Turkey’s Growing Influence over Islam in Austria

The selection of an ethnic Turk to lead the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (Islamischen Glaubensgemeinschaft in Österreich, IGGiÖ), the primary representative of Muslims in the country, is being challenged by Muslim groups opposed to Turkey’s growing influence over the practice of Islam in Austria.

Ibrahim Olgun, a 28-year-old Austrian-born Islamic theologian with ties to the Turkish state, was quietly named on June 19 to replace 62-yer-old Fuat Sanac, who stepped down after serving as IGGiÖ president for five years.

Sanac, also a Turk, was reviled by Turkish authorities for helping the Austrian government draft a new Islam Law (Islamgesetz) that aims to promote an “Islam with an Austrian character.” The law, which was promulgated in February 2015, seeks to reduce outside meddling by prohibiting foreign funding for mosques, imams and Muslim organizations in Austria. It also stresses that Austrian law must take precedence over Islamic Sharia law for Muslims living in the country.

Observers worry that Olgun — a member of the Turkey-financed Turkish-Islamic Union for Cultural and Social Cooperation in Austria (ATIB), an influential group that has vowed to challenge the Islam Law at Austria’s Constitutional Court — will use his new position both to undermine the Islam Law and to increase further Turkey’s influence over Muslims in Austria.


Turkey: A Thuggish Ramadan

Zaytung, a popular online humor magazine (a kind of Turkish “The Onion”) ran a story:

“Government officials in this eastern city are mulling the possibility of airdropping food, beverages and cigarettes onto busy streets, hoping that this may break some fasters’ resistance to hunger, thirst and tobacco needs. The city has been in shock as, already one week into the holy month of Ramadan, no one has been publicly beaten up for eating, drinking or smoking.”

Zaytung’s mocking was not without a reason. “If one tried to eat in a restaurant [in some parts of Turkey] during Ramadan, one may be insulted or even physically harmed. Indeed, each year there is an incident of an unobservant college student being beaten up or even murdered in the southeast for not fasting during Ramadan,” observed Soner Cagaptay in a 2008 article in the Washington Institute.

In 2010, as art lovers drank sangria out of plastic cups and contemplated iconoclastic pieces of art, a group of locals in central Istanbul attacked them with pepper gas and frozen oranges. For an hour, they smashed windows and injured dozens, including visiting foreigners. The attackers justified themselves, saying that drinking alcohol, especially outdoors, violated Islamic rules. Then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, now president, said, “Such incidents occur everywhere in the world.”


Turkish Professor: “Those Who Do Not Do Islamic Daily Prayers Are Animals”

Many Muslims claim that the Islamic month of Ramadan is not simply an exercise in fasting during the day. It is, they say, a chance for “a spiritual boost,” “mental peace” or “a moral awakening.”

During Ramadan, however, it often seems as if hate speech and intolerance are as rampant as ever, possibly even more — especially with the “Ramadan TV programs,” which are popular.

With the advent of Ramadan, Turkey has not opened only the season of fasting; it has also opened the season of “Ramadan Intolerance.”

This frequently consists of statements which threaten or dehumanize those who do not fast. During this season, many national television channels and social media users in Turkey disgorge hatred against those who do not carry out the strictest Islamic requirements.

Turkish professor Mustafa Askar, at Ankara University’s School of Divinity, said on the “Joy of Ramadan” program, aired on the state-funded TRT channel: “Those who do not do Islamic daily prayers are animals.”


Turkey’s Conquest-Fetish: Tales from Erdoganistan

1071 is a very special year for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — and his Islamist ideologues. Erdogan often speaks about his “2071 targets,” a reference to his vision of “Great Turkey,” on the 1000th anniversary of a battle that paved the Turks’ way into where they still live.

In 1071, the Seljuk Turks did not arrive in Anatolia from their native Central Asian steppes with flowers in their hands. Instead they were in full combat gear, fighting a series of wars against the Christian Byzantine [Eastern Roman] Empire and featuring a newfound Islamic zeal. The Battle of Manzikert in 1071 is widely seen as the moment when the Byzantines lost the war against the Turks: before the end of the century, the Turks were in control of the entire Anatolian peninsula.

Another divine date for Erdogan is May 29, 1453. That day saw the fall of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire, after an Ottoman army invaded what is today Istanbul, modern Turkey’s biggest city. The conquest of Constantinople was not a peaceful event either. The city’s siege lasted for 53 days and cost thousands of lives. The Byzantine defeat left the Ottoman armies unchecked, clearing the way for their advance into Christian Europe in the centuries to come. The long and violent Ottoman march into Europe came to a halt in 1683, when the Ottomans were defeated during the siege of Vienna. By then the Ottomans were in control of north Africa, most parts of the Middle East and central and eastern Europe, totaling 5.2 million square kilometers of land.


Backstage at Turkey’s Shotgun Wedding with Israel

There is every indication that Turkey and Israel are not far away from normalizing their troubled diplomatic relations. According to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, for instance, the former allies are “one or two meetings” away from normalization.

