It doesn’t take much for Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to show his true colors. He’s been known as a man of strong opinions since his tenure as mayor of Istanbul. He has dragged a journalist to court for the crime of depicting him in a cartoon as a cat entangled in a ball of string. More Turkish journalists now sit in prison than their Chinese and Iranian counterparts. It is no wonder that Turkey now ranks below even Russia in press freedom.
Turkey’s attempts to quash speech no longer stop at its borders. When I referred to reports of corruption received by US diplomats—reports that Wikileaks subsequently affirmed—Egemen Bağış, a close Erdoğan ally, with the help of Turkey’s embassy in Washington, sued me (to no avail). Turkey has also become the leading proponent of UN legislation to ban criticism of radical Islam.
Nothing sets Erdoğan off, though, like Israel. Erdoğan has claimed Hamas rockets are an Israeli hoax (the Jews, after all, control the media in Erdoğan’s world). In the last few days he has lambasted Israel as a terrorist state, and accused it of ethnically cleansing Gaza, never mind that it withdrew from the Strip in 2005. This is the same man, however, who has denied that there had been any genocide in Darfur, a region in which the Sudanese government had killed hundreds of thousands of people because in Erdoğan’s mind, Muslim leaders don’t kill Muslims (unless, perhaps, they’re Kurds). As for the Turkish view of Hamas, all one needs to do is watch the reception Turkey’s parliamentary majority gave the terrorist leader when he visited Ankara.
Given Erdoğan’s politics, the curious thing is why so many US Congressmen still belong to the Congressional Turkey Caucus, seemingly unaware of how Turkey has changed in the past decade. Namik Tan, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States, won’t tell them: He’ll instead invite Congressmen to lavish parties and arrange cruises on the Bosphorus, and continue to consider them useful idiots. What he cares most about are numbers: Tan views the number of members as an endorsement of Turkey’s new politics. Who knew that such Congressional stalwarts as Dana Rohrabacher (R-Ca.), Henry Waxman (D-Ca.), Joe Wilson (R-SC), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), and incoming Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) would allow themselves, in effect, to become endorsers of a pro-Hamas policy?
How far our once secular, Western-oriented NATO ally Turkey has fallen in the past decade. Whereas once Turkey could be counted on as a democratic bulwark against terrorism, now the country’s leaders orient themselves not only in the Islamist camp, but increasingly in the extremist one as well. It’s hard to understand why congressmen remain in the Congressional Turkey Caucus when they are, in effect, lending their moral support to Turkey’s gradually more erratic and extremist prime minister.
Perhaps these congressmen would like to get a hold of a copy of Islam Dünyası, a Turkish jihadi magazine. Here’s their website. The current issue features Defne Bayrak, wife of the suicide bomber who killed seven CIA officers in Afghanistan, in which she calls for more attacks on America. Certainly, not all Turks are this extreme. Indeed, only a small minority are. The problem, however, is that the current government encourages such extremism. Perhaps it is time for the Obama administration and State Department to stop ignoring the changes underway in Turkey.