Any responsible politician who declares in public that ”holy wars will soon begin” can expect one hell of a beating. So it is with Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu.
Cavusoglu is the chap who wanted to stir up the Turkish expat community in Rotterdam at a pro-President Erdogan rally, but who was promptly banned by the Dutch government. Just so you know where he’s coming from, so to speak. He’s not impressed with the Dutch politicians, and, sitting in Ankara, sees no discernible difference between the Dutch conservatives, socialists or the far-right Freedom party, led by Geert Wilders.
For the Turks, the re-elected prime minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte is, for all practical purposes, just as obnoxious as Wilders. President Erdogan himself has gone so far as to say that the Dutch are mere “Nazi remnants”, which is as offensive as it is ahistorical. Hence the row.
Yet Cavusoglu has a point. He shouldn’t have been banned from the Netherlands. He is a senior figure and, like all foreign ministers, should be treated with the respect he and his nation deserves. If he was coming to Holland less as a government official and more as a party politician, then no matter. After all, that is the essence of free speech – to allow people to be heard, to give them a platform, to allow them the right to offend.
If a Dutch politician had been refused entry to attend some gig in Istanbul, what would Western commentators have made of that? The Turks are right to be aggrieved, and are right to call into question the real dedication of “mainstream” Western parties to the very values they purport to hold dear. As extremists of left and right, “political insurgents”, nationalist/separatist parties and more or less unpleasant populists make the running in every major Western democracy, the mainstream parties are forced into a position of appeasement, by adopting watered-down version of the extremists’ ideas – mainly Euroscepticism, isolationism and anti-migrant policies.
In France, a nominally populist figure such as President Hollande will go out of his way to enforce painful bans on the wearing of traditional religious dress and symbols – not just for Muslims, agreed, but intolerable to them certainly. Tolerance and pluralism are being eroded in the name of militant secularism and abandoned in the face of the challenge of the far-right. Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders, in other words, do not have to win elections to influence public policy; coming a substantial and threatening second is more than enough.
The Turkish foreign minister deserves a hearing when he says that we in the West “all have the same mentality,” continuing: “Where will you go? Where are you taking Europe? You have begun to collapse Europe. You are dragging Europe into the abyss. Holy wars will soon begin in Europe.”
This is the real clash of civilisations – a refusal by the West to accept the equality of Muslims and Muslim nations. The Trump travel ban is the most explicit example of this; but it is there as an undercurrent in everything from Brexit to Austrian neo-Nazism.
It is precisely the reaction that Osama bin Laden earnestly yearned for on 9/11, and which Isis is cynically pursuing now. Maybe it is inevitable. When an Islamist extremist goes on a shooting spree or a bombing mission in Paris or runs a lorry into a crowd in Berlin or hacks an off-duty soldier to death in London, there will be a reaction. The videos of beheadings are designed to provoke. Rational argument is driven out by emotion.
The clash of civilisations, in that sense, is already upon us; but a “clash” takes two sides. The West’s failure is to take the bait the Islamists have laid so skilfully. The Turks, who have much more to lose and are much closer to the places where violent perverted Islam reigns than most, understand what is going on all too well. They are right to ask the West what on earth it is playing at.