Erdogan Predicts ‘War Between the Cross and Crescent’ over Austria Mosque Closures

ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty

Breitbart, by Simon Kent, June 10, 2018:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attacked Austria’s impending closure of mosques and consequent expulsion of Turkish-funded imams, saying the move is anti-Islamic while promising a response.

“These measures taken by the Austrian prime minister are, I fear, leading the world towards a war between the cross and the crescent,” Erdogan said in a speech in Istanbul covered by AFP.

Austria’s populist government made the announcement on Friday morning at a press conference as part of the governing coalition’s campaign against radical Islamic ideology and the influence of countries like Turkey in the Austrian Islamic community, Kronen Zeitung reports.

Media reports that between 40 and 60 imams, including their families, could be expelled in total. The imams all stand accused of receiving funding from abroad. Official investigations have been launched in 11 cases. Two of the imams had already been denied extensions to their residency permits.

Among the mosques facing closure is the Mosque of the Grey Wolves on Antonsplatz, in the working-class Vienna district of Favoriten, where the Gallipoli reenactment took place.

The other six mosques are in Vienna, Upper Austria and Carinthia, in all of which hardline salafist teachings are said to be widespread.

Mr. Erdogan, speaking Saturday, said: “They say they’re going to kick our religious men out of Austria. Do you think we will not react if you do such a thing?”

“That means we’re going to have to do something,” he added without elaborating.

Around 360,000 people of Turkish origin live in Austria, including 117,000 Turkish nationals.

Relations between Ankara and Vienna have been strained since a failed coup against Erdogan in 2016 which was followed by a wave of arrests. Mr. Erdogan’s speech precedes presidential and legislative elections on June 24 in which he faces stiff opposition.

During last year’s Turkish referendum on expanding the president’s powers, tensions ran high between Vienna and Ankara after Austria said it would not allow campaign-related events.

The new policy comes after a number of scandals involving mosques in Austria, including one in which Islamists were plotting to overthrow the government to replace it with an Islamic caliphate. The ATIB association came under fire last week when a Turkish mosque posted images of young children swearing oaths to the Turkish state.

90 Years In, The Muslim Brotherhood Faces An Uncharted Future

by Hany Ghoraba
Special to IPT News
April 19, 2018

The Muslim Brotherhood has managed to weather many storms during nine decades in Egypt. Presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak all tried to contain and suppress the Islamist movement, which ultimately seeks a global Muslim Caliphate. But opportunity suddenly presented itself after Mubarak’s fall in 2011, and the Brotherhood won power a year later. Any high hopes among voters led to an ill-fated year under President Mohamed Morsi, who was ousted from power when millions of frustrated Egyptians took to the streets during the June 30, 2013 revolution.

A resulting military crackdown put top Brotherhood leaders in jail and sent others into exile. As a result, the Brotherhood celebrated its 90th anniversary April 1 in Istanbul, Turkey, one of the group’s last strongholds in the region. It attracted Ibrahim Munir, the group’s London-based secretary general and de-facto supreme guide, and Khaled Meshaal, the former head of the Hamas political bureau. The two leaders bragged about the Brotherhood’s survival  under what they labeled tyranny and oppression.

And they tried to project a united front to supporters despite factors that prove otherwise.

The first is an internal struggle over tactics exposed by communiqués denouncing members, such as former Secretary General Mahmoud Hussein, for criticizing deadly Muslim Brotherhood attacks on Egyptian police and the army.

Hussein, an official Brotherhood communiqué said, “not only sought to stop any attempt at rapprochement, he would occasionally go out in the media to reignite the atmosphere of disagreement and strengthen division within the ranks of the Brotherhood without regard to circumstances or regulations.”

Egyptian public opinion toward the Brotherhood changed radically after Morsi’s failed tenure, dropping from 80 percent support at the start of the Arab Spring to less than half of that by 2014. “When Egyptians voted in the MB in 2012, it was because they believed they would bring a better life to all,” said Azza Radwan Sedky, a Canadian-based Egyptian political analyst and author of Cairo Rewind: The first two years of Egypt’s Revolution. “It proved to be a sham.”

The group’s future never looked bleaker. According to Egyptian political strategist Ahmed Sarhan, “the group’s local organization in Egypt has suffered severely under continuous successful security crackdown over the past 5 years, and it is now safe to assume that the leadership has been completely wiped off, most of the senior leaders are serving jail sentences, and [a ]few managed to escape to Qatar and Turkey.”

