Commentary, Politics

Europe, Turkophobia and a perilous future

6 min read

The EP’s decision on Nov. 24 to suspend negotiation talks with Turkey should be seen within a larger framework of misplaced fears, old prejudices and political populism against Turkey and Turks

The European Parliament (EP) takes a scandalous decision against Turkey at a time when Europe fails to address the real issues of growing racism, xenophobia, anti-immigration groups, radicalization, alienation and Islamophobia. With its internal problems, micro-nationalisms and the Brexit-process, Europe is narrowing down its strategic outlook and losing its relevance.The EP decision on Nov. 24 to suspend negotiation talks with Turkey should be seen within a larger framework of misplaced fears, old prejudices and political populism. Though legally non-binding, the decision reflects the toxic political climate in the EP and its narrow strategic outlook. It is fed by the growing anti-Turkish political populism in Europe. It reveals the old prejudices of the old continent against Turkey and Turks. But it is part of a new pattern that says more about the eclipse of the European political horizon than Turkey per se.

No month passes by without someone in Europe trying his luck in the lucrative business of attacking Turkey and the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to score a point. Politicians, journalists, comedians, artists and others seem obsessed with Erdoğan to the point where the word “Erdoğan” no longer refers to a person, the president of the Republic of Turkey, but to some nebulous notion that can be invoked every time these people need an “other” to oppose, attack, vilify and feel good about themselves.

We have seen this Erdoğan-obsessed crowd going wild with their diatribes, insults and fear-mongering and hoping that their deliberate provocations will lead to some reaction — the kind of reaction which they will then use again to demonize Erdoğan and “his supporters,” another nebulous term that is so handy and useful that it can be employed any time and any where when needed. As Elif Zehra Kandemir, a Turkish-German Muslim woman, notes, “Erdogan has become a kind of insult. A projection for old prejudices. An undying enemy. He’s everything for which there’s no place in Europe.”

An alarming example of this new pattern is the special September issue of Der Spiegel, the German magazine that has made it a habit for itself to attack Erdoğan in a systematic manner. The cover has a dominating “godfather” picture of Erdoğan with sunglasses looking over the Blue Mosque whose two minarets have been turned into missiles. A reflection of the minaret-turned-missiles falls on Erdoğan’s mafia-looking sunglasses, suggesting fire, burning and cruelty. The title explains what all this imagery seeks to convey: Turkey loosing its freedom.

The fact that Der Spiegel publishes this cover only two months after the failed Gülenist coup attempt is telling. Perhaps this German magazine is not happy with the failure of the coup. Maybe, it would have supported the coup had it been successful. It would have probably featured a smiling (or crying?) picture of Fetullah Gülen on its cover as the leader of the coup who gave Turkey its freedom back! Der Spiegel may have celebrated the coup as a good thing for democracy and use its genius reporting to explain that there is actually no contraction between democracy and military coup.

This magazine and its Erdoğan-crazed cohorts across Europe could also explain how harboring PKK terrorists and their supporters in Deutschland and the rest of Europe serves democracy and the fight against terrorism. They could explain why an anti-coup rally in Cologne became such a big issue in the German media and how a few weeks later an openly pro-PKK rally was allowed and covered in the German media with no concerns raised.

They would find some magical ways to justify the NSU racist murders and their cover-up. They would take pleasure in provoking the Turks in Germany in order to justify the racist neo-Nazi attacks on them. They would seek to fashion new imagined Hitlers in order to tell the world that they are not the only evil ones around. They would circulate new genocide stories to make them feel less guilty about the horrors of the Holocaust. They would invent some fanciful ways to present integration as total assimilation and divide immigrants as good ones (i.e., the ones who are like them) and bad ones (i.e., those who prefer critical engagement to docile submission. The nagging list goes on.

This Erdoğan-obsession is not a healthy thing. It is symptomatic of some larger issues and perhaps some deeper psychological problems. It extends from the uneasiness about the Turks and Muslims living in Europe to the migration deal that German Chancellor Angela Merkel concluded with Turkey. It is a convenient distraction from the real issues at hand. It normalizes racism and pushes mainstream political discourse to a dangerously far-right and Islamophobic axis.

The Der Spiegel cover is also racist and Islamophobic: It depicts minarets as missiles, linking Islam and terrorism and presenting Erdoğan as the instigator of a new wave of religious terrorism, probably against European civilization. Yet, it is also entrenched in old-fashioned anti-Semitism. It attacks a particular group of people based on their ethnicity, culture and religious faith. It is like the Russian matrushka: It goes from Erdoğan-bashing and Turkophobia to Islamophobia, xenophobia and blatant racism. They are all different layers of the same mindset.

Instead of attacking Erdoğan and the brave Turkish nation for stopping the coup, the European Parliament, Der Spiegel and the likes should bow before them to pay their respects. What the Turkish people saved on July 15 was not just Turkish democracy but democracy everywhere. What they protected was not only Turkey’s security but also the security of the Balkans and Europe. Instead of protecting and encouraging PKK supporters in Europe, they should take a clear stance against terrorism. In this age of interdependence, no one is safe until everyone is safe. Europeans make a huge mistake by embracing anyone and everyone who attacks Turkey. Losing Turkey will not make Europe a better or safer place.

Luckily, there are many rational and sensible people in Europe that refuse to ride on the anti-Turkey wave of political opportunism. They uphold the values of democracy, freedom and the rule of law without discriminating against other nations. They see the importance of working together for the urgent problems of our globalized and increasingly interdependent world. They do not seek to score cheap political points by riding on the anti-immigrant, xenophobic wave in Europe. They reject the pragmatist notion that democracy is good only when it serves our interests. They welcome immigration as a fact of the world in which we live and deal with it in a morally and politically responsible manner. They see Turkey as a partner, not as an enemy or the ulterior ego. They have no Oedipus complex against Erdoğan or Turkey.

They are the ones who believe that Europe should do better than bowing down to political opportunism and strive to maintain its relevance for Turkey and the world. They feel ashamed of Europe’s response to the world’s largest refugee crisis in more than half a century and seek to do something about it. They support the Turkish people against the coup and other terrorist groups without a second thought. They know that Turkey’s security is also Europe’s security. Against all odds, they are the ones who would save Europe from its current eclipse and slumber.


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İbrahim Kalın is assistant to the Turkish President and the current Press Secretary in the Turkish Presidential Complex