Thursday

3rd Dec 2020

Erdoğan whips up Muslim hate against Macron

  • EU leaders have gotten used to Turkish insults, but latest words come in times of military confrontation (Photo: Reuters/Umit Bektas)

Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has put himself at the forefront of a Muslim backlash against France's handling of the recent Mohammed cartoons killing.

Erdoğan did it with a string of headline-grabbing insults against French president Emmanuel Macron this weekend.

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"What's the problem of the individual called Macron with Islam and with the Muslims?", Erdoğan said in a speech in Kayseri, in central Turkey, on Saturday (24 October).

"Macron needs treatment on a mental level. What else can be said to a head of state who does not understand freedom of belief?", Erdoğan said.

France recalled its ambassador to Ankara in protest.

"We demand that Erdoğan change the course of his policy because it is dangerous in every respect," Macron's office also said, alluding to the risk that Erdoğan's rhetoric could embolden extremists.

And France had noted "the absence of messages of condolence and support" from Turkey over the murder, one week ago, of a French schoolteacher by an Islamist assailant, Macron's office added.

But Erdoğan did it again on Sunday.

"The person in charge of France has lost his way ... he [Macron] is a case and he really must be [medically] checked up," Erdoğan said in a TV speech in Malatya in eastern Turkey.

The EU foreign relations chief, Josep Borrell, appealed to Erdoğan to "cease this dangerous spiral of confrontation" in a statement the same day.

EU leaders were ready to "relaunch relations" with Turkey at a summit in December, Borrell said, but Turkey could "find itself even more isolated" if things went badly, he added.

The Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, also said on Sunday that "hate speech targeting France by the Turkish leadership ... fuels religious hatred".

But Erdoğan's communications chief, Fahrettin Altun, indicated that the Turkish president's remarks were part of a concerted policy.

Macron was "intimidating Muslims and reminding them that they are welcome to continue to make Europe's economy work, but that they will never be a part of it," Altun said on social media.

The plight of Muslims in Europe was like that of the Jews in the 1920s, Altun also said.

And Turkey has called for a boycott of French products.

The anti-Macron insults flew after the French president's hawkish response to the murder of a French teacher, Samuel Paty, 10 days ago.

An 18-year old, Islamist radical beheaded Paty for showing pupils blasphemous cartoons of Mohammed in a class about free speech.

And Macron, while attending Paty's memorial service on Wednesday, defended the right to free speech in French media and schools.

"We will not give up cartoons," Macron said.

"He [Paty] was killed because Islamists want our future ... they will never have it," Macron also said.

His comments came amid a security crackdown, including raids on French mosques and expulsions of foreign Islamist suspects on counter-terrorism watch lists.

Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Pakistan, and Qatar have also complained about Macron's handling of the situation.

Popular social media campaigns reportedly prompted retailers in Kuwait, Morocco, and Qatar to remove French produce from their shelves.

And Qatari media stirred anti-French hostility in Palestine, prompting angry statements by militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

"These calls for boycott are baseless and should stop immediately," the French foreign ministry said.

Meanwhile, EU leaders are no strangers to Erdoğan's insults.

He accused German chancellor Angela Merkel of being a "Nazi" in his election campaign in 2017.

Erdoğan also insulted Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte over the fact Dutch soldiers failed to stop a Muslim massacre in Bosnia in the 1990s.

But what once looked like mere populism, now looks more threatening, amid escalating Turkish-EU clashes on multiple fronts.

Turkish clashes

Erdoğan's navy keeps violating Cypriot and Greek-claimed waters in the eastern Mediterranean.

Turkish warships have tried to break EU and Nato efforts to stop arms smuggling to Libya, France has said.

Turkey has also sent Syrian mercenaries to fight in a new war in the South Caucasus despite EU calls for a ceasefire.

And prior to that, Turkey invaded northern Syria despite Western appeals.

For his part, Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg described Turkey as a "valued ally" after video-talks with defence ministers last Friday.

He welcomed Greece and Turkey's decision to call off military exercises in disputed areas, which had been due to take place this week.

But he criticised any action that might "exacerbate" tensions, following news that a Turkish petroleum-exploration vessel was, in any case, due to sail back to a flashpoint area near Greek islands.

And Stoltenberg voiced regret that Turkey had tested a new anti-aircraft missile system, the S-400, on Friday, which it bought from Russia even though it was incompatible with other Nato weaponry.

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