Sedky agreed, saying that she doubts that the Muslim Brotherhood can survive as a powerful organization that can galvanize the majority of Egyptians behind it. Although the group managed to survive previous security crackdowns, it now lacks the public support that it relied on to endure the hard times. This is due to its open war strategy that it is accused of waging against the Egyptian armypolicepublic officials and even common citizens.

A loss of public support isn’t the Brotherhood’s only challenge. Financial and political support from countries such as Turkey and Qatar could be affected by mounting pressure from states opposed to the Brotherhood, such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose affinity for the Muslim Brotherhood is well known, defended Brotherhood activities in Turkey labeling them as  “ideological and not terrorist.”

But that support for the Brotherhood isolates Turkey and Qatar politically and economically from neighboring states. Turkey’s ailing economy and worsening relations with the EU pose immediate threats. That situation is not sustainable long-term, Sarhan said.

“Turkey and Qatar have offered safe haven to many of the MB middle level leaders, where they have helped establish media outlets to spread their message. Nevertheless, the future of the support given to MB members in these countries [is] questionable,” Sarhan said.

Meanwhile, intellectual and organizational stagnation has the Brotherhood pushing the same political agenda it offered during the 1970s. That program focused on infiltrating Egypt’s Parliament, vocational syndicates and student unions while promoting archaic social programs that don’t fit modern times. This included attempts to ban forms of arts such as opera and ballet. During its one year in power, an aggressive program of “Brotherhoodization” of the Egyptian state was pursued through major government appointments of Brotherhood-aligned officials.

“Islamists in general, and MB sympathizers in particular, will always find their ways through the different political organizations in Egypt, especially labor syndicates and parties of the left movement,” Sarhan said. “The only way [to stop that] is to open up the political landscape to the liberal parties, while keeping the pressure on Islamists.”

Techniques that helped the Brotherhood survive for 90 years, when little was known about its activities, may be less effective under Egypt’s current crackdown. Egyptians recoiled from Morsi’s rule, and the Brotherhood’s influence has suffered, both at home and abroad. The Brotherhood’s past success fooling Western sympathizers into believing it was a moderate force in a chaotic region may be more difficult to preserve.

“MB groups in exile will eventually wither away,” Sarhan said, “since they won’t be allowed to return home. We can take lessons from Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiyyah in the 1990s, which collapsed under the security forces pressure, and their affiliates abroad ceased to exist.”

All of these factors indicate that the Muslim Brotherhood in its traditional structure and cultural impact may fade away. It is possible that it will split into smaller entities.

“It will take the MB years to build a new hierarchical organization,” Sarhan said. It may be able to build an organization in exile, biding time until conditions in Egypt are more favorable. He cited the example of Tunisia’s Ennahda movement, whose leader Rached al-Ghannouchi lived in exile in London for decades before returning to lead the government coalition in 2011.

As Sedky said, “The dream of reigning supreme across the Muslim World and the whole world doesn’t die easily.”

Hany Ghoraba is an Egyptian writer, political and counter-terrorism analyst at Al Ahram Weekly, author of Egypt’s Arab Spring: The Long and Winding Road to Democracy and a regular contributor to the BBC.

Clare Lopez: Gulen and the Gulenist Movement

The United West, Feb. 4, 2018:

From May 10, 2016

Clare M. Lopez, Vice President for Research and Analysis at the Center for Security Policy, is the co-author of the recently published book “Gülen and the Gülenist Movement: Turkey’s Islamic Supremacist Cult and its Contributions to the Civilization Jihad.” Fethullah Gülen is the head of a vast political network in Turkey that promotes theocracy and has infiltrated the Turkish state. Gülen lives in the U.S. where he has established a significant number of charter schools. Her remarks included commentary on Gülen’s erstwhile ally, now opponent, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Lopez is a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and a member of the Board of Advisors for the Canadian Mackenzie Institute. In 2016, she was named to Senator Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign national security advisory team. Since 2013, she has served as a member of the Citizens Commission on Benghazi. Formerly Vice President of the Intelligence Summit, she was a career operations officer with the Central Intelligence Agency, a professor at the Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies, Executive Director of the Iran Policy Committee from 2005-2006, and has served as a consultant, intelligence analyst, and researcher for a variety of defense firms. She was named a 2011 Lincoln Fellow at the Claremont Institute. Already an advisor to EMP Act America, in February 2012 Ms. Lopez was named a member of the Congressional Task Force on National and Homeland Security, which focuses on the Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) threat to the nation. She serves as a member of the Boards of Advisors/Directors for the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, the United West, and the Voice of the Copts. She has been a Visiting Researcher and guest lecturer on counterterrorism, national defense, and international relations at Georgetown University.

