Scoop has an Ethical Paywall
License needed for work use Register



Cablegate: Combating Extremism

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 ANKARA 006106


E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/07/2025

REF: A. STATE 159129
B. ANKARA 002030
C. ANKARA 005496
E. ANKARA 005281
F. ANKARA 001551
G. ANKARA 001935
H. ANKARA 005632

Classified By: A/DCM Thomas Goldberger; reasons 1.4 b and d.

1. (C) Summary. Turkey has a reputation for being a
moderate, secular, and democratic country with a Muslim
population. The reality of Islam in Turkey, however, is
more complicated. The State actively represses unofficial
expressions of Islam. Violent Turkish Islamic extremism
does exist. Mission Turkey does not direct our contact
efforts toward "extremists" specifically, but we are
widening our circle of Islam-oriented contacts and seeing
results. End Summary.

2. (C) This cable is in response to Ref A.


3. (C) Turkey has the reputation of being the home of
"moderate Islam" because it combines a "secular" political
system with a tolerant strand of Sunni Islam. The reality,
however, is difficult to get a handle on because Turkish
Islam is very diverse and the state actively represses and
controls religious life (Ref B). (Note: Many Turks object
to the "moderate Islam" label for a variety of reasons (Ref
C). End Note.)

Advertisement - scroll to continue reading

Are you getting our free newsletter?

Subscribe to Scoop’s 'The Catch Up' our free weekly newsletter sent to your inbox every Monday with stories from across our network.

4. (C) The Turkish state claims that Turkish Islam is
unified, tolerant, and peace-loving. Turkish officials
note that 98 percent of citizens of Turkey are Muslim and
they claim that the small (non-Muslim) minority religious
communities are free to practice their faiths. The
majority of Turks subscribe to the Hanafi school of Sunni
Islam. The Hanafi school is one of the more open-minded
and tolerant strands of Sunni Islam.

5. (C) The reality is more complex. Turkish Islam is far
from unified. About 10-15 percent of Turkey,s 70 million
people are Alevis (heterodox Muslim). The Sunni community
is divided into a variety of lodges, brotherhoods, and
religious communities, e.g. Gulenists, Nurcus, National
View, Naksibendis, and Suleymancis. These groups have a
variety of views and practices and some are involved in
extensive business, educational, and political activities.

6. (C) Violent Turkish Islamic extremism does exist.
Turkish Hizbollah and the Great Eastern Islamic
Raider-Front (IBDA-C) have conducted a number of terrorist
attacks over the years. According to press reports, around
500 Turks served with Al Qaida and the Taliban in
Afghanistan. IBDA-C members cooperated with Al Qaida to
conduct the 2003 Istanbul bombings against two synagogues,
an HSBC bank, and the British consulate.

7. (C) It is difficult to assess exactly how widespread
Islamic extremism extends in Turkey because the Turkish
state actively monitors and represses religious expression
(Ref D). The Turkish state hires and trains all religious
officials (imams and muftis); appoints them to their posts;
and pays their salaries. The state writes the sermons that
most of the imams deliver at Friday prayers; picks which
imam in each mosque gets to deliver the Friday sermon; and
uses undercover intelligence officials to monitor their
activities. State funds are used to construct mosques, but
the state spends no money on Alevi houses of worship,
Jewish synagogues, or Christian churches. All Muslim
school age students are required to take classes in the
Hanafi-Sunni tradition of Islam, regardless of their
personal sectarian beliefs. Non-Muslim students are not
required to take these courses, but alternative courses are
not offered by the state. Private religious classes are
illegal and proselytizing by non-Muslims, while not
illegal, is viewed with great suspicion and actively
discouraged. Pious girls and women are officially not
allowed to wear headscarves in schools and universities, or
in state workplaces.

8. (C) Embassy contacts have consistently claimed that only
a tiny minority of Turkish citizens subscribe to extreme,
radical, or violent forms of Islam. A leading Turkish
national security analyst estimates that only about 7
percent of Turkish citizens endorse radical forms of
Islam. Ibrahim Uslu, the general manager of ANAR (the
governing Justice and Development Party,s (AKP) polling
firm) claims that only around 5 percent of Turks are
radical Islamist. In a country of nearly 70 million
people, however, there would be over 350,000 potential
terrorists if only one half of one percent of the
population supported Al Qaida-like terrorism.

--------------------------------------------- -------------
--------------------------------------------- -------------

9. (C) The Turkish constitution and party law bans parties
formed around sectarianism, ethnicity, regionalism, or
opposition to the "secular" constitutional system. AKP is
officially a "secular" political party. Nonetheless, AKP
is an Islam-oriented political party. The leaders and
grassroots members of AKP largely come from the Refah and
Fazilet parties, banned for Islamic extremism in 1998 and
2001 respectively.

