It's been a weekend of a ratcheting diplomatic tit-for-tat angry statements between Turkey and France. Relations between the two NATO members were already on edge given France's strong backing of Greece's attempts to keep Turkish oil and gas exploration vessels out of its territorial waters in the eastern Mediterranean.
Paris has now recalled the French ambassador to Turkey in the biggest escalation to date as of late Saturday. It started with President Erdogan taking exception to how Emmanuel Macron characterized the brutal murder of middle school teacher Samuel Paty, beheaded outside Paris on October 16 by a young Chechen refugee angry the teacher had shown cartoon images of Muhammad.
President Macron had clearly defined it as an "Islamist terrorist attack" while urging France to resist such extremism "This is our battle and it is existential. They [terrorists] will not succeed … They will not divide us," Macron had said in the days after the attack. "One of our compatriots was murdered today because he taught... the freedom of expression, the freedom to believe or not believe," he added. Macron further vowed to root out the radicals from French society.
French education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer also blasted what he called "the monstrosity of Islamic terrorism" in a tweet.
In statements before his ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party, Erdogan took issue with Macron's words, seeing them as attack on Islam. He said the French leader's words constituted an attack on millions of Muslims, who were being "mistreated". Erdogan said according to Turkish media:
"What is Macron's problem with Islam and Muslims? He needs mental health treatment," Erdogan lashed out. He “does not understand freedom of belief."
"What can be said to a head of state that treats millions of members of a religious minority in his country this way? First of all, (he needs) mental check," Erdoğan added.
Days prior to this the Turkish president also expressed outrage over an incident in Berlin this past week. German police had raided the large Mevlana Mosque amid an impending criminal investigation related to financial irregularities:
"Europe, which for years has been referred to as the cradle of democracy, human rights, and freedoms, has today unfortunately turned into a structure that fights its differences," Erdogan said.
He further said all the "anti-Islamic" rhetoric is "bringing Europe closer to the darkness of the Middle Ages."
Turkish President Erdogan denounces police raid at a mosque in German capital, saying the actions were "obviously nourished by racism and Islamophobia" https://t.co/qlKwwMS0TR— TRT World (@trtworld) October 23, 2020
Meanwhile, Macron's office responded to the series of Erdogan statements questing the French president's mental state, saying "Outrage and insult are not a method."
The French public appears to be rallying around Macron, angry that little has been done to root out the Islamic fundamentalism problem - which many on the far right have also linked with ultra-lax EU immigration policies. The whole episode has brought back with ferocity the national debate over free speech versus political correctness and "sensitivity" to the beliefs of Islamic hardliners, as especially seen with some recent public displays in France inspired of the January 7, 2015 Charlie Hebdo massacre.
Wow...Macron seems to have balls afterall.— Tornee nathalie (@Ntornee) October 21, 2020
Heavily armed police officers stood guard Wednesday evening as a French city defied Islamist terrorism by projecting huge images of Charlie Hebdo cartoons on a local government building. https://t.co/RNyMSThYY3
Ankara then doubled down on Sunday: "I’ve said it on Saturday and am repeating it again," Erdogan stated in a televised speech Sunday. "Macron needs to get himself checked out."
Many in the French and Western public will no doubt see Erdogan's "anger" and reaction to Macron's condemnation of Islamic extremist violence as tantamount to defending the middle school teacher's killer, who had gone so far as to post a video of the beheading online to expressly show it was done in the name of Islam.
In Erdogan's worldview, French leaders should be able to dub anything an Islamist terrorist attack, apparently.