***

Clare Lopez talks Iran, Russia and Turkey, Gulen and the Muslim Brotherhood, Jan 30, 2018

The Identity Crisis Fueling European Muslim Radicalization

by Abigail R. Esman
Special to IPT News
June 7, 2017

When tanks entered the streets of Istanbul and Ankara last summer in an attempt to overthrow the Turkish government, people swarmed the streets to fight them off. At the urging of their president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, they pushed back against the coup, some waving Turkish flags, others waving guns. “What else would you do?” A friend in Istanbul asked me some months later. “When your government and your country are attacked, you fight back. It’s to be expected.”

Less expected, however, were the crowds of Turkish-Europeans who also took to the streets in cities like Rotterdam, where dozens demonstrated on the city’s Erasmus Bridge, waving Turkish flags and, in some cases, crying out “Allahu Akbar.” For many non-Turkish Europeans, the action felt almost threatening: Were these people Turkish or European? Could they reasonably be both? Or did they represent a fifth column, aiming to overtake Europe from within?

In Holland, members of Leefbaar Rotterdam (Livable Rotterdam), the populist political party founded by the late Pim Fortuyn, determined to address the issue head-on. They held a public panel discussion last week to debate the question of who these demonstrators were: traitors? Dual citizens with torn allegiances? Could they be true to both their Turkish heritage and to the Dutch culture in which they were born and raised?

Left unspoken were the more pressing questions, the ones the non-Turks really meant: do Dutch Turks identify more with the Islamist policies and values of Erdogan and his regime, or with the secular Enlightenment, the democratic culture of the West? What, after all, to think of the fact that the vast majority of European Turks voted for Erdogan in the November 2015 elections, and again voted against democracy in Turkey’s April 16 referendum, which gave him virtually limitless powers until 2029?

While this particular debate took place in Rotterdam, once the home of the Renaissance humanist Erasmus, these questions have hovered over all of Europe since the 2004 terrorist attacks in Madrid and, even more, the 2005 attacks in London – and not only about the Turks, but about Muslim immigrants in general.

With Europe facing a near-continual onslaught of Islamist terrorist attacks often perpetrated by homegrown extremists, those questions feel more urgent than ever.

But both the issue and its urgency are far more complex than a matter of allegiance. For many second- and third-generation immigrant youth, especially those from Turkey and Morocco, it is also a matter of identity. As dark-skinned immigrants with names like Fatima and Mohammed, they are often discriminated against in their home countries. The values of their families and their religious leaders do not always mesh with the values of their communities and governments. But when they visit their cousins and grandparents in Anatolia and rural Morocco, they find they don’t fit in there, either.

Many counterterrorism experts maintain that this situation makes Muslim European youth especially vulnerable to radicalization and recruitment by terror groups. As Belgian-Palestinian jihad expert Montasser AIDe’emeh has noted of Belgian Moroccan extremists such as the Paris and Brussels attackers, “The Islamic State is giving them what the Belgian government can’t give them – identity, structure. They don’t feel Moroccan or Belgian. They don’t feel part of either society.” And speaking to PBS’s Judy Woodruff, Peter Neumann, director of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization, observed that “the cause [of radicalization] is ultimately a conflict of identity. It is about second- or third-generation descendants of Muslim immigrants no longer feeling at home in their parents’ or grandparents’ culture, at the same time not being accepted into European societies.”

If this is true, then what to make of the Turkish-European dual citizens choosing, as most have, to support Erdogan’s Islamist policies while living in the liberal West? Are they integrated, assimilated, into the cultures in which they live, as most insisted during the Rotterdam debate? Or are they rather true to the norms of a Turkey that is becoming increasingly religious, turning increasingly eastward, and to a president who is gradually unraveling the secular Western vision of the republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk?

At the same time, does waving the Turkish flag when the country is attacked mean they are not actually Dutch? Should Dutch Jews not fly the flag of Israel, or Dutch-Americans have left their stars and stripes at home after 9/11?

