Turkey's Urge to Bash the West

Joost Lagendijk
July 30, 2013

In his column on the Turkish daily Today's Zaman, PN Member Joost Lagendijk reflects this time on "Turkey's urge to bash the West": why have so many Turkish politicians and a growing number of jurnalists been bashing their colleagues in the US and Europe for their reactions regarding the situation in Egypt?

Joost Lagendijk has been Member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2009. He is now living and working in Turkey as a columnist for the Turkish dailies Zaman and Today's Zaman.

It seems to be an unstoppable Turkish proclivity: blaming the West for being hypocritical and applying double standards in relation to Turkey and the rest of the Muslim world. We are right in the middle of a new round of this popular national pastime and the focus of attention this time around is on Egypt. For weeks now, Turkish politicians and, surprisingly, a growing number of journalists have been bashing their colleagues in the US and Europe for not calling the military coup in Egypt a coup and for showing no or too little interest in the violent attacks on the deposed Muslim Brotherhood.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan can't get enough of it and again, over the weekend, lashed out at Europe: “Those who remain silent when Egyptians' national will was massacred now remain silent again as the Egyptian people are being slaughtered. I'm asking where is Europe, and what happened to European values? Where are those who go around giving lessons in democracy everywhere?” A few days ago, Turkish Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz condemned the lack of coverage of the killings in Egypt by the foreign media.

One could dismiss both statements as acts of revenge that were to be expected after all the strongly worded declarations from Washington and Brussels on the Gezi Park protests and the attention paid by American and European journalists to these demonstrations. The Turkish government was totally put off by all this, in their eyes, disproportionate media coverage, and now payback time is here: Let's blame all the arrogant foreigners for getting it wrong on Egypt.

What has surprised me more is that this choir of disgruntled politicians has been joined by Turkish journalists and columnists, across the board, including some in this paper, who, on the basis of mistakes made in Egypt, blame the West in general for having given up on human rights and being biased, as always, towards Muslims.

One explanation for this new outburst of anti-Western feelings is of course the old, historically rooted aversion to European efforts to split up and weaken the country, the infamous Sevres syndrome. In the past 10 years one should add to that the rise of Islamophobia in the US and Europe, sometimes exaggerated in Turkey but definitively an important new factor in trying to understand popular suspicions about a lack of Western honesty and impartiality. The same applies to the constant stern admonitions from Brussels on Turkey's failures to meet European criteria on democracy and human rights, for instance in the field of press freedom. The government is clearly fed up with this criticism and many Turks have stopped listening because they have given up on the EU.

All these deep currents in public opinion partly explain, and to a certain extent justify, the enthusiasm with which many have joined the anti-Western crowd. But how is it possible that so many educated Turks see no problem in talking about “the” West and make no distinction between, for instance, the US and Europe or between governments and media?

Let's be specific and take the case of Egypt. I agree with the condemnation of both the Obama administration and the EU for not calling the coup a coup. But the last couple of days have shown that it would be a huge mistake to put both in one Western bowl. While the US is having growing problems in upholding a tricky balancing act, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton was the first to meet ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in an effort to mediate in the current crisis and include the Muslim Brotherhood in the transition process.

It is obvious that Washington and Brussels have different agendas on this issue. Yes, both failed to call a spade a spade. But should that prevent Turkish politicians and journalists from trying to understand and, if possible, influence these agendas to the benefit of the Egyptians they so passionately claim to defend? More on that in my next column, in which I will also elaborate on the, in my eyes, puzzling blunder made by many Turks to equate a dubious US government policy with the outstanding reporting by many American newspapers on Egypt.


Originally published by Today's Zaman.

Photo by massdistraction.

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