Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a joint news conference with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani (not seen) after their meeting in Ankara, Turkey, December 20, 2018.
(photo credit: UMIT BEKTAS / REUTERS)
People will find this hard to believe, but for once I agree with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, when he called in The Washington Post for a common stand against racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia. But as his foreign editor used to say in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Scoop, “Up to a point, Lord Copper.”
Since 9/11 and the attacks that have taken place in London, Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Stockholm and other European cities, there is no doubt that the issue foremost in people’s minds is Islamic terrorism. The use of this term will no doubt drive Erdogan into a paroxysm of rage but there is no way around it, despite the denial by various European leaders. The actions of many Muslim terrorists have been grounded both in the Koran and the Hadith, an account of the prophet Muhammad’s life and activities.
However, as the UN has pointed out in reports on the background of foreign terrorist fighters recruited by ISIS and the Nusrah Front, recruits often have a limited or superficial knowledge of religion. Ideology is used to legitimize acts of violence in the same way that the Ku Klux Klan branded themselves as defenders of white civilization.
The same strain goes again in the actions of the Norwegian Anders Breivik, who considered himself a Templar Knight defending European civilization. Brenton Tarrant, charged with the Christchurch massacre, admits in his manifesto that he only really took inspiration from “Knight Justiciar Breivik.” However, although Tarrant, like Breivik, claims inspiration from various sources, Erdogan is off the mark when he claims that the New Zealand attack was the product of a coordinated smear campaign.
The underlying motive in both cases was a reaction to the mass immigration that has taken place in Europe in the last few decades, which has been intensified by the fact that many of the immigrants come from a predominantly poor, Muslim background. The failure of these immigrants to integrate has only compounded the difficulties they face and led to the creation of parallel communities, which often reject the values of the host country.
Matters were not helped when Erdogan, in Cologne in 2008, held a firebrand speech for 20,000 Turks in which he declared assimilation to be “a crime against humanity.”
Likewise, two years ago he called on Turkish voters in Europe to have not just three but five children as the best answer to Europe’s “vulgarism, antagonism and injustice.”
Erdogan’s op-ed in the Post must be seen in the context of Turkey’s local elections at the end of this month, which is widely seen as a vote of confidence in Erdogan and his management of the economy. As on previous occasions, he claims that Turkey is under siege from outside forces, and presents himself not only as Turkey’s leader but also as the defender of the Muslim world.
In so doing, he makes use of the same cultural frame of reference as Breivik and Tarrant. At an Istanbul rally, he warned of a new war between the Cross and the Crescent and showed video clips of the Christchurch massacre. Last year he also warned Austria of “a crusader-crescent war,” after seven mosques were closed and 40 imams expelled in a crackdown on political Islam.
In a speech to commemorate the Gallipoli campaign in 1915, Erdogan threatened that any Australian or New Zealander who came to Turkey with anti-Muslim views would be sent back in a coffin like their grandfathers. This is a marked contrast to the attitude of the victor at Gallipoli, Mustafa Kemal, who, as president, told the mothers of the fallen Anzacs (Australians and New Zealanders): “You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well.”
It is unfortunate that Turkey’s president should reinforce Samuel Huntington’s prediction of the clash of civilizations, particularly as it was Erdogan who, as prime minister in 2005, together with Spanish prime minister Jose Zapatero, proposed the creation of the Alliance of Civilizations.
I agree with Erdogan that there is no difference between the murderer who killed innocent people in New Zealand and those who have carried out terrorist acts in Turkey, France, Indonesia and elsewhere. I also agree that what happened in New Zealand was the toxic product of ignorance and hate. However, the president’s views would be more credible if he, both at home and abroad, stopped fanning the flames of bigotry and hate, and contributed to a reduction of tension.
The author is a commentator on Turkish affairs in the Danish and international press.
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