Istanbul airport attack is part of Islamist war on Turkey’s modernist population

Turkey is on a knife’s edge, split between its modernists, who embrace a secular society and want integration into Europe, and its pious Islamic population, who seek a return to a life guided by sharia. The former tend to be concentrated in cities -- particularly the mega-city of Istanbul that straddles Asia and Europe – while the rural populace tends to support the more traditional Islamic-guided life. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan came to power on the basis of rural, pious Muslim support, and has done his best to ensure perpetual control in the hands of pious Muslims.

The urban modernist Turks largely depend on the fruits of trade and tourism, and the attack on Istanbul’s Kemal Attaturk Airport (named after the secularist founder of modern Turkey) was an attack on their livelihood. That airport (code: IST) is a mega-hub for Turkish Airlines, which has expanded aggressively and become a pillar of the modernist economy, bringing in tourists, and employing thousands of Turks depending on cosmopolitanism.

Turkish Airlines actually flies to more countries than any other airline in the world, and in recent years has built a reputation for very high levels of cabin service. It also prices fares aggressively, winning connecting traffic, often with longer itineraries and lower prices. Last summer, I priced tickets from San Francisco to Rome and found Turkish Airlines had the lowest fares, despite Istanbul being two and half hours farther east, requiring five hours’ additional flying time.  Many North Americans (and people all over the world) discover the same bargains, and use connections in Istanbul, enabling Turkish Airlines to buy and fill a large fleet of hundreds of modern aircraft, many built in the United States.

Photo by Sergey Kustov via Wikimedia Commons

Earlier terror attacks in Turkey have already depressed tourism to that country, but the attack on Attaturk Airport will be even more devastating to Turkish Airlines, because it will disrupt the connecting traffic its business model relies on.  So successful ahs the airline been that IST is bursting at the seams, and is slated to be supplemented by a brand new mega-hub airport that it is claimed will be the largest in the world.  This, in the eyes of Islamists, is a poisonous facility guaranteed to expose Turkey to even more foreign, non-Muslim influences. So the attack on IST is aimed at destroying the economic basis behind the airport.

Erdogan, whose government is constructing the new airport and which depends on prosperity brought by Turkish Airlines, is reaping the consequences of his Islamism.