Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (aka the Prez) and his Justice and Development Party (or AKP) have been at pains for years to return the country to its Islamic roots and revive some sort of pseudo-Otttoman entity in a veritable Sultanate of Kitsch. But now that Turkey’s population is about to cast their ballots in a constitutional amendment that would drastically transform Turkey’s political and social reality, constitutional amendment. Erdoğan has also started meddling directly in Europe’s affairs.
Dr Can Erimtan 21st Century Wire
Prior to the recent Dutch elections (14 March 2017), the Prez and his AKP henchmen were able to cause quite a stir throughout Europe and its media landscape (particularly, in Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Austria). In a cunning manner, the Prez wanted to mobilize the Turkish guest-workers residing in Western Europe, ensuring their “Yes” vote in the upcoming referendum. Though many millions of Turks actually live in the EU, and “some 2.5 million Turkish citizens, resident in Europe, are eligible to vote in elections in their homeland, their votes don’t actually mean all that much.
As expressed by Sadi Güven, the President of the Supreme Electoral Council of Turkey, nationwide, more than 53 million Turkish citzens are elligible to cast their ballots. In other words, the recent controversies regarding the appearance of Turkish politicians on Western European stages should be regarded as nothig more than clever public relations’ exercises, PR moves arguably serving another purpose all together. In the aftermath of these events, Tayyip Erdoğan continued doing what he does best, which is travel the country throwing speeches left and right.
In the relatively small-yet-highly-ambitious city of Eskişehir, the Prez revealed his true aim and purrpose, admonishing his Europe-residing countrymen in the following manner: “Have five children, not three. You are Europe’s future. This is the best answer to the rudeness shown to you, the enmity, the wrongs” (17 March 2017).
Birth Control is Treason
Over the past years, feminists and other political activists in Turkey have been railing at Erdoğan’s defence of conservative family values and his appreciation of the role of women in society. In 2011, the AKP-led government abolished its General Directorate of Maternal Health and Family Planning, putting a halt to the easy and general access to birth control and abortion services.
Travelling the world being another favourite occupation of Tayyip Erdoğan’s, at the time he flew to New York to attend the Federation of Balkan American Associations (FEBA)’s summit ‘Road Map 2011.’ And there, the then still-PM gave yet another speech:
“I have advice for you. I am calling on married couples and those who are going to marry: You should have at least three children. I am reminding the prime ministers [of Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania] here, too: At least three children” (22 September 2011).
For years and years, he has been telling his supporters at home as well that producing an offspring or three is desirable and tantamount to a religious duty. And in New York, he told the people of the Balkans that they too should throw caution to the wind and be “fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth.“
At the time, the then still-existing and pro-government Today’s Zaman wrote that “Erdoğan has been calling for a population increase at home for years to make sure Turkey always has a young population to produce wealth, while another portion of the population keeps joining the army of the retired.”
Erdoğan himself, about three years later, spoke of the “treason of birth control.“ Yet, at the beginning of the 21st century’s second decade, the global population reached the 7 billion mark. Back then, National Geographic‘s Dennis Dimich opined that humanity will number 8 billion by 2025, but at present the global population already stands at approximately 7.5 billion.
As long ago as 1972, the Club of Rome rang the alarm bell by means of publishing its report The Limits to Growth, a book with a message that “still holds today“ – namely that the “earth’s interlocking resources . . . probably cannot support present rates of economic and population growth much beyond the year 2100.” But these pressing issues are beyond the Prez and his followers as well as backers’ concerns.
A power-hungry player like the Prez (aka Tayyip Erdoğan) seems at pains to increase Muslim (or Turkish) population numbers in Europe in order to enlarge his personal power and influence. But he is not the only one to entertain such seemingly unrealistic expectations regarding the future of Europe.
