Mosques at heart of Turkey’s push for global soft-power - The Atlantic

A series of new mega-mosques constructed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government abroad are part of expanding global soft-power campaign, wrote journalist John M. Beck in the Atlantic.

Turkey’s top religious body, the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) - with a budget of $2 billion this year - has been hard at work building mosques all over the world with is own construction firm.

Diyanet, in charge of the government’s mosque projects outside Turkey, has completed projects in Albania, Russia, Germany, England, the United States, the Phillipines and beyond.

The mosques which number around 2000 include one in Accra, Ghana, the largest in West Africa; another in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, the largest in Central Asia, and a complex in Maryland, said to be the largest of its kind in the entire Western Hemisphere, Beck wrote.

While the Turkish president faces criticism from Western powers over his anti-democratic and illiberal ways at home; his purging and jailing of domestic enemies and the attacks against Kurdish armed groups, his government is diligently working abroad.

Erdoğan and his ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), known for their close ties to Muslim Brotherhood, are aware that religion can prove a more potent tool than conventional cultural outreach, the article underlined.

Highlighting that Diyanet has grown rapidly under the AKP, Beck noted that its budget has expanded more than fourfold since 2006, which marked Erdoğan’s first term as prime minister.

Citing the example of Albania, which found itself without mosques following mandated state atheism in 1967, the article notes Turkish money has entered the country not just through Diyanet but also the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA).

TİKA has carried out more than 200 projects in the country, including restoring Ottoman mosques.

‘’Ankara has also plowed money into countries where large numbers of Turks live, such as Germany,’’ the article said, highlighting that lawmakers in the country, home to 3 million people of Turkish origin, are beginning to have misgivings over Ankara’s continued influence in the country.

The Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DİTİB), one of Germany’s largest Islamic organisations,  was set up in 1984 as a branch of Diyanet and funds around 900 mosques in Germany while boasting a membership of around 800,000.

DİTİB has been accused of spying for Turkey on German citizens, resulting in a temporary suspension of federal funding in 2017. 

Turkey’s ruling AKP sees the Turkish Diaspora in Western Europe as an important strategic asset, Beck wrote, but Germany is looking to have domestically educated imams and domestically funded mosques in the future.