If the Western media genuinely wants to strengthen Turkey's democracy, they should support Ankara's efforts instead of alienating the Turkish people
In recent years, the Western media's obsession with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has reached a whole new level. Day in and day out, editors, columnists and op-ed contributors for major media outlets including The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Guardian criticize Turkey's alleged authoritarian turn and blame all the West's problems on Erdoğan. Under the pretext of offering expert advice, they make the point that the president is the source of the pressing problems in the Middle East and Europe.
More recently, policy-makers and analysts have resorted to anti-Erdoğanism to settle domestic disputes. The German opposition claims Chancellor Angela Merkel bowed to Erdoğan. In Britain, the Leave campaign cites Turkey's membership bid to mobilize their supporters. Instead of engaging in a meaningful policy discussion about visa liberalization, the resettlement of Syrian refugees and Turkey-EU relations, certain groups keep talking about the authoritarian Islamist sultan's greed.
To skip a difficult conversation about xenophobia and social integration in Europe, populists like to bring up what they falsely represent as the Islamist dictatorship in Turkey. The country's fight against the PKK, an armed group both Washington and Brussels consider a terrorist organization, is presented as proof of authoritarianism and the Turkish leader's push for total control.
The Times, a leading British newspaper, last week described Turkey's counter-terrorism operations as "a largely hidden war against the Kurds." Erdoğan, the editorial board claimed, smelled "the weakness of the EU and its current dependency on Turkey." Their policy recommendation? To avoid getting pulled into a state of moral jeopardy, they called on European leaders to not bow to the Turkish president's power politics.
The main problem with the West's moral argument against Ankara's efforts to defeat the PKK, whose return to violence last summer led to bloodshed and destruction across southeastern Turkey, is that Europe felt no moral obligation to stop Syrian dictator Bashar Assad's atrocities against his country's citizens. Nor do European politicians care that their open support for the People's Protection Units (YPG), the PKK's Syrian franchise, translates into death and devastation in places like Sur, Cizre and Nusaybin.
To be clear, the Western media's defamation campaign against the president has turned into an act of discrimination and alienation. Eating out of the hand of Erdoğan's staunchest opponents, Western pundits conveniently portray him as the unwanted relative in the European family - if not a modern-day Attila or Genghis Khan, whom their ancestors called the "scourge of God" before the invention of political correctness.
Perhaps Erdoğan's critics act out of consideration for their national interests. Or they feel obliged to assist his domestic opponents. Either way, their accusations have virtually no influence on the the president's supporters. Instead, the West's defamation campaign only makes the Turkish opposition more aggressive and frustrated - which, in turn, pushes them to consider street violence and military intervention as potential ways of making a comeback.
If the Western media genuinely wants to strengthen Turkey's democracy, they should support Ankara's efforts instead of alienating the Turkish people. International politics isn't just about conflicts of interest but also finding a middle ground to accomplish shared goals. By acknowledging the value of cooperation with Turkey, the West could make an actual contribution to Turkish democracy.
About the author
Burhanettin Duran is General Coordinator of SETA Foundation and a professor at Social Sciences University of Ankara. He is also a member of Turkish Presidency Security and Foreign Policies Council.