Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's fueling of hatred and hostility against Europe and the rest of the West does not seem a fit attitude either for Turkey's European Union candidacy or its NATO membership. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
On September 13, a group of Islamists in Istanbul's Beyazit Square protested against French President Emmanuel Macron. They held placards warning that Macron and the satirical French magazine, Charlie Hebdo, "will pay a heavy price."
The protesters were condemning Macron for his stance supporting Charlie Hebdo's decision to republish cartoons of Islam's Prophet Mohammed and France's commitment to freedom of expression, and against Macron's support for Greece in the face of escalating Turkish aggression in the eastern Mediterranean during the ongoing crisis between Greece, Turkey and Cyprus.
Charlie Hebdo, along with a kosher supermarket in Paris, were the targets of a massacre by Islamist gunmen in January 2015. The magazine recently reprinted the images to mark the start of the trial earlier this month of the alleged accomplices in the mass murder.
"It is never the place of the president of the Republic to pass judgement on the editorial choice of a journalist or newsroom, never," Macron said. "Because we have freedom of the press."
Macron also paid tribute to those who were murdered in the 2015 terrorist attack. "We all think of the men and women who have been killed in this cowardly way," he said, "because they drew, wrote, because they corrected, because they were there to help, to deliver, because they were policemen."
Turkish Islamists, however, were outraged. According to Turkish media:
The protest [in Istanbul], which started with the recitation of the Quran, continued with the statements of various speakers on the subject. The protestors shouted slogans such as "Down with the United States," "down with Israel," "down with France," "down with the British," "down with the collaborator traitors," "the collaborator traitors will be brought to account," "the tyrannical Saudi will be brought to account," and "hands [attempting to] harm the Qur'an are to be broken," among others.
Their placards also read: "Macron will pay a heavy price," "Charlie Hebdo will pay a heavy price," "the Mediterranean will be grave of France," "Jerusalem is our soul; we are ready to sacrifice our blood for it," "Arab Zionists who sold Palestine will be brought to account" and "we are ready to sacrifice our lives for you, the messenger of Allah [Mohammed]".
Many speakers made especially hostile statements towards the West and Israel. "The West," Imam Cemal Çınar said, "has never acted in a civilized manner – either yesterday or today."
Ekrem Ekşi, one of the speakers at the protest, called Macron "the horned devil."
"Western imperialism and Zionism, whose whole pasts are full of attacks against the sacredness of Islam, showed their dirty hands again by showing the arrogance of attacking the Prophet of Islam and the holy Qur'an. In addition to the burning and insulting of the Quran in Sweden, that infamous Charlie Hebdo magazine in France had the audacity to publish once again the devilish cartoons attacking the personality of our holy prophet. French President Macron also supported these vile attacks and insults by calling them 'freedom of expression.' The depravity that this horned devil named Macron has shown recently, especially the games he attempts to play against our country over the Eastern Mediterranean, reveals their imperialist, colonial and crusader faces."
While Turkish survey vessels and drilling ships are in the territorial waters of Greece and Cyprus, prospecting for gas, France has deployed its navy to back Greece. On September 10, in Corsica, Macron hosted the leaders of six European Union countries that border the Mediterranean Sea to discuss the recent developments.
"Turkey is no longer a partner in this region," the Associated Press quoted Macron as telling reporters ahead of the summit. Europeans must be "clear and firm with, not Turkey as a nation and people, but with the government of President Erdoğan, which has taken unacceptable actions."
Macron stated that the seven EU leaders wished "to avoid an escalation, but that does not mean we should be passive". He added:
"We must be tough with the Turkish government and not with the Turkish people who deserve more than the Erdogan government. All unilateral actions of Turkey, such as the Turkish-Libyan memorandum, without respecting the rights of Greece, are unacceptable. It unfairly multiplies the challenges.
"We are talking about respect for international law. We want to avoid further escalation, the goal is an agreement but under certain conditions and Turkey must clarify its intentions. We Europeans must look at the red lines to restart a fruitful dialogue with Turkey, because there is no other choice. Europe must therefore have a more coherent voice and a more united stance."
The EU leaders at the summit urged Turkey to end "unilateral and illegal activities" in the eastern Mediterranean, and resume dialogue to ease tensions in the region. The final statement of the leaders noted:
"We regret that Turkey has not responded to the repeated calls by the European Union to end its unilateral and illegal activities in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea. We reaffirm our determination to use all adequate means at the disposal of the European Union in response to these confrontational actions.
"We maintain that in absence of progress in engaging Turkey into a dialogue and unless it ends its unilateral activities, the EU is ready to develop a list of further restrictive measures."
The leaders added that those issues could be discussed at the European Council on September 24-25.
