Nationalists Abroad

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan probably did not need the votes of German- and Dutch-Turkish citizens to prevail in Turkey’s recent presidential election
ФОТО: Depositphotos/Ale_Mi

Even so, Erdoğan won a majority of the international vote, including nearly 70% of the votes in Germany and the Netherlands. Since not all Germans or Dutch with a Turkish background vote in Turkish elections, such statistics need to be treated with care. But right-wing Turkish nationalism does appear to have a strong appeal among dual citizens. And such overseas nationalists tend to be noisy about their convictions, driving through German cities honking their horns and shouting political slogans.

These demonstrations have an air of defiance, a blaring kind of identity politics, and they function as a sign to the majority population that the ethnic minority has a voice, too. But they are also representative of a broader trend: certain members of immigrant communities tend to be more extreme when it comes to the politics of their countries of origin than the citizens who still reside there.

Khalistan separatists who call for an independent Sikh country in Punjab, for example, are sometimes more vociferous in Canada or the United Kingdom than in India. Likewise, the Irish Republican Army received generous financial support from Americans of Irish heritage, Hindu nationalists thrive in some parts of Britain, and radical Islamists have found fertile recruiting ground in Western European cities. While this partly reflects the greater political freedom in the West, other factors also explain why some second-generation immigrants are drawn to right-wing nationalism.

A common explanation is the relative lack of integration of non-Western or non-Christian minorities born in Europe. This is often blamed on the bigotry and prejudice of majority populations. Or the blame might fall on clerical extremists who send out radical and even violent messages in mosques or other religious venues.

There may be some truth to such arguments. It is neither new nor surprising that some second- and third-generation immigrants from countries with very different cultural and religious traditions find adjusting, adapting, or assimilating difficult and sometimes humiliating. But this problem is compounded by the even greater sense of alienation that many immigrants feel toward their countries of origin.

In my 2007 book Murder in Amsterdam, I explored the story of Mohammed Bouyeri, a Dutch-born son of Moroccan immigrants. At first, Bouyeri seemed to be a perfectly integrated second-generation immigrant who loved soccer, beer, and rock music. But a series of personal setbacks led Bouyeri down a radical path, transforming him into an Islamist revolutionary who murdered Theo van Gogh, a prominent Dutch critic of Islam, in 2004. He felt like a despised outsider in his native country, but a trip to the Moroccan village of his parents made him realize that he could never fit in there, either.

A particularly extreme form of Islamism, disseminated through an online network of English-language revolutionary websites, gave Bouyeri a sense of pride and belonging. While he felt estranged from both the Netherlands and Morocco, he found a community among a group of angry, vengeful misfits, who would show the world that they were to be reckoned with – through acts of violence, if necessary.

This alienation can cause a great deal of damage, affecting both immigrant communities domestically and political dynamics abroad. Although extremists always represent a minority, their actions cast a shadow over their communities. Every act of Islamist violence, for example, places undue pressure on peaceful Muslims, including those who never set foot in a mosque, forcing them to prove that they are not in league with terrorists.

Radical exponents of religious or ethnic minorities are naturally more active than most people who just want to be left in peace to get on with their lives. And the radicals sometimes behave as though they are the representatives of their different communities. In 2004, for example, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, a British playwright of Sikh descent, received death threats and was forced into hiding after she wrote a play about violence in a Sikh temple. After a scheduled performance of the play was canceled, a spokesperson for the protesters claimed it as a victory for the Sikh community. It is to such unelected spokespeople that national and local politicians often turn, even though the activists and protesters may not represent the views of their so-called communities at all.

Most Sikhs, Hindus, Kurds, Turks, and members of other minorities are not extremists or ethno-nationalists. But the mostly young people, who feel neither at home in their native countries, nor anywhere else, inflame prejudice and aggression among the majority population, and bolster the fortunes of extremist movements in the countries their parents or grandparents left behind.

Erdoğan is a shrewd and cynical political strategist who does not need a sociology degree to recognize the problems faced by Turkish immigrants in Europe. He knows that his fantasies of Ottoman grandeur and appeals to religious and ethnic purity resonate with immigrants grappling with fragile identities, which is why he has urged Turkish citizens abroad to resist assimilation. This probably makes life for the immigrants worse, but it helps to get Erdogan elected. And that is the point.

© Project Syndicate 1995-2023 

Если вы обнаружили ошибку или опечатку, выделите фрагмент текста с ошибкой и нажмите CTRL+Enter
Выбор редактора
Ошибка в тексте