One of the stranger aspects of the Super Bowl LII broadcast on Sunday was the Turkish Airlines sign on the NBC Sports desk during the pre-game show.
Social media posts by fans were not particularly appreciative. @JaredMcCausland wrote, “Can’t get over how random of a sponsor Turkish Airlines is for NBC’s pregame show.”
@jillshore4 tweeted, “What the hell @nbc America’s greatest sporting event and you have Turkish Airlines as a sponsor on your pregame desk?!!!”
NBC also ran a commercial for Turkish Airlines. Starring television celebrity surgeon Dr. Oz, the ad, like previous years’ Turkish Airlines Super Bowl ads, was an advertising work of art. It was brilliantly written and beautifully produced. It’s hard to imagine the average viewer would feel anything other than attracted to Turkey after watching it.
There is nothing wrong with a business or civic group advertising its message. But the uneasiness the ad caused many viewers was reasonable. Turkish Airlines is not a private business. The Turkish government owns a controlling 49.12 percent of the airline. And the Turkish government is not demonstrating affinity with America, let alone with American sports, these days.
To the contrary, although it’s a member of NATO, everywhere you look, Turkey is actively harming American interests.
For example, Turkey has led the diplomatic onslaught against America since President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem on December 6.
Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan hosted a conference of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in December to criticize the U.S. and was an outspoken advocate of the U.N. General Assembly’s resolution to condemn the American move.
And just last Tuesday, Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) held an America-bashing conference in Istanbul.
As John Rossomando reported for the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) on Monday, the U.S. deported one of the speakers at the conference, Sami al-Arian, in 2015 after he served his prison term for funding the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror group.
Al-Arian operated in the U.S. from the early 1990s through his arrest in 2006. Working under the cover of his position as a computer science professor at the University of South Florida, Arian played a key role in setting up U.S.-based front groups and support networks for the Iranian-controlled PIJ in the 1990s. He also served on PIJ’s Shura council, which governed the terror group. He formed the Islamic Committee for Palestine, which raised money for PIJ and featured PIJ terrorists as speakers at its events.
In addition, Al-Arian reportedly formed the Tampa-based World and Islam Studies Enterprise (WISE). In the early 1990s, Al-Arian secured a U.S. visa for a man named Ramadan Abdullah Shallah by appointing him to direct WISE. Later, in 1995, Israeli commandos assassinated PIJ commander Fathi Shiqaqi in Malta. Shallah departed the U.S. shortly thereafter to replace Shiqaqi as commander of PIJ. I
In 2006, al-Arian was convicted of aiding and abetting PIJ. After he was deported, rather than treat al-Arian as a terrorist, Erdogan’s Islamist government appointed him director of the Center for Regional Politics at Istanbul’s Sabahattin Zaim University when he landed in Istanbul.
At last week’s Diyanet conference in Istanbul, al-Arian referred to the U.S. as “our enemy.” He also called on the Muslim world to boycott America for its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Another speaker, Diyanet president Ali Erbas, denounced President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. embassy to the city, according to IPT.
Just a few weeks before he hosted al-Arian at his America-bashing conference in Istanbul, Erbas was in the U.S., according to the IPT, working to mobilize Muslim groups on behalf of Turkey.
As IPT reported, the American branch of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate, the Diyanet Center of America, held a reception in Lanham, Maryland, featuring Erbas. Among the attendees were the heads of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Egyptian-Americans for Freedom and Justice.
Oussama Jammal, the Secretary General of the United States Council of Muslim Organizations, attended the event and allegedly pledged his support for Erdogan, according to IPT.
Against this backdrop, the uneasiness and confusion expressed by many fans at Turkish Airlines’ prominent sponsorship of the Super Bowl makes perfect sense. Turkey spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year on outreach to Muslims in Western countries and in lobbying efforts.
According to a December 2016 report in Turkey’s Hürriyet daily, in the aftermath of the failed July 2016 coup to overthrow Erdogan, the Diyanet briefed the Turkish parliament on its international activities. Diyanet leaders told lawmakers that it had gathered intelligence through imams in 38 countries in Europe and Asia on the activities of followers of U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. Erdogan blames Gulenists for the failed July 2016 coup to overthrow him.
Turkey’s efforts to co-opt American Muslim leaders are interesting for two reasons. First, they indicate that Turkey is replacing replace Saudi Arabia as the patron of radicalized U.S. Muslims and jihadists worldwide. From 1967 until the advent of the Arab Islamist revolutions in 2010, Saudi Arabia was the major disseminator of radical Islam worldwide. With the rise of radical Islamic political movements in the Arab world, the Saudis cut off their support for the Muslim Brotherhood and a host of Islamic terror groups.
Second, it shows that Turkey intends to use the American Muslim community as a means to propagate Turkey’s rise as the “protector of Islam.” Turkey’s goals in the U.S. are clear, first and foremost, because Turkey has been implementing this goal in western Europe.
Last year, for example, Turkey provoked an ugly fight with Germany and the Netherlands. In April 2017, Turkey held a constitutional referendum asking voters to give Erdogan dictatorial powers. The opinion polls were too close to call. In the weeks ahead of the vote, Turkish ministers descended on Europe to campaign in Turkish communities and urge Turkish expatriates to vote for the referendum by absentee ballot. The German and Dutch governments reacted angrily to Turkey’s brazen contempt for their sovereignty, and barred Turkish politicians from entering their territory until after the referendum. In the event, Erdogan won by a narrow margin.
European defiance of Turkey didn’t last long. Erdogan has cultivated Turkish expatriate communities as a means to influence the domestic politics of Europe. In 2011, Erdogan urged Germany’s Turkish community not to assimilate into German society. Erdogan said, “Yes, integrate yourselves into German society but don’t assimilate yourselves. No one has the right to deprive us of our culture and our identity.”
Last year, he told Turks in Europe, “Go live in better neighborhoods. Drive the best cars. Live in the best houses. Make not three, but five children. Because you are the future of Europe. That will be the best response to the injustices against you.”
In Israel, Turkey is spending tens of millions of dollars annually to supplant Jordan as the most influential Islamic actor in Jerusalem. Turkish governmental funds are also being used to empower radical anti-Israel and antisemitic clerics in the Arab Israeli sector.
Finally, Turkish government funds, supposedly earmarked for humanitarian aid in Gaza, have been used to finance Hamas terror operations.
And in 2017, Turkish Airlines was the most popular foreign airline in Israel.
Which brings us back to the Super Bowl. Turkey uses a combination of soft power, religious indoctrination, political subversion, bullying, and terror sponsorship to expand its power and undermine the U.S., Europe and Israel.
And the Turkish Airlines Super Bowl ad is an insidious example of how this influence operation is done.