France ‘100 percent’ happy with Turkey on security: Envoy
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The strongest reaction to terrorism is to be faithful to the ideals of stronger democracy, stronger fraternity and liberty, French Envoy to Turkey Laurent Bili (R) says in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks.France is more than pleased with Turkey’s cooperation on security against extremist threats, according to French Envoy to Ankara Laurent Bili.
“I think there is some unfair criticism toward Turkey’s cooperation in the field of security,” he said. “We are 100 percent satisfied with the cooperation with the Turkish Interior Ministry and the police.”
What is the current mood in France after the killings?
We are still in big grief; it was a big shock. At the same time, French citizens feel proud to be French; we could have fallen to the easy reaction of hatred but all these people walking the streets of Paris on Sunday [Jan. 11] sent a message of dignity, of unity and of refusal of any intolerance, racism and Islamophobia. I think it was a great message.
Also, we feel proud and comforted by the number of messages we received from the entire world.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was one of the leaders to get in touch with the president [François Hollande]. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu [offered] to present his condolences in Paris and proposed a trip before knowing about the Sunday march.
How do you view Turkey’s reaction both at a state and a societal level?
Both levels were exemplary. Erdoğan was one of the first leaders to call on Hollande and they talked the day after. The declaration of [Religious Affairs Directorate] President Mehmet Görmez was also very important. In such situations, it was very important to send the message that these acts did not have anything to with Islam.
When it comes to society, I received a lot of messages, phone calls and visits from former ministers and ministers, as well as emails from ordinary citizens. A lot of French citizens living in Turkey [received] exactly the same kind of solidarity; I was very proud to be the ambassador in Turkey.
Yet there were certain circles showing solidarity with the perpetrators.
That exists in many societies; even in France, we had a few thousand showing solidarity with the perpetrators. I don’t think they represent the soul of the Turkish people. It is not the Turkey that I know and the Turkey that I love.
President Erdoğan said xenophobia and the double standards of the West motivated the attacks. Do you share the analysis of the president?
The messages we get were very clear; there were “condemnations without buts.” I think it was very important for the president and the PM to say that the attacks had nothing to do with Islam.
There was a risk that reactions to the terrorists could be used for Islamophobia. But we did not fall into that trap; President Hollande was very clear in his visit to the Institut du Monde Arabe that all citizens have to be protected, recalling the reality truth that the first victims of radicalism are Muslims themselves.
But what do you think about Görmez’s statement that the reaction shown to 12 people was not shown to 12 million more who have died in the world?
I mentioned his first statement the day after the event. I followed from afar the argument about the double standards. The attacks took place in Paris. I grew up with cartoons of Wolinski; they are a part of my life. It is also right that we have to see that the first victims of terrorism are also Muslims; in Nigeria, in Syria, in Iraq. That may be the second level of reflection that we have to continue doing in the coming days.
We share with Turkey that on Syria, the international community has not [assumed the necessary] responsibility; one of the reasons for the situation today is that the international community did not act at certain crucial moments like the use of chemical weapons. But I think it is a separate subject. We have been facing a special tragedy. We had very strong support from the Turkish state and people. At the second level, we are seeing a reaction on how to think collectively on how to collectively fight radicalism and terrorism.
Then where is France on the question of why the attack occurred?
Analysis is continuing. We have to think about the tools of radicalization and what the conditions were; it is also clear that the reaction should be based on our values. The strongest reaction to terrorism is to be faithful to our ideals – stronger democracy, stronger fraternity and liberty. The reaction should not be Islamophobia but the better integration of Islam and Islamic communities into French society.
On Islamophobia, we see it more as a risk rising from the event rather than the reason for the event. There are signs of racism, but also signs of tolerance. I am not going to say there is nothing against Muslims or Jews. But to say Islamophobia is the cause for terrorism – I don’t think we can do that, we have to think about how they are radicalized. Do they feel integrated, did the schools do their jobs [inculcating] the values of tolerance of liberties, of laicism? We have no room for racism and xenophobia. We are a society which upholds tolerance and freedom of expression as key elements.
Also, Islam is part of French society and this will not change.
What you call freedom of expression is perceived by some Muslims as an insult to what they believe is sacred. How will you tackle this challenge?
