The pope’s interfaith dialogue with Erdoğan

The pope’s interfaith dialogue with Erdoğan

Pope Francis’ visit to Turkey is not only historic, but also timely, as global terrorism is on the rise with terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) every day killing hundreds of innocent people in the name of Islam. These terrorist threats posed by such extreme groups cause xenophobia and Islamophobia in the western world, creating more dangerous fault lines for global peace and security.

Messages delivered by Pope Francis and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan were very important to this end, as both leaders underlined the need of more, and constructive, interreligious dialogue in order to avoid potential clashes of civilizations.

In this frame, Erdoğan’s remarks were attention-grabbing as he said “We sense and feel the approaching danger, calling on humanity to take precautions.” Although Erdoğan denounced all forms of terrorism and openly criticized organizations like ISIL or al-Qaeda, he indirectly blamed the western world for the birth of such terrorist organizations.

Expressing his belief that the pontiff’s visit will find its reflection on the Muslim world, Erdoğan called the entire world to give an ear to Turkey’s advice and recommendations to start a new process for the alliance of civilizations. These are all right and timely messages and worth to be taken into attention. However, just a day before the pope’s visit, Erdoğan was portraying a completely different picture.

During his address to the Standing Committee for Economic and Commercial Cooperation of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (COMCEC) in Istanbul on Nov. 27, Erdoğan said “foreigners” are unable to solve the problems of the Middle East because Western states “don’t like us” and are more interested in just following the cash. “Only we can solve our problems. I speak openly; foreigners love oil, gold, diamonds and the cheap labor force of the Islamic world. They like the conflicts, fights and quarrels of the Middle East. Believe me, they don’t like us,” said Erdoğan. “They look like friends, but they want us dead, they like seeing our children die. How long will we stand that fact?” he added.

If Erdoğan wants to be taken into account by world leaders, he should make a decision out of his two statements. He will either embrace a more universal outlook and will contribute to global peace or he will gear up for his ambition to become the leader of the Muslim world through his strong-worded anti-Western rhetoric.  

Erdoğan was once the co-chairman of the U.N.-led initiative for the alliance of civilizations in accordance with Turkey’s valuable secular identity in the Muslim world, but is now regarded as a political Islamic leader speedily drifting toward authoritarianism.  Despite the pope’s prayers, this portrait will not make Turkey a great peacemaker.