Steven Cook is dispirited by the country’s reaction to the terrorist attacks last week:
I find the Turkish leadership’s response to the events in France striking. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu took part in the solidarity rally in Paris on Sunday, but among the near universal denunciation of the Charlie Hebdo massacre and subsequent killings at the Hyper Cache market, the Turkish reaction was disturbingly equivocal. In a public statement after the assault on the magazine, the foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu declared, “Terrorism and all types of Islamophobia perpetuate each other and we stand against this.”
It is hard to disagree. Islamophobia, of which there is much in Europe and the United States, is bad, and terrorism is bad. Both are scourges that need to be fought, albeit in different ways. And while Davutoglu was more direct in his condemnation, cloaked in Cavusoglu’s outrage against anti-Muslim bias and terrorism, the foreign minister was saying something else entirely: The people targeted specifically in the Charlie Hebdo attack were Islamophobes who brought Cherif and Said Kouachi on themselves, producing a cycle of more Islamophobia and thus more violence. More broadly, Cavusoglu was signaling that the West is to blame for terror because it is irredeemably anti-Islam.
Anyone who has been paying careful attention to Turkey understands that the foreign minister’s statement was calibrated and consistent with a message the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been hammering away at for some time. It is hard to tell whether the Turkish leadership believes what they are saying or whether it is invoked as a political strategy to keep the party’s core constituency mobilized. Either way it is dangerous.
Marc Champion points out that “Turkey’s government doesn’t respect freedom of expression for cartoonists, or journalists more broadly, at home”:
Indeed when the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in 2005, Davutoglu’s boss, then-Prime Minister (now President) Recep Tayyip Erdogan, loudly condemned them for it. He insisted that free speech must have limitations — and cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo clearly breached the lines he would like Europe to draw.
Erdogan prosecutes Turkish cartoonists for much less. As the New York Times recently wrote, Turkey’s president is appealing the acquittal of cartoonist Musa Kart, whom Turkey’s leader sued last year for mocking his suppression of corruption allegations against the government. This is nothing new.
Michael Koplow feels that we are losing the battle of ideas, in Turkey and elsewhere:
A NATO-member country, with massive commercial and defense links to the U.S. and Europe, whose leaders speak English and many of whom have been educated in the U.S. and Europe, should know better. It should know that terrorism against civilians must be condemned full-stop, that drawing offensive cartoons does not mean that you deserve to be killed, that the Mossad did not just engage in a deadly false flag operation, and that no government is killing its own people in order to gin up anti-Muslim sentiment and create a pretext for persecuting its own Muslim population. When it doesn’t seem to know these things, it means we have lost the battle of ideas, and the extremists are winning.