Turkey’s messages on Islam doomed to fall on deaf ears

Turkey’s messages on Islam doomed to fall on deaf ears

It has been reported that French President François Hollande asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to attend the Jan. 11 march in Paris after the attack on Charlie Hebdo, claiming that his presence would be divisive.

I have not come across either an official or unofficial denial of the reported news.

“Netanyahu managed to ruffle a few feathers while taking part in the “Charlie Hebdo” rally in Paris,” Reuters reported.

“A video posted on Facebook, the news footage mockingly set to the Looney Tunes cartoon music, showed Netanyahu maneuvering his way to the front of the rally with the help of several bodyguards, allowing him to be photographed arm-in-arm with other leaders, including French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel,” reads another Reuters dispatch.

I was actually watching live on TV as Netanyahu made his way up to the front row and started saluting the crowds as if he was a hero. Personally, I was irked by that act of Netanyahu, who I would not put on the shortlist for a Nobel Peace Prize.

I don’t think too many people reacted to Hollande’s wish not to see Netanyahu in Paris. Let’s not forget that the French Senate has called on the French government to recognize Palestine as a state; not out of love for the Palestinians, but rather as a reaction against Israeli intransigence.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also reacted against Netanyahu’s presence in Paris.

Erdoğan said he could “hardly understand how he [Netanyahu] dared to go” to the massive march, accusing him of applying “state terrorism” to Gaza. However, unlike in the case of Hollande, I am sure that the world audience has not welcomed Erdoğan’s statements.

In fact, these days Turkey is the target of worldwide criticism. Ironically enough, I tend to find this criticism assuring. It means that the Western alliance to which Turkey belongs is still trying to treat Turkey on an equal footing. It reflects a frustration, a disappointment, about Turkey’s failure to abide by international democratic standards. The anger and frustration is even greater among those who had pinned their hopes on Turkey as a success story of being both a majority Muslim country and a fully functioning democracy.

Turkey is fast distancing itself from being a successful case of a country with an interpretation of Islam that does not clash with democratic values. The more it slides into an authoritarian system that imposes the implementation of Islam in a narrow and primitive interpretation, the more the anger grows in the West.

With such a background, even if some of the messages voiced by Turkish leaders may be correct, they fall on deaf ears in Europe.

Let me be very clear. The Turkish leadership should have condemned the Paris killings without any “buts,” upholding the principle of freedom of expression. Only after that should they have started talking about the rise in Islamophobia or other possible causes that lie under such attacks.

After all, it is very legitimate for the Turkish leadership to call on European leaders to be careful about Islamophobia and to take measures for the protection of Muslims in Europe against any reaction. It is also legitimate to ask the world leadership to conduct a thorough analysis of why it is that some Muslims born in Western countries turn out to be radicals; and whether innocent Afghans and Iraqis killed under U.S. drones might have anything to do with the Paris killings.

As a country that was on the way of internalizing democratic values, deeply rooted in the West but also understanding the sensitivities of the Islamic world, Turkey used to be well-placed to trigger a healthy debate worldwide. This is no longer the case. I’m afraid that Europe will henceforth cease to take Turkey as a healthy interlocutor with an understanding of both cultures.