By Finian Cunningham
Only hours after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a bloodcurdling warning about terror attacks against European citizens, four people lay dead on the streets of London. That death toll may rise further because several of those injured in the attack this week in the British capital are in critical condition, fighting for their lives.
Erdogan was speaking Wednesday in what was yet another diatribe in his ongoing war of words with the European Union. The Turkish leader has been enraged by European governments refusing ministers from Ankara holding political rallies in Germany, Netherlands and Austria among other countries. As a result of the injunctions, he has accused the EU of displaying Islamophobia and hostility towards Turkey.
In his latest barrage earlier this week, Erdogan warned that there would be dire repercussions for EU citizens owing to the perceived stance of their governments.
«If you continue to behave like this, tomorrow in no part of the world, no European, no Westerner will be able to take steps on the street safely and peacefully», Erdogan said.
Tragically, within hours of announcing these very words, a British-born man plowed his speeding car into pedestrians on London’s Westminster Bridge, killing several of them and seriously wounding dozens more. The assailant then got out of his crashed vehicle and ran into the grounds of the British parliament where he stabbed a police officer to death, before being fatally shot by another officer.
The attacker was named as 52-year-old Khalid Masood, a British citizen. It is not clear yet what his precise motives were, but the deadly attack was subsequently claimed by the Islamic State terror group.
Turkey’s Erdogan was reportedly one of many world leaders who quickly phoned British premier Theresa May to offer his condolences. Later on Wednesday night, Erdogan released a statement on social media, saying: «We stand in solidarity with the UK, our friend and ally, against terrorism, the greatest threat to global peace and security».
There is a sense here that the Turkish leader was reeling from his own earlier warnings of would-be terror consequences for European citizens, and how his tirades against the EU might be implicated in inciting violence.
Certainly, the EU, in short-order, seemed to find Erdogan’s forecasting of acts of terrorism against European citizens and how «they would not be safe on streets around the world» to be lamentable.
Turkey’s envoy in Brussels was promptly summoned to «explain» the president’s doom-laden words. The day after the London killings, the EU foreign affairs spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic reportedly said: «We have asked the Turkish permanent delegate to the EU to come… as we would like to receive an explanation with regard to the comments by President Erdogan concerning the safety of Europeans on the streets of the world».
At best, Erdogan’s chilling warnings against European citizens are grossly insensitive. Apart from the carnage in London, on the very day that he issued his grim forecast of violence, the date was also the first anniversary of the terror attacks in Brussels when more than 30 people were killed by suicide bombers in the Belgian capital on March 22 last year.
Over the past year, there have been several other terror attacks on the streets of European cities, including the carnage in Nice when a would-be jihadist drove an articulated lorry into a pedestrians last July, killing over 80.
There was also an horrific attack in Berlin when an assailant drove a lorry into a crowded Christmas market.
In all these incidents, there appears to be an Islamist connection. The perpetrators may be acting in some sort of «lone wolf» capacity, without the organizational support of the al Qaeda terror network. But that’s beside the point. The attacks appear to be motivated by some level of Islamist grievance. Perhaps acts of revenge against European governments and citizens who are perceived as being complicit in illegal wars on, or persecution of, Muslim majority countries in the Middle East.
This is where Turkish President Erdogan bears more responsibility than merely just «bad timing» or being «insensitive» remarks.
In recent weeks, Erdogan and senior government ministers in Ankara have been engaging in a reckless war of words with the EU, which can be viewed as bordering on incitement.
Erdogan has repeatedly accused Germany and The Netherlands of acting like «Nazis and fascists». He has condemned the whole of the EU as being «racist» and «anti-Islam».
Just last week, Erdogan claimed that Dutch UN peacekeeping troops were responsible for the Srebrenica massacre in 1995, when up to 8,000 Muslim men were killed by Serb forces. Erdogan said the Dutch had the blood of Muslims «on their hands».
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Ankara’s fit of rage stems from European governments blocking political rallies being held in their cities by Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party. Those rallies are aimed at mobilizing Turkish expatriates to vote in Turkey’s referendum next month, which is being held to endorse increasing constitutional powers for Erdogan’s presidency.
Erdogan’s grip on power has already become increasingly autocratic since the attempted coup against his rule failed last July.
In order to push Turkish voters to back his sought-after constitutional changes, Erdogan is evidently whipping up patriotic fervor and in particular Islamist fervor by indulging in a war of words with the EU.
Denouncing European states as «anti-Islamic» and «racist» may gain Erdogan votes. But such incitement has consequences. This war of words is not an abstract phenomenon. It risks inflicting real human casualties, as Europe has all-too often witnessed over the past year.
If EU governments had any spine, they would hold Erdogan legally to account over his potentially seditious behavior.
But the supine EU is too busy trying to keep the Turkish sultan sweet so that he doesn’t open the refugee floodgates from the wars that European governments have been stoking across the Middle East and North Africa.
Finian Cunningham, Former editor and writer for major news media organizations. He has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages