Will Erdoğan’s gaffes harm him?

Will Erdoğan’s gaffes harm him?

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is bent on raising his profile in the Islamic world, or at least the fundamentalist part of that world, at the expense of Turkey’s reputation, and standing in the West.

His remarks are so off-the-cuff, though, that one cannot help wondering if he has not put himself on an unsustainable track that will eventually end up harming his own political credibility. He is, after all, only at the beginning of this five-year term and is already committing serial gaffes which put Turkey in a bad light.

These include his claim, which is also questioned by respected Turkish historians like İlber Ortaylı, that Muslims discovered America before Columbus. He also angered civilized Turks by saying that it is unnatural to argue that men and women are equal.

Erdoğan caused eyebrows to be raised again recently when he told the Standing Committee for Economic and Commercial Cooperation of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (COMCEC) in Istanbul that Westerners “look like friends, but they want us dead, they like seeing our children die.”

Striking the attitude of an imam exhorting jihad, he went on to ask “How long will we stand that fact?” and added, “The only condition to overcome the crisis in the Islamic world is unity, solidarity and alliance.”

It is true that the West has little sympathy for the Islamic world presently, and one can debate the reasons for this. The point, however, is that more Islamic people, including women and children, are being killed in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan or Nigeria, to cite the most striking examples, by Muslims than they are by the West.

The disunity in the Islamic world, on the other hand, is not Western made either but indigenous, although the West clearly exploits this. The Islamic world has been fighting within itself for nearly 1,400 years since the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and there is no indication when it will attain the unity Erdoğan mentions.

Erdoğan’s statements may be contentious but Science, Technology and Industry Minister Fikri Işık was speaking the truth when he said – no doubt to try and make up for Erdoğan – that Muslims knew the world was round centuries before the Christian world.

Western historians have acknowledged this for a long time, as have they the fact that the knowledge of the ancient Greeks was transmitted to Europe by the Arabs. Western historians also know of the advanced civilizations of the Abbasid and Ummayad dynasties before the West woke up.

The key question, however, is what happened to make the Islamic world lose this pre-eminence, leaving it groveling in the morass that it is in today? Erdoğan is clearly not interested in asking such questions that do not serve his purpose.

He is on a mission and will undoubtedly continue to blurt out the things he does, even though it is highly unlikely that this will bring him the leadership of the Islamic world he obviously craves, because his reputation in that world is also far from what he desires.

The real question is how far can he continue to maintain this line without ultimately causing discomfort in Justice and Development Party (AKP) circles, too, let alone others? How long will it take before some in the AKP start questioning whether this is the kind of president Turkey needs, and start looking for someone else to favor from within their ranks?

The executive presidency Erdoğan is striving for is not a done deal yet legally, and he must have at least one adviser wondering if it ever will be, given Erdoğan’s serial gaffes. If he continues in this vein, Erdoğan could end up a prisoner in his grandiose palace for the next five years without having achieved his political dreams.