In the wake of a terrorist’s murder of French school teacher Samuel Paty, French President Emmanuel Macron stood up for freedom of expression and defended France’s tradition of laicism. Simply put, Macron recognizes that religious passion neither can justify murder nor serve as a reason to dilute fundamental individual freedoms.
As Macron has made the defense of democracy and liberalism his brand, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has done the opposite. He cynically uses religion to roll back rights as he consolidates his dictatorship. Macron also presents a useful target as Erdogan seeks to distract Turks from the fact that their currency is in free-fall and their economy teetering on the edge of a precipice.
The French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo (itself the victim of an Islamist terror attack) lampooned Erdogan for the superficiality of his defenses of Islam, pushing the thin-skinned Turkish leader over the edge. He called on Turks to boycott French products.
However, sometimes the sultan has no clothes. Turkish social media not only questioned whether Erdogan wanted Turks to bypass the many vaccines manufactured by French companies but also began pointing out that Erdogan’s wife Emine often sports designer French clothes and accessories. Indeed, Emine, who has become Turkey’s equivalent of Imelda Marcos, is infamous for carrying a $50,000 special edition Hermes bag while delivering a speech on the fight against poverty.
Attention to his wife’s handbag embarrassed Erdogan, not only for the hypocrisy of his calls to boycott France, but also because it highlighted the corruption within his own family and his inability to explain how he managed to accumulate billions of dollars on a civil service salary. Enter Erdogan’s court journalists who subordinate truth to the defense of the man who, in some cases, literally pays their salary. They explained that Emine’s bag was actually not French but a counterfeit knock-off as she sought style but knew better than to patronize a French company.
However, sometimes the lie only makes matters worse. The Diyanet (Turkey’s Islamic bureaucracy) has, for a long time, decreed that counterfeit goods are illegal, an affront to intellectual property, and against Islamic ethics.
So, here we are: Erdogan depicted his temper tantrum about France as a defense of Islam, but his own religious bureaucracy’s edicts suggest his own wife is more guilty than Macron in sullying its spirit. Perhaps opposition leader Kemal Kılıcdaroglu is right: Erdogan should publicly burn his wife’s designer handbag. However, that would only be a start. For Erdogan to imply he is the defender of the faith while overseeing a family fortune built on corruption is akin to a prostitute claiming she is a defender of virginity. Once again, through either hypocrisy, stupidity, or both, Erdogan has made a mockery of himself, Turkey, and that which he claims to defend.
Michael Rubin (@Mrubin1971) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official.