PJ Media has a piece by Marc J. Fink, “Director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum”:
Recently, Native American Congressman Tom Cole (R-OK, member of the Chickasaw Nation) introduced H.R. 2362, the Indian Trade and Investment Demonstration Project. The bill singles out Turkish-owned companies for exclusive investment preferences and special rights in Native American tribal area projects.
…The bill was the culmination of a multi-year effort by Turkey to ingratiate itself with Native American tribes: tribal students now study in Turkey with full scholarships; Turkish officials regularly appear at Native American economic summits; and dozens of tribal leaders have gone to Turkey on lavish all-expense-paid trips.
…Why the intense interest in business and cultural ties with Native American tribes now, when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist Justice and Development party (AKP) have taken Turkey down a path of aggressive and dangerous Islamism?
Evidence from Uzbekistan points to a possible motive: infiltration and Islamization.
The text of the Bill can be seen here.
I’ve no quarrel with drawing critical attention to what appears to be Turkish “soft power” in action, but Fink’s supposed evidence of “Islamization” here is a red herring. He continues:
According to Agence France-Presse:
[The Uzbek government has accused] Turkish companies of creating a shadow economy, using double accounting and propagating nationalistic and extremist ideology. … Long wary of the influence of Islamic fundamentalism … secular authorities appear to be linking Turkish private business to the activities of the Nurcus, an Islamic group that is banned in the country.
Nurcus is also banned in Russia.
Fink has nothing more to say about the Nurcus, presumably because – despite working for an organisation called the “Midde East Forum” – he doesn’t know anything about them. In fact, the Nurcus are a movement consisting of several groups, and in this instance the group under discussion in the AFP report cited above (which dates from last year), although not named, is clearly the well-known “neo-Nurcu” Gülen movement, or FGC (Fethullah Gülen Community).
Eurasianet has some background:
Underlying Tashkent’s actions is mounting distrust of the Islamist orientation of Turkey’s governing Justice and Development Party (AKP). It would seem that Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s government worries that the AKP is working to promote Islamic piety not only in Turkey, but in the Turkic states of Central Asia. In particular, Tashkent is suspicious that the AKP is somehow abetting the activity of an Islamic evangelical movement led by the Turkish theologian Fetullah Gulen, whose ideas are rooted in concepts earlier espoused by Bediuzzaman Said Nursî in the mid-20th century.
…Amid the prosecutions, state-controlled television channels aired programs clearly designed to stir up anti-Turk sentiments. For example, a late February documentary, titled “Crime and Punishment” and broadcast on two state-run channels, claimed that the arrested entrepreneurs took advantage of “our country’s favorable investment climate and committed economic crimes, including trade in counterfeit goods and the use of dishonest accounting practices to hide profits.” The documentary – which included apparent confessions from some of the accused – asserted that several of the arrested entrepreneurs were affiliated with the Gulen movement.
In addition to the religious element, governmental corruption appears to be a factor in the crackdown, some observers contend. A Tashkent-based financial analyst suspects the attacks on Turkish ventures might be part of an ongoing redistribution of property that began in 2010.
Interpretation needs be cautious: on the one hand, it is reasonable for Turkic countries to be wary of Turkish influence. On the other hand, though, Uzbekistan is a brutal dictatorship, and its attempts to curb such influence appear to be crude, excessive, and tinged with corruption.
It is simply too much of stretch to suggest that either the situation in Uzbekistan or the general activities of the Gülen movement provide the secret template for understanding international Turkish business interests or why Turkey is seeking to woo Native Americans.
Certainly, though, the Gülen movement is worth keeping an eye on; useful background is provided by a 2009 email written by Reva Bhalla of STRATFOR and published by Wikileaks. It concludes that:
The FGC is perhaps the best organised grass roots movement in Turkey. Moreover, the group has a vast social and economic organisation, intelligence assets, a global network and a message that appeals to the West, even if that message appears to be mostly for international consumption. The FGC is effectively a third force in Turkish politics, and the world will hear a lot about it in the years to come.
There was also a highly-critical profile of the organisation in Spiegel Online in August.
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