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HSC Director for CNN: Terrorism plays into the hands of Erdogan and Assad

Julie Lenarz, Director of the Human Security Centre (HSC), writes for CNN about the vicious symbiosis of terrorist organisations and authoritarian regimes.

The early Sunday attack is part of a global Islamist insurgency. It links the bloodshed in Istanbul to Berlin, Paris, Nice, Baghdad, Tel Aviv, Jakarta and other places where Islamic extremists try to impose their ideology by gunpoint.
However, there is another dynamic at play that is too often overlooked. If terrorists strike in countries engulfed in war or political turmoil, governments exploit the chaos to further their own strategic interests.
Turkey is no exception. While Turkish civilians bear the brunt of mounting casualties, the government has turned every attack into an opportunity to cleanse the country of dissenting voices and advance its geopolitical ambitions. Following the attack on Reina nightclub, the Turkish government announced that it was extending the state of emergency declared after the failed coup d’état in July by three months to fight “terrorism.”
However, since the coup failed to dislodge the AKP government, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has launched a widespread purge that has impacted tens of thousands of officials across Turkish society. Thousands of people have been dismissed, suspended, and imprisoned on charges of supporting US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey has identified as the alleged mastermind behind the coup — an accusation he denies.
Turkey has also used the wave of terrorist attacks to crack down on the Kurdish minority in the country. Democratically elected politicians have been arrested, Kurdish rights organizations shut down, and peaceful demonstrations dispersed with extreme force.
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A similar dynamic is also evident in Syria. Many have voiced concern that in the early stages of the conflict, Bashar al-Assad set free Islamic extremists from prison, likely in the hope that they would create an enemy seen as more menacing by the West than the crimes committed by his regime.
The rise of ISIS and other jihadist entities allowed Assad to present himself not as the butcher of peaceful activists, freedom-loving students and democracy-embracing intellectuals, but as the bulwark against extremism.
His calculation paid off: the more that the opposition became infiltrated by Islamists and jihadists, the more the legitimacy of the uprising was called into question.
The jihadists, on the other hand, could not have asked for a more potent recruitment tool than the industrial-scale killing unleashed by the Assad regime, aided by the strategic apathy and moral myopia of Western governments.
This dynamic soon creates a vicious cycle: Terrorists and regimes get caught in a downward spiral of attacks, retaliation, fresh recruitment, more attacks, and even more retaliation.
Read the full article on CNN’s website.

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