Animus toward Turkey: A Symptom of Islamophobia

Blue Mosque in glorious sunset, Istanbul, Sultanahmet park. The biggest mosque in Istanbul of Sultan Ahmed (Ottoman Empire). Photo: iStock by Getty Images/Jasmina Mihoc

Many Western mainstream media outlets approached the recent (April 16, 2017) referendum in Turkey in their usual one-sided way, featuring mostly biased, and really wild “analyses.” New York Times wrote a scandalously unfair editorial, strewn with ad hominems and outright lies, and divorced from the reality on the ground. Even the "great” NPR, which boasts about the quality of their “journalism,” exhibited shoddy journalism in the stated matter by airing blatantly prejudiced and dubious characters such as Henri Barkey, whose past failed predictions and misguided analyses vis-à-vis Turkey and Erdogan should have been enough reason to avoid him as a Turkey “expert”, one would think.

Just today, a guest on All Things Considered,  Ivo Daalder, a former US representative to NATO, was saying “We have stood behind Turkish democracy for many, many years. And this is a step back.” I could not help but wonder if by “standing behind Turkish democracy,” he referred to the US and CIA instigated/supported coups that took place in Turkey nearly every decade since 1960. The latter resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, and even execution of an elected and popular prime minister (Adnan Menderes) and his two ministers, and a god-forsaken country until Erdogan's recent transformative reforms and ameliorations in the economy, infrastructure, and politics.

These outlets made the following claims concerning the Turkish referendum:

“The President will, with the proposed changes, appoint all the judges, ministers, and vice presidents without any parliamentary oversight.”

“The President will be able to dissolve the Parliament.”

“The President will be able to make laws.”

“There will not be any checks and balances.”

“The President will become an all-powerful dictator.”

“Erdogan will be in power until 2029.”

None of these, as stated by these charlatans, are correct, as can be checked by carefully studying the existing constitution and the proposed constitutional changes.

They just parrot the brazen lies and half-truths the Erdogan opponents in Turkey cook up, which are not bought by the majority of Turkish voters.

The Western mainstream media lament about the spread of fake news, and employ highfalutin terms such as “post-truth” to convey the seriousness and perils of such an enterprise, but commit the same error blithely when it comes to what they perceive as “the other.”

The next time you hear a news story about Turkey and Erdogan, pay attention to just how many critics and how many supporters they feature.

When the British referendum came out in favor of Brexit with a slim margin, no serious government or institution questioned its legitimacy, neither did they make a huge hue and cry about how “divided” the United Kingdom is; but when the recent Turkey referendum came out in favor of a ‘Yes’ vote, for the proposed constitutional changes, with a similar margin, the Western media became replete with the narratives of “how divided Turkey is” and that “the (Turkey) referendum did not live up to the European standards.”  Are the Europeans the absolute paragons and guardians of democracy?

They conveniently forget that Erdogan still has a very strong mandate from the Turkish people, and all the indicators show that a potential rival will not even come close to his popularity.

They also suitably ignore the fatal Turkish coup of the past summer. Nay, they even harbor and support the perpetrators of this coup: a cunning and secretive cult, the Gulen Movement.  There are thousands of official court documents pointing to a strong link between the putschists, their supporters, and Fethullah Gulen. But the West downplays all this and blames Erdogan government for “undemocratically” arresting journalists, judges, and academics, notwithstanding that the latter are organically involved with the upper echelons of the Movement.

Their attitude is regrettably the same toward the threat the PKK poses to Turkey, the outlawed Kurdish organization, even though the latter is recognized as a terrorist organization by the West.

But until recently they were obsessively regurgitating the demonstrably fake news about “Turkey’s support for ISIS.”

Such a third-rate approach of these commentators and media outlets is, in my opinion, a sign of a grave disrespect for their readers and listeners.  Their ex-cathedra pontifications on Turkey using highly abused terms and phrases such as “democracy,” “dictatorship,” and “crackdown on the opposition” reek of shenanigans, orientalism, and Islamophobia.

Otherwise, how can one explain the animus these folks display against a democratically elected, very successful and popular political leader, calumniating and demonizing him to be a “dictator,” while praising/supporting bloody coup leaders and real dictators such as Sisi of Egypt?  Some Western governments did commit the same democratic sin recently by dissing Erdogan, to the point of breaching international norms and standards, but giving a red-carpet treatment to Sisi.

They approach mainstream conservative Muslims, who have a potential to lead a country, with persistent suspicion and not much credit, while being “infinitely” charitable toward oppositions of all stripes: coup leaders (Sisi, Fetullah Gulen), insidious cults (Gulen Movement), and even terror organizations (PKK), and of course, opposition political parties (CHP) as well.

Not a single word of condemnation came forward from neither politicians nor mainstream media in the West when the Netherlands displayed a very inimical, undemocratic, and undiplomatic attitude toward Turkish officials and protesters wanting to campaign for the ‘Yes” vote (but they allowed and even encouraged the ‘No’ campaigners throughout Europe)… Paragons of democracy?

To be fair, Islamophobia is condemned and rejected by the mainstream establishments in the West. But judging by the West’s behavior toward democratic Muslim entities such as Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party or Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, I am convinced that Islamophobia lives on in the subconscious Western psyche.  The West does not seem to want to deal with a prosperous and truly independent democratic Muslim country (albeit not without problems), an equal among equals.  Their behavior so far indicates that they’d rather deal with either the terrorists of ISIS or al-Qaida, or promote and support controllable dictators like Sisi or Bashar al-Assad. The West is putting a stranglehold on the already struggling Islamic civilization by such behavior, and it is precisely this misbehavior, I will aver, that creates a vicious circle in the region and stokes extremism.

Regrettably, they don’t have the wisdom to realize that the only way to solve the West-Muslim World problems is to work with the legitimate (ones with strong political mandates) Muslim governments, those that truly represent and address the sentiments and aspirations of a large swath of ordinary Muslims.  Erdogan’s government is one of the rare few Muslim governments that fits this description. He does also have an undeniable popularity in and support of the wider Muslim world. In my view, he is the Saladin of our troubled times, and the West should learn to work with him, rather than try to eliminate him and thus continue to create---with its profoundly wrongheaded Middle-East policies---more chaos-causing vacuums and monsters such as ISIS, al-Zarqawi, al-Baghdadi, and Assad.

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