Fr. Andrea Santoro, who was murdered in February in Trabzon, on Turkey’s Black Sea coast, was a victim of jihadism. An Italian missionary priest who had served in Turkey for ten years, Father Santoro was shot twice at point-blank range in his church by a youth who shouted “Allahu akbar!” (“Allah is great!”) before fleeing the scene.
Pope Benedict XVI praised Father Santoro for his work and expressed hope that “his blood shed may be a seed of hope for the building of authentic fraternity among people.” While this statement wrapped a futile hope in the language of diplomatic prudence, José Cardinal Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, refused to accept a link between the killing and Islamic hostility, declaring he wanted to be “prudent” about jumping to conclusions.
Worse still, he declared it would be wrong to speak of a “religious conflict” because “every faith is against war and against the misuse of the image of God.”
By contrast, Italy’s reforms minister, Roberto Calderoli, a member of the Northern League, rejected such platitudes. He called on the Pope to “stand up to defend Christianity with the firmness of his predecessors who had started the Crusades in the Middle Ages” and to defend Christian rights against discrimination in the Islamic world. Such sanguine words, and the fact that he donned a T-shirt displaying one of those Danish cartoons, cost him his job and prompted Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to declare that Turkey should be an example to the Islamic world and that he supports the country’s entry into the European Union.
Most Europeans disagree, including an overwhelming majority of Berlusconi’s countrymen. The view of Turkey as a profoundly un-European country, steeped in an ethos deeply hostile to Western ways, is so widespread that Brussels will have to re- sort to its usual shenanigans to bypass the will of the electorate and admit the putative “bridge between the East and West” into the club.
That view has been confirmed most recently by the phenomenal success of the Valley of the Wolves, Iraq—the most expensive Turkish film ever made. It opens with a real-life event: In July 2003, U.S. Marines raided Turkish Special Forces headquarters in the Iraqi city of Sulimaniyah, placed hoods over the soldiers’ heads, and kept them prisoner, allegedly mistaking them for guerrillas. Washington later apologized, but the movie makes the incident look like a deliberate American ploy. The subsequent fictional plot conveys one underlying theme: Muslims, good; Americans, bad—so bad, in fact, that they attack a mosque during evening prayers, murder dozens of innocents at a wedding (including a little boy), and allow a Jewish doctor to remove vital organs from Abu Ghraib inmates, so that they can be sold in New York and Tel Aviv.
The film was released only months after the novel Metal Storm, about a future war between Turkey and the United States over Kurdish Iraq, sold over a million copies—in a country where one quarter of all adult women are illiterate.
Popular culture is a reliable indicator of a nation’s mood. Most Turks are, frankly, profoundly anti-Western. They would like their country to join “Europe” —not because of any appreciation for its culture or institutions but because of the ability to migrate to any part of the European Union without hindrance—but they detest America with a passion. Irate villagers shouting abuse pelt U.S. soldiers with eggs on the road to the USAF base at Incirlik, and American trucks have to mount wire mesh over their windshields to protect them from rocks. Over 90 percent of all Turks oppose the war in Iraq. Turkish leftists and Muslims, usually at loggerheads, were united in chanting “death to America” in street demonstrations protesting the war.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party is eager to downplay its Islamic roots, and such assurances are still blithely accepted in Washington. However, Turkey’s “post-Islamist” government is very different from its secular predecessors in its outlook and assumptions and does not readily identify with the U.S. view of the world, in general, and its regional agenda, in particular. Turkey is not an “indispensable ally,” as Paul Wolfowitz called her shortly before the war in Iraq. She is just another regional power with interests and aspirations that may or may not coincide with those of the United States.