OP-EDS

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December 2, 2003

Bombing sheds light on Turkey's ties to the West

Editor's note: This article was originally submitted Monday, November 24 after the bombing in Turkey.

Continuing their worldwide campaign against humanity, Al Qaeda bombers chose to mark the last week of Ramadan with another attack in the Turkish capital of Istanbul. This time, rather than targeting Jews, they attacked both the British consulate and the British HSBC Bank. At last count, 28 British and Turkish citizens are dead, including Great Britain's envoy to Turkey.

As always, the first question is "why?" Some critics may argue that Turkey was attacked because it is a longtime ally of the United States. The critics might also conclude that this attack was carried out in retaliation for the unpopular war on Iraq. However, though there is evidence of an Al Qaeda/Iraqi connection, Turkey opposed the Iraq war. Turkey also has been heavily reluctant to commit troops to the peace-keeping mission in Iraq. If these attacks were meant to deter or punish allies of the United States, the logical target would be Kuwait. Kuwait, not Turkey, provided both a staging area for the invasion of Iraq and remains a logistical base for the current Iraqi peace-keeping mission.

More detractors will probably point out that Turkey maintains an alliance with Israel, the only Muslim country to do so. As Turkey is also one of the few Muslim democracies, wouldn't it then make more sense to debate its foreign policy within the confines of parliament? Only the narrow-minded or ignorant still believe that all of the Middle East's problems are caused by Israel.

Predictably, the Saudi Arabian online publication Arab News blamed the Turkish political system. It drew comparisons to the civil strife that afflicted the country in the 70s and 80s. However, these bombings were more serious than the routine, internal conflict that affects countries such as Saudi Arabia. This was a coordinated attack on non-Muslim influence in Turkey.

The British have maintained an official presence in Turkey since the 19th century. The Jewish community that came under attack is even older. It's been in Istanbul since the 15th century. Always a hospitable people, the Turks granted sanctuary to Jews expelled from Spain during the reconquista and inquisition. Later, the community grew as the Turks admitted Jews fleeing the Nazis in the 30s and 40s.

This is why Turkey is a tempting target. Al Qaeda's post-9/11 strategy has been to look for countries with a long history of pluralism and attack "non-Muslim" interests in them. Just over a year ago, bombs started going off all over Indonesia, including one at a Bali nightclub and the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta. Then, as now, many of the headlines announced the opening of a new front in the War on Terrorism. The media also questioned why such horrible acts had happened in a Muslim country renowned for its tolerance.

But, that still doesn't answer why the attacks were carried out. Many of the victims were Turks and the bombings remain unpopular in Turkey. But the attacks didn't happen because Al Qaeda is popular. The attacks happened because Turkey's government refused to admit it had an extremist problem. Essentially, Muslim countries first need to admit that they have a problem before they can fix it.

Unfortunately, rather than confronting this problem, the Turks's preferred solution has all too often been appeasement. As you may recall, "appeasement" was once defined by Winston Churchill as the act of feeding a crocodile in hopes that it will eat you last. In this case, it appears that the bombers belonged to a Jihadi group tolerated by the Turkish government. According to The New York Times, the government "had tacitly encouraged Islamic extremism in this region, judging it a useful tool in a sometimes dirty war against Kurdish separatists."

The events in Turkey should convince other countries that there is no third way in the War on Terrorism. As President Bush famously said, "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." Other countries, like Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, are finally starting to bring their terrorism problem under control after years of pretending it didn't exist. Al Qaeda is a disease, the cures for which are both liberty and vigilance. Even democracies, such as Turkey, have to maintain a watchful eye for the forces of darkness.