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Turkey: Erdogan Threatens Europe
by Uzay Bulut*
Europe has once again been targeted with Islamist terror attacks.
On October 16, Samuel Paty, a history teacher, was beheaded in Paris by an 18-year-old Chechen Muslim who acquired refugge status in France this past March. The teacher was murdered after showing cartoons from Charlie Hebdo depicting Islam’s prophet Muhammad to his students, during a discussion on freedom of expression.
On October 29, three people were murdered and several others wounded in an Islamist knife attack in the Basilica of Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption in Nice, France; one victim was decapitated.
After the attack in Nice, France raised its nationwide terror alert status to the “maximum emergency” level. Approximately 4,000 military personnel were deployed to guard schools, churches, and other places of worship.
In Vienna, on November 2, four more people were murdered and 22 injured (including a police officer) in another Islamist terror attack that took place in six locations across the Austrian capital.
After Paty’s murder, French President Emmanuel Macron defended freedom of expression and freedom of religion:
“Our compatriot was killed for teaching, for teaching children freedom of speech, freedom to believe, or not to believe. Our compatriot was the victim of a terrorist attack.”
Macron added that Islam was “in crisis” and that he would fight “Islamist separatism” within the country. It was reported hat “the government would present a bill in December to strengthen a 1905 law that officially separated church and state in France. He [Macron] announced stricter oversight of schooling and better control over foreign funding of mosques.”
In response, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan remarked “What’s the problem of the individual called Macron with Islam and with the Muslims?… Macron needs mental treatment.” He also called for a boycott of French products and was supported in parliament by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the secular opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Iyi Party.
The Turkish government’s hostile reaction to Europe is not new. Erdogan has been threatening Europe and the rest of the West for several years. The ongoing crisis between Turkey and Europe appears to stem from deep cultural and political differences between the parties involved — Europe that respects freedoms and Turkey that violates them.
After the 2016 attempted coup in Turkey, the authorities’ crackdown on journalists critical of the regime targeted Western journalists as well, including French journalists Olivier Bertrand and Loup Bureau.
Turkey, long a candidate for European Union membership, has often been criticized by Western governments and international press organizations for its mass incarceration of journalists.
In March 2017, Erdogan, lashed out at criticisms at an event in which he addressed journalists in Ankara. If Europe continues its attitude, he said, “no European and no Westerner will be able to walk safely and peacefully in the streets.”
Erdogan pressed on, saying that Western countries always accuse Turkey of violating press freedom and jailing journalists. “When we wanted a list of those [jailed] journalists… they gave us one… The list includes everyone from murderers to thieves, from child abusers to swindlers. It is only journalists that are missing in the list.”
Erdogan stated that Turkey was sent a list containing the names of 149 [journalist] prisoners in Turkey and that the list was examined by the government. “144 people in the list are in jail due to terror-related crimes and four due to ordinary crimes.”
“What do these people have to do with journalism that you send this list to our country?,” Erdogan continued. “We are aware of their real intentions. When it is about themselves, they have no problem shelving democracy, rights, freedoms, justice, and prosperity but when it comes to Turkey, they immediately put on a mask. We have also decided to treat those with masks like the bandits that they are. Indeed, if you have nothing to hide, why are you wearing a mask? Come out courageously and say ‘I have issues with Turkey; I want it to get divided and fragmented’ so everyone can know who is who.
“If you open this dangerous road,” he went on, “you will be the ones to be exposed to the greatest damage. As Turkey we call on the European countries to respect democracy, human rights and freedoms.”
Freedom House lists Turkey as “Not free.” According to a November 16 report by the Platform for Independent Journalism (P24), at least 86 journalists and media workers are in prison in Turkey, either in pre-trial detention or serving a sentence.
Problems between Turkey and France intensified even more following Turkey’s invasions of northern Syria: After Macron met with Kurdish-Syrian officials (Syrian Democratic Forces/SDF) at Elysée Palace in March 2018, he offered to mediate Turkey-Kurdish talks. Macron said he hoped “a dialogue can be established between the SDF and Turkey with help from France and the international community.”
Erdogan turned down the offer: “This is a statement that goes beyond the limits and height of that person [Macron]… Who gave you such a duty? Do not engage in endeavors that exceed your height. We don’t need a mediator. Since when has Turkey had a problem of sitting around a table with terror organizations? Where did you get that from? You can sit at a table with a terrorist organization, but Turkey fights against terrorist organizations as in Afrin [Syria].”
