Political Islam in South-Eastern Europe and Beyond
Dr. Darko Trifunović
Research Fellow and Lecturer, University of Belgrade
8 June, 2018
How Significant is Turkey’s influence in South-Eastern Europe?
We used to deal with Turkey and Turkish officials that they are type of Ataturk, basically, they are holders of Ataturk’s legacy. But with the “new generation”, with Tayyip Erdoğan, with Gülen and others, Grey Wolves as well as Muslim Brotherhood rise up in Turkey and as well in northern part of your island. The Muslim Brotherhood, of course, is a basic organization for all jihad. We are now facing a big misunderstanding, mainly coming from lack of knowledge from the West and the Western countries, because they do not call all these organizations Muslim Brotherhood but regionally they call them Al-Qaeda, Islamic State, etc. But it’s very well-known among us experts that basically Bin Laden, Zawahiri, Al Baghdadi, Tayyip Erdoğan and others, they are all members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Recently, Erdoğan visited Bosnia. Bosnia is not a Muslim country; it is predominantly Christian country if you see population, if you consider Croatian Catholics and Serb Orthodox residing in Bosnia. And what he did at the airport? Immediately after his disembarkment from the airplane on the Sarajevo International Airport he showed the four-finger of the Muslim Brotherhood (Rabia sign). He showed all what is our destiny according to his plan. The same Muslim Brotherhood is present in northern part of your island.
Erdogan doesn’t hide that his aspiration is to become a new caliph. That’s why he is in confrontation with all those prominent individuals in groups coming from Arabic Sunni population, particularly Al-Baghdadi, that they are claiming that they are supposed to be a caliph in the caliphate. It is very clear for all of us that the Muslim Brotherhood is basically an organization which propagates political Islam. Political Islam is just the platform for their ultimate goal – the goal is creation of umma and caliphate. And methods of their operations, modus operandi, is guerilla, terrorism, and right now we are facing also state terrorism.
And if you consider at this moment what Mr Erdogan and army under his control in Turkey right now, what they are doing provoking conflict with Greece. There is no day that Turkey doesn’t violate the Greek sovereign territory. There is no day that the Turkish forces are not committing crimes in Syria. Because what is Turkish army doing in north of Syria according to international law this is a clear act of aggression. Regardless if Russian side would contact now with the Turks, if Russians decide to allow the Turks to enter the territory of Syria, but according to the international law, Turkey is behaving very aggressively and, I repeat, against Greece, and in the same time you can expect in the future of course any kind of aggression towards Cyprus, towards the East European nations, particularly in the Balkans, and as well as Syria.
And, of course, their aggressive policies now are very visible in Central Asia. Few thousands Uyghurs are members of Al-Qaeda and Al-Nusra and, particularly, all these units of Islamic State fighting in Syria and Iraq. After the defeat in Syria they are now in Turkey, and according to my knowledge, they are now preparing operation and actions against western China in province called Xinjiang. So, Turkey has become a problem not only for Europe and European partners, not only for the Greek and the US governments. Turkey is now becoming also a problem of China. Nobody stopped Turkey in their effort to organize, recruit and support by any other ways and means equipping Uyghur terrorists, because in Turkey there is a common opinion that Uyghur people are originally Turks and they speak Urdu language that most of the Turkish citizens consider as old Turkish. So we are now facing, as I said from the beginning, not really old Turkey that we used to deal with – type of Attaturk. Now we are facing a giant, which is completely out of civil control, out of control of our civilization, they don’t accept values of our civilization, they become more and more radical, and there will be in the future, of course, this kind of a clash between.
Regarding the Balkans, and indeed it’s the same policy, radical circles from Turkey try to widespread this Turkish radical form of Islam. And by that way Turkey tries to keep the interest and to misuse local Muslim population from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Albania, Serbia, all the way up to Bosnia. Of course, there is now the conflict between Turkish influences and Arabic, mainly Saudi Arabia influence. And Saudis are more present in our part of the world, but Turkish influence is present more and more in your part of the world. And particularly right now there is a very strange marriage between Turkey and Russians. And since you have in Cyprus a large population of the Russians, now we need to think whether all of these Russians are our Orthodox brothers and fellows, whether all of these Russians are just our neighbors, or some of them do some kind of intelligence gathering job for their new ally at the moment – Turkey.
What is the connection between Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood?
Muslim Brotherhood is not an organization which strictly respects the rules from country to country. You can see Muslim Brotherhood in Saudi Arabia, and their relation towards, for example, the women issue. You can see Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and their relation to, for example, the women issue again. And it’s from country to country. They are root organization, they have common goals and they have common platform. The platform is political Islam, but it’s from country to country, and in every country the Muslim Brotherhood respects some traditional relations among those inhabitants of those countries. So you can see, if you are studying the Muslim Brotherhood carefully, you can see that their roles are not the same from country to country. In Egypt, for example, their representatives behave completely differently than in Saudi Arabia or in Morocco. There is a strong connection, they are part of one body. Of course in this body there are different wings. Basically, they want to put themselves above all others. You remember that from the beginning all kinds derive from the Arabic world. But the last twenty, maybe thirty caliphs they came from the Turkish world. And Attaturk, at the beginning of the twentieth century shut down the caliphate and that was the end of the caliphate. And basically, all these jihadists right now, whenever they do something, they recall the past. They recall Salahuddin, they are living in the past. They are back in seventh century, and that’s why they’ve attacked first France, whose French troops came to Baghdad and killed the idea of, at that time, the guy who claimed that he was going to be the Caliph from the Arab Syrian (inaudible).