As a pious Muslim, Erdoğan has close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood (or al-Ikhwān al-Muslimūn, in Arabic, founded in 1928) and this originally Egyptian organisation has been developing a clear and specific Europe policy over the years. As such, the internet is awash with allegations and other insinuations that Turkey’s strongman is nothing but a Turkish incarnation of a Muslim Brother – from the besieged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the French journalist and political activist Thierry Meyssan, many accuse Erdoğan of being an operator for the Ikhwān al-Muslimūn nefariously employing dissimulation (or taqiyyah) to attain full Sunni Muslim domination at home as well as abroad.
A Zionist and arguably Islamophobic author like Steven Merley even posits in a facile manner that “Turkey has become a new center for the Global Muslim Brotherhood . . . since 2006,” in the aftermath of the Hamas victory in Palestinian elections and the AKP’s consolidation of their electoral and popular power (holding 65% in Turkey’s Parliament or TBMM).
In fact, already Necmettin Erbakan (1926-2011), the godfather of Islamist politics in Turkey and personal patron of the AKP founder, is purported to have had some links to the Ikhwān, with the Arab author and researcher at Al-Ahram Centre Mohamed Abdel-Kader calling Erbakan’s 1969 creation, the organisation Milli Görüş (or ‘National Outlook’) the “Turkish Muslim Brotherhood.”
The Muslim Brotherhood in Europe
The Pulitzer-Prize winning writer Ian Johnson puts forward that the “Muslim Brotherhood exerts one of the greatest influences on Islam in the West, both in terms of how Islam is practiced and how governments and the public perceive Islam.”
Johnson argues that the main impetus for the Brotherhood’s move to the West, including Europe, was the Egyptian state’s persecution of the movement and its members in the 1950s. But the Ikhwān‘s presence in Europe only really came into its own in the 1970s, when the continent was beginning to come to grips with its many Muslim guest-workers and migrants from “Turkey, the Middle East and South Asia” — guest-workers and migrants who had started their influx in the previous decade by means of bilateral recruitment agreements.
In this connection, Johnson highlights the so-called Munich Mosque (or specifically, the Mosque in Freimann, a Munich suburb), also known as the “Islamic Center of Munich,” originally “founded in 1958 by a group of former German Muslim soldiers,” who had previously “served in the Red Army, but were captured by the Germans and eventually fought for them.”
These Russian and Central Asian Muslims constituted Germany’s main Muslim inhabitants prior to the German Economic Miracle (or Wirtschaftswunder). But the origin story of this mosque is a convoluted tale of Cold War strategies employed by the CIA and the German BND (or Bundesnachrichtendienst), and the use of Islam as a weapon againts Soviet Communism. Its role in connection with the Muslim Brotherhood seems to have been limited to the period 1984-87, when Mohammed Mahdi Akif “lived in Munich as head imam of the mosque.” As the seventh General Leader of the Brotherhood (2004-10), Akif craftily used the Freimann Mosque as a base to finetune the Ikhwān network across the continent and beyond.
According to the German domestic intelligence service (known as the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz or BfV), the Brotherhood, employing its base in Munich, set up the Islamic Community of Germany: (Islamische Gemeinschaft in Deutschland e.V.or IGD) in 1960/62 with numerous subsidiaries across the rest of Germany – ‘Islamic Centres’ in Braunschweig (Niedersachsen), Frankfurt am Main (Hessen), Marburg (Hessen), Münster (NordrheinWestfalen), Nürnberg (Bayern) and Stuttgart (BadenWürttemberg).
And, in the next instance, in 1989, to be precise, the IGD acted as a founding member for the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE), with its seat in Brussels. The FIOE acts as a “cultural organization, with hundreds of member organizations spread across 28 European states.”
In 1990, for instance, Johnson asserts, the FIOE established the Institute for the Study of Human Sciences, primarily meant to train imams, and in March 1997, the FIOE also set up the European Council for Fatwa and Research, located in Dublin and initially headed by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the “most prominent spiritual leader for the Muslim Brotherhood.”
