Future generations will look back at this time of human history with stern judgment.
Policies of hate and religious intolerance are taking centre stage — while those of solidarity and mutual aid, much-needed during times of a global pandemic, have taken a recess.
The void in global leadership — in a world directed by capital and the pursuit of profit — has created an opportunity for Presidents’ Erdoğan and Macron to believe in their sense of destiny to steer human history.
To relocate from the footnotes of history, these leaders have chosen the path of confrontation, whipping up religious and nationalist identities to raise their perceived power.
The most recent row began with President Macron’s speech on the 2nd of October that sought to address the complex balancing of the secular ideals of France and the perceived incompatibilities with Islam. While describing “Islam in crisis“, Macron sought to address domestic concerns by outlining new legal initiatives that will seek to combat “radical Islamism”. While these have yet to be tabled formally, the amendments to the 1905 French law on secularism will increase state control over the organisation of the Islamic faithful by the French Republic, partly to “free Islam in France from foreign influences”.
For Macron to conflate a minority of Muslims whom bear extreme ideologies with the broader 1.8 billion adherents of the faith is incendiary and irresponsible. The response from Erdoğan — the leader of a secular Muslim country — was swift. Removing veils of diplomatic courtesy, he attacked the psychological health of the French President while calling for the boycott of French products in Turkey. While European leaders have been earnestly supporting President Macron, leaders in the Islamic World are under increasing pressure to take a stand — even more so with Macron’s insistence on not to “give up the cartoons” which depict Prophet Mohammad.
This latest round of confrontation, triggered by the brutal murder of Samuel Paty, has reignited intensive debates across the political spectrum. The killing of a teacher — for carrying out their duties — is a symbolic attack on education. In the same week, 24 Afghan students were killed at an education centre in Kabul. Attacks by zealots on these soft targets are a form of intimidation that needs to be countered at its source.
Macron and Erdoğan, along with their contemporaries who prefer harsh words and confrontational actions, are paving a dangerous road for humanity.
French society is being dragged into an untrue dichotomy, with some intellectuals and media channels moving the debate towards a fake polarisation. This false debate pits radical secularists that seemingly confuse state neutrality towards religion by insisting on the erasure of religious obligations in public contexts and Islamogauchists that seek to downplay the fundamentalist elements amongst adherents to Islam against each other.
Meanwhile, Macron, with an eye on the 2022 elections, is seeking to remould himself into not only the leader France, but of an emergent global power — filling the space left behind by a Brexited Britain and a lonesome United States. The loud silence of Germany toward Turkey, while being talked of quiet diplomacy, may yet be due to concerns of maintaining internal cohesion over the large Turkish minority in the country. Furthermore, French attempts to create a zone of influence through the EUROMED initiative, as well as the promise of vast hydrocarbon reserves in the Mediterranean, is propelling the region towards another crisis.
Erdoğan, emboldened by the geopolitical realities of his time, as well as threats to his political survival, is continuously doubling down on his rhetoric and expanding the use of hard power across region. The Turkish economy, which had its GDP nearing a trillion USD in 2013, has lost almost 200 billon USD from its economy since the expansion of its foreign policy adventures. A drop that almost matches the entire Greek economy. Both nations see the riches from fossil resources as vital for regaining their lost prestige.
This short-sighted view neglects the long-term harm — to both their own societies as well as the planet — in maintaining human dependence on fossil fuels. A just transition to the Green New Deal for Europe, and beyond, will diminish tensions over resources that should no longer be tapped. Macron and Erdoğan, by politicising circumstances to detract from their domestic failures, are further deepening the abyss they find themselves in. Deportations, deterrence and control over religious organisations, not to mention continued arms sales to global hot spots, will not resolve the alienation and isolation of minorities.
France and Turkey find themselves on opposite sides of regional proxy wars and resource conflicts.
From Libya and Syria, to the Aegean and Nagorno-Karabakh, these diplomatic spats could transform into incidents that could have unintended — and deadly — consequences. With no climbdown in sight, we are fast approaching a turning point. We can either choose to descend farther into the abyss of confrontation and reverse the course of human history away from its progress, or we can turn towards what is essential during this time: human solidarity, environmental sustainability and the peaceful settlement of disputes. Supporting this requires transnational democratic practices that seek to nurture the forces for peace and reconciliation across borders.
In the immediate term, we:
- Invite grassroots organisations in Turkey and France to meaningfully collaborate on de-escalating the war of words, while simultaneously increasing pressure on their respective governments to curb their knee-jerk reactions.
- Appeal on religious leaders globally, of Abrahamic faiths or otherwise, to call for greater religious tolerance jointly and an end to the use of religious beliefs for meagre political gains.
- Demand the European Parliament and Commission to adopt the 10 pillars of the Green New Deal for Europe and transition our economic and political systems towards a just and sustainable future, while reversing biodiversity loss and sharply reducing inequality.
- Request the immediate convening of a conference of the Mediterranean states to mend the Mediterranean crisis.
The road to acrimony could find France, having never extradited itself from its colonial past, to plunge into internal strife. Similarly, Turkey, suffering from significant economic loss and a weakened currency, could hurtle towards a future engulfed in conflicts across the region. We would not have been at this juncture had the institutions within these countries — as well as the EU — been democratic enough to direct their political energy towards policies of solidarity, sustainability and the peaceful resolution of conflicts.
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This article has been authored by Amir Kiyaei and Paola Pietrandrea, who are members of the Peace and International Policy DSC.
Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons.
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