“It’s more than just flags,” Ebru Umar, a Dutch-Turkish journalist who moderated last week’s event, explained in an e-mail. “The flags symbolize who they are…. They claim to be soldiers of Erdogan.” Hence, she said, “the people [demonstrating] on the [Erasmus] bridge were and are seen as not integrated. Ask them and they’ll answer they are integrated. And [yet] they tell you of course they adore Erdogan.” Indeed, she noted, they even stated it at the debate: “‘You can’t ask a child whom they love more: mum or dad.'”

It is a false equivalency, however. This is not about loving one parent more than another, but about accepting one of two opposing sets of values: those of secular democracies, or those of Islamist theocracies. There is no combining the two. There is no compromise.

Which is what makes these questions so very critical right now – not just for the Dutch, but for all Europeans, as they confront a complex, existential dilemma. Should they continue to alienate the growing population of young Muslims, and should those same young Muslims continue to resist assimilation, they will together be laying out the welcome mat for recruiters for jihad. But should Europe instead accept the Islamist leanings of those same Muslim youth, it will soon discover there was a fifth column after all – a movement to Islamize the West. And it will have succeeded.

Abigail R. Esman, the author, most recently, of Radical State: How Jihad Is Winning Over Democracy in the West (Praeger, 2010), is a freelance writer based in New York and the Netherlands. Follow her at @radicalstates.

A Disappointing Silence on Erdogan’s Excesses

IPT NewsMay 18, 2017:

The man with the bullhorn already had been knocked to the ground, repeatedly kicked and beaten. Then the man with a mustache, wearing a sharp suit and a handgun on his hip, raced up and launched a fierce kick, hitting the man with the bullhorn square in the face.

The man with the bullhorn was protesting visiting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The man with the mustache is an Erdogan bodyguard. This beat-down, captured on video by the Voice of America, took place Tuesday, just 1.4 miles from the White House, where Erdogan met with President Trump.

Nine people were injured, including two who required hospitalization. A similar, but smaller brawl broke out last year when Erdogan was greeted by protesters outside a speech at the Brookings Institution.

The State Department issued a statement Wednesday saying it would tell the Turkish government that it is “concerned by the violent incidents …. Violence is never an appropriate response to free speech, and we support the rights of people everywhere to free expression and peaceful protest.”

It’s difficult these days for stories outside the White House’s struggle to contain the Russia investigation to gain much traction.

But events in and near the White House Tuesday should not get lost in the shuffle. Even without the violence by Erdogan’s goon squad, his White House visit should concern those who expected the Trump administration to follow through on its tough talk about confronting radical Islam.

For all the talk about naming radical Islamic terrorism where it exists, there appears to have been no mention of Turkey’s ongoing support for the Muslim Brotherhood and its terrorist offshoot Hamas. Rather, President Trump publicly lauded Erdogan, saying it was an honor to host him and that he looked forward to working together to create Middle East peace.

Erdogan is a favorite of U.S.-based Islamists, especially those with Muslim Brotherhood links, like Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Executive Director Nihad Awad. That may be due, at least in part, to his view that Hamas is not a terrorist group, but a national liberation movement.

Erdogan provided a safe haven for Hamas operative Salah Arouri even after Arouri was implicated in the deadly kidnapping of three Israeli teens that led to the summer 2014 war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. In that conflict, Erdogan predicted that Israel would “drown in the blood that they shed,” and likened the Jewish state to Adolph Hitler: “Just like Hitler tried to create a pure Aryan race in Germany, the State of Israel is pursuing the same goals right now.”

Arouri was asked to leave Turkey only last year, as part of an effort to restore diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey – relations Erdogan severed in 2010.

But that doesn’t mean Erdogan has turned a corner. In February, Turkey hosted a meeting of Hamas officials and affiliates. Last week, Erdogan repeated the baseless claim that Israel is an apartheid state, asking, “What’s the difference in Israel’s current practices from the racist and discriminatory policies implemented towards the blacks in America in the past, and in South Africa more recently?”

The ignorant talking point ignores the equal voting rights enjoyed by Israeli Arabs. The International Committee of the Red Cross rejected Erdogan’s rhetoric outright: “There isn’t a regime here that is based on the superiority of one race over another; there is no disenfranchisement of basic human rights based on so-called racial inferiority.”

In addition, Erdogan was slow to stem the tide of foreign fighters crossing his border in order to join ISIS in Syria. When he does act, he often targets U.S.-backed Kurdish forces fighting ISIS – a stateless minority Turkey oppresses.

