Commentary. Europe takes lessons from a Turkish autocrat on humanity, democracy and respect for freedom.

The Turkish dictator and his European subjects

When a tyrant is glorified, perhaps to strike a deal or to get rich, sooner or later it ends badly. Very badly. It happened to Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi with General-President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and now it’s happening to all the European leaders with the Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is transforming Turkey into a dark dungeon.

Obscuring the fact that the Egyptian president’s coup had blood on its hands, Renzi first legitimized el-Sisi, then praised him publicly and forged a special, even friendly, relationship with him. Now he doesn’t know what to say about the fact el-Sisi is hiding evidence and obstructing the investigation into the murder of Italian scholar Giulio Regeni. All he can say is Egypt has provided “inadequate cooperation,” even as repression, violent disappearances, arrests and death sentences rage. Even Ahmed Abdallah, a human rights activist and adviser to the Regeni family, has been arrested.

On the Turkish front, they want to blame the Turkish president for his misdeeds. But nevertheless, Europeans enter into his court to take lessons on humanity, democracy and respect for freedom. Just look at Angela Merkel, who accepted the indictment in Germany of the comedian Jan Böhmermann who wrote a satirical song about Erdogan.

We first empowered Erdogan by enlisting him to destabilize Syria by providing weapons and training to the galaxy of insurgents, which also included jihadists from the Nusra Front (al Qaeda) and the Islamic State. This was a partial success — not quite as complete as in Libya — in the devastation of another Middle Eastern state, with apocalyptic human and social costs.

Then, faced with the tragedy of tens of millions of refugees fleeing the war we allowed, we rewarded Erdogan with a donation of as much as €6 billion. We bestowed upon him the role of savior of Europe because he will build, on our dime, a “safe place” for the tide of desperate people. Anything, in short, to avoid them coming to our house.

The European Union is no longer recognizable and, instead of being the welcoming mother — to paraphrase Pope Francis’ warning — it is more like a torture chamber strewn with obstacles and walls. The story is blatantly visible to everyone, to the point that even a guilty Renzi has emerged declaring, between one tweet and the next, concern about the quality of the E.U. agreement with Ankara. When he signed it, was he ignoring what everyone already knew?

And what is the Turkish Sultan doing? Twenty-four hours after ousting the “too-pro-Western” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, he set his sights on a new, more presidential and authoritarian Constitution. On the same day, two journalists from the opposition newspaper, Cumhuryet, the director Cam Dündar and editor in chief Erdem Gül, were sentenced to five years in prison for breach of state secrecy after documenting and denouncing arms trafficking with jihadists in Syria. Dündar, as he stood before the Istanbul court, suffered an attack with a deadly weapon on account of him being a “traitor.” At that moment Erdogan harshly announced to Europe that he would not change the anti-terror laws that the European Council called a tool to “crack down on the activities of civil society and strangle legitimate political debate and investigative journalism.” Even the United States denounces them.

In the meantime, Turkey has the dubious distinction of having the highest number of journalists in prison. And while leaders of the Kurdish left receive death threats and Kurdish cities are hit by an unparalleled repressive violence, bombed out and under curfew, in Europe none of this even qualifies as news.

The great writer Orhan Pamuk has launched recently a painful and helpless cry of alarm: “Save Istanbul. We live in fear.” The fact is that the Sultan, a moderate Islamist, is also the southern bastion of the Atlantic Alliance that is a mute witness to repression of civil rights in Turkey. If Turkey were hit by a legitimate democratic uprising, the European Union would be lost.

This is how Erdogan keeps the chancelleries of the Old Continent in check. In fact, he will start to manage a network of concentration camps to cage the desperation of refugees on behalf of the shameful arrogance of Fortress Europe. Really there is no need for Ankara to enter the European Union anymore. It is already running our show. The integration is realized: We are the real Turks.

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