Joe Biden’s hero is the Turkish president’s spy

Joe Biden’s hero is the Turkish president’s spy

With the West still under the shock of successive terrorist attracts by radical Islamists, and with rising Islamophobia and xenophobia fueled by those attacks, would the leader of a superpower miss the chance to give messages of peace and interreligious dialogue by participating in the opening of a mosque in a majority Christian country? Why would that leader miss the chance to stand side-by-side with the leader of a majority Muslim country that claims to endorse the universal values of humanity?

U.S. President Barack Obama opted to miss that chance. Sadly, we are talking about a leader who had picked Turkey as one of his first foreign destinations after he was first elected president. The problem is not with Obama. The problem is not with Turkey either, which - despite the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) efforts to prove to the contrary - strives to show the world that Islam can coexist with democracy. The problem is with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who will open the mosque in Maryland this weekend. Obama will not appear by his side because Erdoğan does not represent the universal values of democracy, among the main tenets of which are the rule of law, respect for diversity, and freedom of expression.

So long as Obama does not grant a photo opportunity in front of the mosque with Erdoğan, a three-minute meeting on the margins of the nuclear security summit in Washington does not mean much. Or let’s put it this way: A photo op in front of a mosque symbolizes two leaders of countries that share the same values and the same visions; while a photo op on the margins of an international meeting indicates a working relationship shaped only by the requirements of realpolitik. Sadly, neither Erdoğan’s advisors nor his most devoted constituency would understand the difference. They live in a world of contradictions where bashing a superpower wins votes just as well as a photo op with that superpower.

At any rate, the critical point in Erdoğan’s visit to U.S. will not be his possible short meeting with Obama, but his lengthy one with Vice President Joe Biden, who once called the jailed journalist Can Dündar a “hero.” (Biden met Dündar’s wife and son in his latest visit to Turkey. Dündar’s son said Biden told him his father was a hero, which was not refuted by U.S. officials.)

I wonder whether Erdoğan will ask Biden, “Who are you to call Dündar, someone charged with spying, a hero?” That would resemble his recent slamming of the consuls general who attended the court hearing of Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, when he said, “Who do you think you are?” Dündar and Gül are the two journalists being tried after the Constitutional Court ruled for their pre-trial release due to there being no legal reason for their imprisonment. 

The diplomats got harshly criticized by the government for simply doing their job. Actually they could have been justifiably accused of not doing their jobs some time ago, as the diplomatic community remained largely silent in the mid-2000s when democratic backpedaling started in Turkey. 

The Dündar/Gül case was a turning point. I don’t know why. All I know is that the diplomatic community in Turkey did something rather unusual, requesting to see Dündar and Gül in prison before they were released.

Through their joint presence in the courtroom in the first hearing, they also did something unusual. The political message “we are concerned by this case” is usually given by the presence of a representative from the European Commission. But the European Commission’s representation in Turkey had been politically absent for the last decade - just like its heads have been absent physically as they kept changing all the time.

On the technical level, usually each embassy or consulate follows cases they are interested in on their own choosing – and through a lower ranking diplomat. But in the Dündar/Gül trial there was concerted action. 

There is no doubt that with all the political and economic crises going on in Europe at the moment, it was the consuls general here who took personal initiatives to take concerted action. But that does not mean they lacked the consent of their governments.

But now the $60 billion question is this: Will they go back to the courtroom on April 1, for the continuation of the hearing? So far all of Erdoğan’s slamming has been cost-free. We’ll see whether that will continue to be the case.