Islam used as soft power by Turkish government in Europe

Not a few Muslims in France see Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as the model of a modern Islamic leader, and such feelings accord with Turkish efforts for influence across the Muslim world, writes Ariane Bonzon in the Revue des Deux Mondes (November). Particularly among young, non-Turkish Muslims in France, Erdoğan is frequently considered a model Islamic leader, advocating for the rights of Muslims and Palestinians—a leader of the kind they would like to see at the helm of their own countries of origin, as French researcher Romain Caillet notes. Many have had the opportunity to travel to Turkey as tourists, and they experience it as a country where Muslim faith and citizenship in a modern society seem to be fully compatible. The Turkish government has been encouraging such feelings by presenting itself as a defender of the rights of Muslims. In recent years, Turkey has been at the forefront of the fight against “Islamophobia” and has also been active in promoting such issues in the international diplomatic and research arenas, as well as through the work of the intergovernmental Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), in which Turkey is quite active.

Recently, it was discovered that a report on Islamophobia in Europe prepared by the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), a Turkish think tank close to the Turkish government, had been financed by a research grant from the European Union, leading some of the people labelled as “Islamophobic” to protest against that financial support (Neue Zürcher Zeitung, December 11). State-supported Turkish organizations sponsor some non-Turkish Muslims living in Europe to spread and establish the concept of Islamophobia in public discourse. Through creating a network of sympathetic non-Turkish Muslims, Bonzon suggests that Erdoğan would like to show European governments that he is able to have an influence on European Muslims. More generally, one should pay attention to the way in which Turkey is positioning itself as an international actor in the Islamic field. On November 29, the largest mosque in Djibouti (a country in the Horn of Africa) was inaugurated, and its construction was entirely financed by Turkey. It bears the name of the last reigning Ottoman Sultan and Caliph (SaphirNews, December 3).

(Revue des Deux Mondes, 97 rue de Lille, 75007 Paris, France –