10. (C) In general, AKP,s senior leaders make constructive
statements in public about the importance of religious
tolerance. In a 1 May 2005 speech, Foreign Minister and
Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Gul called for tolerance and
moderation by stating that, "It is, therefore, of great
importance that based on the fundamental principles of the
Islamic tradition, such as tolerance and moderation, we
take an open-minded, realistic but equally visionary
approach." In recent public statements PM Erdogan and
State Minister (for religious affairs) Mehmet Aydin made
statements criticizing generally the state of the Islamic
world and stressing the importance of religious tolerance
and human rights (Ref E).

11. (C) The AKP government, however, also backed a sermon
delivered at Friday prayers in mosques around Turkey in May
2005 that stated that unspecified foreign powers were using
Christian missionaries to undermine Islam (Ref F). State
Minister Aydin repeated these points by releasing a
statement labeling missionary activities in Turkey
"separatist and destructive" and implying that missionaries
are part of an organized effort by foreign governments to
create divisions in the country (Ref G). Aydin was
unhelpful when the Charge d'Affaires recently tried to
discuss this issue with him during a courtesy call (Ref H),
and never responded to Ambassador Edelman,s request to pay
a joint visit to a Protestant church after it was
firebombed earlier this year.

12. (C) A variety of Embassy contacts assert that AKP,s
senior leadership does not really believe in religious
tolerance, but merely pretends to support tolerance in an
effort to court Western favor and promote Turkey,s EU
membership bid. AKP,s leaders, especially PM Erdogan, have
repeatedly rejected the notion of "Islamic terrorism."
Many secular Turks have tried to convince us that AKP
leaders are practicing a form of lying or dissembling that
is ethically permissible if intended to protect or advance
the cause of Islam.

--------------------------------------------- ---
--------------------------------------------- ---

13. (C) The Mission organizes public diplomacy programming
that supports MPP goals and also addresses extremist trends
in segments of Turkish society. Our goal is not to target
extremists specifically, but to introduce a broad audience
-- many of whom have never met an American -- to our
society, culture, and politics. To this end, we have
opened up new religiously oriented institutional contacts,
including universities. Another opportunity has opened up
with NGOs, a sector that is growing dramatically in Turkey,
especially with Islam-oriented Turks who do not participate
in many civil society organizations due to customs and
culture. By bringing in speakers on the nuts and bolts of
NGO organization or sending Islam-oriented NGO members on
International Visitor programs, we have found a very
receptive audience.

--------------------------------------------- -----------
--------------------------------------------- -----------

14. (C) The Mission has made a concerted effort to include
editors and correspondents from Islam-oriented newspapers
in press roundtables with the Ambassador and Mission
officials and representational events. We have targeted
responsible journalists from Islam-oriented newspaper for
International Visitor programs. The Mission has worked
hard to reach a broad audience through existing contacts,
opinion leaders from outside the major cities, and
Islam-oriented Turks.

15. (C) Mission officers, of course, meet frequently with
members of the governing and Islam-influenced AKP to
discuss US-Turkish relations and a variety of other
issues. PolOffs have also met with members from Turkey,s
smaller and more radical Islam-oriented political parties
(i.e. Saadet Party and Grand Unity Party). These meetings
-- in parliament (with AKP members), party headquarters in
Ankara, and in regional party offices around the country --
have been very helpful in allowing Mission Turkey to
directly communicate with religious and pious Turks about
U.S. foreign policy, American values, and the importance of
U.S.-Turkish cooperation. Results have been mixed. Some
interlocutors listen carefully and appear to take some of
our points, but others are obviously skeptical about U.S.
policies and motives; prone to conspiracy theory thinking;
and clearly influenced by Islamist-oriented media.
However, in this sense they are no different from other
Turks, who are equally prone to other conspiracy theories.


16. (U) Mission-organized English language teaching
programs in Turkey provide abundant opportunities to
introduce civic education and to open the Turkish
educational system to Western-oriented educational
practices and concepts such as critical thinking,
student-centered classrooms, team-building, and conflict
resolution. The placement of American English Language
Fellows in university ELT and English departments and at
military service academies has provided critical exposure
to American culture and values. Placements have included
universities in the conservative cities of Konya, Trabzon,
Gaziantep, and Erzurum.

17. (U) English Language Fellows are often the only
Americans young people in some communities have an
opportunity to get to know. After attending prayer
services with a group of conservative female students at
one of the oldest mosques in the city center, a Fellow in
Erzurum spent the afternoon discussing the similarities
between Christianity and Islam in English. The students
noted her appreciation of their way of life and received an
extra English lesson using content-specific language skills
that they might never have heard in the classroom.


18. (U) The ACCESS micro-scholarship program provides
direct English-language instruction by the Fellows to
underprivileged high school students who cannot afford to
take private courses. All ten of the FY-06 English
Language Fellows, who are placed in cities around Turkey,
will participate in the ACCESS program, which will reach
300 students.

