The gruesome beheading of middle-school teacher Samuel Paty in a Paris suburb on Oct. 16 horrified France and the world. The perpetrator, an 18-year-old refugee from Chechnya, murdered Paty after a class discussion about caricatures of the prophet Muhammad, a harmless form of expression for which many Muslims still believe violence is justified. Days later, an Islamic militant from Tunisia butchered three worshippers, including a 60-year-old woman, in a church in southern France. Last week, a gunman in Vienna opened fire in a nightlife district, leaving four dead and 22 wounded.
T...e possibility of terrorist attacks is omnipresent, and only so much can be done to prevent them. But that doesn’t mean the U.S. should sit idle when so-called allies attempt to condone and rationalize such barbarity, and in particular, the disgraceful conduct of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan while France was grieving demands accountability.
If Erdogan is to be believed, the real victims in France aren’t the unarmed civilians who were cruelly butchered last month for their beliefs, but rather Muslims who are merely expected to tolerate drawings they find offensive. Erdogan and other leaders in the Islamic world encouraged protests against France and boycotts of its products — a shameless attempt to harvest as much political hay as possible from the tragedy. The Turkish president flew into a fit of pique when French President Emmanuel Macron refused to condemn the caricatures, which were originally published in 2015 by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, sparking the ire of terrorists who attacked the magazine’s offices, killing 12 and wounding 11.
“What is the problem of this person called Macron with Islam and Muslims?” Erdogan asked rhetorically, adding that he suspected Macron had gone insane and “really must be examined.”
The notoriously thin-skinned Erdogan was further outraged when Charlie Hebdo responded with a crude front-page cartoon of the Turkish president drinking alcohol and leering at a woman’s backside, violating two key Islamic tenets. Erdogan erupted in apoplectic rage, insisting it wasn’t about him but rather the “attack on my dear Prophet,” and telling the French people “You are murderers!”
The demagogue Erdogan is a wannabe tin-pot dictator, and it’s difficult to reconcile his cheap, tawdry pseudo-religiosity with his role as the leader of a NATO member state. Turkey joined the alliance during the Cold War, when its post-World War I structure as a secular state was still strong. It has since proven to be an unreliable ally, from its conflict with fellow member state Greece in the 1970s to its recent military outreach to Moscow, which Pentagon officials fear is being used by Russia as a back door to spy on NATO’s technological edge. And since Erdogan’s rise, the country has drifted toward theocracy, nepotism and authoritarianism; NATO awkwardly sat silent in 2016 as Erdogan conducted a brutal purge of his political opponents, with tens of thousands arrested.
Turkey is still a member state largely for one reason: the Incirlik Air Force Base in the country’s southeast, which remains a key staging point for U.S. forces in the region. But last year when the U.S. Senate passed a resolution condemning Turkey’s well-documented role in the Armenian genocide a century ago, Erdogan warned “We will close down Incirlik if necessary.”
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