Turkey’s Assault on the Kurds: The Silence of the Islamists
A stateless people comprised of a large number of Sunni Muslims is being bombarded by a country with an overwhelming military advantage. It’s the kind of thing that normally has American Islamist groups organizing protests and lighting up social media feeds.
But this time the aggressor is Turkey’s authoritarian leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a man who has positioned himself as a defender of violent Palestinian terrorists like Hamas and a patron for Muslim Brotherhood leaders who sought refuge from Egypt’s military rulers. He is bombing Kurdish targets in northern Syrian, and has sent his troops into the country.
American Islamists, normally not shy about Middle East conflicts, are largely silent about Turkey’s crimes. When Israel has launched defensive operations to stop Hamas and other Gaza-based terrorists from raining rockets on civilians in southern Israel, the same groups were quick to condemn it, organize protests, demand US government action, and organize social media campaigns.
Kurdish victims fail to generate similar concern. Images on social media show Turkish bombing and shelling of civilians all along Syria’s northern border. Civilians in the town of Kobane, who withstood a 2014 ISIS onslaught, found themselves under attack by Turkish artillery.
Turkey claims it is conducting an anti-terrorist operation against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). But the PKK’s ideology has moved away from revolutionary Marxism and now supports autonomy within Turkey, American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Rubin noted in a January National Interest column. Erdogan sought peace with the PKK before turning against it in 2015.
“To refuse to acknowledge, let alone appreciate the evolution of the PKK and to refuse to recognize the achievements and stability of Syrian Kurdish governance against the backdrop of a horrendous civil war not only does an injustice toward the Kurds, but it also signals that in order to achieve their basic human rights, they must fight to the death in Turkey,” Rubin wrote.
Turkey’s offensive has united political voices in the United States, primarily because the Kurds proved to be the only reliable force against ISIS. In contrast, Arab militias backed by the West inevitably turned their weapons over to ISIS, Al-Qaeda, or other jihadists. Kurdish forces successfully routed ISIS over the past few years with the help of American military advisers and air power.
Western powers promised the Kurds a state of their own following World War I, but that failed to materialize. Kurds are spread out across Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. The PKK has fought a decades-long war with Turkey for autonomy and self-governance. Kurds are denied their language and identity by Ankara, which belittles them as “Mountain Turks.”
But American Islamists do little to seek justice for the oppressed Kurdish people. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) thus far has been silent about Turkey’s assault. The same is true for the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the Islamic Circle of North America (ISNA), and American Muslims for Palestine (AMP).
AMP Executive Director Osama Abuirshaid actually defended the invasion.
“The Turkish military incursion into Syria does not please us as Arabs,” Abuirshaid wrote on Facebook, “but Turkey is practically forced to, and it has — to this very day — been the one who stood with the Syrian people the most.” He claimed Turkey “is trying to prevent the establishment of a ‘Kurdish Israel’ along its southern borders.
Los Angeles chapter Executive Director Hussam Ayloush was the only CAIR official to speak about the invasion.
“Dear Western politicians/commentators and sudden experts on Syria, did it occur to you to ask how the 12 million refugess (sic) feel about Turkey establishing a safe zone in Syria that’s free from Assad and terrorists?” Ayloush wrote.
That safe zone involves resettling Syrian refugees from other parts of Syria who live in Turkey, Erdogan said in a United Nations speech last month. Jihadists are also reportedly involved in the invasion force alongside the Turkish regular army.
The leader of the US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO) — an umbrella group of “major national American Muslim organizations” also declared support for the Turkish invasion.
“What a travesty, progressive media wants to protect YPG, a terrorist affiliate of PKK, while innocent Syrians are slaughtered daily! Only Turkey carried the burden to host millions of Syrians & protect them. Who’s [sic] agenda & interest is served here? We are watching!” USCMO Secretary General Oussama Jamal tweeted on Tuesday.
Last month, US Islamist leaders effusively praised Erdogan. CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad and former Muslim American Society President Esam Omeish were photographed huddling near the Turkish leader.
Jamal called Erdogan “a wonderful human-being with patience, love, worries and cares for Muslim ummah.” Brooklyn Imam Siraj Wahhaj called for Turkey to lead the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims at an event sponsored by the Turkish American National Steering Committee (TASC).
The same Islamists also have been noisy about India’s revocation of the special status of the territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
“We have to reject Hindu supremacy and assert that if India wants to be a democracy it has to live up to the standard of a democratic state,” AMP Chairman Hatem Bazian said at a September 29 rally on Kashmir posted on AMP’s Facebook page. “India has become one of the largest purchasers of weapons. Supremacy is always used as militarism in a way that’s used to assert its right to rule. India has been spending massively. When we say that we are for peace and for justice, we are against weapons of mass destruction, against using nationalism as a way to kill and separate people.”
Bazian has made no mention of the Turkish invasion.
Israeli attacks against Hamas and other Palestinian terrorists are retaliation for rocket attacks, but the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that consists of Kurds, Arabs, and Syriac Christians bent over backwards to tell Turkey it was not a threat. SDF soldiers pulled back from defensive positions along the Turkish-Syrian border in the weeks leading up to the invasion.
None of it was enough for Erdogan, who is determined to strike out at the very people who helped defeat ISIS. Apparently, that’s just fine with American Islamists.
John Rossomando is a senior analyst at The Investigative Project on Terrorism.