19. (U) International Visitor (IV) Program and other
short-term exchanges involve participation by professionals
in all fields from throughout Turkey as well as government
officials at all levels. Participants consistently report
that they were particularly impressed with the interaction
and relationship between government and citizenry in the
United States and the impact of individual initiative.
Turks regularly participate in projects related to the
judiciary, anti-terrorism, democracy, and diversity and
tolerance in a multi-ethnic society.

20. (U) The Fulbright Program, active in Turkey since 1951,
encompasses scholarly exchanges at all levels and is the
Department,s premier educational exchange program. The
Turkish Fulbright program has tripled in size over the last
two years and in FY-06 will receive more USG funding than
any other Fulbright program in the world. After a
concerted effort to diversify the program and reach
under-represented universities, geographic regions and
students from a wide range of backgrounds, more than 400
applications were received from fifty-nine of Turkey,s
seventy-three public and private universities. Almost
two-thirds of them came from women (240 women; 164 men) and one-quarter from universities outside of Istanbul and
Ankara. Up to seventy new fellowships to study in the
United States will be offered to Turkish graduate students
for the academic year 2006-07.

21. (U) The Embassy supports the annual American Studies
Association of Turkey conference and organizes seminars on
resources for teaching about the U.S. in order to
strengthen teaching about the United States at Turkish
universities and increase understanding of U.S. society and


22. (U) Mission-organized speaker programs address all our
MPP themes and in the past two years have included
presentations by Thomas Friedman on U.S. policy in Iraq
(December 2003); Bruce Hoffman, RAND Washington on
terrorism (March 2004); Walter Russell Mead, Senior Fellow,
Council on Foreign Relations, on U.S. foreign policy (April
2004); Omar Khalidi, Aga Khan Program at MIT, on Islamic
architecture and mosque design in the U.S. (April 2004);
speakers on the U.S. presidential election; Max Boot,
Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, on U.S.
foreign policy (December 2004); historian James Caesar on
anti-Americanism (March 2005); and Rudolph Vecoli on U.S.
immigration policy (May 2005).

23. (U) The Harlem Boys Choir, which gave two concerts in
Ankara in April 2005 to standing-room only audiences
totaling more than 2,000, generated extensive positive
press coverage that lauded the Harlem Boys Choir
performances and the multi-cultural nature of American

24. (U) The Department,s support for the Istanbul Biennial
September-November 2005 included public education programs
that took U.S. artists and art critics to the conservative
southeastern Anatolian city of Diyarbakir, where they
engaged in lively discussions with audiences on how art
biennials serve as a generator of ideas. They gave
detailed information about their works in this context and
presented examples from other international exhibitions.
Their outreach was particularly directed toward children
and young people, and the interactive nature of the program
allowed local people to be informed about the arts in the
U.S. and to interact personally with U.S. artists.

25. (U) Embassy Ankara joined forces with Consulate Adana
to mount a photographic exhibition on religious diversity
in the conservative southeastern Anatolian city of
Gaziantep in a June 2005. The exhibition of forty-four
photographs celebrating the diversity of religious belief
in Anatolia feature the work of a prominent Adana-based
amateur photographer whose photographs covered multi-faith
subjects. Co-sponsored by the Consulate in Adana, the
Gaziantep American Corner, the Gaziantep Rotary Club, and
the Anatolian Journalists Union, the exhibition was opened
on the same day as the OSCE Conference on Anti-Semitism and Intolerance.

26. (C) Comment: Turkey,s reputation as a moderate,
tolerant, and secular country is due in large measure to
the oppressive and authoritarian manner in which the State
monitors and controls religion. It is difficult to target
"extremists" because the State has actively repressed
"extremists" and driven almost all unofficial expressions
of Islam underground. As Turkey goes down the road towards
the EU, the reform process will require the country to
liberalize some aspects of the regime that control
religious expression. This could result in an increased
degree of Islamic extremism. But if Turkey is to live up
to its reputation for being a moderate, tolerant, and truly
secular country, then it will have to open up and confront
the hidden and potentially unpleasant realities of some
aspects of Islamic belief and practice in Turkey. End

© Scoop Media

Advertisement - scroll to continue reading
World Headlines

UN News: Aid Access Is Key Priority

Among the key issues facing diplomats is securing the release of a reported 199 Israeli hostages, seized during the Hamas raid. “History is watching,” says Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths. “This war was started by taking those hostages. Of course, there's a history between Palestinian people and the Israeli people, and I'm not denying any of that. But that act alone lit a fire, which can only be put out with the release of those hostages.” More

Save The Children: Four Earthquakes In a Week Leave Thousands Homeless

Families in western Afghanistan are reeling after a fourth earthquake hit Herat Province, crumbling buildings and forcing people to flee once again, with thousands now living in tents exposed to fierce winds and dust storms. The latest 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit 30 km outside of Herat on Sunday, shattering communities still reeling from strong and shallow aftershocks. More


Join Our Free Newsletter

Subscribe to Scoop’s 'The Catch Up' our free weekly newsletter sent to your inbox every Monday with stories from across our network.