While Erdogan and Trump praised each other publicly, ABC reports that “they made little progress to deal with their sharp differences on issues like terrorism and Syria.”

Erdogan, meanwhile, has purged tens of thousands of government employees, teachers and jailed scores of journalists in a clamp-down on any potential opposition. His crackdown is not limited to his own borders, as European critics have been targeted for arrest and surveillance.

Under his rule, Turkey’s secular education system has been weakened as religious training schools known as imam hatip grew more than 15 times in enrollment since 2003. His radical Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) wants Turkey to be governed by an Islamist authority that demands adherence to strict religious tenets.

The White House meeting lasted about 20 minutes, McClatchy reports. Beforehand, 81 members of Congress issued a statement urging the president to raise Erdogan’s human rights abuses in the meeting.

“Erdogan and his allies have mounted an assault on the rule of law, particularly using sweeping state of emergency authorities to stifle fundamental rights including free speech, undermine the independence of the judiciary, and quash any opposition to their undemocratic actions,” they wrote.

There is no indication whether that topic was discussed. After the meeting, Erdogan expressed appreciation for the president’s hospitality. That’s fine, but the failure to openly challenge Erdogan’s increasingly Islamist, authoritarian direction is disappointing. Turkey’s help is needed in the fight against ISIS. But if the United States intends to confront radical Islam, it missed a golden opportunity on Tuesday.

President Trump did ask that Turkey release jailed American pastor Andrew Brunson, the White House readout of the meeting said. The two leaders also plan to meet again next week during the president’s first official international trip.

Unless he challenges Erdogan then, the lasting images of this will be the unprovoked violence Erdogan’s armed bodyguards inflicted on peaceful demonstrators in the heart of the nation’s capital instead of a direct and honest challenge to Erdogan’s ongoing and egregious support for Islamist terrorists.

Also see:

Trump Defies Turkey, Approves Heavy Weapons for Syrian Kurds

AFP

Breitbart, by John Hayward May 9, 2017:

In a decision bound to infuriate Turkey, a senior Trump administration official said that heavier weapons would be approved for Syrian Kurdish forces as they close in on the Islamic State capital of Raqqa.

The anonymous senior official was quoted by the Associated Press as part of its coverage of Defense Secretary James Mattis’ meetings on Syria. NBC News published similar quotes by two unnamed defense officials, who said the Kurds could receive rifles, ammunition, armor, communications gear, and engineering equipment, delivered by ground convoys and air drops. NBC’s sources did not go into detail about what type of heavy weapons might be sent to the Kurds.

Military Times reported over the weekend that elite YPG fighters are already armed with advanced American combat gear, including night-vision goggles, digital camouflage, body armor, and the type of rifles used by American special operations forces. Photos of YPG commandos with American gear began appearing online during the battle to capture the strategic town of Tabqa, west of Raqqa, in late March.

U.S. military officials have only acknowledged supplying the YPG with Russian-made weapons, such as the ubiquitous AK-47 rifle. Officials “offered only ambiguous responses” when asked how the Kurdish fighters acquired American gear. Military Times anticipated Turkey would be “infuriated.”

Dana White, chief spokeswoman for the Defense Department, issued a statement on Tuesday formally acknowledging President Trump’s decision:

Yesterday, the president authorized the Department of Defense to equip Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces as necessary to ensure a clear victory over ISIS in Raqqa, Syria.

The SDF, partnered with enabling support from U.S. and coalition forces, are the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future.

We are keenly aware of the security concerns of our coalition partner Turkey. We want to reassure the people and government of Turkey that the U.S. is committed to preventing additional security risks and protecting our NATO ally.

The U.S. continues to prioritize our support for Arab elements of the SDF. Raqqa and all liberated territory should return to the governance of local Syrian Arabs.

The fight for Raqqa will be long and difficult, but will ultimately be yet another defeat for ISIS, and another step toward eliminating the ISIS threat to peace and security in the region and the world.

Turkey’s response will largely depend on whether they acknowledge a significant difference between the Kurdish YPG militia and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an umbrella group of Arabs, Assyrians, and other groups led by the Kurds against ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the Syrian regime.

American analysts have expressed a high degree of confidence in the training, discipline, and fighting ability of the SDF. The U.S. military has such a good relationship with the SDF that some American soldiers participated in an SDF ceremony recently at which some 250 female veterans of the YPG militia were inducted into Syrian Democratic Forces ranks.

