The world has been pushed into conflicts with endless global implications, and Erdogan’s Turkey has been exploiting every possible regional and international conflict in a campaign to establish an empire that is no less devastating than the Third Reich. Unlike Hitler, however, Erdogan pragmatically combines both nationalist and religious means of populism to appeal to a much larger population of potential recruits across the world while succeeding to enjoy the ongoing support of opposed political forces from widely divergent sides of the ideological spectrum: Putin’s Russia and the Western alliance; Turkish ultranationalists and Turkish Islamists; and frustrated Arab nationalists and Sunni Arab Islamists.
Acting as both a reincarnated Ataturk and Sultan, as both the Turkish nationalist father figure and the caliph of a multinational empire, Erdogan has been planning to celebrate 2023 for at least a decade, since the early days of the Syrian civil war, when he began sponsoring a seemingly endless number of Islamist groups. These 21st century janissaries, who often change their names and uniforms to take up whatever role may be assigned to them, are made up of Sunni Islamist fighters who have come from all parts of the world, including China, Central Asia, the Caucasus, North Africa, Europe, and the United States to fight under the banner of Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al Islam, Sultan Murad Brigade, Jund Al-Sham, al-Nusra Front, the Army of the Islamic Caliphate, Sultan Abdulhamid Han Brigade, ISIS, and many others. Supported sometimes openly, other times clandestinely, these movements have shared a unified strategy, and that strategy was conceived in Ankara. ISIS was merely a farcical (but instrumental) experiment, a trial balloon and a tool to finish some dirty business for the far more serious caliphate that Erdogan has been planning to launch.
The Hamas attack of October 7, 2023, I think, was part of Erdogan’s wider campaign that extends from the South Caucasus region to North Africa (Ahmed 2023a). It is no secret that Hamas’s most prominent leaders and strategists have been based in Turkey for years. Nor is it a secret that Hamas, together with its financial backer Qatar, has expressed its enthusiastic support for Turkey’s fanaticalizationproject in Syria and the region. Like Qatar, Hamas has preserved its conventional alliances with the Iranian regime and the Lebanese Hezbollah, but, also like Qatar, it is committed to a deeper and a more strategic and ideological allegiance to Erdogan’s Sunni Islamist camp. In Syria, Sunni Islamists support Turkey, whereas Shia Islamists, including Hezbollah, are part of the Iranian proxies that support the Syrian regime. When the Syrian civil war broke out, relations between Damascus and Hamas deteriorated because Hamas did not side with the Syrian regime, which in turn affected the Iran-Hamas relations. (1) Then, by supporting the Sunni camp in Syria, Hamas revealed its true allegiance and placed itself against the Shia camp while preserving its peculiar relations with both the Iranian regime and Hezbollah.
“The Jerusalem Flood,” as Hamas and its sympathizers called it, was self-evident as an expedition to take over Jerusalem by deploying a shock and awe strategy to paralyze Israel’s ability to respond militarily and at the same time trigger a large uprising along with a religiously inspired overwhelming wave of popular support from the region to rapidly alter everything. Had things gone as planned, Erdogan would have come into the picture as the resurrected Selim he had been eagerly personifying and patiently preparing to announce in October 2023. As both the sultan and the caliph, the alleged man of the people whose Islamic Reconquista would be defended by the alleged umma across continents. Islamism entails preparedness to sacrifice any number of lives for a sanctified end, and Hamas has always been ready to use Palestinians as a means for that end.
Admittedly my argument about Turkey’s potential plan is a speculative one, but if one considers Erdogan’s mindset especially in terms of his roleplay as the reincarnation of Selim I (2), much of what otherwise appear puzzling would fall in place. Selim started his expansionist campaigns in the South Caucuses and the coast of the Caspian Sea then turned southward toward Aleppo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Gaza, Cairo, and Mecca and Medina, thereby announcing himself as the Caliph of Muslims in 1517. The trajectory of the events suggest that Erdogan had something similar in mind. Perhaps he was hoping that by October 29, his janissaries would win Jerusalem, only this time, instead of going from Jerusalem to Gaza as Selim’s army did, Hamas would start the Jerusalem expedition from Gaza. Keep in mind Erdogan has done everything to take over northern, and possibly the rest, of Syria, but the presence of the Americans, the Russians, and the Iranians repeatedly curtailed his ambitions. His Islamic Reconquista could have had a better chance if his Syria expedition had been more successful or if the Muslim Brotherhood rule of Egypt had survived. For years, Erdogan was not prepared to come to terms with the end of the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule, from 2012 to 2013. With the loss of a strategic ally of both Turkey and Hamas, Erdogan tried to make up for the loss on the Israel-Palestine flank, by supporting Hamas. Since then, Erdogan has increasingly given Hamas a bigger role there, or so it seems, as all of Israel’s other land borders (i.e., Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan) remained out of reach for the Sunni Islamist camp. Hamas too was at a critical point after having been left at the mercy of its Shia allies, Iran and Hezbollah.
