The Turkish journalist Hasan Cemal recently bemoaned that a publishing house rejected his latest book, Sorrow, on the grounds that it would lead to the imprisonment of both the author and the publisher for expressing liberal views antithetical to the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. According to Cemal, the works of other well-known writers in Turkey -- such as Oya Baydar, Nedim Gürsel, Aslı Erdoğan, Baskın Oran and Nurcan Baysal -- have met a similar fate, for the same reason.
Not all authors and publishers in Turkey, however, live in such fear. For instance, the Turkish translation of the book Al-Wala' Wal-Bara ("Loving and Hating for the Sake of Allah Alone"), written by al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, are freely published by Beyaz Minare and distributed by Benli.
Many other publishers and media outlets in Turkey that not only promote violent jihad, but also maintain ties to terrorist organizations, continue functioning. The staff of the magazine İslam Dünyası ("Islamic World"), for instance, was under indictment in 2012 for links to al Qaeda.
The daily BirGün reported that, according to the investigation file, the magazine's managing editor, Osman Akyıldız, the magazine's Ankara representative, Ömer Belül, and other al Qaeda supporters traveled illegally to Syria to recruit terrorists and provide aid to al Qaeda-affiliated training camps in Syria.
Belül is also a representative of an al-Qaeda-linked Turkish association, Garip-Der (Guraba Muslims Association); its head, Abdurrahman Koç, was killed in 2013 while fighting along with foreign jihadists against the Syrian government.
Garip-Der is known for its pro-jihad demonstrations. In December 2012, for instance, the group gathered near the US Embassy in Ankara, where Belül made a speech endorsing the al-Nusra jihadists and condemning the countries that listed al-Nusra as a terrorist organization.
Garip-Der held another pro-jihad demonstration in January 2013 in front of the French Embassy in Ankara, to protest French operations against al-Qaeda in Mali. The group's members held banners that read, "Death to France" and "the caliphate will be established." The same month, Garip-Der protested Russia to show support for the jihadists in Syria. Belül made another straightforward pro-jihad speech there, threatening both non-Muslims and Muslims who oppose jihad:
"Allah, who is a curser, will give [his] response through jihad... And you Muslims who are not jihadists or who do not support jihadists. When the Rashidun caliphate is established, you will regret it and say, 'I wish I had acted on the side of jihadists or at least had not betrayed them'."
Akyıldız owns Küresel Kitap, a publishing company that translates, publishes and sells pro-jihad books, some of which are written by terrorists. One book, Kayip Minare ("The Lost Minaret") was written by Abdullah Azzam, also known as the "Father of Global Jihad," who has had a profound impact on several jihadist organizations, particularly on the foundation of al-Qaeda. Although a Turkish court ruled in 2013 that Azzam's book must be "pulled from the market," it is still being sold openly by Küresel.
Other pro-jihad books published and distributed by Küresel include:
- Jihad and the Battle Against Doubts (Cihad ve Şüphelerle Savaş), by Abu Yahya al-Libi, a leader of the Libya branch of al Qaeda, who, in 2012, declared Syria "a region of jihad" and instructed al Qaeda members in Turkey and other countries to fight against the Syrian government.
- Memories of al-Khattab (Hattab'ın Anıları), by Saudi-born Jordanian Ibn al-Khattab, a jihad leader in the First and the Second Chechen Wars who was also active in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Tajikistan.
- Allah Is Preparing Victory for Islam (Allah İslam'a Zafer Hazırlıyor), by Anwar al-Awlaki, an Islamic preacher who was a recruiter for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
The power and influence of the such works and their authors cannot be underestimated. Although al-Awlaki was killed in 2011, his words of violence continue to reach across the world. According to a 2016 article in The Week,
"...[Y]ears after the U.S. killed American-born imam Anwar al-Awlaki, he is still inspiring jihadists at home and abroad.
"Who has been influenced by him?
"Just about every Islamist who has attacked the U.S. since 9/11. He had direct email contact with Nidal Malik Hasan, who killed 13 people in a 2009 shooting attack at Fort Hood, Texas. He helped recruit and train Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who in 2009 tried to blow up an airplane over Detroit with a bomb in his underwear. Awlaki died before the rise of ISIS, but nearly every ISIS adherent who speaks English has seen his lectures on YouTube or read his articles in Inspire, the online al Qaeda magazine he helped launch. Syed Rizwan Farook, who along with his wife killed 14 people in a 2015 rampage at his workplace in San Bernardino, California, watched Awlaki sermons; so did Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez, who killed four Marines and a Navy sailor in Chattanooga, Tennessee, also in 2015. The Tsarnaev brothers, who bombed the Boston Marathon in 2013, were fans of the videos, and plans for the pressure-cooker bomb they used can be found in Inspire's article 'How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom...'"
Another jihadist influenced by al-Awlaki was the Turkish police officer, Mevlüt Altıntaş, who murdered a Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, in 2016. According to court documents, the day before the assassination, Altıntaş gave a suitcase filled with written materials -- such as the Koran and a book by al-Awlaki -- to an Islamist in Ankara, and said that he hoped "others too will benefit from the books."
Other materials found in Altıntaş's suitcase and at his home included:
- The Muslim Brotherhood Organization, a book by Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood.
- The Strategy of the Islamic Dawaa and other books by Sayyid Qutb, a leading member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and a convicted terrorist.
- Books by Turkish jihadist Bülent Tokgöz, whom the indictment stated "is currently in conflict zones" in Syria.
- The Risale-i Nur Collection, by the Sunni Muslim theologian Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (1877-1960), which includes 14 books on Koranic interpretation, and aims to bring about an Islamic revival in Turkey.
- Books by the cleric Nureddin Yıldız, head of the pro-Erdoğan government Social Fabric Foundation, the website of which includes statements such as: "Jihad is the greatest worship of our religion... There is jihad by the hand, by the pen, by the tongue and of property. They [the different forms of jihad] should be implemented whenever and however they are required."
Apparently, "jihad by the pen" is what is required in modern Turkey; given Erdoğan's ideology, it is not surprising that the Turkish government is lenient with promoters of radical Islamism while cracking down on dissident liberal reformers.
Erdoğan himself was a student and follower of the late Necmettin Erbakan, a Turkish PM who in 1969 founded the National View (Milli Görüş) movement -- the Turkish Muslim Brotherhood. Erdoğan continues to support the Brotherhood, and the support appears to be mutual.
Last year, Yusuf Neda, the international relations representative of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, reportedly called Turkey the "hope of the entire Islamic world," and the "only country in the Middle East that acts responsibly."
For Turkish defenders of liberalism, such as Hasan Cemal -- whose publisher fears the repercussions of releasing his book -- the Erdogan government represents anything but hope and responsible behavior.
"It is really sorrowful to live in a country that silences, prosecutes, jails its authors and forces them to live in exile," Cemal wrote in January.
It is worse than "sorrowful," however, that writers in Turkey who promote jihad are given a pass.