Why is the Deputy Prime Minister going to Istanbul?

The government seems determined to do its utmost to assist in the election campaign of the odious Turkish President Erdogan.  It surely cannot be their conscious intention, but how else to read what they are doing?

There are local elections in Turkey next weekend. The Financial Times reports that the ruling party is facing the possibility of losing control of the capital city, Ankara.  The economy –  which has done remarkably well in recent decades (as I’ve noted here, real GDP per hour worked is now almost equal to New Zealand) – is currently in a sharp downturn.

Erdogan appears to be trying to bolster his local appeal by wrapping around himself some sort of self-acquired mantle as a leader among Islamic states.

And thus, although no Turkish citizens were killed in last Friday’s dreadful attacks in Christchurch, suddenly the Turkish Vice-President and Foreign Minister are in New Zealand.  There are motorcades in Christchurch and even a meeting with the Governor-General.   What was the government doing agreeing to even this visit?  Didn’t their advisers tell them how this would most likely be used?  And, to add insult to injury, this is a Turkish government that –  like all Turkish governments – actively denies (and threatens states that say otherwise) the active involvement of Turkish authorities in the Armenian genocide, one of the most hideous events in an awful war.

And that was before we learned of Erdogan using clips from the shooting video in his election rally, amping up the rhetoric with talk of Gallipoli and how the landings in 1915 had been anti-Muslim in nature, and talking of sending people (New Zealanders and Australians) home in coffins.  Perhaps it played well to his base, but not only was it irresponsible and inflammatory, it wasn’t even remotely historically accurate.  Turkey –  or its predecessor the Ottoman Empire –  actively chose to enter the war on the German and Austro-Hungarian side.  Right up to the outbreak of war the British had been helped develop the Ottoman navy.  I’m not relitigating the rights and wrongs of the First World War, but it was their choice.  The German establishment at the time was firmly Protestant.   The New Zealand government history site tells us

Enver grew impatient. On 25 October 1914, without consulting any of his ministerial colleagues, he ordered Admiral Souchon to take the Ottoman fleet, including the German-crewed ships, into the Black Sea to attack the Russians. The fleet carried out surprise raids on Theodosia, Novorossisk, Odessa and Sevastopol, sinking a Russian minelayer, a gunboat and 14 civilian ships. On 2 November, Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire. France and the British Empire, Russia’s wartime allies, followed suit on the 5th. Enver Pasha had succeeded in bringing the Ottoman Empire into the First World War on the side of the Central Powers, Germany and Austria-Hungary. Whether he would be as successful in achieving his principal war aim – pan-Turkic expansion into Central Asia at Russia′s expense – was another question.

Erdogan can play domestic politics all he likes.  That is his problem, and that of his people/country.   But we should hold our officeholders to account for their (in)actions and words.

We are told that our Foreign Minister has had a quiet word to the visiting Turkish politicians.  But we’ve heard nothing from our Prime Minister.  By contrast, Scott Morrison has openly demanded an apology from Erdogan.  I’m sure he won’t get one, but at least he has put his cards on the table, and stuck up for his country.

What is our government doing?  Well, a press release yesterday told us that the Foreign Minister (Deputy Prime Minister in this coalition government) is off to Turkey, of all places, accompanied by another government minister.

“Our current intention is then to travel onwards to Turkey, at the request of the Turkish Government, to attend a special ministerial meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation being held in Istanbul.

“This important event will allow New Zealand to join with our partners in standing against terrorism and speaking up for values such as understanding and religious tolerance.

So, late in his election campaign, having insulted New Zealanders –  past and present –  Erdogan summons a meeting and our government comes running.   How does he supppose the state-dominated media in Turkey is likely to present that?  As if New Zealand has anything to answer for to Turkey.

