Erdogan Revives Call for Macron to Get Help as Tensions Rise
(Bloomberg) -- Turkey stepped up its criticism over Europe’s treatment of Muslims, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeating his call for French counterpart Emmanuel Macron to get psychiatric help, threatening to deepen the rift between the NATO country and its European allies.
“I’ve said it on Saturday and am repeating it again,” Erdogan said in a televised speech Sunday. “Macron needs to get himself checked out.”
Erdogan initially lashed out at Macron, signaling that the French president displayed religious intolerance in promising to crackdown on extremists after the murder of a school teacher in Paris. France called Erdogan’s initial statement unacceptable and withdrew its ambassador. The Turkish leader’s communications director also broadened the target of the government’s ire beyond France in a series of tweets on Sunday.
“Europe is an increasingly dangerous place for Muslims,” Fahrettin Altun said in the tweets. “The dog-whistle politics of offensive caricatures, accusations of separatism against Muslims, and mosque raids isn’t about freedom of expression. It’s about intimidating and reminding Muslims that they are welcome to keep the European economy going, but they will never belong.”
Altun’s comments were rebuffed by several EU officials, including Margaritis Schinas, the EU Commissioner for Promoting the European Way of Life, who replied on Twitter saying: “Sorry to disappoint you but this is our way of life as defined in our Treaty.”
The tension between Turkey and the EU has been escalating over a number of issues from the Libyan civil war to Turkey’s energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean with France’s Macron criticizing Erdogan for his assertion of regional power. The EU is also reliant on Turkey to help stem of refugees into the region and under a 2016 deal agreed to pay Turkey billions of dollars to help control the tide of Syrians and other migrants seeking entry.
Erdogan also slammed U.S. threats to impose sanctions on the country over its purchase and testing of Russian S-400 missiles missiles, saying: “bring it on.”
The latest strain to relations was triggered by the murder of 47-year-old Samuel Paty, who was beheaded near the Paris school where he worked after showing cartoon images of the Prophet Mohammed to students in a discussion of free speech. The killing shocked the nation and prompted thousands to take to the streets in protest. The government moved to crack down on what it described as Muslim extremists, detaining more than a dozen people, closing a Mosque and targeting some Islamist support groups.
France’s pledge to crack down on radical Islam contributed to Erdogan’s remarks about his mental state. The French government called those comments unacceptable. Macron’s opponents, from far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen to far-left lawmaker Adrien Quatennens, condemned Erdogan’s attack on Macron Sunday.
Erdogan is “seeking to take advantage of a dramatic event to affirm that France is fighting against Muslims,” France’s Junior Minister for EU Affairs Clement Beaune told Radio J.
Still, Erdogan’s pushback appeared to be resonating in the Middle East, with several Arab trade associations announcing boycotts of French products, Al-Jazeera reported. Hashtags such as the #BoycottFrenchProducts were trending in countries including Kuwait, Qatar, Palestine, Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, Al-Jazeera said.
Macron has said that Islam was “in crisis,” while insisting on the need to not stigmatize Muslims. The Catholic-dominated country has a historic attachment to secularism, which implies that the state can’t support nor target any religion and has strict restrictions on public display of faith. Blasphemy is enshrined in French law as a component of free speech.
“We won’t give up on caricatures, on drawings,” Macron said in a speech Wednesday that paid homage to the murdered teacher, during a solemn ceremony at the Sorbonne university, drawing the ire of some Muslims at home, and abroad. The topic of caricatures has become recurrent in the French public debate and in classes since Islamists gunmen carried an attack on Charlie Hebdo in 2015 after it published cartoons depicting the Prophet.
With Le Pen preparing another fierce fight for the 2022 French election, and the left looking for new alternatives, Macron is trying to win over conservative voters. In July, he handed the crucial security portfolio to Gerald Darmanin, who’s got a working-class, North African background and an uncompromising commitment to France’s secular values.
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