Angela Merkel’s best intentions could not transform the Turkish President from an ‘Oriental despot’ to a respectable member of the European family. All the German Chancellor, not so long ago affectionately known as ‘Mutti’ (mother), got for enlisting his help in dealing with Europe’s flood of refugees, is a precipitous drop in poll numbers. That glazed look that regularly comes upon the face of Recip Tayep Erdogan should have warned her that he has a severe case of Ottomanossis.
Buoyed by the presence of hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Christianity’s sacred bastion, Erdogan has not hesitated to break with a capable foreign minister (Davotoglu) over the conditions he has set out for Turkey to relieve Europe of part of its burden.During the past several months, he has defied Western norms of behavior toward journalists, killing and jailing them right and left, accusing them of supporting Turkey’s Kurdish minority. Increasingly defiant, he recently declared that he would harden Turkey’s definition of terrorism to include the Kurds, adding “You need me more than I need you, so we will each go our own way.”
History is a powerful motivator, and when the Turkish President, who until recently had been begging to be admitted into the European Union, flouts its basic rules of behavior, it’s clear that he sees himself completing the Ottoman domination of Europe. In the sixteenth century Turks got as far as the outskirts of Vienna, initiating a centuries long separation from Western Europe. Europe was only whole from 1921, when the Constantinople-based Caliphate was dissolved, until the start of World War II when, in 1939-1940, Germany overran much of the continent.
After the war, Eastern Europe remained under Soviet tutelage until the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991, when church-going took on added significance after half a century of communism. Having had little contact with contemporary Muslims, today’s Eastern Europeans refuse to be told by Brussels that it must welcome them.
In the nineteen-sixties, formerly colonialist Western Europe made up for its sins by enshrining human solidarity as a core European Union value. Currently, however, decades of welfare state plenty having given way to poor economic performance, its far-right parties are experiencing a troubling rise in the polls, and youth, nostalgic for fascist power, demonstrates ever more violently against Muslim refugees. Londoners had barely just elected their first Muslim Mayor, inevitably evoking the international best-seller ‘Submission’, in which the French give themselves a Muslim president, when Italians and Austrians began hurling stones and Molotov cocktails at each other at the Brenner Pass, a historical military site, and the Austrian Chancellor has resigned over the immigrant issue.
Europe is experiencing a combination soft/hard takeover: by the refugees on one hand, and a neighboring ruler nurtured by the US, but no longer ready to play the role of subordinate either to Europe or NATO. While ISIS – even with not so covert Turkish help – can eventually be brought to heel, Erdogan’s plan is already partly realized, thanks to Europeans themselves.