September 10, 2014

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the West

İhsan Yılmaz

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan boasted, when flying to Wales for a NATO meeting, that he would ask Barack Obama to give Mr. Fethullah Gülen to him. This was in the headlines of nine national broadsheets that are under Erdoğan's strict control. Erdoğan noted that Turkey always gives terrorists to the US whenever the US demands them, and the US must do the same right now. He also said that he would challenge Western leaders on their alleged wiretapping of him, his ministers and top bureaucrats.

People with rational minds know that all of these comments were a new attempt at psychological war against his own people. He was making a mockery of himself in front of the democratic world and his own country's liberal democratic people, who could easily see that in order to distract from his massive corruption, he was acting like a naughty child. Erdoğan was a great friend of Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, and he is increasingly acting like another great friend of Berlusconi: Colonel Muammer Qaddafi. Like Qaddafi, he does not care how he is perceived in the West, and all he cares about is pleasing his voters.

Like Qaddafi, Erdoğan has been abusing his country's resources in his relations with the West in order to advance his own interests. Qaddafi's Libya had oil, and he would bribe Western nations with all sorts of contracts and tenders so that they would put up with his extravagant, crazy and comical demands. They would also turn a blind eye to what he had been doing to his own people in Libya. They did not care about the terrible human rights record in Libya, the miserable situation of press freedoms, his dictatorial tyranny and the poverty of millions. All the Western leaders cared about was their countries' national interests. Turkish leaders have been acting exactly the same. Erdoğan was given a medal by Qaddafi, and he happily accepted it. When the revolts started against Qaddafi, Erdoğan did not support the opposition for one month, stating that Turkey had investments and workers in Libya and so he would remain silent.

Knowing that world leaders would always appease him and tolerate him, Qaddafi would have huge tents erected in the gardens of five-star hotels and stay in those tents instead of the hotel rooms. He would ask Western leaders to arrange hundreds of young girls for a fee and preach to them about Islam for hours. He was not aware of how disgusting this was seen to be from the outside, and he harmed not only his nation but Islam too. Erdoğan has, of course, not reached this stage, but there are signs that in due course he may transform into another Qaddafi. His staunch supporters keep claiming that he is the caliph, and I would not be shocked if they soon start talking about him privately as the expected Mahdi. Do not underestimate this observation. The man is gradually becoming a cult leader.

Whatever mistakes he makes, they have no negative impact on his staunch believers. In order to polish his image as defender of the faith, he will soon have a trip to Washington, D.C., to open a multimillion-dollar mosque project that was most probably funded by Turkish taxpayers. Qaddafi and the Saudi kings have done similar things in the past. He does not care what people in the West think about this politicized version of Islam or the state-sponsored Turkish mosque. He will settle a score and show his religious-nationalist voters that in the heart of the US, he has opened the biggest mosque. Will this make the hearts of Americans more sympathetic to Islam? Quite the opposite. But he does not care. As long as his voters back in Turkey and his fans on the Arab street are happy, that is more than enough.

On his way back home from Wales, his statements to loyal journalists showed that he had not been able to question Western leaders on the wiretapping, despite his boastful claims. Obviously he has skeletons in his cupboard, and Western leaders gave him a message that they know everything about his dirty linen, so he would not even dare to talk about the issue. On the Gülen issue, he was also slapped in the face and was asked for evidence, showing him that the US is not ruled by a tribal chieftain who is above the law. And yet, he does not care how ridiculous he looked, since all he cares about is the headlines back in Turkey. Just like Qaddafi.

Published on Today's Zaman, 10 September 2014, Wednesday