Trans-Europe Express: Erdogan finds religion: Hailing Europe’s Islamic community

transeurope express

His focus on fascism was suspicious. What experience did Turks, in the Netherlands and Germany, have with the Third Reich that could compare with what other minority groups experienced during WWII? There was no factual basis for this link. Turkish labour immigration to both countries didn’t begin until the early 1960s.

Indeed, the rhetoric being employed sounded a lot like the sort used by right-wing Israeli politicians, conjuring up the ghosts of the Nazi genocide to decry European criticisms of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians. It was a curious repurposing of a discourse that was inconsistent with the forms of discrimination Muslims have been subject to in the Europe over the last half-century.

And yet, it was not, insofar as Erdogan and his ministers were highlighting its indisputable harshness to buttress their own credibility, as though they were the natural leadership in waiting of a beleaguered, headless community.

To be precise, an estimated 19 million-strong religious minority, settled throughout the European Union, subject to routine, albeit growing discrimination, at the hands of populists and neo-fascists, as well as Europeans uncomfortable with diversity.

Painting European racism into a Nazi corner is perhaps the best way to highlight the fact that there is no identifiably Muslim authority looking out for Europe’s Islamic community, other than a patchwork of local, community politicians, religious leaders, and otherwise assimilated ethnic politicians, who are as European as they are Turkish, or Arab. French and German parties can boast numerous examples.

Hence, Erdogan increasingly putting himself forth this last week, as a critic of Dutch actions in the Srebrenica massacre, in 1995, and his attack on the European Court of Justice decision to allow European companies to ban employees from wearing religious or political symbols including the Islamic headscarf. The Turkish president was asserting a distinctly religious leadership role, not just a political one.

The idea is challenging, insofar as the buttons it pushes, inside the European Union, about Turkey’s problematic status as a would-be member of the bloc, and what it may do to exert pressure to force that to happen.

If Erdogan could command the loyalty of not just Turks, but Sunni Muslims, inside the Union, what would that mean, politically, as well as religiously?

Muslims obviously deserve greater protection in Europe. Not just because their rights can be mobilised to support the interests of a foreign autocrat seeking to leverage their disenfranchisement. But also because they are deserving of opportunity and freedom, just like non-Muslim Europeans.

That’s not to say that there shouldn’t be better representation of all religious minority interests in Europe. With the growth of anti-Muslim attitudes throughout the Union in recent decades, not enough is being done to ensure that people of all minority backgrounds feel safe to live in the EU.

The fact that Erdogan recognises this and is trying to use it for his own political purposes is a sign of how bad the situation has become.


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