Turkey is known more for its kebabs (and the dubious sexual preferences and practices of its menfolk) than its national sense of humour. The recent utterances of Turkey’s Prime Minister, however, bear all the hallmarks of a comic genius.
In January, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of Turkey’s Islamic ruling party, suggested that Qassam rockets fired from Gaza don’t kill.
His latest one-liner is that Israel’s war against Hamas and its rockets constitutes “a serious crime against humanity”.
Mr. Erdogan is clearly trying to prove, single-handedly, that the origins of the North American slang turkey – “a stupid or inept person” (Concise Oxford Dictionary) – do not derive from the bird eaten on Christmas; because both Erdogan and his country, stuck in the Middle Eastern Middle Ages, know all too well about “serious crime[s] against humanity”.
Not even mentioning (as Turks themselves don’t) the Armenian genocide and ongoing persecution of the Kurds, Turkey is a serial violator of human rights (the reason for its delayed accession to the EU). Blacklisting, on political, religious and sexuality grounds, is commonplace, as is torture, even murder, at the hands of the police. “Denigrating Turkishness” is prohibited, and many journalists and intellectuals have been victims of violent attacks and even assassinations. Forced virginity-testing for females was only outlawed as recently as 2002.
I had shocking first-hand experience of the primitive, barbaric side (there is another) of Turkey in 2000, on my first ever visit to the country, for the UEFA Cup semi-final between Galatasaray and Leeds United. On the evening before the game (a matter of minutes after I had started walking back to my hotel), Leeds fans Christopher Loftus and Kevin Speight were viciously stabbed to death (Loftus was stabbed 17 times) in Taksim Square, in the heart of Istanbul, by a knife-wielding mob, following allegations that the Turkish flag had been “disrespected”. Even if true, a nation that values a piece of cloth over human life needs to undertake some serious self-analysis. (Some of the Turkish press even glorified the killings, one headlining “We made their heads kiss the ground of our motherland.” Nice.)
Istanbul is a fascinating city (I have been four times now, and even had my heart broken there). But the Ottoman Empire has long since faded, and venturing outside of the major cities is, by all accounts, like finding oneself on the set of some Middle Eastern Deliverance.
Despite being only sixty years’ old, and rising out of the ashes of the Holocaust rather than a vast Empire, Israel is light years ahead of Turkey in the democratic stakes, and in virtually every other way. She provides Turkey with major assistance, including humanitarian (IDF search and rescue teams were to the fore in the aftermath of the 1999 earthquake), military, and intelligence (the Mossad helps Turkey track down Al Qaeda operatives in the region).
Mr. Erdogan, friendship works both ways. And friends support each other at times of need. Perhaps it is hard for you to comprehend (not being written in your holy Koran), but a genuine Jewish friend is better than a criminal Muslim one. You wouldn’t want to share an Efes Pilsen (alcohol-free, of course) with a Hamas terrorist any more than a PKK one.