In 2004, the FIOE intitiated the International Union of Muslim scholars (IUMS), headquartered in Dublin and led by none other than Qaradawi. And, according to the Anti-Defamation League, in the course of this century, this very same Yusuf al-Qaradawi “has established a worldwide following through television appearances [his Al Jazeera show al-Sharīʿa wa al-Ḥayāh or ‘Shariah and Life’] and by utilizing the Internet. He was relatively quick to take advantage of the Internet, launching a site in his name in 1997. The site includes several of his fatwas [or religious rulings] supporting terror.”
The Prez and the Preacher
This eminent Muslim Brother, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, has always been highly supportive of the Turkish politician that is Tayyip Erdoğan. And, it turns out, the Prez met the Preacher as long ago as 1998, as illustrated by a photograph published by the deputy leader of the (Palestinian) Islamic Movement, Sheik Kamal Khatib in 2015.
While occupying the post of Mayor of Istanbul (1994-98), Tayyip Erdoğan travelled to Jerusalem to take part in a meeting of Muslim scholars also attended by Qaradawi. In the present century, under AKP-tutelage and arguably upon Erdoğan’s personal drive and initiative, Turkey has publicly taken up the mantle of the Muslim Brotherhood, hosting meetings and other get-togethers. In 2007, Qaradawi elaborated upon an earlier statement of his made in Toledo, Ohio, during a 1995 conference held by the Muslim Arab Youth Association (MAYA), by pronouncing that the “conquest of Rome, the conquest of Italy and Europe means that Islam will return to Europe once again.
Must this conquest necessarily be through war? No, it is not necessary. There is such a thing as a peaceful conquest.” Whereas in his earlier Toledo statement he was also alluding to the conquest of Constantinople in a well-known tradition attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, now that the AKP has securely taken over Turkey, Qaradawi has clearly set his sights on the Christian continent of Europe, where according to the Turkish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, “around 4,6 million” individuals of Turkish extraction currently reside.
Yusuf al-Qaradawi has also visited Turkey and has been most laudatory in his comments regarding the AKP founder:
“Erdogan will succeed because Allah, [the angel] Gabriel [or Jibril], the righteous of the faithful [or Salih al-Muminin] are with him and after that the Angelic Host will appear . . . We came to Turkey to attend the Fourth Assembly of the Union of Muslim Scholars in Istanbul, capital of the Islamic Caliphate! . . . Turkey is the Caliphal State, and Istanbul is its capital . . . Turkey unites religion and the world, Arab and Persian, Asia and Africa, and it [the Caliphate] should be based upon this nation [Turkey]” (2014).
At the end of the same year, Interpol issued a so-called Red Notice looking for the apprehension of 90-year old on behalf of the Egyptian government. And as more that just a matter of common courtesy, Erdoğan strongly condemned this warrant, while attacking Egypt’s current strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and saying that “[Islamic] scholarship” should never be subject to the “[world of] politics. [But that] politics should [rather] be the servant of [Islamic] scholarship.”
Erdoğan and Sisi have been at loggerheads ever since the latter took over Egypt’s government, overthrowing the Muslim Brother’s President Mohamed Morsi, whom the Prez arguably regarded as a friend and ally (3 July 2013). In his statement the Prez clearly disclosed his personal inclinations, inclinations that do not bode well for the future state of Turkey following the outcome of the upcoming referendum.
Qaradawi’s above-quoted statement regarding the “conquest of Rome” was also endorsed by Mohammed Akif three years later in an interview with the Norwegian-Iraqi author and journalist Walid al-Kubaisi (2010):
“The dream of the Muslim Brotherhood is to establish a unified Islamic state . . . The project of the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe is to introduce this religion in Europe. This is our religion. With all its beauty, grandeur, purity and progress. Nothing more.”
