As expected, the trap of the “clash of civilizations” has been set. It cannot be said that Erdogan inspired the attack that left three dead at Notre Dame in Nice, but it is clear that by targeting France and insulting Macron, he set the Muslim world on fire, with unpredictable consequences.
On Thursday, from the Middle East to East Asia, tricolor flags and portraits of the French president were burned with the approval of Muslim leaders, even those who (like Turkey itself) condemned the massacre at Notre Dame.
What is the danger? That now—in addition to COVID—once this Pandora’s box is open, the rhetorical contrast between the West and the Muslim world that lends itself to instrumentalizations of all kinds will spread as well: this is what Erdogan would like, as he is committed on three war fronts, in Syria, Libya and Nagorno Karabakh, in the explosive crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean, and shaken by serious economic and social problems at home.
This is not a negligible aspect: Turkey, with its companies, is indebted to the tune of over $330 billion, mostly to European banks. Among Erdogan’s blackmails, there is not only that of the refugees on the routes from the Aegean to Libya (where he has gotten Italian patrol boats to work with), but also that of a possible financial collapse on the horizon. He would like the Europeans, whom he despises, to pay for all of it, but he knows we won’t do it, and now he risks EU sanctions for the violation of the special economic zones of Greece and Cyprus in the Aegean.
So, he is playing the card of the mobilization of the Muslim world. After he overexposed himself with expensive military enterprises, he is urging the solidarity of Muslim countries—and not just the usual Qatar—to get out of his predicament. As Erdogan is a member of NATO, theoretically an ally to Italy and the USA, but also a frenemy of Russia, the problem of the “sick man of Europe,” Turkey, is perhaps insoluble. Let us remember, acknowledging all the enormous differences between the situations, that Saddam invaded Kuwait when he decided not to pay the debts accumulated in the war against Iran with the Gulf monarchies and Western banks.
It is at times like these that we must remember what happened in the relations between Europe, the United States and the Muslim nations. A complex history—which, however, if we limit ourselves to the last few decades, consists of rather clear stages. Islamic extremism was not born out of nothing, but out of the crisis of those secularist regimes that had largely been allies of the West, and is being fed exponentially by American military interventions and those of their allies in the Middle East.
In 1979, the Khomeini revolution in Iran took out the Shah, considered by the US as their guardian in the Gulf. The Western response to the Shiite revolution was to arm Saddam’s Iraq, which waged war on Iran: eight years of conflict, one million dead. The “monster” Saddam, who then invaded Kuwait in 1990, had been supported by us and by the Sunni monarchies in the Gulf, to whom we’re still selling weapons at full clip and with whom Trump and Israel are concluding a fake peace—the so-called Abrahamic Agreements—which leaves all the injustices of the Middle East intact, including the occupation of Palestine. We Europeans, by failing to react, are also importing injustice and propaganda.
In December 1979, the USSR invaded Afghanistan, and the US, together with Pakistan and with Saudi money, took the opportunity to make war on Moscow by using the mujaheddin, who then became the Taliban and the jihadists against whom the war was fought after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The Americans today want to make peace with the same Taliban in Doha, while civilians continue to die in Afghanistan.
In 2003, the US decided, on the basis of false evidence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, to destroy the Baathist regime in the country, opening the way to Al-Qaeda and then also to the Caliphate, i.e. the worst Islamic extremism that has ever victimized the Arab populations. From there, Pandora’s box was opened, and no one has been able to close it.
Syria and the Arab Spring of 2011 were the latest examples of how the West and the Arab-Muslim world—with the Gulf monarchies pumping money to extremists—have exploited jihadism and Islamic radicalism. The United States, at the behest of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, gave Erdogan carte blanche to overthrow the Assad regime allied with Iran and Russia. France was also complicit in a plan that brought over 40,000 jihadists from Turkey to Syria, and now Paris must manage the return of French jihadists from Iraq and Syria. Before 2015, the Americans, Turks and French agreed to defenestrate Assad by all means, including through Islamist cutthroats, while Paris, Washington and London had already taken out Gaddafi in Libya.
This is where he who sows the wind shall reap the whirlwind. And those who pay for it in blood—as in Nice—are always the civilians, now terrorized by the pandemic as well.
This is not a clash of civilizations, as some would have us believe, but of interests that were at first convergent and then divergent. We all know that France has a problem, and a big one. In France, in 2018, there were 26,000 individuals considered a threat to national security, 10,000 of them radicalized or dangerous. And laws on religious separatism are not enough to liberate the country. We need something else: a dispassionate review of recent history, in which everyone, including France, takes responsibility. But it is pure fantasy to ask Erdogan’s Turkey today to take responsibility in turn.
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