As a Sunni Arab Islamist movement, Hamas would never fully trust Iranian Shia Islamists, or any Shia Islamist group, or any Shias tout court. The man who founded Hamas as the Muslim Brotherhood’s offshoot in the Palestinian territories explained in very clear terms that their relations with the Iranian regime were purely defined by “common interests, not coalition” (Abu Dawd 2014, 406). While Hamas uses the Iranian regime to receive weapons and funds, as a native Palestinian group, Hamas is considered a special asset for any Islamist camp, including the Shia camp.
In the Arab world, the Hamas leadership could justify their allegiance to Erdogan on a religious basis, but they could not do the same when it came to their relations with the Shia camp, a fact widely understood in the Arab world. Most in the region accept that the Hamas-Tehran link is a pragmatic relationship necessitated by circumstances. Hezbollah, on the other hand, is perceived as an Iranian proxy. Even if circumstances necessitate building good relations with Hezbollah, essentially, it is perceived with suspicion, as a force with Shia and Persian allegiances. The equivalent of the religiously cemented alliance between Tehran and Hezbollah is the alliance between Ankara and Sunni Islamist groups from Al-Nusra and ISIS to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.
As of now, the evidence suggests that Hamas kept its plan for the October 7 attack secret from its Shia allies. In fact, it seems that Hamas’s leadership took extraordinary measures to conceal their plan from their Iranian and Lebanese friends. American officials have repeatedly stated that they have not detected any signs indicating the direct involvement of the Iranian regime. Had the Iranian regime or Hezbollah been informed about the Hamas plan, presumably they would have taken steps to prepare for a potential war. Available information suggests that no such preparations had been made. I think that the farthest the Iranian regime will go in this conflict will be to have Hezbollah distract part of the IDF forces on Israel’s northern border and Shia militias threaten American forces in Iraq and Syria. (3) In terms of its own military logistics inside Iran, the regime has been careful not to do anything that might suggest that it intends to get directly involved in the war. The Iranian officials use threatening language against Israel, but that is nothing out of ordinary from the perspective of the regime’s political and ideological schizophrenia.
Anti-Israeli and anti-American rhetoric is something the regime will always deploy because that rhetoric has become part of its identity. More often than not, the regime does what it does not say. It does not say that it will enter the conflict directly on Hamas’s behalf, and it will not. Meanwhile, it does what it strongly denies. For instance, it has been insisting that it is not interested in obtaining nuclear weapons, yet obtaining nuclear weapons is at the top of its priorities. Much of this double personality is rooted in the regime’s fear of its own collapse. Such fears are somewhat normal for a totalitarian regime because those at the top of the police state distrust their people. What might make the case confusing, especially for those who are not familiar with the nature of the regime, is that it is not a typical totalitarian state. As a so-called “Islamic republic,” its discourse reflects the schizophrenia of a retrogressive but modern entity that tries to be both a nation-state and an Islamic state at the same time. The regime’s discourse is symptomatic of the rulers’ fears and intentions but only in a roundabout and pathological way. There is a chasm between the official discourse and the state policy both internally and externally.
For most people in the Middle East, including and especially Iranians and Arabs, it is almost common knowledge that Khamenei will continue exploiting the Palestinian plight, but, at least intentionally, he will never turn the conflict with Israel or the United States into a full-blown war. Following the October 7th attack, one of the trending themes in Arabic on social media platforms was the mocking of the Iranian regime and its proxies in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon about their empty threats against Israel. Yet, somehow, most Middle East specialists seem to have fallen for the Iranian regime’s propaganda, which is comically bad anyway not despite but especially because of its militaristic and antagonistic language.
The rulers of Iran realize that direct external conflicts might weaken their hold on the means of terror against their own people, which could in turn encourage people of Iran to seize the opportunity to bring down the regime. The regime’s aggressive discourse of course has ramifications, but in terms of policy, the aggressions are conducted carefully and mainly through proxies. Only if and when a perceived enemy is too weak to strike back, will the regime implicate itself directly. As many in the Middle East would know as a matter of common sense, Khamenei will not risk his Shia state for the plight of Sunni Arabs in Gaza, some of whom, from his perspective, are still loyal to Saddam Hussein’s legacy, the Iranian regime’s most hated enemy. (4)
To Khamenei’s bitter disappointment, no matter how hard he tries to appear loyal to the Palestinian issue, for the majority of conservative and non-conservative Sunnis, Khamenei remains a sectarian Iranian leader. He barely has any sympathizers outside Iran with the exception of a few conservative Shia outposts in other countries. Moreover, in Iran, his regime can no longer survive without deploying constant means of terror, having become increasingly unpopular in recent years among all Iranian religious and ethnic groups, including the Shias, who have become increasingly distrustful of his regime and of the Shia militias. To say nothing of Iraqi Sunnis who see his regime as the main threat on them or Iraqi Kurds who deeply sympathize with the anti-regime struggle inside Iran.