And now, the Turkish politician Tayyip Erdoğan has also taken up this discourse and admonished his European constituencies to ensure that the future demographic make-up of Europe would be dominated by Muslims (or Turks) . . . Additionaly, the Prez has also vowed to reconsider the much-vaunted migrant deal worked out on 19 March 2016 with the EU and Mrs Merkel, which could potentially “flood Europe with refugees currently held inside Turkish borders.”
At the moment, Turkey is hosting close to 3 million Syrian refugees on its soil, while the EU28 + Norway and Switzerland have accepted up to 800,000 asylum applications of Syrians, according to Eurostat, the European Commission’s office for statistics.
The Spectre of a Muslim Europe: Dream or Nightmare?
Some time ago, the well-respected and apparently “universally trusted” BBC reported the following:
“Islam could overtake Christianity as the world’s biggest religion by 2070 according to the US-based Pew Research Center.“
At the end of last February, the “nonpartisan fact tank” Pew’s Michael Lipka declared that the majority of Muslims (or 62%) at present reside in the “Asia-Pacific region, including large populations in Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran and Turkey.”
The 2015 Pew report The Future of World Religions, put forward that “[i]n 2010, more than a quarter of the world’s total population (27%) was under the age of 15. But an even higher percentage of Muslims (34%) and Hindus (30%) were younger than 15” and that these “bulging youth populations are among the reasons that Muslims are projected to grow faster than the world’s overall population.“
The BBC, for its part, added recently that “10% of the people in Europe are forecast to be Muslim by 2050.” Pew’s 2015 Future of World Religions report significantly also added that “[i]International migration is another factor that will influence the projected size of religious groups in various regions and countries.“
These findings, in conjunction with Erdoğan’s above-quoted admonitions and the recent influx of asylum-seekers from war-torn Syria and beyond, could lead some to conclude that there is something fishy afoot or rather that some kind of nefarious plan is being put into action.
In contrast, as pointed out by the Guardian‘s data journalist Pamela Duncan, “members of the public in European states including France, Belgium, Germany and the UK greatly overestimate their country’s Muslim population and the rate at which it is growing.“
At the moment, Europe’s population stands at about 740 million (with 74.5% classified as urban dwellers). Whereas, in 2010, “the European Union was home to about 13 million Muslim immigrants,” according to Pew’s Conrad Hackett. These numbers do not necessarily indicate that the continent is on the verge of turning Muslim any time soon. In contrast, many individuals and organisations, which can only be describes as Islamophobic in character, are now publicly expressing fear.
Some (if not, many or most) Europeans appear afraid of losing their own countries and cultures and ‘becoming subdued by hordes of Muslim men hell-bent on seducing and dishonouring Christian girls and women’. One simply needs to remember the furore surrounding the numerous cases of sexual assault supposedly perpetrated by Syrian refugees and/or asylum seekers on “New Year’s Eve in Cologne” last year.
Afterwards, it turned out that these assaults had been more likely carried out by organised gangs of young men of North-African descent, according to the independent Dutch journalists Yermi Brenner and Katrin Ohlendorf.
“The Present Terror of the World”
A White Supremacist activist like Julian Langness, author of the book Fistfights With Muslims In Europe and editor of the telling website European Civil War, easily proclaims Turkey to be a “colonizing force intent on ruling Europe.”
And to his mind, the Prez is probably ruthlessly exploiting the victims of Syria’s not-so civil war to attain his ends – to “flood Europe with refugees currently held inside Turkish borders.”
This language is eerily resminiscent of earlier European or Christian appraissals of the Turkish or Muslim danger in the east, such as expressed in Richard Knolles’s 1603 book Generall Historie of the Turkes, talking about that “damnable menace of the Grand Turk of the infidels.”
In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Christian West lived in constant fear of the Grand Turk and his unwashed hordes of Janissaries eager to maim and kill innocent Christians. And at the moment, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is also very much helping to perpetuate this image (or meaning) of the noun “Turk,” as “anyone behaving as a barbarian or savage,” as was the case in 1536 according to the prestigious OED.
In other words, on the international stage the Prez is now behaving in the exact same way that he has been on the domestic front for years, namely divisive and polarising.