And that is before we get to even consider this meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.  This is such an odious organisation that just recently they issued a collective official statement endorsing the treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang by the People’s Republic of China.  I’ve been critical of our government for saying and doing nothing on that issue, but not once have I supposed that the Prime Minister and her Foreign Minister think it is all just fine (they leave that stance to Todd McClay). To his credit, Erdogan has actually been a rare leader to criticise the PRC over Xinjiang, but this is a meeting of the OIC itself Winston Peters is to attend.

And what messages does he envisage?  They will jointly speak out against terrorism –  no problem with that –  but they will also, we are told, speak up for “values such as…religious tolerance”.   Really?     It would be great if they both did it and meant it, but a significant proportion of the member countries of the OIC have apostasy laws on the books.

apostasy.png

And a significant proportion of those countries actually provide the death penalty as the punishment for leaving Islam.  I’ve listened to church leaders talk about the extreme courage of (rare) converts.  Tolerance in these countries means if you are born and raised Christian, Jewish or whatever you can stay that way, but no one is allowed to convert out of Islam.

It isn’t true of all countries.  Turkey is pretty good on the religious freedom score.  But  –  given the laws on their own statute books, freely chosen – any talk of religious toleration by the OIC is almost certain to be less than entirely honest.  And Winston Peters will be giving them cover by attending this meeting, just as he’ll probably be grist to Erdogan’s election campaign by turning up in Istanbul at all at a time like this.

Perhaps he will use the visit to make a strongly-worded call for an apology from Erdogan and for (too much of) the Islamic world to embrace genuine religious freedom –  the right to adopt or to leave a religion.  But I’m not holding my breath.

19 thoughts on “Why is the Deputy Prime Minister going to Istanbul?

  1. Erdogan’s use of the appalling tragedy in Christchurch for propaganda purposes including portraying the ANZACs at Gallipoli as anti-Muslim crusaders could put New Zealanders’ lives at risk around the world. We should have nothing to do with him unless there is a full and public apology. The Government must reconsider the wisdom of this Ministerial mission.

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  2. I cannot even guess what is Peter’s mind. Has he at all explained the purpose of his trip or for that matter the Turks into to NZ.
    There are many things he could be working on e.g. gun laws, internal and external security including cyber and, many New Zealander’s will be booked to go Turkey for ANZAC so their security and well being must be of concern.
    The PM needs to turn him around, fast, before he makes a total fool of himself and New Zealand.

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  3. Ok. I’ve more time to comment.

    Erdogan came in to power in Turkey around 2003 and promised to clean up government and implement pro-market reforms within the context of the Islamic AK Party. He also promised that Turkey would move towards eU entry. And for a while it worked. Turkey has had possibly its longest span of economic development in a century. Unfortunately, Erdogan is also a pretty nasty guy and after a while he began to attack what he called the ‘deep state’ in particular secular politicians, journalists and others including the military, many of whom had their support base in Istanbul. He has some very wacky ideas on economics – raising interest rates raises inflation etc – and he began to chart a course away from the US/EU and towards a non-align status. He engaged in multiple attacks on the press and the coup against him is widely believed to have been staged by him leading to tens of thousands of arrests. He’s a really nasty POS.

    As for the economy, they have a massive BoP problem and it’s really only a matter of time before Turkey has a full-fledged balance of payments crisis. The banking system had huge unrealised impairments and is equally vulnerable.

    So playing on people’s xenophobia and racism is his bread and butter.

    I’ve spent my career as an EM economist and visited Turkey many times (most recently in September (Istanbul is an amazing city)) and it doesn’t surprise me at all that he’s made these comments. I think Kiwis going to Gallipoli are in danger of vigilantism and I expect that visitor numbers this year will collapse.

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  4. Erdogan using this tragedy for electoral advantage is completely outrageous and should be condemned.

    But I’m also puzzled by Peter’s comments:

    He (Peters)had made it clear to the Turkish delegation that streaming the video was totally unfair and misrepresented the country, as it was a non-New Zealand citizen, he said.

    “[It] Imperils the future and safety of the New Zealand people and our people abroad and it is totally unfair .. we oppose terrorism …We did not start or bring about this disaster.”

