failed state faces its worst drought and famine in 60 years.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the "crisis tests the notion of civilisation and our modern values", calling on the international community to support Somalia and its people.
However, those modern values were dealt a blow when the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Shabab terrorist group bombed women and children waiting for Turkish government scholarships in Mogadishu on October 4th, killing over 70 and wounding 150.
Erdogan voiced strong criticism of al-Shabab's terrorism in the name of Islam, saying "there is no place for them in Islam."
"Those who say they are Muslim, can't kill in the name of Islam," said Erdogan, adding that he suggested the Directorate of Religious Affairs bring together internationally respected Islamic scholars to discuss the matter in order to separate terrorism from Islam.
"If you say that terrorism is not part of Islam, then you have to declare this openly everywhere in the world," Erdogan said.
However, the terrorist attack will not deter Turkey from pursuing its humanitarian agenda in Somalia. Taking up the pen in Foreign Policy, Erdogan wrote "The international community must not respond to this act of terrorism by retreating from Somalia, but by redoubling its efforts to bring aid to its people."
In August, Erdogan became the first head of a foreign government to visit Somalia in more than 20 years. He made a commitment to open a Turkish Embassy in Mogadishu, provide aid, build roads and schools, and support the government.
Ankara came to Somalia's aid again right after the al-Shabab attack, airlifting 36 severely wounded people to Turkey for treatment.
Mustafa Said Yazıcioglu, who was responsible for the government's policy on religious affairs until this summer, says that excluding militants from Islam "has always been the No.1 agenda of the Turkish government".
But now, he says, as the country boosts its regional profile and exercises growing influence in the Arab world, Turkey intends to lead this process.
"Somalia is just the latest example of this [problem]," he told SES Türkiye. "Unfortunately, this problem is typically experienced in almost all of the less-developed Muslim countries. Some armed men say they are fighting in the name of religion. This bothers us. It's time to call everything by its own name [terrorism]."
Suleyman Ozeren, director of the Ankara-based International Terrorism and Transnational Crime Research Centre, says the fact that many of the casualties were young students waiting for notification on their acceptance for a scholarship in Turkey "has touched an angry nerve in Erdogan".
"Almost every Muslim and Turk here stands together with [Erdogan on this point," he told SES Türkiye, arguing that al-Shabab's brutality was shown by its targeting of starving people.
Al-Shabab is facing an increasing threat from other groups who are retaking towns in their southern strongholds, Ozeren says, adding that Turkey can help Somalis overcome these militants through non-armed ways.
"Political pressure and especially pressure from the Islamic world are the main factors that would decrease the terrorists' morale and very importantly, their finances," he says.
Orhan Atalay, a professor of religious studies who is a member of the Turkish Group at the Organization of the Islamic Conference's (OIC) Parliamentary Union, says Turkey is drafting a new strategy that intends to involve the OIC against al-Shabab and other terrorist organisations.
"We will officially address the Islamic community through the 57 members of OIC in January at its annual conference in Indonesia and share our concerns and feelings," he told SES Türkiye.
"We also plan to create a parliamentary project to end violence in the Islamic world. From education to art, we will use every means."