Like Khamenei, Erdogan often does what he does not say. However, unlike Khamenei, he rarely says or implies what he does not intend to do. The supreme leader of the Islamic Republic expresses his support for jihadism especially in relation to Jerusalem as part of his routine rhetoric. In contrast, as the head of the supposedly secular Turkish state, Erdogan usually avoids expressing support for jihadism openly (which might change if this conflict opens up an opportunity for him to appear as the victorious sultan); instead he supports jihadist campaigns, by calling them something else and amending the rhetoric according to circumstances. In short, for the most part, he does what he does not say. This is the reason for Erdogan’s bifurcated behavior as the head of a double state: superficially staying within the secular parameters of a secular state while practically accelerating the full Islamification of politics. In other words, just as an essential part of Khamenei’s job is to sound supportive of jihadism especially vis-à-vis the Islamic religious claim of Jerusalem, part of Erdogan’s job is to sound secular and peaceful even when he supports Islamist movements that openly deploy terroristic means. But all that began to change about a decade ago. Erdogan’s supporters have been assuring Islamist sympathizers that in the year 2023 they would all see the ultimate Islamic victory in the form of the revival of the Ottoman Caliphate. (5)
In 2013, Erdogan started to allude to reviving Ottoman hegemony as he also began orchestrating Turkish politics internally, regionally, and globally in accordance with that objective. While support for Khamenei’s regime could not exceed Shia Islamist militias and some conservative Shias in Iran, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon, Erdogan has been enoying substantial support from an ever-growing base among conservative Sunnis in the region: among conservatives, Islamists, and nationalists within Turkey, among pan-Turkic nationalists in the Middle East and parts of Asia; and among most Islamist sympathizers and nationalists in the Arab world. His base seems to be growing in parts of North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa as well, for example, in Libya, Somalia, and Senegal. Erdogan has also been appealing to Pan-Turkic sentiments to gain support in Central Asia and the South Caucasus while putting more emphasize on Pan-Islamic rhetoric in the Balkans, Western Europe, and North America. Both regionally and globally, at times modestly, at other times extraordinarily, the support for Erdogan’s brand of Islamist populism is far larger than anything Khamenei or any other Shia Islamist leader could ever have aspired to, in large part due to sectarian conflicts that have divided Islamic sects and institutions for centuries.
Erdogan, of course, avoids not only direct conflict but also antagonistic discourse against Israel and the West although in his public speeches often he sounds less friendly toward the West and Israel, which has to do with maintaining his populist image as the strong sultan and the would-be-caliph. As the current crisis demonstrates, he has a much stronger populist base across a wide number of nationalities, sects and geographic areas because Erdogan can count on something Khamenei cannot, namely he can play the role of the present-day caliph, the leader of the so-called umma. On the other hand, and mainly because Shias are a minority among Muslims, a Shia leader will never be perceived as anything other than that, a Shia leader. Even though most Islamist leaders, including Khamenei, usually avoid references to the sectarian terminology and instead present themselves in terms of the unifying religion, the political status of a Shia leader is bound to be perceived in sectarian terms. To Erdogan, and other Sunni Islamists, a caliphate symbolizes imperial Islamic glories. To Khamenei, and his Shia sympathizers, the term “caliphate” invokes the greatest of all grievances– the ultimate tragedy of historical injustices and sufferings inflicted on the Shias, on those who stayed faithful to “Ahl al-Bait.” (6) Of course, most of those who are perceived as Sunnis or Shias whether Iranians, Azerbaijanis, Central Asians, Turks, Arabs, Kurds, or Amazigh, do not support Islamism; otherwise, we would be living in a much gloomier world. Nonetheless, with the exception of Iran, there has been a rise of Islamism in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Given the extremist nature of Islamism as an ultraconservative and ultra-right movement, even a slight increase in the number of Islamist supporters and sympathizers should be a serious concern.
October 2023 was the centennial of the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, the founders of which were also the engineers of the Armenian and Dersim genocides. Among these founders was the godfather of Turkish nationalism, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who, as Stefan Ihring has shown, was Mussolini’s and Hitler’s most inspiring hero (2014). Erdogan was hoping to celebrate Turkey’s 100th anniversary, by creating a new empire, while both renewing the historic genocidal goals of Ataturk and expanding Islamism. (7) And with that goal in mind, Erdogan has been using Hamas to exploit the Palestinian question, turning its militia into his valued janissaries, who are serving his most sensitive Islamist mission outside Turkey (Ahmed 2016a; 2016b; 2016c; 2016d; 2019). Behind Erdogan’s popularity there are many reasons, but key to his success is his remarkable opportunism. As a populist leader he is always ready to strike against the least empowered political player in any crisis and at any critical turn of events. Needless to say, the MENA region has never failed to provide him with opportunities in the form of crises and what to most people would be disastrous turns of events.
