Nearly two weeks have passed since the public execution of Samuel Paty, a French teacher who was targeted by a religious fanatic for his decision to show cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed to his students. President Emmanuel Macron responded to this devastating tragedy with decisive action: not only did he call for stricter oversight of schooling and of foreign funding of mosques in France, but he honored Samuel Paty’s family with the Légion d'honneur—France’s highest honor. While France’s government spoke clearly and loudly in support for Western principles, leaders of the pan-Islamist movement did not hesitate to weaponize this horrific incident.
Invoking the Holocaust to condemn France’s crackdown on radical and military Islam, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed that Macron’s crusade against Muslims was comparable to that of the Nazi Party during the 1930’s and to the propaganda preceding the massacre of Bosnian Muslims in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. Putting their geopolitical disputes aside, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted in solidarity: “Why is it a crime to raise doubts about the Holocaust? Why should anyone who writes about such doubts be imprisoned while insulting the Prophet (pbuh) is allowed?” It should be noted that neither of these leaders condemned the brutal murder of Samuel Paty—condoning and excusing terrorism is nothing out of the ordinary for these regimes.
Similar condemnations against the French government would be made by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who claimed that Macron’s crackdown on radical Islam will lead to polarization and marginalization and, on October 29, Malaysia’s ex-Prime Minister claimed that “Muslims have a right to kill millions of French people.”
These governments have issued a clear declaration of war against Western principles protecting freedom of speech and freedom of expression—France, is not the only target.
Competing to lead the pan-Islamist movement, both Turkey and Iran have used religious extremism as a means of carrying out political crackdowns and pursuing aggressive foreign policies that continually violate international law and universal human rights—Turkey’s illegal occupation of Syria, Turkey’s dispatchment of Syrian mercenaries to fight on behalf of Azerbaijan in the escalating Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and Iran’s exportation of arms and fighters to southern Lebanon, Yemen, and Syria.
By embracing the unfolding of the Arab Spring—and the regional destabilization that accompanied it—Erdogan was able to pursue this aggressive foreign policy under the guise of pan-Islamism. In a tweet in October of last year, as Turkish forces began their offensive on the northeastern Syrian border, Erdogan described his military as “the heroes of the Mohammadian Army” and legitimized the armed conflict as an “Islamic struggle against the ‘infidels.’” Similar messages spread like wildfire within Turkey’s mosques in an attempt to build-up domestic support for these violent campaigns across the region—a strategy that has long been used by Iranian leaders.
Amidst Brexit, a contested American presidential election around the corner, and an ongoing pandemic that has devastated the world economy, Western countries have been plagued by uncertainty and fear.
On October 29, on an apparent terrorist attack at a Church in Nice, France witnessed another terror attack that left three people dead. The rhetoric and incitement of Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan cannot be ignored and must be held to account by the French government and by every other government in the West that values the principles of tolerance, liberty, and individual freedom. Despite the devastating consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, the West cannot stand idly by as foreign governments condone and, to an extent, incite violence against civilian populations.
Equally important, these countries’ rhetoric is not just an assault on Western values, but they serve as ammunition for the atrocious human rights violations that are being carried out by these extremist regimes. This includes Iran’s continued policy of executing homosexuals and political dissidents, Turkey’s war on Christianity—demonstrated by Erdogan’s decision to seize more than fifty Syriac Christian churches and the conversion of the historic Hagia Sophia Cathedral that has functioned as a museum since 1935, into a functioning mosque—and Pakistan’s unwillingness to combat gender discrimination and implement serious policies to abolish forced conversions.
It is time for NATO to reconsider Turkey’s continued participation in the military alliance. It is unacceptable for a member of the alliance to occupy another sovereign’s territory in blatant violation of international law, justify religious terrorism against another member of the alliance, or target religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East under the guise of counterterrorism.
Furthermore, immediate and harsher targeted sanctions need to be placed on Iranian, Turkish, and Pakistani officials. Every antagonizing action by these radical regimes will not only perpetuate the human rights abuses being carried out by them but will weaken the West’s ability to deter the rising aggression by Islamic authoritarian regimes—silence and complacency are not an option.
Yoni Michanie is a Middle East Analyst and Ph.D. student at Northeastern University. He tweets at @YoniMichanie.