There is a disturbing counter-narrative about who was behind this month’s terror attacks in Paris that led to the deaths of 14 innocent people. Listen to Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan: “The duplicity of the West is obvious,” Erdogan told reporters. “As Muslims we have never sided with terror or massacres. Racism, hate speech, Islamophobia are behind these massacres. The culprits are clear. French citizens undertook this massacre, and Muslims were blamed for it.”
It is true that the suspects in the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket were French. But Erdogan chose to ignore their radical Islamic beliefs that saw both free speech and being Jewish as crimes worthy of death.
Others have also put forward conspiracy theories about the origins of the attacks and the reasons behind them: “It’s certain that Mossad is behind these kinds of incidents,” Ankara’s longtime mayor, Melih Gokcek, said in an indictment of Israel’s intelligence’s apparatus. “Mossad enflames Islamophobia by causing such incidents.”
Like those who say the 9/11 attacks were inside jobs carried out by the Mossad or the CIA, these conspiracy theories are short on proof and ignore the contradictory evidence. More to the point, these concocted narratives are offensive and can only serve to further incite hatred and violence.
Erdogan has traveled far from the reformer he was when he and his moderate Islamist AKP party came to power in 2003. He has gone from a democrat to a Putin-like strongman whose pronouncements need not conform to international realities. He has taken Turkey, a NATO member, from an alliance with Israel to a champion of Hamas. And he is a consistent, vocal critic of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he charges with committing genocide.
So, should we just ignore Erdogan’s ravings and dismiss him as a fringe hater? While we would certainly like to do so, it’s not so simple. And the reason for that is that Erdogan and his supporters are not alone in their narrative. In Russia, for example, the source of the French attacks was also questioned, for much the same reason. The Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper asked: “Did America stage the terror attack in Paris?” The reasoning? The United State was punishing France for President Francois Holland’s urging the European Union to lift sanctions against Russia. Or because “for the last 10 years, so-called Islamist terrorism has been under the control of one of the world’s leading intelligence agencies.”
The accusations may be spurious, but they are no hoax. To the extent that they reflect the beliefs of a sizable population, they must be taken very seriously. Many a war has begun using a lie as its pretext.