Being the opportunistic populist demagogue he is, Erdogan does not miss a chance to use his enablers. Those enablers include Western leaders who never dared stand up to his politics of blackmailing; Putin who is prepared to do his bidding because he sees Erdogan as his best hope for keeping NATO from destroying holy Russia; and a sizable number of frustrated Arab opinion makers who, having lost faith in Arab nationalism, see Erdogan as a new father figure who has seemingly come to their rescue after a long era of defeat, following the failed wars with Israel in 1967 and 1973. Erdogan wants to keep Turkey’s good relations with the West as much as possible while at the same time he works tirelessly to revive the Ottoman caliphate and become the sultan of the umma. The Turkish state is a peculiar case. It is neither a liberal democracy nor a totalitarian state. It is more like a double state.
Reportedly, Suleyman Demirel once said, “there are two states. There is the state and there is the deep state…When a small difficulty occurs, the civilian state steps back and the deep state becomes the generator” (qtd. in Gunter 2008, 126). Demirel put it even more pointedly stating that “the deep state is the state itself. It is the military” (qtd. in Kanli 2007). (8) Ironically, but not without a sense of cynicism, Kenan Evren who removed Demirel through a military coup to place himself as the president for seven years starting in 1982, confirmed Demirel’s statement adding, “when the state is weakened, we take it over. We are the deep state” (qtd. in Gunter 2008, 126). Even Erdogan admitted the existence of the deep state and alluded to its roots in the Ottoman empire (Torchia 2007). The Turkish Republic is ultimately a two-layer state, an outer institutional and constitutional one and an inner undemocratic and clandestine one.
However, at least in terms of the 2013-2023 phase of Erdogan’s reign, “deep state” is rather misleading. I think something like “the inner layer of the state,” “the top state,” or “the super-state” would be more accurate because we are in fact speaking of the most powerful center of decision making and clandestine executive networks that are not accountable to any of the constitutional and legal apparatuses of the state, let alone the public. As a matter of fact, all this is characteristic of dictatorship. In a dictatorship, the leader dictates decision making in the most sensitive realms including especially the securitization of the public sphere and the deliberate undemocratization of the political sphere. In the case of Erdogan’s Turkey, in addition to those two characteristics, the imperialization of foreign policy is also taking place, rendering Erdogan more than just a sultan or a caliph. In fact, Erdogan is a textbook example of a fascist leader. All this is even more applicable in the case of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and its Murshid (the German word for Murshid is Führer). (9)
For fascists, the state is a mere means for the resurrection of the glorious nation, and the state apparatuses are, therefore, useful only as far as they can be manipulated for the sake of reviving the alleged superiority of the alleged nation. From that perspective, the citizen belongs to the state, and the state belongs to the nation. The nation in the nationalist sense is something to be restored to its mythical glories. The nation in the sense of the people, the population within the boundaries of the state, are ra’iyat, a flock to be herded by the state and shepherded by the leader. While shepherding his subjects, the leader is determined to revive the assumed greatness of the assumed nation. The leader holds the image of the nation very close to his heart while he holds contempt for the ra’iyat. The leader can sacrifice any number of the members of his ra’iyat whenever and however he deems appropriate. The ra’iyat are the leader’s stuff as opposed to autonomous subjects with intrinsic rights to life. To the fascist leader, the existing individual is nothing and the reascending nation is everything. Ironically, every fascist leader, if not stopped on time, will only succeed in destroying the state in every sense, universalizing violence in all directions, mass displacing entire populations, and totalizing destruction spatially.
Like Iranian officials, Turkish officials are regularly operating on two levels, one to deceive and another to accomplish their objectives. On the level of deep state, all measures are taken in order to leave no trace whatsoever of the state’s extralegal activities. Iranian officials know that everyone knows that they are responsible for Hamas’s acts. Turkish officials on the other hand know that if they leave no evidence, the chances are that they could not only get away with masterminding such incursions as the attack on Israel on October 7, but cause another international conflict as well, between various states in the region and the West, creating yet another golden opportunity for Turkey to benefit from these crises.
Erdogan, I argue, has been planning for ten years to reveal himself as the hero of an Islamic Reconquista in the fall of 2023. Reinventing himself as the contemporary Sultan Selim I, Erdogan envisioned redrawing the political map of Eurasia and North Africa. Had Hamas succeeded in its “Jerusalem Flood” operation, Erdogan would have been able to mark October 2023 as the beginning of a new Ottoman era. Like Khamenei, but using a different strategy, Erdogan seems to be prepared to fight Israel to the last drop of Palestinian blood. Despite the differences between the Sunni and Shia Islamist camps in terms of tactics and discourses, Hamas plays the same role for both sides in the sense that it fully executes the principle of fighting the Israeli army to the last Palestinian civilian, and, conveniently for Hamas, most Palestinians have no access to any fortified underground tunnels to protect them from bombardment or the option of resigning to luxury resorts in Turkey and Qatar.
