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The Council of Europe Tries to Rein in Erdogan

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Recep Tayyip Erdogan, not content with turning Turkey’s secular democracy into an islamized and islamizing despotism, has been expanding his influence and power among the large Turkish communities in Western Europe. There are at least five million Turks in Western Europe, with three million of them in Germany alone, and substantial numbers in the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, France, and Sweden. Before Erdogan, Turkish governments left those Turks largely alone to work and send money home, but Erdogan sees the Turks in Europe as both an extension of his political realm, and as participants in a demographic Jihad, outbreeding the Infidels and thus helping to gradually turn Europe into an Islamic domain.

Before the Turkish Referendum in April 2017, by which Turkey’s government was transformed from a parliamentary democracy to a presidential system, with greatly increased powers for Erdogan, Turkish politicians attempted to campaign among Turks in Europe, but were prevented from doing so by the nations involved — mainly Germany and the Netherlands — a move which led Erdogan to call those blocking his political rallies in Europe as guilty of “Nazi methods.” Erdogan himself did manage to speak to a rally in Bosnia. He believes that his men should have the right to campaign and hold political rallies wherever there are Turks.

The Europeans do not agree. Nor do they agree with his massive support for mosques and imams in Europe. The Council of Europe in late October asked the Islamist government of Turkey to stop funding Islam overseas for political purposes.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, an intergovernmental organisation which predates the European Union, has called on its members to “put an end to any foreign funding of Islam which is used for the purpose of national political expansion into other States under the guise of Islam,” according to the Stockholm Center for Freedom.

Through the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs, or Diyanet, Erdogan funds 1,000 Turkish mosques in Germany alone, and many hundreds more elsewhere in Europe, and pays, too, for their imams. This allows him to maintain his influence among these European Turks, with the imams naturally delivering sermons that support Erdogan. The clerics also keep tabs, and report, on those worshippers who give signs of disaffection with the Turkish government.

Erdogan has made statements, too, about Turks in Europe that naturally alarm Europeans. In 2017, he called Turks “the future of Europe.” He implored his compatriots living on the Continent to have large numbers of  children as an act of revenge against the West’s “injustices.”

“Go live in better neighborhoods. Drive the best cars. Live in the best houses,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in the city of Eskisehir, while campaigning for a referendum that would solidify his power. “Make not three, but five children. Because you are the future of Europe. That will be the best response to the injustices against you.”

When Austria closed seven Diyanet-support mosques and expelled some “foreign-funded” (Turkish) imams, Erdogan responded with his characteristic fury, claiming that “these measures taken by the Austrian prime minister are, I fear, leading the world towards a war between the cross and the crescent.”

One can well imagine how Erdogan would react if the Austrian government decided to build churches in Turkey, and to pay their priests and pastors.

Erdogan sees the Turks in Europe, including those with dual citizenship, as extensions of Turkey under his wise rule. His payments to, and therefore power over, the Turkish mosques in Western Europe help protect and project his power. The imams he supports naturally endorse his views.

Now the Europeans have decided to rein him in. Alarmed by Erdogan’s meddling in Europe through his religio-poliitical network of Diyanet-financed mosques and imams, the Council of Europe has called for an end to foreign-funded mosques. Clearly this is aimed at Turkey, which has used its Diyanet-funded network of mosques and imams to promote, among millions of Turks in Europe, Erdogan’s authoritarian rule, including  re-islamizatoin, at home.

Erdogan may huff and puff about this demand, but in the end he must recognize that these European countries have the power to follow Austria’s example, and shut down mosques and expel imams deemed too connected to promoting Erdogan’s political power, whether at home or  among Turks abroad.

Turkey is not now in a strong enough position, politically or economically, to defy the Council of Europe. Turkey’s handling of the Khashoggi affair, while perfectly justified, has made Erdogan permanent enemies in Riyadh. Furthermore, Turkey has declared itself on the side of Qatar, now being blockaded by its neighbors, and in turn Qatar has given Turkey 15 billion dollars in financial support. This infuriates not only Saudi Arabia, but also the other Gulf states — the Emirates, Bahrain, as well as Egypt — that are attempting to punish Qatar for its close relations both with Iran and with the Muslim Brotherhood. In Syria, Turkey has long supported the opposition to Bashar al-Assad, but it was the wrong horse to bet on, for Assad is still standing, that opposition eviscerated, and in retaining  power, Assad will not forget how the Turks supported his mortal enemies.

The Turkish economy is suffering, too. The Turkish lira has been plunging in value. There is both a currency and debt crisis. American tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum are still in place, even after Pastor Brunson was released. And even the Turks predict that while sanctions on Turkish ministers may end, the tariffs on aluminum and steel are likely to continue. Turkey has taken in four million Syrian refugees, on which it has spent 32 billion dollars. It needs to husband its resources. Supporting all those mosques in Europe is a colossal drain.

Turkey is not in a good position to defy the Council of Europe. The populist parties in Europe, justifiably anxious about Islam, are increasing their numbers everywhere. Austria, having shut down seven Turkish-funded mosques, and expelled sixty foreign-paid imams, most with ties to Turkey, suffered no consequences despite the dire warnings from Erdogan. Erdogan needs economic support — investments — more than ever from European countries, and if he still hopes that Turkey might become a member of the E.U., he will need their political support as well.

Erdogan has now had his successful referendum. Turkish voters, including those resident in Europe, have given him what he wanted: an end to parliamentary democracy in favor of a powerful executive. As an authoritarian president he can now serve, under the new rules (by which he can “reset the button” on when his term begins), two five-year terms, beginning in 2019 and ending in 2029. For now, he hasn’t any further need of those Turkish voters in Europe.

While American sanctions remain in place, while the Turkish economy is in deplorable shape, with high inflation, a trillion-lira budget, and $32 billion already spent on Syrian refugees, the Turks need both European investments  and aid, neither of which are likely to be forthcoming if he refuses to cooperate with the Council of Europe.

He is not being asked for much by the Council. All he has to do is stop funding the Turkish mosques and imams in Europe. Those mosques won’t close down. The millions of Turks in Europe, who first started to arrive in the 1960s, are now both numerous and rich enough to support those mosques themselves. They may not have the money to build mega-mosques, like the one Turkey just built in Cologne for 1,200 worshippers, but they can certainly provide regular maintenance for the Turkish mosques that have already been built. Similarly, those imams who used to be paid by Diyanet, will not have changed their views, or their political support for Erdogan, just because their salaries would now be paid by the members of the mosque.

By agreeing to the Council of Europe’s demand that Diyanet stop paying for those Turkish mosques and imams in Europe, Erdogan will be relieved of supporting nearly 1,000 Turkish mosques in Germany alone, and hundreds elsewhere in Europe. More than a billion dollars will be saved at a time when Turkey is economically on the ropes. He will not just save the state a pretty penny, but make it more likely that the faucet of European investments in Turkey will again be turned on.

Ending this financing makes perfect sense for the Turks. Unfortunately, their maximum leader has shown himself so often to be a creature of mad passion, warning a war between “the Cross and Crescent,” and promising to lead a pan-islamic war against Israel. But perhaps, this time, he will follow not his neo-Ottoman dreams and schemes, but his hard-headed economists, who will point him in quite a different, more sensible direction.

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