Istanbul airport attack: Why Turkey’s response matters

The Islamic world’s struggle to answer “who rules Muslims?” takes a big turn as Islamic State escalates its attacks against democratic Turkey.

Reuters
School children in India hold candles as they pray during a vigil to show solidarity with the victims of the attack at Turkey's largest airport, Istanbul Ataturk, June 29.

As it loses territory in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State has turned to encouraging terrorist attacks in countries from Belgium to Bangladesh. Perhaps the most significant IS-inspired attack, however, was the June 28 suicide bombing of Turkey’s main airport in Istanbul, which killed 44.

The importance of the attack lies in this: Both IS and Turkey’s ruling party are Sunni-based and variations on what is called “political Islam.” Each is trying to answer the Islamic world’s historic question of “who rules Muslims?” An escalation of violence between IS and Turkey is really a battle to determine which values of governance are best for Muslim-majority societies.

Across the Middle East since 9/11, the struggle to define “political Islam” has experienced wild shifts. Egypt’s regime is now largely secular under a military ruler, a backlash against the former elected rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, which itself is divided over the use of violence in politics. Tunisia’s former ruling Islamist party, Ennahda, decided this year to separate its religious and political activities. Saudi Arabia’s monarchy struggles to rein in radical clerics even as it tries to appease liberal youth and women.

Turkey, which is a non-Arab country, sits on the good side of this spectrum. It is a democracy that elected an Islamist party, with Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the current president. He has instituted a “soft” form of Islam in Turkish society yet has also become more authoritarian, repressing many who disagree with him.

The tensions within the Erdogan regime reflect the tensions of “political Islam”: Does the faith allow for forceful domination over others or does it embrace democratic values of equality and the need for secular rule?

Since the airport attack, Mr. Erdogan appears to be reacting with more repression now that IS has so dramatically escalated its attacks within Turkey. While any country hit by terrorists must beef up security, a more important response is the assertion and the practice of the values of liberty and nonviolence. This helps to highlight the violence that lies at the heart of jihadist groups like IS.

Political Islam is a concept still in flux. Many Muslims live in secular democracies, from India to Albania to Indonesia, where the Islamic faith is more personal than political, more tolerant than aggressive. As Turkey steps up its campaign against IS, it too can be a model for this practice of Islam.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.