Muslims never guilty of 'terrorist massacres,' Turkey's Erdogan insists

Monday's spectacle at Erdogan's new, 1,150-room palace raised eyebrows. (Reuters)

Monday's spectacle at Erdogan's new, 1,150-room palace raised eyebrows. (Reuters)

Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly bizarre rhetoric continued this week when he told reporters Muslims have "never taken part in terrorist massacres" and appeared to blame the West for the recent Islamist attacks in Paris.

The NATO nation leader and western ally has moved his powerful nation further from its Constitutionally-mandated secularism in recent years, and has drawn criticisms for not doing more to stop the flow of foreign jihadis, who pass through Istanbul on their way to join Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. But Monday's comments, against the backdrop of near-universal condemnation of the Islamist attack on French satirical tabloid Charlie Hebdo, could further isolate Erdogan from the West.

"Behind [terrorist massacres] lie racism, hate speech, and Islamophobia."

- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

“As Muslims, we've never taken part in terrorist massacres," Erdogan said. "Behind these lie racism, hate speech, and Islamophobia. French citizens carry out such a massacre, and Muslims pay the price. The West's hypocrisy is obvious.”

Erdogan spoke a day after more than 40 world leaders, including Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, joined in Paris to condemn the Jan. 7 attack and the related shooting of a police officer and siege on a Paris kosher supermarket, Islamist attacks that left a total of 17 innocent people dead. The attacks were motivated by Charlie Hebdo's publishing of caricatures of Muhammad.

“Take note that the acts of terror are not carried out in a vacuum," Erdogan said. "The acts follow a predetermined script and we should be [aware of a] a plot against the Islamic world.”

The comments also came against the backdrop of continuing slaughter of Muslims in Syria and Iraq by Islamic State and Al Qaeda and fresh reports that Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram killed an estimated 2,000 villagers in its latest atrocity. 

In recent months, Erdogan has cracked down on the press and made a series of bizarre statements, some of which seem to have been aimed at elevating his status in the Muslim world. Monday's speech came as he met Abbas at his new, 1,150-room palace amid a ceremonial spectacle that drew ridicule from critics. Sixteen men dressed as ancient eastern warriors, holding replica swords, maces and spears lined a staircase as Erdogan descended to greet Abbas.

The pair saluted the Presidential Guard of Honor before walking to the bottom of the staircase, where they posed for a picture, shaking hands. The scene looked surreal with the costumed men — believed to represent Turkic-Mongolian and Ottoman warriors — standing proudly upright in the background, Al Monitor wrote in a column entitled "Is Erdogan Losing Touch with Reality?"

"The bizarre ceremony, unprecedented in Turkey’s history, instantly became the subject of lampoon on social media, blasted as shallow, ridiculous and problematic, while catching also the attention of foreign media for the same reasons," the publication's Turkey-based columnist Kadri Gursel wrote.

But a more practical concern of Turkey's neighbors and allies is its inability - or unwillingness - to secure its borders with Syria and Iraq has brought increasing international criticism, as jihadists have flocked to the killing fields in Syria and Iraq to fight alongside radical Islamist groups. No less worrying is that the Turkish border has also provided a return gateway to the battle-hardened killers to all too easily re-enter the West, posing massive security threats to democracies of the type seen last week in Paris.

“It’s no easy matter trying to secure extensive borders and stop everyone getting through, as the United States has found on its border with Mexico,” an Israeli government spokesman told, “but Turkey could be doing more. We used to have very good relations with Turkey and we know just how beneficial those relations were, not only to both sides, but also to the U.S, but it’s disgraceful what Erdogan is saying.”

One of the last remaining supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey has also put out the welcome mat and provided logistical support to Hamas, the Gaza-based terror organization whose leader Khaled Meshaal was last week reported to have been asked to leave his base in Qatar and reportedly will be granted safe haven by Erdogan.

Erdogan, who did not attend the Paris rally but did send Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, slammed Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for showing up, saying through his spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, it was "unacceptable that Israel’s Prime Minister dared attend" the rally "instead of being brought to account for the women, children and journalists killed in Israel’s offensives in Gaza.”

But Gursel believes there is an underlying explanation for Erdogan's sharp turn away from the West and an embrace of fundamental Islam and its history that at times seems to border on delusional. Last year, the Turkish president overcame a widespread corruption scandal that toppled four cabinet ministers involved his son to win the presidency in August. But all 550 seats of Turkey's legislature, the Grand National Assembly, are up in June, and Erdogan needs the Justice and Development Party that he founded in 2001 to maintain its grip on power. The West and the phantom of Islamophobia could provide a uniting straw man for a winning coalition of voters, not to mention a distraction from the failures of his party and administration 

"More Islam and more Islamism are meant to obliterate the deep marks left by the corruption allegations and evidence against his party and government," Gursel wrote. "The next general elections in June represent a key motivation in his efforts."

Paul Alster is an Israel-based journalist. Follow him on Twitter @paul_alster and visit his website: