In the aftermath of the Christchurch massacre hatemongers are having a field day.
As there were Turkish victims of the attack, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu travelled to Christchurch to emphasize Turkey’s common resolve against Islamophobia and xenophobia. Furthermore, Fuat Oktay called on the entire world to stop promoting some kind of provocative language.
Back home, Fuat Oktay’s call fell on deaf ears. The day after the attack, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is not known to mince his words, at an electoral rally in Istanbul invoked the threat of a new Crusader-Crescent war, and in a clear provocation showed video clips of the massacre.
Last year Erdoğan made use of the same trope, and in an echo of Samuel Huntington’s prediction of a clash of civilizations, threatened Austria with a “crusader-crescent war” after Austria closed down seven mosques and expelled 40 imams. This is, in fact, curious, as Erdoğan together with the Spanish prime minister in 2005 proposed the creation of the Alliance of Civilizations.
Erdoğan is a desperate man, who with the slow collapse of Turkey’s economy, faces defeat at the local elections at the end of this month and is prepared to use all means to whip up support for his governing Justice and Development Party (AKP). He has stigmatized political opponents as terrorists and warned municipalities in the Kurdish southeast that mayors elected from the HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party), whose co-leader Selahattin Demirtas has been in prison since November 2016, will be removed. This is no empty threat as the government has already dismissed 95 HDP mayors and replaced them with trustees.
The Turkish constitution stipulates that no one shall be allowed to exploit or abuse religion or religious feelings in any manner whatsoever for the purpose of personal or political interest. Last week this was echoed by the president of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, who in a speech at the police academy warned against the abuse of religion for personal gain. Nevertheless, religion has been a powerful weapon in the electoral campaign.
On International Women’s Day a march by thousands of women in Istanbul was met by police tear gas and President Erdoğan accused the women of being disrespectful of Islam as they chanted and whistled while a nearby mosque recited the call to prayer.
A few days later Erdoğan made use of this claim at a rally in Ankara, when he called on voters to teach a serious lesson to enemies of the call to prayer.
As well as issuing an 87-page manifesto to justify his actions, Brenton Tarrant, who has been charged with mass murder, also scrawled a number of names and historical references on his weapons, one of which was “Vienna 1683.” This refers to the failed attempt by the Ottoman army to conquer Vienna, which was the high water mark of the Ottoman Empire’s expansion.
The same day that the Christchurch massacre took place, members of the Turkey Youth Foundation (TÜGVA), where President Erdoğan’s son Bilal is on the advisory board, issued a statement that criticized the demonstrators on International Women’s Day and made clear: “The call to prayer for us is a renewal of the intention to conquer Rome, New York, Beijing, Tokyo, Moscow, Berlin, Paris and complete the unfinished conquest of Vienna.”
Samuel Huntington in his essay identifies Turkey as a prototypical torn country, divided as to whether its society belongs to one civilization or another. However in recent years, under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Turkey seems to have made its choice. This change of direction has been compounded by the de facto rejection of Turkey’s application of EU membership, although Turkey still has the status of a candidate country.
Oddly enough, Erdoğan’s frequent claim that the EU is “a Christian club” is supported by Huntington’s view that economic regionalism may succeed only when it is rooted in a common civilization, and the European Community rests on the shared foundation of European culture and Western Christianity.
Turkish professor of political science Cengiz Aktar has called on the EU to make up its mind about the reality of Turkey and the need for “a paradigm shift to reflect the post-candidacy era of Turkey-EU relations.” I have earlier in The Hill in Washington called for a similar reset of US-Turkey relations, but it is doubtful whether under the current administration such a paradigm shift will be possible.