A picture is worth a thousand words. A couple months after Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was elected to office representing the Justice and Development Party, the Turkish daily Star Gazette ran a photo on July 10, 2003 which shows Afghan jihad leader (and Taliban and Al-Qaida ally) Gulbuddin Hikmatyar sitting with two men kneeling at his feet. The man on the right is the current Prime Minister of Turkey. The caption reads: "Taliban in the armchair, kneeling is the Prime Minister." It is important to recognize the significance of sitting at one's feet in Islamic tradition, it implies spiritual submission.
Hikmatyar has long-established ties with Osama bin Ladin and is responsible for offering to shelter bin Ladin in Afghanistan after he fled Sudan in 1996. Following September 11, 2001, he pledged allegiance with the spiritual leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar to launch a guerrilla war on the Afghan government and U.S. troops there. Hikmatyar was named in Executive Order 13224 as a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist" the same month Erdogan was elected.
After Erdogan came to power, media reports in the West displayed some initial concern for a possible Islamist tilt by Turkey. As the Voice of America (VOA) reported this week, the "underlying U.S.-Turkish tensions is the growing presence of Islam.” The VOA went on to discuss how the U.S. had been in support of Turkey's experiment with a party that originated from the Islamist movement and that when it initially came to power it was viewed as something that would prove that Islam and democracy are compatible.
The VOA quoted a professor explaining Turkey's opposition to U.S. activity in Iraq does not justify members of the government and medias’ anti-Americanism, "When you have serious newspapers publishing articles about the U.S. having a secret weapon that makes earthquakes and that Istanbul is the next target…When you have newspapers that publish all kinds of scurrilous articles about the U.S., that is more worrisome. The problem is that some Turkish politicians have joined the fray and have accused the U.S. of genocide and all kinds of other activities in Iraq."
Since the Islamists came to power, there definitely has been a noted increase in anti-Americanism in the country. This can be supported by the BBC poll that found 82% of Turks are anti-American, as well as one of Turkey’s current best-selling novel’s being based on a futuristic war with the U.S. Additionally, Turkish protestors laid "black" wreaths of flowers during Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit last month as part of the demonstrations outside the American embassy.
MEMRI’s Turkish Media Project currently monitors and translates Turkey’s printed media, and will shortly begin to cover major television channels, sermons from mosques, as well as textbooks from schools. To date, this project has found rampant anti-Americanism. One example includes the Turkish Islamic daily Yeni Safak, known for unofficial ties to the current Turkish administration (such as the fact that a child of the owner of the paper recently married a child of Turkey's Prime Minister).
Shortly after the U.S. election last year, Dr. Husnu Mahalli, a columnist for the paper wrote on November 17: "For God's sake, when will we see the realities? …When will we understand that this is a new Crusader war?…When will we realize that American aggression targets…all Muslim countries and peoples?…When will we stop this admiration for America? … When will we be ashamed of 'welcoming' the murderer soldiers of America … Americans are using Iraqi civilians as human shields to protect themselves... One can expect no less from the faithless, treacherous, murderous Americans… After bombing the mosques of Fallujah, the American soldiers desecrate them by urinating on and soiling their walls. After raiding homes, American soldiers strip the women and girls naked and molest them … and this is why 59 million Americans voted for Bush… In the words of [Turkish TV personality and actor] Levent Kirca: 'U.S.A. – the God-damned country'…"
The most recent casualty of the U.S.-Turkish rift is U.S. ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman’s resignation. Some reports point to a statement Edelman made and was misquoted about dealing with Turkey’s President Ahmet Necdet Sezer’s April visit to Syria as the reason. It is plausible to suggest issues surrounding the Iraq war are partially responsible for Turkey’s increased anti-Americanism. But given that the country is ruled by an Islamist government whose Prime Minister has given his spiritual devotion to an ally of Al-Qaida, raises many questions which have yet to be explored.
*Steven Stalinsky is Executive Director of The Middle East Media Research Institute.