Terror in Chch

When terror is co-opted for political gain

Turkey’s president is using the Christchurch terror attack to win support ahead of an election, but an expert says it’s an unsurprising move from the increasingly authoritative regime.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly shown an edited video of the Christchurch shootings at political rallies ahead of his country’s upcoming local elections.

The leader, who was known for cracking down on terrorism as part of his securitisation approach, was using the video to drum up support from Islamic voters.

And just days after the attack, he made threatening comments to New Zealand and Australia, warning anyone who went to Turkey to carry out "anti-Muslim" actions would be returned in coffins.

The comments, made during a speech at a rally in Canakkale, specifically referenced the failed Gallipoli campaign.

"Your grandparents came, [and] some of them returned in coffins. If you come as well, like your grandfathers, be sure that you will be gone like your grandfathers," he said.

"They are testing us from 16,500km away, from New Zealand, with the messages they are giving from there.

"This is not an individual attack, it is organised ... The enemies of Muslims have shown that they continue to hate us."

University of Auckland expert Stephen Hoadley says Erdogan is using the Christchurch shooting to legitimise his government’s crack-down on terrorism. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Erdogan then penned an open letter in the opinion section of the Washington Post where he appeared to speak from a starkly different script.

“The Christchurch massacre’s alleged perpetrator attempted to legitimise his twisted views by distorting world history and the Christian faith. He sought to plant seeds of hate among fellow humans.

“As a leader who has repeatedly stressed that terrorism has no religion, language or race, I categorically reject any attempt to associate last week’s terrorist attacks with the teachings, morals or maxims of Christianity.

“If anything, what happened in New Zealand was the toxic product of ignorance and hate,” he said.

This piece was clearly aimed at a different audience, and was the opposite of what he preached to the Muslim majority in his country.

‘Spread of misinformation’

The change of tune may also be in part attributed to swift diplomatic efforts from New Zealand in the wake of the shootings.

On Sunday, Foreign Minister Winston Peters met with Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Christchurch.

"Taking effective precautions against issues linked to anti-Muslim ideology has become more than just an obligation, it has become vital. The international community must undertake responsibility in this regard," Oktay told the Daily Sabah.

The following day, Peters said Erdogan’s comment “imperils the future ... totally unfair."

He said he was working to stop the “spread of misinformation”, emphasising that the gunman was not a New Zealander and had not been raised here.

“We make it very clear, this is not the act of a New Zealander; this is a foreigner on our shores that’s perpetuated this absolute terrorist atrocity, and we want to get that clear. Then things will be sorted out.”

The foreign minister said New Zealand was an innocent party, and Friday’s attack was the work of a foreigner, which Erdogan knew.

Following his comments on Monday, Peters announced his plans to travel to Turkey, at the request of the Turkish government, where he would attend a special ministerial meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, being held in Istanbul.

“This important event will allow New Zealand to join with our partners in standing against terrorism and speaking up for values such as understanding and religious tolerance. We are very clear that the terrorist attack in Christchurch, committed by a person who is not a New Zealander, is utterly contrary to our core beliefs.”

On Tuesday, Peters told New Zealand media he was travelling to Turkey to stop the spread of misinformation.

“We make it very clear, this is not the act of a New Zealander; this is a foreigner on our shores that’s perpetuated this absolute terrorist atrocity, and we want to get that clear. Then things will be sorted out.”

On Wednesday, Andrew Little said comments relating to retaliation were not unexpected following the horrific events on Friday.

“It’s most unfortunate that you’ve got one world leader using it for apparently political purposes and campaign purposes.

“That doesn’t help to come to terms with the realities of the threat. But also, to make sure that the communities here are given reassurance.”

Unsurprising move from Erdogan

University of Auckland associate professor of politics and international relations, Stephen Hoadley, said Erdogan’s exploitation of the Christchurch attack for his own political gain was not surprising.

The Turkish regime was becoming increasingly authoritarian and increasingly Islamic, to the detriment of its previously secular policies, and to the detriment of minority groups.

Hoadley said he used to refer to Turkey as a “poster child” of the Islamic world - a free-market, democratic country.

But Erdoğan had taken a securitisation approach to everything, including his own tenure in office.

As well as stigmatising Kurdish people as terrorists, he was hyper-sensitive to any issue surrounding terrorism.

He was using the Christchurch shooting as further evidence terrorism was everywhere, and that his government’s crack-down was legitimate.

The fact the victims were Muslim “added to his fervour”, Hoadley said.

In the absence of any reliable public opinion polling, Hoadley said “my great feeling is it will help him”.

Managing the relationship

Hoadley said there would be some “quiet disappointment in Wellington” over Turkey’s regressing human rights record.

However, New Zealand’s relationship was “correct”, he said, adding that New Zealand had a functioning embassy in Ankara, and continued to trade with Turkey.

Erdogan’s recent comments would be unlikely to negatively impact the long-term relationship between the countries, he said, adding that Peters would have a word with Erdogan, but not go further.

“The New Zealand Government is not in the business of megaphone diplomacy and condemnation.”

Foreign Minister Winston Peters will be in Turkey later this week to "set the record straight". Photo: Lynn Grieveson

The tragedy also gave New Zealand a connection, on the grounds of human sympathy, with Islamic nations, including Turkey.

“In a curious way, this terrible event has given diplomatic opportunities for New Zealand.”

In the past, most Muslim nations would have seen New Zealand as an extension of other western powers, holding different values and ideologies, but this would open up doors for discussion and cooperation, Hoadley said.

Threat comes ahead of Anzac Day

The comments from Turkey come ahead of Anzac Day, when Australians and New Zealanders often travel to Gallipoli.

The message from the New Zealand Government was to continue with travel plans but keep an eye on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s website.

The ministry’s Safe Travel site was last reviewed on November 28, last year, and travellers were told to “exercise increase caution”.

There were specific areas people were warned not to travel to, due to a high terrorist threat.

Jacinda Ardern said for decades New Zealander had gone to Gallipoli to acknowledge they wanted a world free from hatred and violence.

However, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Australia’s national security agencies were reviewing whether it was safe to travel to Gallipoli for Anzac Day services while Scott Morrison, considered expelling Turkey's ambassador.

Morrison met with Turkey ambassador on Wednesday, calling for Erdogan to withdraw his remarks that referenced Gallipoli.

Ardern said Peters would be confronting the Turkish president’s comments directly when he visited.

“As he has said, he is going there to set the record straight,” she said, adding that it would be an opportunity to make sure future comments reflected an accurate portrayal of New Zealand, and New Zealanders – including the national Muslim community.

The Muslim community in New Zealand had the support of everyone, she said.

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