Turkey is a part of this. Regardless how much they are different, regardless that they are not Arabs, but they are claiming, they are in constant fight, among the Sunni (inaudible) their Arab fellows. But at the end of the day they have the same idea of jihad, they are misinterpreting Quran and misunderstanding the basics of the religion.
But now, if you talk about religion, in particular Sunni version of religion, then, I said just a minute ago that they misinterpret religion. Maybe I’m wrong? Maybe they interpret the religion in the right way? But who can understand, for example, verses from the Quran, “When the holy months pass, kill infidels wherever you find them, burn their property, until they start paying zakat.” What does that mean for an average Muslim inhabitant, for an average Muslim citizen, this order from the Quran? Of course, there are Muslim scholars that are lying to us that in other parts of the Quran there is a verse that propagates love and tolerance among the people, etc. But the main thing is that in the Quran there is a verse that says that the newer Surah is above the older. That means that in the second part of the Quran there is much more power than in the older part of the Quran. That’s why the lie to us.
How should Europe deal with religious radicalization?
The key is de-radicalization. But it is also from country to country. For example, Serbia, Bosnia – our Muslim population are not Muslims that come from somewhere – they are out of our blood, they are autochthon Muslims from Europe and they have a unique position that we need to create out of them our first defense. And more and more Bosnian and Serbian Muslims here converted during the Ottomans. They are European Muslims with European standards and European traditions. Last twenty-twenty five years, someone, mainly Saudis, Turks and others, started to change them. They want to change their name for example. They used to call themselves Bosnian Muslims, and now they convert to Bosniaks. They don’t speak now Serbo-Croatian language, which is basically our language. Now they call it Bosnian language, which is nonsense. They used to go to mosque, this type of mosque which is Turkish-style, with low minarets etc., but after the civil war in Bosnia they started to build very high minarets, like those you can see in Saudi Arabia and all other places. So, the last twenty-twenty five years someone has tried to change the identity of the European Muslims. This is one category.
The second category is a Muslim population that came from North Africa, Middle East and other parts of the world. Again, de-radicalization, but because we are dealing with the radical, we are not dealing with Islam here. And we need to make clear distinction between Islam as a great world religion, and radical jihadists, radical Islamists, that want to jeopardize our values, they want to destroy our civilization, and they want to put in our mind their ideals in a very brutal way. Every day they are sending this kind of a message to us, that they are brutal, that they are terrorists, that if we don’t accept their values and their civilization, we are going to die. It’s a kind of message they are sending to us every day.
So how do we confront that? Of course, with de-radicalization. But also, since we are dealing with radical Islam, we need to treat them as Europe treated communists, Bolsheviks, in the past. We need to create a ban list that they cannot travel. We cannot allow them enter our civilization. And also, if you are taking Israeli experience, if some of them commit any kind of terrorist activities, in particular suicide, we need to take measures against the traitors’ family, and keep them entirely out of Europe. If someone grew up in Europe and becomes a suicide bomber or any other radical jihadist, there is no space for these people. Europe is liberal. They came to our world. They want to change our habits, they want to change our way of life. They want to change everything. So, if they don’t like us, why are they coming to us? And why do we allow them to come? It sounds maybe like a radical approach. But explain to mothers and fathers of those kids that were killed by jihadists in Bosnia. Explain to the family of the France bombing how they feel right now. Explain all the families that suffer from jihadist or Islamist terrorism, from America, China, India and Europe. Think a little bit about families, think a little bit about victims, and then you will find that we need to implement very extreme measures.
De-radicalization means soft and strong measures. For example, one of the leading experts on de-radicalization is Mr Asir Hafiz. He used to be an imam of the London mosque. But he realized how dangerous radical Islam is to Muslim population. He wants to underline that radical Islam is targeting namely Muslim kids. They want Muslim kids to be the suicide bombers. They want Muslims to convert to their way, to confront the rest of the civilization. The average Muslims in Europe, in particular Bosnian or European-born Muslims, not second or third generation, but our Muslims, that they are here for the last 500 years, they understand that they are victims and so are their kids. We need to talk to those that came to Europe. We need to tell them why their family came to Europe. Because they cannot live under the Islamic rule and other circumstances in their own country. So what do they want from us? If they don’t like our way of life, if they don’t like our civilization, we need to find out way how to face them with the consequences. The consequences vary from jail to ban list that they cannot travel. Our legislators and our colleagues from law faculties can give us which kind of measures we can implement. But also there is a big dilemma in that sense. Which kind of the measures? What can you do to someone who decides to die? That is also a key question for me and my colleagues and we are still looking for answers. I find out that those jihadists, they are using techniques, special psychological techniques to brainwash young Muslims to become suicide bombers. So we need to do the opposite. And in psychology there are measures. But unfortunately, our not only Serbian, but also European legislators don’t understand gravity of the threat. Since they start to understand the gravity of the threat, they’ll do things about legal measures and ways of how to confront it.