To recapitulate, Hamas could never have organized such a sophisticated attack on Israel, consisting of so many different military technologies, precisely coordinated from air, land, and sea, without substantial prior training by military experts and long-term access to open air army facilities. It is inconceivable, for example, that on its own Hamas could have trained so many paraglider users to navigate, maneuver, and shoot with such ease. Also, the manufacturing of the drones, the necessary training of drone operators, and the logistics needed for coordinating the rocket attacks would have been impossible without the kind of expertise, space, and resources that only a state could afford.
In theory, the Syrian or the Iranian regime could have been the main sponsor of Hamas’s attack. But the evidence points more likely to Turkey. There is no doubt that the Iranian regime funds and arms Hamas, and it is highly likely that Hamas have been using some of those arms, but, to reiterate, there is no evidence to date that the Iranian regime knew anything about the attack before the morning of October 7, when the attack was already underway. In my estimation, officials within the second layer of the Turkish state might have had prior knowledge about the attack.
In the case of the Iranian regime, as it capitalizes on anti-Israeli populist Islamism in the region, it regularly overstates its intentions to strike the Jewish state. At the same time, given how unpopular and fragile the regime is at home, when the Israeli army stroke back on Gaza, the Iranian mullahs could not risk engaging in a direct conflict with Israel and/or the United States. Instead, they simply talked tough, reproducing the regime’s image as Israel’s most dangerous enemy. Meanwhile, the Khamenei regime continued to use its proxies, like Hezbollah, to maintain a state of neither war nor peace.
Confirming Iran’s reasons for remaining cautious, Israel had been keeping a close eye on its military activities, not only in Iran but also in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. Under these circumstances, it was unlikely that a campaign of the magnitude of the one Hamas launched on October 7, would have eluded the Israeli intelligence apparatus. In theory Syria too could have trained Hamas militants to launch this sophisticated attack, but given the destruction of the country over the last ten years of civil war and the regime’s careful avoidance of provoking Israel, that possibility can be ruled out as well. The Israelis have been watching Assad and his allies very closely and have been systematically bombing Iranian and Hezbollah military facilities in Syria. Turkey, on the other hand, enjoys the privileges of a Western ally whose Islamist activities are not scrutinized with the same degree of suspicion. The Turkish state has the technology, the expertise, and the logistics to train not hundreds or thousands but tens of thousands of jihadis to play their role in an imperial enterprise. Everything that has happened since the rise of ISIS suggests that Turkey indeed has been doing exactly that.
Throughout the last decade, Erdogan has blackmailed Europe by using the refugee card: If the European Union wanted Erdogan to manage what has tastelessly been called the “refugee crisis,” it would have to provide Turkey with billions of dollars to deal with the Syrian, Iraqi, and Afghan refugees seeking to settle in Europe. The EU would also have to refrain from criticizing Erdogan’s regime for its continual violations of the EU regulations and international law. What is more, Turkey played a major role in creating the crisis in the first place by supporting the jihadi groups whose violence displaced millions of people. Erdogan used the same strategy with the crisis in Ukraine, turning it into an opportunity, by forcing NATO to acquiesce to Turkey’s political demands. First, before Erdogan would lift his objection to the admission of Sweden and Finland into the alliance, the two countries had to agree to turn over to the Turkish government Kurdish refugees, who had fled Turkey and were now living within their borders, even though these Kurdish exiles supposedly enjoyed international protection. Second, Turkey insisted that the United States resume sales of F16 fighter jets to Turkey, which the US had halted after Turkey began purchasing Russian S-400 air-defense systems.
In Syria, as the Turkish-backed jihadis failed to take over the country, so Erdogan entered into another opportunistic game with the most powerful parties on the Syrian stage, Putin’s forces, the Iranian regime, and the Americans, to eliminate the Kurdish majority self-administrated Northeast Syria. For instance, Erdogan persuaded Putin to withdraw his so-called Russian peacekeepers forces from the Kurdish city of Afrin (Dirik 2018). (10) In doing so, he opened the way for the Turkish army and its Islamist proxy militias to shell the city and its surrounding areas heavily for weeks before taking control of the region entirely in March 2018. (11) Five years later, in 2023, in similar move Erdogan persuaded Putin to restrain the Russian peacekeeping forces in Nagorno-Karabakh from doing anything to prevent the Azerbaijani takeover of land claimed by both Armenia and Azerbaijan, which resulted in the another mass displacement of Armenians.