Erdogan evidently forgot to mention that Turkey has been hosting members of the terrorist group Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, while presumably enabling them to set up bases there from which to attack Israel. According to areport in The Times on October 22, Hamas is secretly operating a facility in Turkey where it conducts cyberattacks and counterintelligence operations. Citing Western intelligence sources, The Times said the headquarters was set up two years ago and is overseen by Hamas military leaders in the Gaza Strip. However, Erdogan targeted France after Macron met with Syrian Kurdish officials: “After this attitude, France has no right to complain about any terrorist organization, any terrorist or terror acts. Those who sleep with terrorists and even host terrorists at their palace will sooner or later understand the mistake they have made. Those who so recklessly support these terrorists should also be ready to account for the consequences to the French public. The problems we are experiencing right now might also happen to them any time. I do not know what more we should say or do for them to understand we are not making jokes and do not have the slightest tolerance for this.”
On April 7, hours after a man ploughed his van into pedestrians in Münster, Germany, Erdogan threatened France again: “France, you are helping terrorism, you support and host the terrorists in the Elysee Palace. You will not be able to account for these things. You see what is happening in Germany, right? The same will happen in France. The West will not be able to get rid of this scourge of terrorism. You will not be able to get rid of this terror scourge. As the West feeds these terrorists, it will sink. ”
Austrian precautions against radical Islam also seemed to anger Erdogan. In June, 2018, the Austrian government announced it was closing down seven radical mosques and expel 40 foreign-funded imams employed by ATIB (Turkish-Islamic Union for Cultural and Social Cooperation), which is connected to Turkey’s Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet). The moves followed the Austrian “Islam Law”, passed in 2015, which bans foreign funding of religious groups and made it a duty for Muslim organizations to have “a positive fundamental view towards (Austria’s) state and society”.
“Political Islam’s parallel societies and radicalizing tendencies have no place in our country,” said Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.
Erdogan responded: “The Austrian PM… is making calculations over closing our mosques in Europe. Where is this going? I’m afraid towards a crusade-crescent war; the steps taken by this Austrian Prime Minister are leading the world towards it. For this reason, the Western world should pull these men together. If they don’t, these calculations will be made differently. They say [they are] going to kick our clergy out. So [you think] you’ll do it and we will stand idle? We will do some things too.”
That a NATO member and European Union candidate, Turkey, is openly threatening the security of Westerners, is unprecedented. Yet, on November 22, Erdogan called on the European Union to “keep your promises” on issues such as the country’s membership bid and refugees: “Even if we leave aside the previous history, only the Ottoman Empire had a history of 600 years in Europe. Today, we see ourselves as an integral part of Europe.”
Erdogan was referring to the centuries-long Ottoman occupation of several European nations such as Cyprus, Hungary and Greece. The presence of the Ottoman Turks in Europe was marked by wars between the Ottoman Empire and Europe dating from the late Middle Ages up through the early 20th century. After destroying the Greek Byzantine Empire in Asia Minor (today’s Turkey), Ottoman Turks waged wars against Christian nations in the Balkans, including the Hungarians, Bulgarians, Croatians, Greeks and Serbs. The Ottoman Empire targeted Central Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. The Ottoman-Venetian Wars lasted for four centuries, starting in 1423 and lasting until 1718. Christians in European nations that fell under the Ottoman occupation became dhimmis, second-class, tolerated, subjects of the empire who had to buy their lives and protection by paying a high tax, and were systematically abused by Ottoman authorities.
One of the most abusive Ottoman practices was the institution of “devshirme,” also known as the “child levy” or “blood tax,” with which Christian boys were forcibly abducted from the conquered population, enslaved, converted to Islam and later trained as soldiers. Erdogan evidently sees the Ottoman occupation and abuse of European nations as Turkish “contributions” to Europe.
This current belligerence once again demonstrates major differences between Europe and Erdogan’s regime. It is a crisis between a mentality that respects a free press versus a mentality that jails critical journalists. It reveals a mentality that wants to preserve the safety of its citizens versus a mentality that aims to force others to submit to its demands through threats and use of terror. It is a mentality that stubbornly believes in violating and even trying to invade the territories of its neighbors versus one that tries to resolve issues through dialogue and negotiation.
As the president of France, Macron has the responsibility to protect the security and freedom of expression of his citizens. It is Erdogan’s regime who targets the safety and freedoms of Europeans — as well as Amerinias, Syrians, Iraqis, and many of his own Turks.
This article was first published in gatestoneinstitute.org Gatestone Institute, a non-partisan, not-for-profit international policy council and think tank is dedicated to educating the public about what the mainstream media fails to report.
* Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.