Turkey’s Erdogan Tries (and Fails) to Censor an American Think Tank
by Winfield Myers
September 21, 2017 at 10:52 am
—Turkey’s descent into Islamist despotism distorts the NATO alliance: how can Turkey combat a external threat from without, Daniel Pipes asked, when a member state poses the same threat from within?
—No one tells us what we can say. We are a free people, and we will act in complete freedom. – Daniel Pipes, President, Middle East Forum (MEF)
—The purging of 120,000 government employees following last year’s failed coup means that “more police counter-terrorism experts are in prison than ISIS members.” A democratic Turkey is a must for NATO, both for the alliance’s success and for Turkey itself. – Emre Celik, Turkish dissident, at Middle East Forum-NATO conference in Philadelphia, September 2017
—When Celik he began to speak, the Turks — and the NATO bureaucrats who support them — marched out in lockstep, thereby allowing a distant despot to control their actions in the birthplace of liberty. NATO’s willingness to ignore the principles it was founded to defend reveals the moral corruption at its heart….
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan often seems to fancy himself a world-striding figure capable of bullying anyone, anywhere he likes. As the world saw this past May, when his security forces launched what police called a “brutal attack” against peaceful demonstrators outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington, D.C., opponents of his dictatorial regime have good reason to fear for their safety, even in America.
Tuesday afternoon, however, Erdogan saw that his self-regard was no match for liberty buttressed by resolve: the Middle East Forum (MEF), a Philadelphia think tank, rejected his demand to disinvite a Turkish dissident, Emre Celik, from addressing a conference of thirty members of the Political Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of NATO, that MEF sponsored — at NATO’s suggestion, on September 19, 2017.
Celik is president of the Rumi Forum for Interfaith Dialogue and Intercultural Understanding, founded by followers of the aging Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, Erdogan’s ally-turned-enemy, now living in exile in rural Pennsylvania. Erdogan has lodged unfounded charges that Gulen and his followers were behind the failed coup attempt against his regime in July 2016. Erdogan jailed thousands of Gulen’s supporters, and demanded his extradition.
How can Turkey combat a threat from without , Daniel Pipes asked, when a member state such as Turkey poses the same threat from within? (Photo of President Erdogan: Wikimedia Commons).
Celik’s presence on the program went unopposed throughout the summer. A line-up of speakers was formally accepted by all parties.
Then, one week before the event, NATO staff told MEF that Turkey had written letters to NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Parliamentary Assembly President Paolo Alli, protesting Celik’s inclusion and demanding his withdrawal.
This meant that NATO, an institution founded to defend Western civilization against dictatorial regimes, was willing to serve as a pawn of Turkey’s dictator. Membership in NATO confers responsibility for mutual defense in the face of external aggression; it does not obligate the organization itself to obey rogue regimes that retain formal membership in the alliance despite their oppressive actions at home and abroad.
MEF president Daniel Pipes, in his keynote speech at the conference’s conclusion, argued that NATO’s primary task today is the defense of its members against the threat of Islamism, just as its founding mission had been a defense against communism. But Turkey’s descent into Islamist despotism seriously distorts the NATO alliance: how can Turkey combat a threat from without Daniel Pipes asked, when a member state poses the same threat from within?
Pipes told his largely European audience that when they leave the building in which they were meeting, they will see Independence Hall, the seat of American liberty where our founding documents were debated and adopted. Just down the street sits the Liberty Bell, the symbol of American freedom. MEF, said Pipes, is grateful that Americans are a free people. “No one tells us what we can say,” he emphasized; we are a free people, and we will act in complete freedom.
When MEF invited Celik, Pipes said, Ankara, 8,500 kilometers away, said no — and NATO dutifully fell into line by insisting that MEF cancel the conference rather than allow Celik to speak. MEF at the time felt it had no choice but to obey.
But then, Pipes continued, “we recalled Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell,” plus NATO’s mission, and accordingly “Mr. Celik is here and will address us.” “He will become an American citizen within days, for which we congratulate him.” And with that, Pipes asked the audience to welcome Celik to the podium.
As Celik approached it, the Turkish delegation leapt to its feet and rushed the stage, while shouting that Celik’s appearance was “unacceptable” and that “he cannot be on the stage” (video of this episode is here). While voices grew heated, Celik took a seat on stage alongside Pipes, while Michael Joping of the British House of Lords, and co-chair of the NATO PA delegation, took the microphone to object to Celik’s appearance. He convinced the Turks to remain through his own brief, impromptu talk about NATO’s future, at the end of which he attempted again to exclude Celik by ending the conference.
Pipes, however, was having none of this. He immediately joined Joping at the microphone and, unable to get the British gentleman to yield, pounded the podium and demanded that Celik be allowed to speak. Seeing himself outgunned (and outmanned), Joping exited the stage. “Thank you for having us,” he said. “Thank you for coming,” said Pipes as the two exchanged a curt handshake.
Free to speak, Celik warned that the under Erdogan’s “new regime of repression,” the “social mechanisms holding the nation together are falling apart.” The purging of 120,000 government employees following last year’s failed coup means that “more police counter-terrorism experts are in prison than ISIS members.” A democratic Turkey is a must for NATO, Celik said, both for the alliance’s success and for Turkey itself. At the end of his brief talk, he received a standing ovation.
Those who most needed to hear — and heed — Celik’s words regrettably missed their opportunity. When Celik he began to speak, the Turks — and the NATO bureaucrats who support them — marched out in lockstep, thereby allowing a distant despot to control their actions in the birthplace of liberty. NATO’s willingness to ignore the principles it was founded to defend reveals the moral corruption at its heart; but on this day, those principles proved resilient in the face of tyranny.
Winfield Myers is Director of Academic Affairs at the Middle East Forum.