His statements accusing Germany and the Netherlands of harbouring “Nazi-like” tactics in prohibiting AKP members and ministers from campaigning in front of Turkish audiences locally has undoubtedly turned many erstwhile apathetic Europeans into fierce critics of AKP-led Turkey.
But, at the same time, one could reason that in doing so, Tayyip Erdoğan probably saved the Dutch Prime Minster Rutte from suffering an ignominious defeat at the hands of populist firebrand Geert Wilders. The Dutch felt compelled to prove the Prez wrong and came out in large numbers, thereby allowing the Dutch status quo to persist yet also granting Wilders a comfortable (and ominous) second place.
Now more than ever, Turkish citizens residing in Western Europe feel compelled to support Erdoğan and his AKP, with headscarfs and beards proliferating accordingly. Whereas, the non-immigrant, or indigenous local residents, in turn, now must feel compelled to support politicians and leaders vocally expressing dissatisfaction and openly pronouncing anti-immigrant and Islamophobic positions.
Players and parties like Geert Wilders and his Partij voor vrijheid (or PVV) in the Netherlands; Frauke Petrie and her Alternatieve für Deutschland (or AfD) in Germany; and Marine Le Pen and her Front National in France as well as grassroots movements like Pegida (or Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes) seem set to grow stronger and stronger and even more influential in the months and years to come – France’s presidential elections on 23 April and 7 May seems like a test case, if anything.
These developments seem certain to be replicated all over Europe and the rest of the West as well. Donald Trump‘s victory across the pond all but illustrates this truly global tendency of populations and individuals to give in to their most base of instincts – Islamophobia, racism, xenophobia, and a deeply felt craving to follow populist leaders eager to exploit their constituencies’ worst fears and nightmares.
Today’s world is in an unprecedented crisis after all – economically, culturally, demographically with numerous “resource wars“ looming ahead as well (oil, gas, water and minerals), without even mentioning the elephant in the room that is Climate Change.
The words spoken and the actions taken by members of the global Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey’s AKP seem to underline the increasing polarisation that will become more and more entrenched as this century progresses and the breaking point could very well mark the beginning of a Europe-wide civil war pitching indigenous populations against more recently arrived immigrants with a distinctive Muslim background and/or colouring.
For in the end, as vividly illustratred by the Brexit vote, the fear of the other and the different is nothing but a common human trait. Thus, the one question that remains is whether the perceived Islamisation of the Occident will push the clock back and plunge the West once again into a new era of religious wars and tribulations?
Pitching Christianity against Islam and Jesus versus Mohammad, with respective believers and folowers eagerly doing the bidding of their power-hungry and by then no doubt bloodthirsty leaders . . . If the break-up of Yugoslavia has taught us anything, then some would argue that the time is right to get ready, get ready for the worst and prepare for even worse.
All the while, Tayyip Erdoğan continues to fan the flames of division and enmity, just the other day, telling a crowd in his ‘hometown’ of Rize that “we will never allow three or four European fascists . . . from harming [Turkey]’s honor and pride. I call on my brothers and sisters voting in Europe . . . give the appropriate answer to those imposing this fascist oppression and the grandchildren of Nazism” (3 April 2017).
Dr. Can Erimtan is an independent scholar who was living in Istanbul for some time, with a wide interest in the politics, history and culture of the Balkans and the Greater Middle East. He attended the VUB in Brussels and did his graduate work at the universities of Essex and Oxford. In Oxford, Erimtan was a member of Lady Margaret Hall and he obtained his doctorate in Modern History in 2002. His publications include the book “Ottomans Looking West?” as well as numerous scholarly articles. In the period 2010-11, he wrote op-eds for Today’s Zaman and in the further course of 2011 he also published a number of pieces in Hürriyet Daily News. In 2013, he was the Turkey Editor of the İstanbul Gazette. He is on Twitter at @theerimtanangle