When non-Muslims deny Muslim minorities the rights that Muslim-majority countries systematically deny non-Muslim minorities, extremist Muslims in Turkey seem to have the habit of threatening non-Muslim lands with holy war.
"Soon religious wars will break out in Europe. You are taking Europe toward an abyss. That's the way it's going," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, predicted in a 2017 speech. The minister was angry with the European states that had banned Turkish Islamist political shows in their territories.
On June 10, Erdoğan said: "These measures taken by the Austrian prime minister are, I fear, leading the world toward a war between the cross and the crescent."
So, once again, we are hearing promises of holy war, and an angry Islamist threatening a Christian state because a Christian state had decided to close down seven mosques and expel some 60 Turkish-funded imams as part of a crackdown on extremist Islam.
The Austrian authorities had already launched a probe after images emerged in April showing children in a Turkish-funded mosque playing dead and re-enacting the World War I battle of Gallipoli. The photos of children, published by the weekly Falter, showed the young boys in camouflage uniforms marching, saluting, waving Turkish flags and then playing dead. Their "corpses" were then lined up and draped in flags.
Turkish Islamists' understanding of religious freedoms is limited to freedom for the Islamic cause only, for example here, here, here and here. Their understanding of religious pluralism is limited to defending pluralism in Muslim-minority lands -- and majoritarianism in Muslim-majority lands, again as, for example, here, here, here and here.
In a 2017 report, Turkey's Association of Protestant Churches noted that hate speech against the country's Christians had increased in both the traditional media and social media. Hate speech against Protestants, the report said, had persisted throughout 2016, in addition to physical attacks on Protestant individuals and their churches.
In Saudi Arabia deportation and a lifetime ban is the minimum penalty for non-Muslims trying to enter the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. In 2013, the Saudi Minister of Justice, Mohamed el-Eissi, insisted that "the cradle of the Muslim sanctities will not allow the establishment of any other places of worship".
The Saudis ban non-Muslim religious houses of worship. This ban comes from a Salafi tradition that prohibits the existence of two religions in the Arabian peninsula. Under the Saudi law all citizens must be Muslims; there is no legal protection for freedom of religion; and the public practice of non-Muslim religion is prohibited.
In Iran, where even non-Muslim female visitors must wear the Islamic headscarf, the government continues to imprison, harass, intimidate and discriminate against people based on their religious beliefs. A 2014 U.S. State Department annual report noted that non-Muslims faced "substantial societal discrimination, aided by official support".
Also in Iran, marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men are not recognized; the government does not ensure the right of citizens to change or renounce their religious faith. Furthermore, apostasy, specifically conversion from Islam, can be punishable by death. In 2013, 79 people from religious minorities were sentenced to a total of 3,620 months in prison, 200 months of probation, 75 lashes and 41 billion rials in fines [approximately $1.3 million].
Enter Erdoğan's Turkey again. The U.S. State Department's International Religious Freedom Report 2017, released this year, found that:
- [The Turkish government's] Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) governs and coordinates religious matters related to Islam. Its mandate is to promote and enable the practice of Sunni Islam.
- The government continued to prosecute individuals for "openly disrespecting the religious belief of a group" and continued to limit the rights of non-Muslim minorities, especially those not recognized under the 1923 Lausanne Treaty.
- The government continued to treat Alevi Islam as a heterodox Muslim "sect," and continued not to recognize Alevi houses of worship.
- The government closed two Shia Jaferi television stations based on allegations of spreading "terrorist propaganda."
- Religious minorities said they continued to experience difficulties obtaining exemptions from mandatory religion classes in public schools, operating or opening houses of worship, and in addressing land and property disputes.
- The government restricted efforts by minority religious groups to train their clergy.
- The legal challenges of five churches, whose lands the government expropriated in 2016, continued; members of the churches said they still did not have access to their buildings.
- The government did not recognize the right to conscientious objection to military service.
- Alevis continued to face anonymous threats of violence. Threats of violence by ISIS and other actors against Jews, Protestants, and Sunni Muslims also continued.
- Anti-Semitic discourse continued, as some pro-government news commentators continued to publish stories seeking to associate the 2016 coup plotters with the Jewish community.
- These commentators also sought to associate the Orthodox ecumenical patriarch with the coup attempt.
- Unidentified assailants vandalized some Protestant, Orthodox, Catholic, and Alevi places of worship, including marking red "X"s on the doors of 13 Alevi homes and attacking a Protestant church in Malatya.
Erdoğan, who spoke of a war between the cross and the crescent because the Austrian government closed down seven mosques, does not seem to bother with any of those visible, documented cases of religious discrimination against non-Muslims and against Islam's minority sects. This is vintage Erdoğan: Europe must treat its Muslim minorities well and with respect, or we will fight a holy war; for non-Muslim minorities in our Muslim lands, we give them two choices: convert to Islam or suffer the persecution.
Burak Bekdil, one of Turkey's leading journalists, was recently fired from Turkey's leading newspaper after 29 years, for writing what was taking place in Turkey for Gatestone. He is a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.