- - Tuesday, December 22, 2015

While attention is focused on recent attacks by the Islamic State, or ISIS, throughout the world and now in the United States, it is important to look at the critical role Turkey plays in the fight against terrorism and Ankara’s crucial contribution to stability in the Middle East and Europe.

Turkey is a regional power, a Muslim-majority nation with the Islamic AK Party in power, and a pivotal NATO member with the second-largest military in NATO. Interestingly, it has recently adopted a more conciliatory tone as demonstrated by its current peace negotiations with Israel.

Located at the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East, under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey is capable of playing a critical role in defeating ISIS and promoting peace and regional stability, including managing the massive inflow of Syrian refugees into its country and their hoped-for eventual return to a stabilized Syria.

At present, however, Turkey suffers from internal tensions, which have been exacerbated by its conflict with its Kurdish minority and their ethnic counterparts in Syria (which also constrain its fight against ISIS), as well as a rapidly emergent conflict with Russia, which impede its key security-enhancing role.

The recent downing of a Russian SU-24 bomber by Turkey has escalated into a dangerous crisis that derailed action against ISIS in Syria — an objective of the United States and NATO.

Internally, in addition to managing its massive Syrian refugee crisis, Turkey faces several challenges, including the result of the June elections, in which Mr. Erdogan’s AK Party was denied a parliamentary majority and thus was forced to govern until the November elections with no coalitional support.

However, a more severe and sinister threat to Turkey’s stability, little-known outside of Turkey, is the Islamist Gulen Movement, named after Muhammed Fethullah Gullen, a Turk now living in Pennsylvania. The Gulen Movement overtly espouses Islamist policies and philosophies geared to transform Turkey into a Shariah state.

Engaging in a wide range of covert efforts to infiltrate all aspects of Turkey’s infrastructure, including law enforcement, the judiciary and media, its members challenge the constitutional order and the democratically elected government.

Turkish prosecutors and police, manipulated by the Gulen Movement, have targeted senior military officers with false criminal charges, as in the Hammer and Ergenikon conspiracies, illegally tapped phones, and jailed secular journalists who have failed to follow a strict Islamic line.

The Gulen Movement also embeds itself into the social and educational infrastructure of Turkey, where it employs networks of schools that radicalize children and turn them away from the ideals of a modern Turkey — in much the same way that madrassas do in other nations.

Outside Turkey, the Gulen Movement operates through a plethora of charities and for-profit charter schools, including in the United States, to support its operations. On Dec. 7, the Turkish government filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, claiming Mr. Gulen and his Gulen Movement committed human rights violations against three members of the Dogan Movement, a rival party. Mr. Gulen, who controls more than $25 billion in assets, including those in the United States, maneuvered to have Bunyamin Ates, Turgut Yildirim and Murat Ozturk prosecuted. The lawsuit requests that Mr. Gulen be extradited to Turkey to face these accusations, which include planting bomb duds in a Gulen place of worship to frame 40 followers of the Dogan Movement, who were subsequently arrested.

In addition, the Gulen Movement is under investigation by the FBI in connection with accepting American taxpayer funds to run Gulen Charter Schools that are proselytizing American children into Turkey-centric, Islamist movement — a sort of fifth column seeking to infiltrate American society through children in an attempt to transform America, as in the case of Turkey, into a Shariah state. This is coupled with more than 5,000 highly questionable H-1B visas involving young Turkish males — men suspected of indentured servitude to the Gulen Movement and thus investigated under anti-human trafficking statutes.

Mr. Gulen is a cleric who uses religion to manipulate and bind people to himself, in order to grab power worldwide, from Uzbekistan to Utah. Brainwashed followers see him as a prophet. But he is a false prophet. His followers infiltrate into bureaucracy to subvert the system in Mr. Gulen’s favor.

If the cleric is successful, Turkey would be moved in a direction far less friendly to United States and allied interests. Clearly, the United States doesn’t need another extreme Islamist regime in the Middle East. In the end, it is essential that the United States, as well as the NATO allies, continue to recognize the important and unique role that Turkey plays in the region and look for ways that capitalize on the shared interest in defeating Islamist extremism and promoting regional stability.

The Obama administration and Congress should pay greater attention to ways in which it can enable Turkey to deal more effectively with the internal and external challenges it faces, including the Gulen Movement, ISIS, the massive inflow of Syrian refugees, and the terrorist Kurdistan Workers Party. It is in America’s vital national interest to support Turkey as an essential, reliable, democratic and prosperous regional ally, in spite of some of its problematic nature.

Abraham R. Wagner teaches national security law and intelligence at the Columbia Law School and Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, where he is a senior research fellow at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies.

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