Today, the global capital of Sunni Islamism is Ankara, while the capital of Shia Islamism is Tehran. Sunni and Shia Islamists have constructed various secret organizations, propaganda apparatuses, and militant proxies to deploy different populist and terroristic means in different places. Erdogan made use of the notion of the “Islamic nation” to mobilize and recruit tens of thousands of refugees to join Islamist groups in Syria, Libya, and beyond. The Iranian regime’s influence is focused on Shia populations and organizations in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon. While Hamas is a Sunni Islamist group, it is in the unique position of enjoying the support of both Ankara and Tehran. The reasons for this, while complex, are not unrelated to Hamas’s stated goal of destroying the State of Israel.
Gazans and their plight have been exploited by Hamas and other Palestinian Islamist groups, but Gaza is certainly not the headquarters of Islamism. Ankara and Tehran are. While the ruling regime in Tehran loudly expresses its support for Sunni Hamas in addition to Shia Hezbollah, most of what that regime expresses is little more than empty propaganda and false alarms. The regime’s main concern is its own survival in Iran. Khamenei seems to believe, perhaps accurately, that any form of direct military conflict with Israel and/or the United States would result in the collapse of his regime. No doubt the Islamic Republic of Iran is the conventional patron of Hamas and Hezbollah, but Khamenei would not make such a suicidal move as the October 7th attack especially at a time when his regime is facing a popular revolution aimed to end the Islamic Republic. Erdogan, on the other hand, has been patiently building his Sunni Islamist empire, utilizing his relations with Islamist groups, pan-Turkic movements, Putin’s regime, and NATO. As Turkey mobilizes Islamists across the Middle East and in the Caucasus, it will only create more chaos in an already disastrous world. Erdogan’s caliphate will continue to give rise to Islamists everywhere, and brutalizing civilians in Gaza will only help provide more potential recruits for his janissaries.
Islamism is a death cult, and the cheapest thing in Islamists’ worldview is human life. Hamas, like other Islamist groups, is a movement that celebrates the death of the people it claims to defend and the death of those against whom it has announced a religious war. Islamists systematically capitalize on death. Among their perceived enemies, they try to kill as many people as possible, and they present this as heroism and acts of religious piety. Among their perceived “nation of Islam,” they try to cause the death of as many people as possible, and they use this to claim collective victimhood thereby imposing themselves as the rightful avenge takers of the people they allegedly represent. All their inventions are focused on maximizing casualties. To Islamists, the highest merit is the production of death, whoever the victims may be. For Islamism, death is the means and the end.
Islamism has never liberated any group of people anywhere in the world. A movement that openly devalues human lives cannot be liberating on any level. If a religious or nationalist movement exploits legitimate grievances of an oppressed people to justify its own existence, that only makes it more, not less, problematic. If an argument or a policy, whether knowingly or unknowingly, entails the Islamist premise of death, it will only help further human destruction and produce more fanatic forms of Islamism.
Hamas wants to dictate the fate of all Palestinians, who already live in a desperate and hopeless situation. And it is a catastrophic mistake for both supporters of Palestinian independence and the supporters of Israel to equate Hamas with the Palestinian people, including the residents of Gaza. Israeli officials understandably likened the October 7th attack to Israel’s 9/11. If anything, the analogy should deter Israeli officials from repeating the mistakes of the Bush administration, which resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of people and the suffering of already brutalized populations who had nothing to do with Al-Qaida.
That said, it is simply false to claim that Hamas’s acts are a reaction to Israeli politics against Palestinians or to claim that Islamism is not fundamentally anti-semitic. Islamists have a pathological hatred for Jews and for any group they perceive as powerless. Conflating Islamist violence with anti-colonial resistance is deeply deceptive. Sometimes the false argument is made from a position of sympathy for the Palestinian plight but it from sheer ignorance of what Islamism represents. The Islamists’ propaganda wants everyone in the world to believe their movement is an anti-colonial and anti-imperial one, but Islamism itself is a colonialist and imperialist project in which every human life is a deadly means for a deadly end. In MENA, only Islamists, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Iranian regime, perceive Islamism as the natural political expression of Islam and the legitimate voice of Muslims. Most Muslims, like most non-Muslims, in the Middle East have been struggling against the rise of Islamism. In the West, those who perceive Islamism as the self-evident political expression of Muslims unknowingly adopt a racist mode of perception that is premised on the homogenization and culturalization of the MENA societies as societies primarily defined by religion and religious politics, unlike white-majority societies where various political movements from ultraright to radical left exist. In other words, from the racist point of view, it is not conceivable that in MENA societies too there is a spectrum of political movements from the far right, such as Islamism and ultranationalism, to the far left, such communism, with a majority being near the center.
