Turkish president is playing with fire

by Claude Salhani

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been showing the violent video of the attack that took place at two mosques in New Zealand, which was live streamed on the internet.

The responsible thing to have done would have been to prevent the dissemination of this gruesome act of blatant slaughter of some 50 worshippers and deny the killer to the publicity he apparently wanted.

However, Erdogan, never one to pass an opportunity to score points in his never-ending quest to maintain his inflated ego, found it useful to show the video while condemning the terrorist act.

Some say Erdogan is trying to claim the mantle of Islamic leadership. That’s a very dangerous way of doing it. Muslims across the world need rational leaders and wise role models. The world does not need a Muslim version of Donald Trump.

The only accomplishment that can come from that is to fan the flames of religious hostility and dignify a terrorist’s recording with serious consideration by a head of state.

Some observers say Erdogan may be doing this solely to win votes in Turkey’s upcoming local elections, which places him in the same moral category as far-right populists in Italy, Austria, Hungary, Poland and elsewhere who use Islamophobia and xenophobia to win votes.

In this case, Erdogan is just the other side of the coin of demagoguery.

Speaking to supporters in Istanbul, Erdogan described the shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, as part of a wider attack on Turkey and threatened to send back “in caskets” anyone who tried to take the battle to Istanbul.

Consider the difference between Mustapha Kemal, known as Ataturk, a soldier who became a great statesman, and Erdogan, who apparently considers himself a great statesman.

Erdogan, who is seeking to rally support for his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party ahead of the March 31 local elections, has invoked the New Zealand attack as evidence of global anti-Muslim sentiment.

“They are testing us from 16,500km away, from New Zealand, with the messages they are giving from there. This isn’t an individual act. This is organised,” he said, without elaborating.

Erdogan also displayed extracts from a “manifesto” posted online — but later removed — by the suspected attacker.

He has said the gunman threatened Turkey and Erdogan himself and wanted to drive Turks from the part of the country in Europe. Majority Muslim Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul, is split between Asia, east of the Bosporus Strait, and a European section to the west.

“We have been here for 1,000 years and will be here until the apocalypse, God willing,” Erdogan told a rally on March 18 commemorating the 1915 Gallipoli campaign, when Ottoman soldiers defeated British-led forces, including Australian and New Zealand troops, trying to seize the peninsula, a gateway to Istanbul.

“You will not turn Istanbul into Constantinople,” he added, referring to the city’s name under its Christian Byzantine rulers before it was conquered by Muslim Ottomans in 1453.

“Your grandparents came here… and they returned in caskets,” he said. “Have no doubt we will send you back like your grandfathers.”

It appears Erdogan could use a refresher course in his country’s history. The “grandfathers” he refers to were members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) — Australian and New Zealand forces who fought in Gallipoli. Those who died in the fighting were not sent back but were buried in Turkey.

This is what Ataturk had to say about the failed British expedition: “Those heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives… You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore, rest in peace.

“There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well.”

That’s the difference between a statesman and a politician gone rogue.

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