Apart from the rash of Hitler analogies, one of the oddest aspects of our era is the extreme parochialism that seems to have erupted.
One technical cause is obvious. The decline of newspapers has propelled the discovery that it is cheaper, not to mention more restful, to break a story from your desk than by traveling halfway around the world. But another cause may be that the section of the population who regard themselves as most “internationalist” have become the most extremely inward-looking. In Britain, the people most dedicated to thwarting Brexit appear to take almost no interest in what is going on even in Europe, never mind the rest of the globe. In similar fashion, one cannot help noticing that those most dedicated in their opposition to President Trump seem least interested in what is going on elsewhere on the planet.
Take just one example: Turkey. For decades, European leaders of every political stripe have argued for Turkish membership of the European Union. The Turkish government continues to insist on this right. To date, the British government’s policy appears to still be that while the U.K. should leave the EU, Turkey should join it. A cruel parting joke, to be sure.
More importantly, Turkey remains an ally in the most important military alliance the Western powers have, NATO. If the U.S., U.K., and others want to hold together this cornerstone of our collective defense strategy, then the healthiness of NATO, and its constituent members, is of extreme importance.
Which is just one reason why the lack of coverage of what is going on inside that country should be so concerning. Having moved from prime minister to president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears now to be auditioning for the job of caliph. In December, he used his country’s hosting of the meeting of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to oppose President Trump’s announcement on the future movement of the U.S. embassy in Israel. Ahead of a meeting with the pope, Erdogan yesterday told the Italian paper La Stampa that at the meeting, “My top priority is Jerusalem.” So, on a visit to the head of the world’s Catholics, Erdogan gets to present himself as the head of the world’s Muslims. This is a long and perfectly open game. But it remains hard to find any coverage in the Western press that takes this long game seriously, so intent have we become on the short and increasingly local games of our own.
Last week, the Erdogan family’s foundation held a massive youth convention at the presidential palace in Ankara. There, Erdogan explained how he planned to use his faith to set the world straight. A significant portion of his audience then got to their feet as a bloc and began chanting, “War, Jihad, Martyrdom.” You can watch the video here:
— Abdullah Bozkurt (@abdbozkurt) February 1, 2018
All of this seems to me to be the most ominous news possible. Certainly, there are more than enough stories in Trump’s America, as in Brexit Britain, to keep everyone occupied for several lifetimes. But it may well be in stories such as the backward tumble of Turkey that the events that will make the history books are all the time occurring.