France will overcome this crisis ‘through republican values’: Former Turkish ambassador

France will overcome this crisis ‘through republican values’: Former Turkish ambassador

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France will overcome this crisis ‘through republican values’: Former Turkish ambassador As a country that gives high priority to fundamental freedoms, France is facing difficulty in striking a balance between freedom and security, a former Turkish ambassador to Paris has told the Hürriyet Daily News. 

Shaken by two bloody attacks over the course of the past 10 months, France will be able to overcome its challenges by upholding the values of the Republic, which endorse fundamental freedoms, said Tahsin Burcuoğlu, who served as Turkey’s ambassador to France until last year. The situation is particularly delicate at the moment because the attacks occurred amid a general rise in Islamophobia in France, Burcuoğlu added.

First the Charlie Hebdo attack and now the recent ones in Paris. Why France is being targeted?

There is suitable ground in France. There are 6.5 to 7 million Muslims living there, of whom 600,000 are Turks. People who come to France are given significant social security rights, which also makes France attractive for migration.

France also still has an intense interaction with West Africa and its soldiers are deployed in many countries. It has a serious interest in the Middle East. While in the past this interest was focused in Syria and Lebanon, now France is opening up to the Gulf states within the framework of exporting its defense industry products.

In addition, France is a country of freedoms, and it has great difficulty striking a balance between freedoms and security. You can’t introduce certain security measures as easily as you can in authoritarian countries. Related to this, France receives 85 million tourists every year, and with the exception of Switzerland it is surrounded by Schengen countries. So it is very easy to come in and out of the country.

The French intelligence and security agencies are usually known to be rather efficient. What happened?

In France, internal intelligence comes under the Interior Ministry, while external intelligence comes under the Defense Ministry. So there is a discord between them from time to time. Obviously, there is a debate about to what degree they took the fundamentalist threat seriously, but that is a debate for domestic politics.

Whenever an incident takes place in the name of Islam it becomes an issue of domestic politics. Because governments are sensitive about their Muslim citizens, they mostly try to refrain from targeting Islam and frame whatever has happened as an individual act in order avoid pouring fuel onto the fire. But this is not the case with local administrations, so from time to time Muslim communities are targeted. 

Left-wing parties generally prefer to take ownership of the issue, as most migrants vote for them. But here we also see the difficulty of striking a balance between freedoms and security. Due to sensitivities over freedoms, security forces do not have a free hand to pursue potential criminals.

Would you say that they suffer from respecting freedoms, in a sense?

Let’s not say it like that. This is the style of administration and a lifestyle that the French nation has chosen, and in a way this is a cost of that choice. I don’t say this in a negative way, otherwise they would need to change their lifestyle and curb freedoms in order to not pay the cost. Obviously, that’s not the case.

What is your experience of security cooperation with France?

When three female members of the PKK were killed in Paris in January 2013, French intelligence wanted a lot [from Turkish intelligence], but it did not give much in return. But that is generally the case with all intelligence services.

If France provides rights to immigrants, why do they radicalize?

Unemployment there is around 10 percent, and it is even higher among minority communities. Among Turks, for example, it is 25 percent. Minority communities feel subjected to discrimination. Turks have often complained about this, for instance. 

But Turks do not radicalize.

Compiling official statistics based on ethnicity is banned in France. But certain institutions have these statistics and we know that the involvement of members of the Turkish community in crime is so marginal that they are not even included in the statistics.

There is a very serious social, cultural and religious structure among Turks. There are around 600 associations that Turks generally frequent, mostly associations affiliated with mosques that are run - with a few exceptions - by imams sent from Turkey. Family ties and solidarity within the community is strong. So there is a kind of auto-control. The social and cultural structure that develops around these associations, as well as around Turkey’s six consulates in France, don’t allow radicalization to take root.

Could that be an example for other communities?

Actually, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy introduced an interesting project called “French Islam.” Muslims had become more visible in France, with roads being closed by those performing their Friday prayers, for example. But what was meant by French Islam was actually Turkish Islam. The model that [Sarkozy] had in mind was the average Islam as practiced in Turkey: An Islam without extremes. But his project created a lot of reactions and many objected to it. So ultimately it failed.

In fact, we should note that members of other migrant communities also attend Turkish mosques, because Turkish imams currently also deliver part of their speech in French.

Do you think France gave the right reaction in the aftermath of the recent attacks?

I think President François Hollande’s response was the reaction of a statesman, saying that “this is a war and France will react accordingly.”

But violence breeds violence. Hollande started by striking the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) capital Raqqa.

It would have been wrong not to give a reaction. If you are a big state, you are expected to do something. That could mean hitting Raqqa or giving the message that France will hit ISIL wherever it is.

But ISIL is said to be trying to provoke Western states to strike Muslim countries, thus radicalizing more Muslims. Isn’t France falling into this trap?

Even if there is that risk, you have to take it. If you are a big state you need to do what it takes to be a big state.

But what about addressing the root causes of the problem?

That’s the next phase. There is already work going on in that aspect too.

What about the recently declared emergency rule in France. Doesn’t that mean a concession from freedoms?

No, the democratic framework will be safeguarded. If it were not, France would have to change its lifestyle and living standards. The French citizen would never accept an extra straight jacket; it would react negatively. This is a nation that has high sensitivities (about freedoms); it uses seriously its right to demonstrate, for instance. It will not remain silent [to the restriction of freedoms].

So, in a way, French citizens themselves are a security valve in favor of democracy.

Actually we should say Republican values. This is an almost sacred concept. It involves secularism, democracy, freedom of expression among other this. There can’t be concessions from it. The measures that will be taken might annoy certain circles, but the emergency rule that will be implemented in France will not be similar to the emergency rule applied in other countries.

Will Islamophobia rise in France?

We are complaining about it, but we also have to ask to what degree there has been a reaction against the Paris attacks voiced in Arab and Islamic countries? How many people have taken to the streets in Islamic countries to protest these killings?

Obviously, an ordinary French citizen will be affected by that. Usually this is not an problem in the left-wing. In fact, the Turkish community is on excellent terms with the left and even the communist municipalities.

But among right-wing and extreme right supporters, Islamophobia will increase. But again, as has always been the case in the past, republican values will also come back to the fore.

Who is Tahir Burcuoğlu?

France will overcome this crisis ‘through republican values’: Former Turkish ambassador

Born in 1949, Tahsin Burcuoğlu graduated from the Department of International Relations of Ankara University’s Faculty of Political Science in 1971. He started his diplomatic career upon graduation, serving in Athens and Tehran in the 1970s.

Burcuoğlu worked at the Turkish Embassy in Paris in 1983 and at the Turkish Embassy in Sofia in 1985. In 1997 he became the Turkish Ambassador to Bulgaria and later the Turkish Ambassador to France in 2010. In between, he served as Ambassador to Greece from 2004 to2007.

In Ankara, Burcuoğlu has worked in a number of departments in the Foreign Ministry and he also served as Secretary General of National Security Council between from 2007 to 2010.

He is currently the first deputy secretary general of Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization, and he is a member of the panel of the Eminent Persons of the OSCE.