Turkey, officially, is a candidate for full membership in the European Union (EU). It is also negotiating with Brussels a deal which would allow millions of Turks to travel to Europe without visa. But Turkey is not like any other European country that joined or will join the EU: The Turks' choice of a leader, in office since 2002, too visibly makes this country the odd one out.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is now campaigning to
broaden his constitutional powers, which would make him head of state,
head of government and head of the ruling party – all at the same
time—is inherently autocratic and anti-Western. He seems to view himself
as a great Muslim leader fighting armies of infidel crusaders. This
image, with which he portrays himself, finds powerful echoes among
millions of conservative Turks and [Sunni] Islamists across the Middle
East. That, among other excesses in the Turkish style, makes Turkey
totally incompatible with Europe in political culture.
Yet, there is always the lighter side of things. Take, for example,
Melih Gokcek, the mayor of Ankara and a bigwig in Erdogan's Justice and
Development Party (AKP). In February Gokcek claimed
that earthquakes in a western Turkish province could have been
organized by dark external powers [read: Western infidels] aiming to
destroy Turkey's economy with an "artificial earthquake" near Istanbul.
According to this conspiracy theory, the mayor not only claims that the
earthquake in western Turkey was the work of the U.S. and Israel, but
also that the U.S. created the radical army Islamic State. In fact, according to him, the U.S. and Israel colluded to trigger an earthquake in Turkey so they could capture energy from the Turkish fault line.
Matters between Turkey and Europe are far more tense today than
ridiculous statements from politicians who want to look pretty to
Erdogan. The president, just by willingly ignoring his own, powerful
anti-semitic views, recently accused Germany
of "fascist actions" reminiscent of Nazi times in a growing row over
the cancellation of political rallies aimed at drumming up support for
him among 1.5 million Turkish citizens in Germany.
The Dutch, Erdogan apparently thinks, are no different. In a similar
diplomatic row over Turkish political rallies in the Netherlands, Erdogan described
the Dutch government as "Nazi remnants and fascists". After barring
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu from entering the country by
plane, the Dutch authorities also escorted another Turkish minister out
of the country. Quite a humiliation, no doubt. An angry Erdogan promised the Netherlands would pay a price for that.
Europe, not just Germany and the Netherlands, looks united in not
allowing Erdogan to export Turkey's highly tense and sometimes even
violent political polarization into the Old Continent. There are press reports
that the owner of a venue in the Swedish capital, Stockholm, has now
cancelled a pro-Erdogan rally although Sweden's foreign ministry said it
was not involved in the decision.
Europe's anti-Erdogan sentiment goes viral. Denmark's prime minister,
Lars Loekke Rasmussen, said that he asked his Turkish counterpart
Binali Yildirim to postpone a planned visit because of tensions between
Turkey and the Netherlands. Although Turkey thanked France for allowing
Foreign Minister Cavusoglu to address a Turkish gathering of Turkish
"expats" in the city of Metz, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called on Turkish authorities to "avoid excesses and provocations".
None of the elements that forcefully point to Europe's 'Turkish
awakening' happened out of the blue. At the beginning of February,
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Erdogan held a tense meeting in
Ankara. Erdogan clearly rejected
Merkel's mention of "Islamist terror" on grounds that "the expression
saddens Muslims because Islam and terror cannot coexist". The row came
at a time when a German investigation into Turkish imams in Germany
spying on Erdogan's foes made signs of reaching out to other parts of
Europe. Peter Pilz, an Austrian lawmaker, said that he was in possession
of documents from 30 countries that revealed a "global spying network" at Turkish diplomatic missions.
At the beginning of March, after Turkey said it would defy opposition
from German and Dutch authorities and continue holding rallies in both
countries, Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern called for an EU-wide ban on campaign appearances by Turkish politicians.
In response, further challenging Europe, Turkey arrested Deniz Yucel,
a Turkish-German reporter for a prominent German newspaper, Die Welt,
on charges of "propaganda in support of a terrorist organization and
inciting the public to violence." Yucel had been detained after he reported
on emails that a leftist hacker collective had purportedly obtained
from the private account of Berat Albayrak, Turkey's energy minister and
Erdogan's propaganda war on "infidel" Europe has the potential to
further poison both bilateral relations with individual countries and
with Europe as a bloc. Not even the Turkish "expats" are happy. The
leader of Germany's Turkish community accused Erdogan of damaging ties
between the two NATO allies. Gokay Sofuoglu, chairman of the Turkish
Community in Germany, which groups 270 member organization, said: "Erdogan went a step too far. Germany should not sink to his level".
The most recent wave of tensions between Erdogan's Turkey and Europe,
which it theoretically aspires to join, have once again unveiled the
long-tolerated Turkish incompatibility between Turkey's predominantly
conservative, Islamist and often anti-Western political culture and
Europe's liberal values.
Turkey increasingly looks like Saddam Hussein's Iraq. During my 1989
visit to Iraq a Turkish-speaking government guide refused to discuss
Iraqi politics, justifying his reluctance as: "In Iraq half the
population are spies... spying on the other half." Erdogan's Turkey has
officially embarked on a journey toward Western democracy. Instead, its
Islamist mindset is at war with Western democracy.