If, however, Ankara and Jerusalem finally shake hands after six years of cold war, it will be because Turkey feels increasingly isolated internationally, not because it feels any genuine friendship for the Jewish nation.

In all probability, the “peace” between Turkey and Israel will look like the definition of peace in Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary: “In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting” — despite the backdrop for peace looking incredibly (but mischievously) convenient. On May 29, a Jewish wedding ceremony was held in a historical synagogue in the northwestern province of Edirne for the first time in 41 years. A few months before that, in December, the Jewish year 5776 went down in history possibly as the first time in which a public Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony was held in Muslim Turkey in a state-sponsored event. All that is nice — but can be misleading.

There are two major problems that will probably block a genuine normalization. One is Hamas, and the other is the seemingly irreversible anti-Semitism which most Turks devour.


Christian Human Rights Activist Jailed in Turkey

The Assyrian human rights activist Sawo Oshana Ide, accused of “being a member of an armed organization,” has been jailed in Turkey since February 18. The indictment does not mention which “armed organization” Sawo belongs to.

According to Ide’s lawyer, Erkan Metin, “He is abstractly accused of doing research in accordance with the objectives of an organization and forming lists about ammunition.”

According to the Turkish penal code, it is a charge that can bring imprisonment for five to ten years.According to Assyria TV, “the Turkish security forces stormed the apartment of Sawo Oshana Ide in Midyat, Turkey. The police took his computer and other notes. Thereafter, Sawo and his wife were taken into interrogation. Today in the afternoon, the police released Sawo’s wife but he was arrested on charges of collaborating with a terrorist organization.”

The accusations are based on some photos and notes in his computer, Metin said.


Why I Rooted for the Turkish Coup Attempt

Every major government condemned the coup attempt in Turkey, as did all four of the parties with representatives in the Turkish parliament. So did even Fethullah Gülen, the religious figure accused of being behind the would-be take over.

All of which leaves me feeling a little lonely, having tweeted out on Friday, just after the revolt began, “#Erdoğan stole the most recent election in #Turkey and rules despotically. He deserves to be ousted by a military coup. I hope it succeeds.”

Having this nearly-minority-of-one stance suggests that an explanation longer than 140 characters is in order. Three reasons account for my supporting the ouster of the apparently democratically elected and democratically ruling president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, by what are apparently the forces of reaction:


Amid post-coup purge, EU warns Turkey it’s bound not to use death penalty

BRUSSELS – The European Union reminded Turkey on Monday that it is bound by its commitments under the European Convention on Human Rights and as a member of the Council of Europe not to reintroduce the death penalty.

“No country can become an EU member state if it introduces the death penalty,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters when asked about suggestions that EU accession candidate Turkey might execute leaders of the failed coup.

She also noted that Turkey was a member of the Council of Europe and a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights, which bans capital punishment across the continent:

“Turkey is an important part of the Council of Europe and is bound by the European Convention on Human Rights, which is very clear on the death penalty,” she said.


Turkish Professor Suspended over Tweet

Erbay Bardakcioglu, a professor at Adnan Menderes University (AMU) in Aydin Province in western Turkey, was suspended after posting a tweet, in which he criticized the conquest of Constantinople, present-day Istanbul, in 1453.

Professor Bardakcioglu’s tweet, on May 29, read, “Today is the anniversary of the invasion of Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, a magnificent civilization, by a barbaric and fanatic tribe.”

After the tweet caused outrage on social media, Bardakcioglu deleted it.

The professor is now under a disciplinary investigation launched by the university’s rector for his tweet. The university’s rector, Cavit Bircan, on his Twitter account, also condemned the professor and declared that he was laid off from his job.

Describing Bardakcioglu’s tweet as “unacceptable,” Bircan wrote:

“After our terrorism-loving academics, we now have Byzantium-loving academics. Let them know that the sons of the Hira Mountain [where Muslims believe Muhammad received his first revelations from Allah] will definitely and once again defeat the sons of the Olympic Mountain.”


Turkey: “We Need a Religious Constitution”

The Speaker of the Parliament is no ordinary office in Turkey. The speaker comes second in the state protocol only after the president (and even before the prime minister). Such is the seat occupied since November by Ismail Kahraman, an MP from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Along with Erdogan, former president Abdullah Gul and eight AKP heavyweights (mostly cabinet ministers) Kahraman comes from the ranks of the National Turkish Student Union (MTTB in its Turkish acronym). Another MTTB bigwig, Huseyin Velioglu, later formed what became the militant Islamist group, “Turkish Hizbullah.” Especially between 1965 and 1980 when a military coup administration dissolved it, the MTTB operated as the youth organization of Turkish political Islam. Kahraman, in late 1960s and early 1970s, was MTTB’s president.

In 1969 Kahraman publicly campaigned against funeral services to be held for Imran Oktem, then president of the Court of Appeals and a well-known anti-Islamist judge. When, finally, a mufti agreed to have the service, MTTB militants attacked the funeral.

Also in 1969, MTTB members attacked a left-wing protest rally and stabbed two students to death.