Britain’s Conservative Party has spuriously praised the Turkish government as an example of ‘democratic Islamism’ while deliberately ignoring its villainy.
In late March, Umut Oran, deputy chairman of Turkey’s political opposition, the People’s Republican Party, denounced a decision by the British Conservative Party to welcome Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), led by Prime Minister Erdogan, into the ‘Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists’ – a pan-European coalition of political parties ostensibly dedicated to defending “freedom of the individual.”
The British Conservative Party’s embrace of the AKP took place just days after President Erdogan banned Twitter and YouTube in Turkey as “a matter of national security.”
Opposition leader Umut Oran stated that the union of political parties would mean “sharing the crimes” of the Turkish Government, and that, “No one believing in the fundamental values of democracy in Europe can approve of Erdogan’s practices.”
Although President Obama, among others, describes the Ankara regime as an example of “moderate Islamism,” Erdogan does not limit himself solely to containing free expression: senior terror leaders, such as Hamas operative Saleh al-Arouri, have found refuge in Turkey; Turkish air raids have killed scores of Kurdish civilians on the Turkish-Iraqi border; and counter-terror experts regard the Turkish terror-fundraising charity IHH as, essentially, an arm of Erdogan’s government.
Some British parliamentarians – usually robust opponents of despotism, bigotry and terror – appear to suffer a blind spot where Turkey is concerned. British Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan, as a salient example, has built a strong reputation with his work exposing the corruption of the European Union, or warning of the danger posed by a nuclear Iran.
Following the introduction of the AKP into the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists, however, Hannan, who is also secretary-General of the pan-European group, declared the Alliance valued having a “positive relationship with Ankara” and that, “present developments should, however, be seen in the context of a decade of democratic and economic reforms by the AKP, including lifting broadcasting restrictions and addressing discrimination against Kurds.”
Hannan is founding member of Conservative Friends of Turkey and a self-proclaimed “Turkophile.” This adulation appears to extend to Turkey’s Islamist government. During mass protests in Turkey against the government in 2013, Hannan claimed that the mainstream media was “lying” and that it is “offensive to liken this government in Turkey, which is without question democratic, to neighbouring autocracies.” Hannan has separately praised the Turkish government’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis as “heroic.”
Hannan strongly advocates Turkish accession to the European Union, despite his long campaign to have Britain leave it. He has justified this support by claiming Turkey safeguarded Europe’s flank “against the Bolshevist tyranny; we may one day ask them to do the same against the Islamic hegemony and the Islamist Jihadi hegemony. I think that they deserve better than the way they have been treated.”
To claim that Turkey is a safeguard against Islamist hegemony is to contradict the unavoidable problem of Turkey as a leading supporter of Islamist hegemony.
Hannan’s seemingly blind support for the current repressive Turkish Government seems to be mostly based on an infatuation with Turkey itself rather than an implicit defence of AKP Islamism. In terms of realpolitik, though, the difference matters little; the effect is the same.
The AKP government certainly regards Britain’s Conservatives as an important ally of sorts. In February 2014, Turkish minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu conveyed Turkey’s gratitude for Britain’s unwavering support for Turkey’s bid to become a European Union member.
British Conservative politicians are aware of the change Turkey has undergone since the AKP came to power in 2002. When the Conservatives took power in 2010, it was not mere happenstance that David Cameron chose a Turkish audience to claim, while standing alongside Erdogan, that Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip had turned the territory into a “prison camp.”
In 2010, Turkey’s AKP represented the face of “democratic Islamism,” and the Conservative government was keen to extend a hand. In 2011, Foreign Secretary William Hague penned a comment piece in the Daily Telegraph, which declared that a “new special relationship” with Turkey was “vital for our economy, vital for our security and vital for our politics and our diplomacy.”
Hague proudly proclaimed that, “Our counter-terrorism experts met in London last week to discuss how we can strengthen cooperation in countering radicalisation and tackling the scourge of PKK terrorism.”
PKK terrorism refers to the Kurdistan Workers Party, a Marxist terror group that the British have never considered to pose a security concern. Nevertheless, in 2013, the British government proudly announced that, “Thanks to rapid action by the UK security authorities in recent years, the amount of funds raised by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK in London has diminished rapidly.”
Real security concerns for Britain — not discussed as part of the “new special relationship” — might, however, have included the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Al Qaeda – all of which have reportedly benefitted from the support of the Turkish government and the government-aligned IHH; and all of which raise funds in London.
British Conservatives are serving to legitimize a Turkish political ideology connected to terrorism abroad and repression at home. The West’s relations with the Muslim world may comprise a web of tangled alliances and distrust, but there is an importance difference between tolerating despotism and enabling it. The current British government, despite Turkey’s increasingly apparent connections to terror, are continuing to do the latter.