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Remember Istanbul

Author: Michael L. Baker
November 11, 2010
Huffington Post


This week marks the seventh anniversary of another gross attack on innocent people at the hands of Al Qaeda but it will go largely unnoticed in the United States or in Europe. On November 15th and then again on November 20th 2003 Al Qaeda detonated four car bombs in Istanbul, Turkey killing 57 people and wounding 700. Turkey is a NATO ally directly attacked by our top enemy, but how often do you hear someone say, "Remember Istanbul" when referring to Al Qaeda and the war on terror?

We often forget that a number of our partners and allies from the Muslim world have been terrorized by Al Qaeda or its affiliates. Our strategic messages and official statements perpetuate the maligned theory of a "clash of civilizations" by concentrating on attacks against America and Europe, and relegating to the footnotes attacks like those in Amman, Jordan on November 9th 2005 where Al Qaeda killed 60 people and injured dozens more.

Yet, Al Qaeda's disregard for the sanctity of human life is universal and is the network's greatest strategic flaw. We should learn to exploit this vulnerability by highlighting U.S.-Muslim partnerships in fighting terrorism and by honoring the dead in places like Algiers, where an Al Qaeda affiliate killed 33 people on April 11th 2007. Our strategic messages should aim to influence U.S. public opinion to create a more positive discourse with regards to Islam within the United States; as well they should aim to create a more positive image of America as an understanding and trustworthy partner within predominately Muslim societies.

The brouhaha over the Cordoba center in New York and the plans of a small church in Florida to burn copies of the Koran gained global attention this past year, adding fuel to Al Qaeda's recruitment propaganda. As the ten-year anniversary of September 11th approaches we can expect these types of fiery manifestations in the United States to increase, possibly provoking more attacks against our homeland (both from the outside and from home-grown terrorists) unless we make a concerted effort to elevate Muslims in our national discourse, recognize the numerous positive impacts they make as individuals and collectively in the United States, and honor the lives and the deaths of Muslims friends and partners abroad. One way to begin that discourse is by remembering Istanbul.

In November 2003 Al Qaeda struck Jewish and British targets in Turkey in part due to the latter's alliance with NATO and positive relations with Israel, but also because Turkey played an active role in the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. The dual attacks killed mostly Muslims and shocked the Turkish Republic causing many to call the events "Turkey's September 11th." To be sure the U.S.-Turkish relationship has charted some rough waters over the last decade, but the values of the strategic alliance remain intact -- values highlighted by Al Qaeda's distaste for both countries: liberty, democracy, justice, and free markets. The U.S.-Turkish relationship is not defined by Al Qaeda; but it can be important for allies to pay their respects to one another on key occasions as the U.S. will surely expect Turkey to do next September. It is equally important and respectful that we remember Turkey's own "September 11th," now. Not only is this the right thing to do for our bilateral relationship, but it also shows our solidarity with Muslims around the world signified by President Bush in his address to the U.S. Congress on September 20th 2001: "I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It's practiced freely by many millions of Americans and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah."

This article appears in full on CFR.org by permission of its original publisher. It was originally available here.