From Turkey To Syria, A War Within Islam Is Being Waged
After an evening of violence and government forces launching tear gas into crowds gathered in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, calm settled over the park as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan prepared to meet with protesters, although specifics have yet to be determined.
An earlier meeting with Istanbul’s mayor was described as a “disappointment” by one of the participants.
“Unfortunately, Mr. Governor kept saying that police violence had a basis in legitimate cause. In that sense our meeting was a disappointment. On the other hand, Mr. Governor has not given a signal of implementing international human rights standards to put an end to police violence,” Amnesty International Turkey director Murat ÇekiçÇekiç told the Hürriyet Daily News.
Syrian Conflict Exacerbates Divide Within Turkey
The root of the unrest is largely attributed to a growing divide between secularists and Islamists, but Sophia Jones of Foreign Policy also sees the imprint of the Syrian war – and Turkey’s support of the rebels – in the protests.
“The war in Syria is polarizing Turkey. According to a recent study by MetroPOLL Strategic and Social Research Center, based in Ankara, only 28 percent of the Turkish public supports the prime minister’s policies on Syria. Since the start of the conflict, the government has strongly condemned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. From early on, Erdogan has vocally supported the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the rebel group battling the regime, and has urged the United States to supply them with weapons and to establish a no-fly zone,” she writes.
While Jones does not view the Syrian war as a primary cause of the protests, she does see the economic strains placed on Turkey and the growing problems resulting from an influx of refugees as complicating the situation.
She argues that “its significance is likely to grow as long as the civil war across the border continues, potentially aggravating political, economic, and religious problems within Turkey itself.”
The cloud over the Turkish protests reflect the ongoing impact of the two-year Syrian war on nations throughout the region. For instance, on Wednesday, Syrian government helicopters launched rockets into the Lebanese town of Arsal, where many Syrian rebels have sought refuge.
“Violence from Syria has increasingly spilled into Lebanon. Rocket fire from rebel-held border areas has fallen on the pro-Hezbollah, Shi’ite town of Hermel in recent weeks, in apparent response to the group’s battle across the border in Qusair,” reports Reuters. Arsal is predominantly Sunni.
The war within Islam may be viewed by some a regional issue, but former British Prime Minister argues that Sunni-Shiite tensions reflect a broader struggle that is playing out throughout the Middle East.
“On one side, there are Islamists and their exclusivist and reactionary worldview. They comprise a significant minority, loud and well organized. On the other side are the modern minded, those who hated the old oppression by corrupt dictators and despise the new oppression by religious fanatics. They are potentially the majority; unfortunately, they are badly organized,” Blair contends.
While he expresses an understanding and appreciation for the West’s reticence to become involved, he warns that “the seeds of future fanaticism and terror – possibly even major conflict – are being sown. Our task is to help sow the seeds of reconciliation and peace. But clearing the ground for peace is not always peaceful.”