The U.S. Central Command reportedly sent Mattis a request last week asking to arm the Kurds. Defense officials and analysts said Mattis and President Trump were likely to approve the plan, which envisioned a mixed Kurdish and Arab force supported by American artillery and airstrikes to push ISIS out of Raqqa. The Obama administration also believed Kurdish troops would be key to recapturing the city, but President Barack Obama was said to be reluctant to approve the plan for Raqqa so close to Trump taking office.

Reuters described Mattis as “upbeat” after meeting with a Turkish official in Copenhagen, Denmark on Tuesday. Mattis said the administration intended to “work with the Turks, alongside one another, to take Raqqa down, and we’re going to sort it out and we’ll figure out how we’re going to do it.”

However, U.S. officials said Mattis was not signaling a new agreement with Turkey about the battle plan for Raqqa, and maintained the Trump administration is skeptical of Turkey’s claims that it can manage the liberation of Raqqa without Kurdish help.

Turkey adamantly insists that the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia is allied with the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey, a Kurdish separatist organization that both Turkey and the United States classify as terrorist in nature. On the other hand, the U.S. views the YPG as an invaluable battlefield ally against the Islamic State, and quietly rejects Turkish characterizations of the Syrian Kurdish militia as an offshoot of the PKK.

Turkey has not merely been critical of the YPG – it has attacked Kurdish positions in Syria, prompting military responses from the Kurds. One of Turkey’s professed strategic goals in Syria is preventing the Kurds from annexing all or part of Raqqa. Kurdish leaders have said that if the people of Raqqa wish to join their autonomous “democratic federal” system after the Islamic State is defeated, that would be fine with them.

The U.S. military has been patrolling the Turkey-Syria border to discourage further Turkish attacks on the Kurds. Turkish officials have suggested they might not care if American troops get in the way during their next operation against the YPG.

Mattis also said that he was reviewing the Russian proposal to create “safe zones” for refugees in Syria, a proposal co-sponsored by Turkey and Iran.

“It’s all in process right now,” Mattis said en route to Copenhagen Monday. “Who is going to be ensuring they’re safe? Who is signing up for it? Who is specifically to be kept out of them? All these details are to be worked out and we’re engaged.”

Mattis said another important consideration was whether the safe zone proposal would affect the battle against the Islamic State – a distinct possibility, since the safe zones are supposed to be no-fly zones for all military aircraft, including those belonging to the United States and its anti-ISIS coalition partners.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump on May 16. Erdogan has already suggested the American alliance with Syrian Kurds would be the top item on the agenda.

Also see:

Europe: More Migrants Coming

Gatestone Institute, by Soeren Kern, May 5, 2017:

  • “In terms of public order and internal security, I simply need to know who is coming to our country.” — Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka.
  • Turkey appears determined to flood Europe with migrants either way: with Europe’s permission by means of visa-free travel, or without Europe’s permission, as retribution for failing to provide visa-free travel.
  • The migrants arriving in Italy are overwhelmingly economic migrants seeking a better life in Europe. Only a very small number appear to be legitimate asylum seekers or refugees fleeing warzones.
  • The director of the UN office in Geneva, Michael Møller, has warned that Europe must prepare for the arrival of millions more migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

The European Union has called on its member states to lift border controls — introduced at the height of the migration crisis in September 2015 — within the next six months.

The return to open borders, which would allow for passport-free travel across the EU, comes at a time when the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean continues to rise, and when Turkish authorities increasingly have been threatening to renege on a border deal that has lessened the flow of migrants from Turkey to Europe.

Critics say that lifting the border controls now could trigger another, even greater, migration crisis by encouraging potentially millions of new migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East to begin making their way to Europe. It would also allow jihadists to cross European borders undetected to carry out attacks when and where they wish.

At a press conference in Brussels on May 2, the EU Commissioner in charge of migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, called on Austria, Denmark, Germany, Norway and Sweden — among the wealthiest and most sought after destinations in Europe for migrants — to phase out the temporary controls currently in place at their internal Schengen borders over the next six months.

The so-called Schengen Agreement, which took effect in March 1995, abolished many of the EU’s internal borders, enabling passport-free movement across most of the bloc. The Schengen Agreement, along with the single European currency, are fundamental pillars of the European Union and essential building-blocks for constructing a United States of Europe. With the long-term sustainability of the single currency and open borders in question, advocates of European federalism are keen to preserve both.