Deputy Grand Imam of Al-Azhar criticized the cartoons but told Muslim people to ignore them. Nobody has to buy Charlie Hebdo.
The Turkish president and prime minister severely criticized the publication in Turkish of Charlie Hebdo’s last edition. What is your reaction in view of the fact that Turkey is a candidate to the EU?
We come from different backgrounds; that is clear. Liberty of expression is at the core of the EU. That would be my basic answer.
Turkey presents a case to the world in the sense that it is a majority Muslim country but also a candidate for the EU, which means it needs to endorse values like freedom of expression. How do you think Turkey is faring in this experience as far as freedom of expression is concerned for instance?
As you know, we know each other from 20 years ago. I have the tendency to think about what was the atmosphere on many issues 20 years ago and today. One of the successes of Turkey starting from 2000 was the ability to have, side by side, economic developments and a lively political life that improved freedoms; it is not an easy journey. We have seen the latest resolution of the European Parliament. I still feel optimistic that we now have a new impetus on the side of the EU accession process; it will help to keep this positive trend.
Looking to the mid-2000s from 2014, many would challenge your optimism, saying there has been a slide back into authoritarian rule. What makes you optimistic?
What makes me optimistic is when I go to Turkish universities and have discussions with them. There is a lively, energetic youth, which has a life open to the world; they reject old taboos and are interested in having direct, open discussions. I don’t want to look like the one to see everything in a rosy picture. I am aware of the difficulties. Many of the criticisms about developments we have learnt from the press. As long as we can know what is going on from the press, there is room for optimism. I think that for Turkey’s future, this ability to continue with economic growth and the improvement of liberties is key for both Turks and foreign investors.
Turkey is very special. As you said, for the Muslim world, Turkey is an example and this example needs to be protected.
Many challenge that Turkey is no longer a success story and that this image of it being a good example has been eroded.
Through the EU discussion, there is room to bring the right message; I hope we will open new chapters. I know there are concerns but I feel these concerns can be tackled.
Turkish officials have been complaining about the lack of cooperation on security matters; what is your reaction?
I think there is some unfair criticism toward Turkey’s cooperation in the field of security. These [statements] came as a reaction to some articles in the French press, and there was probably a lack of communication on our side. We are 100 percent satisfied with the cooperation with the Turkish Interior Ministry and the police, especially on the last case as well. In European public opinion, there is the idea that Turkey could do more, but we have too many expectations. We cannot ask Turkey to stop people we have not given information about – sometimes because we did not have the information beforehand.
When you look at the foreign press, there is a lot of criticism of Turkey.
There is a misunderstanding of the condition of Turkey. I have to explain to visitors that Turkey is receiving millions of people among whom they have to find the foreign fighters.
Sometimes we were not in a position to provide intelligence, to say that these people are going to arrive; sometimes the police identify suspicious people, sometimes they do not succeed. Turkey is a victim of its geography; it is the easiest and the most normal gate to the region.
When Europe starts talking about increasing cooperation, does that mean it is going to be difficult for Turks to travel to Europe?
I don’t think so; I think the key is more exchange of information about networks, people and individuals. We are not going to close [borders], we are living in the world of freedom of movement.
But there is talk about making Schengen stricter; will this mean more frustration for Turks in front of embassies?
It won’t be the case with the French, the visa refusal rate is 3 percent, and one of my main targets today as a French ambassador is to welcome more Turkish tourists.
Yes, but will that change?
I don’t think so, because it is not the answer. The talks are more about circulation within Schengen countries. It is about recreating borders within Europe and making border controls more complex.
Who is Laurent Bili ?
Born in 1961, Laurent Bili studied history and political science in Paris. A student of the École National d’Administration, one of France’s oldest institutions where many French civil servants graduate, Bili worked in the early phases of his career in the education sector. Between 1993 and 1995, he worked as a diplomatic adviser in the Defense Ministry. In 1995 he was appointed to the French Embassy in Ankara where he stayed until 1998. Between 2002 and 2008, he worked on the diplomatic team of the French president. Between 2007 and 2009, he served as ambassador to Bangkok. Since June 21, 2011, he has served as ambassador to Ankara.