The importance of the Turkey-France controversy cannot be over-emphasized, particularly since the dispute is unlikely to end soon. While French President Emmanuel Macron has said he “understands the shock of Muslims,” he has vowed that “these acts of violence will not deter France from its commitments to its core values.”
Accusations and counter-accusations continue between the Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his French counterpart, but there seems to be a dialogue of the deaf between Turkey and France.
Many in France do not understand and are not interested in understanding the genuine sensitivity of pious Turks on questions of Islamic values.
Equally, many in Turkey are unaware of what freedom of expression and secular values mean to French citizens. The former is regarded in that country as one of the most valued achievements of the French Revolution of 1789. It is comparable to what a pious Muslim regards as a sacred value.
Scores of countries have passed laws criminalizing the act of trivialization or insulting a religion. Turkey is one of them, while France is not. French law does not consider the denigration of a religion a punishable act. As a result, no individual in France can be prosecuted for criticizing or rejecting the values of any religion, be it Christianity, Islam or Judaism.
This is the legislative aspect of the question, but the practice is more complicated than the semantic discussion. If individuals are murdered for reasons connected to freedom of expression, the authorities of all countries involved must sit down and discuss ways to prevent this violence.
Turks living in the EU countries are more interested in earning a living and in the welfare of their families than in freedom of expression.
There are innumerable devout people in the world who will do anything when their sacred values are attacked. Millions have lost their lives in wars motivated by religion. It is futile to try to persuade them that there are adherents of other faiths who do not see their values the same way. The line that divides freedom of expression and respect for religious values is thin and can easily be crossed inadvertently.
Muslims feel disturbed because of disrespect for their religious values. Likewise, secular French citizens are eager to protect their freedom of expression. However, the political leaders’ agenda is different. They seem more interested in using the present controversy to boost political support.
Macron wants to retain his political support and consolidate his position while also halting the rise of Marine Le Pen’s ultra-right party.
Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) wants to gain right-wing and conservative votes, but Ankara’s policy may lead to new problems for French citizens of Turkish origin and Turks in France.
The French schoolteacher Samuel Paty was beheaded by a Russian citizen of Chechen origin. The horrible attack in a church in Nice was carried out by a Tunisian. The perpetrator of an attack in Lyon against a Greek Orthodox priest has not yet been found. The attack in Vienna was carried out by a Macedonian Daesh supporter of Albanian origin. Despite all this, Turkey needlessly volunteers to act as the spokesman of the Islamic world in a dispute that brings it into conflict with France.
Such a role may harm Turkey’s interests in EU countries, where several million Turks live. They are more interested in earning a living and in the welfare of their families than in freedom of expression, religious values or the Erdogan-Macron dispute.
Furthermore, Turkey’s Department of Religious Affairs runs thousands of mosques in various EU countries. The number of the Turkish public servants working in these mosques is counted in the thousands.
In France, there are 71 mosques and 10 schools run by the Turkish NGO National Vision (Milli Gorus), which is Erdogan’s ideological source of inspiration. Marine Le Pen has claimed that Milli Gorus wants to revive the Islamic caliphate and has called for its operations in France to be halted.
The French government last week banned the activities of the Grey Wolves, an ultra-right movement supported by Turkey’s Nationalist Movement Party. Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said that such a group did not formally exist and claimed that the ban was introduced at the behest of the Armenian community in France.
France is unlikely to stop there. Other bans may follow.
At the end of the day, the cost of the feud between Erdogan and Macron will be borne by French citizens of Turkish origin and Turks living in France.
- Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party. Twitter: @yakis_yasar
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