Banning Turkish political rallies only plays into President Erdoğan’s hands

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (AFP/Getty Images)

Pity the poor Turks. Last month, Emmanuel Macron, a candidate in the French presidential election, visited London where he held a rally attended by some of the many French citizens who live in the UK. Before the rally, he was received by Theresa May in Downing Street. No one, but no one, protested about a French politician holding an election rally on British soil.

But a few days ago Turkish government ministers, hoping to attend a political rally in the Netherlands, were either removed from the country or denied entry. The same thing has also happened in Germany.

The Turkish President, Recep Erdoğan, is attempting to persuade Turkish citizens to support him in a referendum which would see Turkey move from a parliamentary system to a presidential one.

His chances of victory may well depend on the millions of Turkish voters who live in countries like the Netherlands and Germany. Mr Macron’s chances of being next president of France may well depend on the votes of the thousands of French citizens who live in Britain. So, what is the difference between the two situations?

The Turks may well feel that Britain’s welcome to Macron, and the lack of welcome extended to their own government ministers elsewhere in Europe, tells them something about the way Europe views Turkey. And they would not be wrong.

Turkey, as this magazine has consistently pointed out, with regard to the way Turkey treats religious minorities, does not share certain core western values, and has a poor record with regard to human rights. Mr Erdoğan, a polarising figure in his own country, is an authoritarian figure with a shaky record of commitment to democracy. If there should be any doubt that this is so, we only have to consider the way he has reacted to the banning of his ministers.

Mr Erdoğan’s intemperate language is not just a sign of bad temper, it is a sign of demagoguery. These sorts of insults are a populist attempt to stir up racial hatred and political xenophobia. They are calculated to reinforce Mr Erdogan’s political base, which lies in the conservative Anatolian heartland and which needs little encouragement to see foreigners as devils.

However, it must be noted that the Dutch, perhaps with an eye to their own domestic situation and impending elections, have played straight into Mr Erdoğan’s hands. The real losers will be the Turkish opposition.

One must hope that the escalating diplomatic row soon gives way to wiser counsels. The rise of feeling in Turkey against Europeans will not help the Turkish Christian minority in any way, and Turkey is home to several important Christian shrines, which are vulnerable to attack, as are the Christian clergy who serve them.

Moreover, the Christian mission in Turkey (and there is such a thing, small as it is) is severely hampered by overheated nationalist feeling, the very feeling that Mr Erdoğan loves to create. But in the midst of all this, Europeans have to tread a fine line. It is best not to provoke Mr Erdogan, but we must not appease him or pander to him either. Let’s not forget Hrant Dink or indeed Archbishop Luigi Padovese, both in their ways victims of Turkish extremism.