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Erdoğan under fire for saying Turkey has nothing against Taliban’s beliefs

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has attracted widespread criticism due to remarks suggesting that Turkey has nothing against the beliefs of the Taliban, an implicit reference to Islam, when announcing on Tuesday that Turkey would talk with the hard-line Islamist group regarding the Turkish military’s offer to secure and run the Kabul airport after US troops withdraw from Afghanistan.

Turkey has been negotiating with US defense officials over its offer to help secure and run the airport, which is key to allowing countries to retain a diplomatic presence in the war-torn country after the troop withdrawal. The Taliban last week called Turkey’s offer “reprehensible,” adding that they considered the presence of foreign forces in their homeland by any country under whatever pretext an occupation.

Acknowledging that the Taliban had some “discomfort” over Turkey’s proposed plans for the airport, Erdoğan on Tuesday added, in a speech after Eid al-Adha prayers in northern Cyprus, “Just as the Taliban previously negotiated with the United States, they should have such talks much more comfortably with us, since Turkey has nothing against the Taliban’s beliefs.”

Erdoğan was apparently referring to Islam as the common ground between Turkey and the Taliban; however, his drawing similarities between the understanding and practice of Islam in Turkey and that of a religious fundamentalist group angered many.

Thousands of posts were shared under the hashtags #SensinTaliban (You’re Taliban) and #Reddediyorum (I refuse it) on Twitter, with many politicians, journalists, writers and social media users harshly criticizing Erdoğan for speaking on behalf of all Turks when expressing his positive ideas about the Taliban.

“Hasn’t it [Turkey] really [got anything against the Taliban’s beliefs]? The terrorist organization called the Taliban are barbarians who gang rape women, kill women who work, prohibit them from leaving the house without a man and girls from studying, sell children and burn up tech devices for being Western inventions!” main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Gamze Taşcıer said.

“Turkey is a secular, democratic and social state of law, according to Article 2 of Constitution,” former CHP MP Hüsnü Bozkurt said, underlining that Turks, as citizens of the secular Turkish Republic, held beliefs completely opposite from the hard-line Islamist group.

“Millions of workers in this country have lots contradicting the Taliban! …You are not Turkey!” Kemal Okuyan, general secretary of the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP), stated in a tweet addressed to Erdoğan.

“We have big differences with the Taliban and we should. Otherwise, we would also become savages and barbarians,” Turkish author and poet Ahmet Ümit said.

Journalist Barış Yarkadaş, also a former opposition lawmaker, on Wednesday described Erdoğan’s remarks regarding the Taliban as “dangerous” and “untrue” in his column for the Korkusuz daily. “The Taliban is an inhuman organization and it represents an outdated mentality. … It has nothing to do with our religious beliefs or our way of life based on secularism,” he stated, urging Erdoğan to take back his remarks.

“Taliban and Erdoğan. May God increase your love [for each other.] Just get your hands off Turkey,” exiled journalist Can Dündar tweeted, following friendly remarks from Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, to Turkish state-owned channel TRT Arabic.

According to local reports, Mujahid said they want to have good relations with Turkey, which they thought had many things in common with them in terms of faith.

The Taliban have been taking strategic border posts and pushing to gain territory in recent weeks, driving tens of thousands of Afghans to flee their homes. Many have been trying to cross into Turkey, with more than 1,450 migrants found by authorities in eastern Van province.

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