In conclusion, stating basic premises about Islamism is in order. Islamism has treated people everywhere, including those who, like Palestinians, are stateless with similar hatred, brutality, and total disregard for anything remotely relevant to social and political emancipation. Yezidis in Sinjar or Afrin did not have any conflicts whatsoever with Muslims or Arabs anywhere, but they have been subjected to the same kind of jihad and worse. Kurds in Rojava are stateless and have already been brutalized continually for the last one hundred years, but they are subjected to sheer terror every day by Syrian, Turkish, and other Islamists. Islamism has been treating the Fur and other black Africans in Sudan with the same barbarism and worse. Buying into the Islamist discourse imposed by Hamas about Palestinians is especially unfair for the Palestinians even if a relatively large number of them, out have sheer frustration, have become Hamas sympathizers. Those who are trapped in Gaza between the worst of all possible options. Many of them were born into a world of violence and humiliation. For those of us who are not trapped in such a world, there is no excuse not to see that the Palestinian plight and Hamas are two different things. Neither the Palestinian plight should be criminalized because of Hamas, nor Hamas should be justified in the name of the Palestinian plight.
Finally, Islamism is first and foremost a problem for the people in the region. Eventually there must be a process of de-Islamification of politics led by Arabs, Turks, Persians, Kurds, Azeris, Baluchis, Punjabis, Pashtuns, Amazigh, etc. The Kurdish led left-wing movement in Turkey and Syria and many Iranians from various parts of Iran have already established popular fronts against Islamism. The intelligentsia in MENA and beyond would do well if they turn to these movements for both solidarity and inspiration. After all, Erdogan’s imperialist project and its increasing Islamist supporters want to take societies centuries back to the rule of bashas and imams. If they are not stopped, nobody MENA will be saved from their subjugation.
The views expressed are the author’s own.
- Khalid Mashaal in an interview admitted that their relations with Iran was affected after the Hamas refused to take the Syrian regime’s side in the civil war (Aljazeera). More recently, Mashaal admitted that over the years Iran supplied them with weapons and funded them, but in the same interview he also sent a vailed complaint to the Iranian regime and Hezbollah about not doing more after the October 7 attacks (Al-Arabiya 2023). This was rightly interpreted as implying that Iran and Hezbollah betrayed Hamas at the most decisive moment, following the October 7th attack (e.g., Lebanese Forces 2023).
- For a brief and good overview about Erdogan’s identification of Salim I, see the section titled, “CODA: Shadows over Turkey” in Alan Mikhail’s God’s Shadow: The Ottoman Sultan Who Shaped the Modern World (2020). I think the book commits a degree of romanticization of the Ottoman Empire to counteract works that vilified Muslims for a long time, but the work is nonetheless praiseworthy for its large scope yet good focus and for its writing style.
- Khalid Mashaal admitted that Iran had helped Hamas with weapons and money. In the same interview he also sent a vailed complaint to the Iranian regime and Hezbollah about not doing more after the October 7 attacks (Al-Arabiya 2023; Lebanese Forces 2023).
- While Khamenei speaks in the name of the “Islamic world,” he knows that in reality neither Sunni Islamists nor Arab nationalists would ever see him as anything but an enemy. The distrust between Sunnis and Shias has a long history starting in the 7th century, continuing into the Safavid-Ottoman conflict in the 16th century and later. The same antagonism erupted again in the form of the Iraq-Iran war of the 1980s, and the civil war in Iraq in the 21st century.
- At least in 2014-2015, when I was in Turkey, this element of the ideological mobilization was so prevalent, one could sometimes overhear it being mentioned in public spaces in certain conservative demographics. For more on my observations about this over the years, see Ahmed 2016a; 2016b; 2016c; 2016d; 2019.
- The literal meaning of Ahl Al-Bait is people of the house (of Mohammed). For Shias, it refers to Fatima, Ali, Hassan, and Hussein.
- It is probable that the selection of the date alsohad something to do with Erdogan’s obsession with Selim I, who was born on October 10, 1470. Erdogan’s hero is Sultan Selim I, the first Ottoman caliph who ruled over Islam’s holy cities. During his reign, 1512-1520, the Ottomans took over Palestine along with Egypt, Syria, and Hijaz, stretching the empire from Azov Sea and the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, from Crimea to Greece and from Bosnia and Moldova to southern Hijaz and Egypt.
- For more on the deep state and Demiral’s comment, also see Giragosian 2007, 38; Filiu 2015, chapter 1; Gunter 2014, 32; Torchia 2007; Şen 2021.
- For more on my analysis on fascism in the Middle East, see Ahmed 2023b.
- Putin’s withdrawal of his peacekeepers foreshadowed his betrayal of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh where Russian peacekeepers had been stationed.
- The city and its surrounding areas have been almost emptied from its Kurdish inhabitants and replaced by Arab Islamist settlers and their families (Kajjo 2019).