    Its sort of like saying to any idiot potentially thinking of revenge ‘it wasnt us! it was those Aussies…we are innocent!’

    But of course the only guilty party is the gunman himself, and of course those who contributed to a climate of racism. But that’s not the average New Zealander, nor indeed Australian. The average Australian is just as ‘innocent’ as the average New Zealander when it comes to this appalling act of savagery.

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  5. At least Peters spoke up opposing the use of the terror attack video in Erdogan’s electioneering, which was reckless and insensitive to the victims. That use of the video can only be explained in terms of Erdogan’s political ambitions. It’s well know he want’s to assume the mantle of the leader of the Islamic world. The speedy dispatch to NZ of the deputy PM and Foreign Minister show that in play. It’s all about upstaging Saudi Arabia his main rival for that crown. Erdogan is a political thug of a type we don’t see in New Zealand and an egotist quite possibly with visions of being crowned Caliph.
    As to the meeting of the OIA, I rather think this invitation was accepted by Peters as it was framed as an opportunity to speak and stress NZ’s rejection of the anti-muslim bigotry of the mosque attacker. We’ll see if he gets an chance to address the meeting. That would be a positive outcome and something our Foreign Minister should be doing. However based on past history from the OIA, the organization will likely focus on “Islamophobia” as being the source of all the world’s evils and push for laws to make it punishable with prison sentences.

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    • You are much more generous than I would be. Already this morning I heard Peters quoted on Morning Report playing down Erdogan’s actions/remarks, while the PM refuses to say anything of substance on the point (as, in fact, does Bridges – in Australia both Morrison and Shorten have strongly and openly condemned what Erdogan has been doing/saying).

      As for the trip to Istanbul, we are now told by the PM that he will “set them straight”. Perhaps he will, but recall that his own press release said he was going at the invitation of the Turkish govt to attend the OIC meeting and proclaim their shared commitment to “religious tolerance”.

      It all seems rather characteristic of this govt/PM: good at empathy and kindness (as I’ve noted on various occasions she’d be good as Gov Gen) but pretty hopeless on policy.

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      • Simon Bridges as a Opposition leader is pretty hopeless at the moment. Jacinda Ardern is certainly grabbing all the limelight but at a huge cost to our democracy as she strengthens her support power base. Her decision making is rushed and has been rather unfair biased populist actions usually targeted against 2nd property owners..

        My concern is the arrest of 2 very young teenagers with one of the kids, 18 years old having bail refused over their right to free expression. What constitutes hate is a matter of relativity. Who gets to assess the level is high enough or low enough for an arrest and the keys thrown away? Increasingly we are becoming a draconian police state under Jacinda Arderns communist government.

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  6. I wouldn’t go as far as your second para, but I am rather uneasy about a rush to prosecute/imprison in the white heat of the moment. Emotions are raw – and in the climate some people will do/say silly things (even offensive things) at times, and it is probably time to cut a little slack for a few weeks.

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  7. The two issues are unprovoked massacres on any group of people is heinous [ deleted – MHR]

    “Truly Allah loves those who fight in His Cause in battle array, as if they were a solid cemented structure,” (Surah 61:4). “Allah’s Apostle said, “Allah guarantees (the person who carries out Jihad in His Cause and nothing compelled him to go out but Jihad in His Cause and the belief in His Word) that He will either admit him into Paradise (Martyrdom) or return him with reward or booty he has earned to his residence from where he went out” (Volume 9, Book 93, Number 555: Narrated Abu Huraira).

    However, the dhimmi politicians/media bowing to Islam shows their dishonesty and lack of courage to speak the full truth on these issues.

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    • I am going to leave this up, but with a short deletion. Particularly in the specific circumstances of this week, it isn’t an argument I want to encourage/abet here. I’ll leave the rest up because it appears to be a quote from long-published text. Presumably plenty of people – Muslim and otherwise – willl debate the meaning and implications.

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