Turkish-Swedish minister forced to resign due to Islamophobia, xenophobia

MERVE AYDOĞAN @mgulaydogan
Published 20.04.2016 00:15

Following strong criticism and media reports claiming to be affiliated with extremist organizations and ultranationalists last week, Swedish Housing Minister Mehmet Kaplan announced his resignation on Monday. Commenting on his decision to resign, Kaplan said that he had done nothing wrong but was forced to resign because the criticism was interfering with his ability to carry out his duties. In addition to claims of being affiliated with extremists and ultranationalists, Kaplan was further criticized due to comments made over a half-decade ago prior to becoming a minister in which he lashed out at Israel for its treatment of Palestinians. While research indicates a serious increase in Islamophobia and xenophobia throughout Europe, especially in Sweden, Ozan Ceyhun, who is a former member of European Parliament, claimed on Tuesday that rising Islamophobia and xenophobia in Sweden had forced Kaplan to step down from his position. Speaking to Daily Sabah, Ceyhun also said that the insults and criticism that Kaplan had received after visiting a few Turkish nongovernmental organizations is revolting.

A Green Party member and former spokesman of Sweden's Muslim Council, Kaplan came under pressure after Swedish media published photos of him dining with Turkish-Swedish leaders from local nongovernmental organizations. Speaking to reporters in Stockholm, Kaplan said: "My resignation is not a confirmation of the reports against me, which I see as false. I know who I am and what I have done and I stand by it." He further said he "actively fought racism, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism in every way possible. I reject all forms of extremism, whether nationalist, religious or in any other form," and that he supports "human rights, democracy and dialogue."

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told reporters: "I have gotten to know Mehmet Kaplan as a man with a humanitarian cause and as a man with democratic values." However, Ceyhun said that it is a shame for Kaplan's party to force him to resign rather than supporting him.

Underlining that Kaplan never hid his Muslim Turkish identity from anyone, Ceyhun said he "has been in politics for a very long time in Sweden and is a very successful politician. Not only did he represent Turkish and Swedish people, but also Palestinians, especially during the Mavi Marmara incident, when he, as a politician, stood with the Palestinians. He has always kept his Muslim, Turkish identity and never hid it from anyone.

"Such incidents not only occur in Sweden, but also in … countries like Germany and Belgium as well where Turkish-origin politicians are under pressure and criticism for supporting Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party [AK Party] and/or President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan." Ceyhun said that it is strange and disturbing for the public and media to not pressure [European] politicians who support and even attend PKK meetings. Not too long ago, two Green Party members, Per Gahrton and Jabar Amin, tried to push the EU to remove the PKK from the terrorist organization list. Former foreign policy spokesman for the Swedish Green Party, Bodil Ceballos, had previously argued that the European Green parties did not see the PKK as a terrorist organization.

The Ankara-based, Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research's (SETA) recently published European Islamophobia Report 2015 says: "Negative and/or discriminating trends toward Islam and Muslims in Sweden are generally evident in every aspect of society included in this report: Media, legal, political, and school systems, the labor market and in public attitudes." The report says that civil society members in Sweden that were interviewed believed that Islamophobia is a serious issue. It also says: "All informants feel that there remains a lack of engagement both from the government and from other relevant actors.

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