Affairs

Politics

The threat from within— Istanbul

Preface

Turkey has been hesitant to join the fight against Islamic State. The internal threat of the militant group within Turkey’s own borders is something that the nation is yet to reconcile, says Monocle’s Joseph Dana.

ISIS, Islamic state, Istanbul, Turkey

22 September 2014

In the sleepy working-class neighbourhood of Bagcilar, nestled just a kilometre away from Istanbul’s Ataturk airport, life moves at a slower pace than in the heart of city. The central tramline of Istanbul’s European side – the T1 – ends in Bagcilar after taking nearly two hours to snake past the grand attractions such as the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque.

A few blocks from the tramline, past several nondescript electronics stores and dozens of kebab stalls, is a modest, one-room shop simply called Islamic Clothing. At first, the store appears to be nothing more than the depot of a neglected wholesaler: a bare room sparsely populated with a smattering of mannequins all featuring niqabs: the black, full-length face and body coverings worn by pious Muslim women.

But there is a prominent rack of men’s clothing with everything ranging from T-shirts to cargo pants placed directly in front of a main display window. The clothing features the logo of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. These goods clearly target young men with active lifestyles and a tendency toward Islamist insurgency. While the cargo pants, made of a dense Carhartt-esque cotton fabric, appear ready for action in the craggy hills of northern Syria, many of the T-shirts feel like the cheap promotional clothing thrown around during political campaigns in this part of the world.

This shop is an example of how the ISIS issue lies at the heart of Turkish society. Last Thursday, the Turkish newspaper Radikal released video of what appeared to be ISIS fighters leisurely riding the T1 tram in Istanbul.

Until Saturday morning, Turkey pointed towards hostages being held by ISIS in Mosul, Iraq, who included one senior Turkish diplomat as reason for the country’s reticence to join operations against ISIS. Now that the hostages have been returned safely, will Turkey commit to the fight against Islamic State? Not so fast.

The naked truth, as this clothing store near the airport quietly demonstrates, is that the ISIS threat is as much an internal problem for Turkey as it is an external one. In order for Turkey to properly join the international fight it must start with its own citizens. That is the big secret that nobody wishes to discuss. As with most Turkish statecraft, however, the country is playing the long game. We will likely have to wait for decisive Turkish action against ISIS until the final act of this new war.

Joseph Dana is Monocle's acting Istanbul bureau chief.

Monocle 24

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