Lately, some developments relieving Turkey in Syria and Iraq took place. The Turkish citizens taken hostage by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) at the Turkish Consulate in Mosul, Iraq, who were held for a long time, were finally released as a result of meticulous strategic moves. This has been a demonstration of Turkey's diplomatic skills and the level its field experience has reached.
More importantly, Turkey now seems to have reached a position where it can adopt a more comfortable approach toward the struggle against ISIS and the developments in the Middle East. In my previous article, I mentioned the risks the current situation poses for Turkey. Turkey might have been excluded from the process due to the hostages held by ISIS and this might have created a risk of losing initiative in resolution policies. In the current situation, it is necessary to accept that this risk has been diminished to a great extent and that Turkey's radius of action is reinforced.
Consequently, the strategies and tactics will probably be revised.
We can look at the analyses of ISIS once again. The ongoing war in Syria and Iraq is literally a civil war. Even though this war represents an image of a traditional civil war, it is possible to say that it is actually more complex than it seems. This war has an "anti-imperialist" characteristic for the fighting groups, especially for ISIS. The West, which is physically separated from the region, shows a strong presence both as a hard and soft power. It forms a gravitational field in terms of conflicting groups. While some groups are attracted to this field, the effect of soft power radicalizes some other groups. Hard power changes the power relations while soft power changes identity and erodes social values and references. In most Eastern communities that are unable to create a power or paradigm equivalent to Western soft power, radicalization becomes inevitable. This condition is making the formation of a stable political and legal order impossible and causes chaos.
Coalitions and alliances are also being shaped in this framework according to the gravity force I mentioned above. A conflict between the Western alliance and their opponents of course does not take place in the West, but in this region where traditional social relations still have an influence. According to political scientist Herfried Münkler, the struggle for social values and political power are almost an inseparable whole in traditional civil wars. This is a quite noteworthy point in the context of ISIS.
Münkler observed that there are two different types of civil wars now outside of the imperial centers that could be positioned in the West. On the one hand, there is war between the lords of war who have no concern other than capturing the military control of a specific region they are interested in due to its underground sources or raw materials. On the other hand, there are wars where those material concerns are of secondary importance.
In the second case, the main point is cultural identity under threat.
As Münkler points out, the imperial center might not interfere with the first kind of civil war in political and military terms as those struggling for underground resources or raw materials would be inevitably embedded to an imperial economic network in order to convert those resources into actual money. It will only interfere in the case when atrocious massacres exceed the level of acceptability. Still, imperial intervention is always delayed unless the end of conflicts burst into sight on the horizon since the continuity of war might result in the formation of new and more convenient economic conditions.
The imperial center does not interfere when it comes to the social values that lead to radicalization in the face of Western power. The war happens between coalitions in the Middle East again. Secondly, this kind of wars supports Islamophobia and reinforces the legitimacy of soft power. So, there is no traditional war going on in Syria and Iraq. ISIS is neither an anomaly created by tradition, nor a pure barbarity that has been recently unleashed. A more serious analysis is needed.
About the author
Osman Can is a Law Professor and Reporting Judge at the Turkish Constitutional Court. He holds a PhD from the University of Cologne, Germany.
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