BERLIN – “Go live in better neighborhoods. Drive the best cars. Live in the best houses,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a rally in Eskisehir the week before last, addressing not his immediate audience but the 4.6 million-strong Turkish diaspora in Western Europe. “Make not three, but five children. Because you are the future of Europe. That will be the best response to the injustices against you.”
Erdogan has been providing plenty of fodder lately for that fringe of people who believes Europe is in danger of Islamization. The threat is overblown, but it serves the Turkish president’s political agenda to provoke European leaders into paroxysms of outrage.
Earlier this month, Erdogan accused the EU of starting “the war of the cross and the crescent” after the European Court of Justice allowed employers to demand that workers not wear Muslim headscarves.
He didn’t stop there. “Turkey is not a country you can pull and push around, not a country whose citizens you can drag on the ground,” he told reporters in Ankara on March 22. Speaking hours before a Muslim convert mowed down pedestrians on London Bridge, the Turkish president said, “If Europe continues this way, no European in any part of the world can walk safely on the streets. Europe will be damaged by this.”
The prophets of Islamization, such as Giselle Littman, aka Bat Ye’or, who coined the term “Eurabia,” have predicted just such intentions. The concept, embraced by politicians such as the Dutch populist Geert Wilders, hinges on the idea of a third Muslim invasion of Europe. The first two were armed, in 732 and 1683; the third one uses stealth instead, relying on immigration and demographic growth. Wilders has once said during a Dutch parliament debate that the Muslim immigrants are “colonists. They haven’t come here to integrate, but to take over, to subdue us.”
That’s also the idea behind “The Camp of the Saints,” a French novel first published in 1973 that has recently undergone something of a popularity revival. One of the favorite books of French populist Marine Le Pen, it describes an unarmed but culturally violent invasion of France by “third world” refugees who use Western civilization’s weakness and guilt to take over.
Whether there’s any substance to Erdogan’s threats of a demographic invasion is an entirely different matter. The Turkish diaspora in Germany does have a higher than average fertility rate — 2.3 children per woman compared with the national rate of about 1.5 — but at this rate, Turks aren’t really “the future of Germany”: The current 3.5 million-strong community in a country of 80.7 million is a long way from getting to a majority even if Erdogan can somehow inspire its members to double the number of kids in their families. (In Turkey itself, the fertility rate is slightly lower than among German Turks).
Besides, though the majority of Turkish diaspora voters in Germany and the Netherlands backed Erdogan and his AK party in recent elections, his arch-enemies, such as the Kurdish party, also gain more votes in these communities than in Turkey. The diasporas are politically divided; sizable numbers of German Turks are here because they don’t like living in Erdogan’s Turkey. Erdogan cannot really command the emigres from Ankara — it’s likely that if he tries, those ethnic Turks who don’t support him, and many of those who aren’t even entitled to vote in Turkish elections because their primary loyalty is now to their European host countries, will rebel against it.
I doubt that Erdogan seriously thinks of himself as a sultan running a crawling Muslim invasion of Europe, or any kind of crescent versus cross war. He simply doesn’t have enough supporters, even potential ones, in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium or any of the other countries where Turks have migrated since they were first invited as “guest-workers” to revive industries destroyed by World War II. But Erdogan enjoys provoking an angry response. Just like Russian President Vladimir Putin, he gets a domestic boost out of it: The sheer audacity of thumbing his nose at Germany is enough to bolster a sense of national pride.
The reactions help Erdogan in his domestic campaign to consolidate presidential powers in a vote next month. It would be best if European governments could simply ignore Erdogan’s trolling. But Erdogan knows they can’t. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte had to fight off Wilders, so he pushed back hard against Erdogan, helping both himself and the shrewd Turk. Now, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, who can’t afford to be seen as soft on Erdogan, are talking about tightening dual citizenship rules — again, playing into Erdogan’s hand both at home and among the homesick portion of the diaspora.
Once the political theater is over, however, Erdogan won’t be worried about Turks as “the future of Europe.” He’ll have to resume dialog on a free travel regime for Turks in Europe and worry about economic relations: the EU is by far Turkey’s biggest trading partner. The Eurabia-style stereotypes will go back to the dusty closet — but European nationalists will cite Erdogan’s remarks for years to come as proof of their conspiracy theories.
Russian writer Leonid Bershidsky is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was founded the opinion website Slon.ru.