Erdogan’s attack on Macron exposes minefield between Europe and Turkey
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s short fuse is a familiar pathological phenomenon. Even the talented orators in the Israeli Knesset can learn something from his outbursts about speechmaking.
On Saturday the president’s boiling lava was directed at French President Emmanuel Macron. “What is Macron’s problem with Muslims and Islam? Macron needs mental treatment,” ruled Erdogan, refraining from specifying if he meant psychological or psychiatric treatment.
The recent dispute between the two leaders began to bubble on October 2 when Macron explained the foundations of his understanding of Islam in a one-hour speech. “Islam is a religion that is in crisis all over the world today. We do not believe in Islam that does not reconcile with stability and peace in the world.”
Macron was referring to radical Islam and to extremist groups like the Salafists, the Jihadis, Wahabism and their ilk. But in Muslim countries, and especially in Turkey, the main supplier of imams to the French Muslim community – which numbers about 5 million people – his speech sounded like an indictment of Islam and all Muslims. Those same Islamic groups, explained Macron, are trying to establish a “counterculture,” practice “Islamist separatism,” and “their principles do not accord with the secular principles of France and with the laws of the country.”
Less than a week later a French teacher, Samuel Paty, showed his students the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed that were published in the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper five years ago and caused a tremendous uproar. The height of the tragedy was the massacre of 12 of the newspaper’s employees by Islamist activists. Paty displayed the caricatures as part of a lesson on freedom of expression, but that was not how it was understood by his murderer, an extremist Muslim of Chechen origin, who beheaded him four days later. “We won’t give up these caricatures,” declared Macron in response, explaining that he intends to institute a reform that will lead to the “adaptation” of Islam to the French way of life.
Erdogan, who in recent years has posited himself as a representative of the Muslims and Islam, and is trying to sideline his rival, Saudi Arabia, as the country responsible for the holy places in Islam, was unable to ignore Macron’s claims and intentions. This week he called on his citizens to boycott French products, a few days after Macron recalled his ambassador from Ankara. France exports merchandise worth $6.8 billion to Turkey, while importing about $7.5 billion in goods. A boycott against France would harm Turkey more than France.
But when it comes to honor, money isn’t the main concern. Erdogan understands the effects of a commercial boycott. Turkey itself is presently suffering from a public economic boycott imposed by Saudi Arabia, and whose damage is estimated at over $3 billion so far.
The latest dispute between Erdogan and Macron could be attributed to Macron’s preparations for the presidential election, scheduled for April 2022, in which his main rival is Marine Le Pen, and to his need to reinforce his nationalist image. But the bitter relations between the two presidents has a diplomatic basis that is unrelated to domestic political considerations. Macron is leading the aggressive European policy against Turkey’s military involvement in Libya, mainly because Turkey supports the recognized Libyan government, while France supports the isolationist general Khalifa Hafter.
France condemns and rebukes Turkey for its invasion of Syria and its war against the Syrian Kurds, and is calling on Turkey to withdraw its forces from Azerbaijan and to stop attacking Armenian targets in the war surrounding Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region. France sides with Germany and the other European countries in support of Greece and Cyprus regarding Turkey’s offshore gas drilling in the Mediterranean, in areas that Greece considers its territorial waters. It is even urging sanctions against Turkey if it doesn’t negotiate with Greece and continues with what the European Union considers planned Turkish provocation.
For Erdogan, the gas drilling, and the military intervention in Libya, Syria and Azerbaijan, are vital components of a strategy designed to reinforce Turkey’s status as a world power rather than a regional one. He is trying to lower the status of the pro-American Arab coalition built by Saudi Arabia and is undeterred by a clash with Russia and the United States, with the former regarding Nagorno-Karabakh and Syria, and the latter regarding the purchase of Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles.
But there’s another reason for the duel with France and the EU. Erdogan has a major dispute with France regarding the recognition of the Armenian genocide and the attempt to pass a law acknowledging the responsibility of the Ottoman Empire for the 1915 massacre. The law didn’t pass, but France commemorates the slaughter in a special ceremony that infuriates Turkey.
Turkey also recalls the words of former French President Nicholas Sarkozy, who said in 2007 that “Turkey has no place in Europe, it belongs in Asia Minor.” That’s the real reason for France’s opposition to letting Turkey join the EU.
The cultural gap that frightens Europe was reflected this week in the exchange of accusations between the spokesman for the Turkish government, Fahrettin Altun and European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas. Altun accused “some European leaders” of attacking “our sacred values, our scripture, our prophet and our political leaders — our way of life.” Schinas replied writing “Sorry to disappoint you but this is our way of life as defined in our Treaty. The European Way of Life.” Altun attached to his tweet an article describing how Europe is forcibly and illegally preventing the entry of refugees. “Yes, that’s your way of life now,” he added.
The question is how much further this conflict between Erdogan and France and the EU deteriorates. In December the EU summit will discuss imposing sanctions against Turkey due to the gas drilling. Germany, Italy, Spain, Malta and Hungary oppose sanctions for fear that Turkey will flood Europe with millions of refugees. Germany, which criticized Erdogan for his comments about Macron, is trying to start a conciliatory dialogue with Turkey, which may not succeed.
The United States presidential election may produce the golden key to the conflict, if Joe Biden is elected. But even if he is, Erdogan will have plenty of time to run riot before the inauguration. And even then there’s no guarantee that Biden can or wants to force Erdogan’s hand. Europe will apparently have to deal with Turkey on its own, with inferior ammunition in the face of the Turkish levers of pressure and threats.
Source: The World News