Here is a Turkish joke. A prisoner goes to the jail library and asks for a specific book. The librarian replies: “We don’t have the book, but we have the author.”History will not miss the supreme irony of Turkish despot Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has jailed or executed thousands of dissidents, joining the lonely crusade of Imran Khan and Mahathir bin Mohamad for “equity and justice” in Kashmir. Powerful Turkey’s entry into the fray has taken the initiative away from Pakistan, which claims to be the only representative of Islamist grievance against the rest of the world.
Radical Islam and democracy are mutually incompatible: note Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Pakistan, Indonesia, Kuwait, Egypt et al—some unabashedly tyrannical while others are faux democracies. It is War of Civilisations Redux: the benevolent despots of faith versus the delightfully chaotic freedoms of democracy.
What is Erdogan’s endgame? He sees himself as the new Caliph who will revive Islam’s last great empire—the Ottoman Empire. He has manipulated hotelier Donald Trump—clearly a Russian proxy—to leverage his Syrian ambitions with Russian help, which will eventually make Turkey the dominant player in the Middle East. By evoking Kashmir, Erdogan hopes to stir painful memories of the Ottoman dissolution by the British in 1915, which traumatised Indian Muslims.
When does a thesaurus become a dictionary? When ‘freedom’ is misspelt by the doublespeak of conquerors. During World War I, many soldiers among the over one million Indian troops felt the incongruity of fighting for India’s colonisers. In February 1916, Muslim Indian soldiers of the 5th Light Infantry rebelled against their British officers and spread mayhem across the city in what would come to be known as the Singapore Mutiny. The rebellion was put down and many mutineers fled to, no surprise here, the Malay Peninsula next door.
The Ottoman Consul General’s despatch read, “The truth is that an Indian Muslim, in the aforementioned city, and Indian Muslim soldiers have declared major jihad for the greater Islamic state against the British...” Thereafter rose the Khilafat movement by Indian Muslims against the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and to save the Caliph. This connection between them and the Ottoman Empire then is responsible for the bond between Pakistan and Turkey today.
India must be warned that Erdogan is not Imran Khan. He heads a economically mighty country and enjoys a pragmatically powerful relationship with both Russia and the West. He will not be deterred from his goal of establishing an omnipotent Islamic empire with himself as the head. Erdogan’s Turkey is jihad’s modern face. And the mirror doesn’t give a damn about who is the unfairest of them all.