Ahmed, Saladdin. 2016a. “From Hitler to Erdogan: Liberal Passivity in the Face of Another Rising Fascist Empire.” February 19. https://www.jpost.com/blogs/critique/from-hitler-to-erdogan-liberal-passivity-in-the-face-of-another-rising-fascist-empire-445397
Ahmed, Saladdin.2016b. “Europe’s Compromise with Turkish Fascism.” The Jerusalem Post, March 14. https://www.jpost.com/blogs/critique/europes-compromise-with-turkish-fascism-447740
Ahmed, Saladdin.2016c. “The Latest Erdogan-ISIS Plot Against Kurds.” 2016. The Jerusalem Post, August 25. https://www.jpost.com/blogs/critique/the-latest-erdogan-isis-plot-against-kurds-465982
Ahmed, Saladdin.2016d. ““Being a Kurdish-Turkish Mistake.” interview by Robert Leonard Rope. openDemocracy, September 18, 2016: https://www.opendemocracy.net/saladdin-ahmed-robert-leonard-rope/being-kurdish-turkish-mistake.
Ahmed, Saladdin.2019. “The 21st-Century Crossroad of Islamism and Enlightenment” TelosScope, December 10 & 12, 2019.
Part I: “The Historical Crossroad of an Ideological Crisis.” https://www.telospress.com/the-21st-century-crossroad-of-islamism-and-enlightenment-part-1-the-historical-crossroad-of-an-ideological-crisis/
Part II: “The Rise of Turkish Islamist Imperialism.” https://www.telospress.com/the-21st-century-crossroad-of-islamism-and-enlightenment-part-2-the-rise-of-turkish-islamist-imperialism/
Ahmed, Saladdin. 2023a. “Turkey: Erdogan’s 2023 neo-Ottoman imperialist agenda, from the Caucasus to the Mediterranean.” LINKS International Journal for Socialist Renewal, October 19. https://links.org.au/turkey-erdogans-2023-neo-ottoman-imperialist-agenda-caucasus-mediterranean
Ahmed, Saladdin. 2023b. “Problematizing Exclusionary Politics in the Middle East and North Africa.” New Political Science, June (2023). DIO: 10.1080/07393148.2023.2219170
Al-Arabiya. 2023. Ahttps://x.com/AlArabiya/status/1715087270208823487?s=20
Lebanese Forces. 2023. Lebanese Forces, October 17. https://www.lebanese-forces.com/2023/10/17/hamas-iran-2/
Ashdown, Nick. 2020. “Erdogan Wants to Redraw the Middle East’s Ethnic Map.” Foreign Policy, May 1: https://foreignpolicy.com/author/nick-ashdown/
Dirik, Dilar. 2018. “Utopia disrupted: Turkey’s assault on Kurdish-held Afrin.” New Internationalist, January 29. https://newint.org/features/web-exclusive/2018/01/29/turkey-assault-afrin
Filiu, Jean-Pierre. 2015. From Deep State to Islamic State_ The Arab Counter-Revolution and its Jihadi Legacy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Giragosian, Richard. 2007. “Redefining Turkey’s Strategic Orientation.” Turkish Policy Quarterly, 6 (4), 33-40.
Gunter, Michael M. 2008. The Kurds Ascending: The Evolving Solution to the Kurdish Problem in Iraq and Turkey. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Gunter, Michael. 2014. “Turkey, Kemalism, and the ‘Deep State.’” In David Romano, Mehmet Gurses (eds.) Conflict, Democratization, and the Kurds in the Middle East: Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, pp. 17-40. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Ihring, Stefan. 2014. Attatürk in the Nazi Imagination. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University.
Kajjo, Sirwan. 2019. “Rights Groups: Abuses on the Rise in Syria’s Afrin.” Voice of America, June 1: https://www.voanews.com/a/rights-groups-abuses-on-the-rise-in-syria-s-afrin/4942242.html
Kanli, Yusuf. 2007. “The Turkish Deep State.” Turkish Daily News, January 29. https://archive.ph/20130113184410/http://arama.hurriyet.com.tr/arsivnews.aspx#selection-1173.0-1173.11
Lebanese Forces. 2023. Lebanese Forces, October 17. https://www.lebanese-forces.com/2023/10/17/hamas-iran-2/
Mikhail, Alan. 2020. God’s Shadow: The Ottoman Sultan Who Shaped the Modern World. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation.
Şen, Dilek. 2021. “Though we Call it ‘deep,’ this is the State Structure Established in our Geography.” Bianet English, June 2. https://bianet.org/haber/though-we-call-it-deep-this-is-the-state-structure-established-in-our-geography-245058
Torchia, Christopher. 2007. “Old Question Revisited After Journo’s Murder.” IOL, February 1 https://www.iol.co.za/news/world/old-question-revisited-after-journos-murder-313454