Erdogan's government replied in several statements targeting Macron. A Turkish Foreign Ministry said press release stated:
"French President Macron made once again an arrogant statement with his old colonial reflexes, as if he was trying to give lessons with a haughty attitude. In fact, Macron's statements are a manifestation of his own incompetence and despair."
Erdogan himself responded to Macron's criticisms on September 12:
"I do not want to mention his name but I have to because he messes with me a lot. He says 'We do not have a problem with the Turkish nation but with Erdogan.' Mr. Macron, you will have many more problems with me. I have told you many times but you do not listen. I told you that you do not have knowledge of history. You do not even know the history of France. Do not mess with the Turkish nation. Do not mess with Turkey. The history of Africa is basically the history of France. You killed one million people in Algeria. You killed 800,000 Rwandans. You cannot teach us a lesson of humanity. First learn this. I told him these things in person, too. I told him 'you do not know history'. We [Turks] did not cause the bleeding of one single person's nose. We only gave them humanitarian support and aid there [in Africa]."
Erdogan's words are at best an example of historical revisionism. The Ottomans, in fact, invaded North Africa by wars and massacres -- the same way they invaded parts of Europe. At its peak in the 1500s, the Ottoman Empire occupied an expanse that included not just its base in Asia Minor but also much of the Middle East, North Africa, southeastern Europe, including Greece and the Balkans. The Ottomans did not capture these lands with flowers in their hands. The conquests were a result of bloody military campaigns. Christian and Jewish natives in the invaded lands were then made "dhimmis", second-class, "tolerated" and oppressed subjects of the empire. Slavery was also a common practice in Ottoman-occupied Africa. As the journalist Niki Gamm, wrote in her article, "African slaves in the Ottoman Empire" for the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet in 2014:
"Slaves could be acquired in war, by purchase, gift or inheritance. African slaves were considered quite valuable and typically came from Central Africa.... From the 16th century, Egypt and most of the Arabian Peninsula were under Ottoman control and in the 17th century, the Ottomans took over the Fezzan region. That gave them greater access to African slaves."
The persecution by Ottomans against their conquered peoples left behind a legacy that is widely criticized not only in Europe but also in the Arab and African countries. The municipality of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for instance, removed the street plate bearing the name of the Ottoman Sultan "Suleiman the Magnificent" from one of its streets in June. The Arab Weekly reported:
"This trend was in great part a reaction to Turkish intervention in Syria and Libya and the projected desire of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to impose his country's influence on the region like in the days of the Ottoman empire...
"The same way Armenians demanded compensation for Ottoman crimes, Arab voices have begun making a case against Ottoman colonialism and demanding a Turkish apology for the massacres carried out by the Ottomans in the countries of the Levant and the Maghreb [north Africa], as well as holding this colonialism responsible for the backwardness which has held back the region for centuries."
The Erdogan government, however, seems mistakenly to think that the Ottoman legacy is cherished in lands formerly occupied by the Ottoman Empire. In line with this misconception, Erdogan said on September 12:
"Macron, you are about to go. You will leave [after upcoming French elections]. What did I tell you a few years ago? In a phone conversation, I told you... 'first you need to learn history'... We as Ottomans brought peace to those places [Africa]. We brought humanity there. First learn these things. Of course, he cannot digest it. That's why they are going crazy."
On September 17, Erdogan referred to Macron as "deficient" and "greedy." "If Turkey gives up on everything," Erdogan asked, "will France get rid of the flip-flops caused by its deficient, greedy leader and direct itself towards a common sensical politics?"
This is not the first time Erdogan's government has targeted France. On November 29, 2019, Erdogan slammed Macron over his criticism of Turkey's military invasion in northeast Syria. "You should check whether you are brain dead," Erdogan said.
Also, on April 7, 2019, shortly after a man rammed his van into pedestrians in Münster, Germany, Erdogan threatened France:
"France, [you are] being a stooge... providing support to the terrorism, you are hosting terrorists at the Elysée Palace... You are seeing what is happening in Germany, right? The same will happen in France. The West will not be able to free itself from terror. The West will sink as it feeds these terrorists."
When a group of French intellectuals published a "manifesto against the new anti-Semitism" in 2018, Erdogan railed against the document and its signatories:
"The more we warn Western countries about hostility to Islam, hostility to Turks, xenophobia, and racism, the more we get a bad reputation. Hey, the West! Look! ...who are you to attack our sacred [values]? We know how despicable you are..."
The current problem is greater than the Turkish government's violations against territorial waters and airspace of Greece, its continued occupation of northern Cyprus, or its threatening Europe with mass Muslim immigration or Islamist terrorists, among other hostile actions. The problem includes Erdogan's fueling of hatred and hostility within society against Europe and the rest of the West. This attitude does not seem fit either for Turkey's European Union candidacy or its NATO membership.
Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.