Avramopoulos, who argued that border controls are “not in the European spirit of solidarity and cooperation,” said:

“The time has come to take the last concrete steps to gradually return to a normal functioning of the Schengen Area. This is our goal, and it remains unchanged. A fully functioning Schengen area, free from internal border controls. Schengen is one of the greatest achievements of the European project. We must do everything to protect it.”

The temporary border controls were established in September 2015, after hundreds of thousands of migrants arrived in Europe, and when EU member states, led by Germany, gave special permission to some EU countries to impose emergency controls for up to two years. Since then, the European Union has approved six-month extensions of controls at the German-Austrian border, at Austria’s frontiers with Hungary and Slovenia and at Danish, Swedish and Norwegian borders (Norway is a member of Schengen but not the EU). Several countries have argued that they need border controls to combat the threat of Islamic militancy.

On May 2, Sweden, which claims to conduct the most border checks among the EU countries, announced that it will lift controls at its border with Denmark. Sweden received 81,000 asylum seekers in 2014; 163,000 in 2015; 29,000 in 2016, and the same is expected for 2017.

On April 26, Austria called for an indefinite extension of border controls. “In terms of public order and internal security, I simply need to know who is coming to our country,” Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said. Austria, which accepted some 90,000 migrants in 2015, also called for a “postponement” of the EU refugee distribution program, which requires EU member states to accept a mandatory and proportional distribution of asylum-seekers who arrive in other member nations.

On March 9, Norway extended border controls for another three months.

On January 26, Denmark extended border controls for another four months. Integration Minister Inger Støjberg said that his government would extend its border controls “until European borders are under control.”

On January 19, Germany and Austria announced that border controls between their countries would continue indefinitely, “as long as the EU external border is not adequately protected.”

Meanwhile, the number of migrants making their way to Europe is once again trending higher. Of the 30,465 migrants who reached Europe during the first quarter of 2017, 24,292 (80%) arrived in Italy, 4,407 arrived in Greece, 1,510 arrived in Spain and 256 arrived in Bulgaria, according to the International Office for Migration (IOM).

By way of comparison, the number of arrivals to Europe during each of the first three months of 2017 exceeded those who arrived during the same time period in 2015, the year in which migration to Europe reached unprecedented levels.

The trend is expected to continue throughout 2017. Better weather is already bringing about a surge of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Libya to Europe. During just one week in April, for example, a total of 9,661 migrants reached the shores of Italy.

The migrants arriving there are overwhelmingly economic migrants seeking a better life in Europe. Only a very small number appear to be legitimate asylum seekers or refugees fleeing warzones. According to the IOM, the migrants who reached Italy during the first three months of 2017 are, in descending order, from: Guinea, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Senegal, Morocco, Mali, Somalia and Eritrea.

In February, Italy reached a deal with the UN-backed government in Tripoli to hold migrants in camps in Libya in exchange for money to fight human traffickers. The agreement was endorsed by both the European Union and Germany.

On May 2, however, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel reversed course by saying the deal ignored the “catastrophic conditions” in Libya and would not curb migration. He said that Germany now favored tackling migration by fighting instability in Africa:

“What we are trying instead is to help stabilize the countries on the continent. But that is difficult. We will have to show staying power, stamina and patience. This is in the interest of Africans but also in the interest of Europeans.”

Gabriel’s long-term solution — which in the best of circumstances could take decades to bear fruit — implies that mass migration from Africa to Europe will continue unabated for many years to come.

Italy has emerged as Europe’s main point of entry for migrants largely because of an agreement the European Union signed with Turkey in March 2016 to stem migration from Turkey to Greece. In recent weeks, however, Turkish authorities have threatened to back out of the deal because, according to them, the EU has failed to honor its end of the bargain.

Under the agreement, the EU pledged to pay Turkey €3 billion ($3.4 billion), as well as grant visa-free travel to Europe for Turkey’s 78 million citizens, and to restart accession talks for Turkey to join the bloc. In exchange, Turkey agreed to take back all migrants and refugees who reach Greece via Turkey.

After the deal was reached, the number of migrants reaching Greece dropped sharply, although not completely. According to data supplied by the European Union on April 12, a total of 30,565 migrants reached Greece since the migrant deal took effect. Only 944 of those migrants have been returned to Turkey. Still, this is in sharp contrast to the hundreds of thousands of migrants who entered Greece at the height of the migration crisis. Turkey’s continued cooperation is essential to keep the migration floodgates closed.

On April 22, Turkey’s Minister for EU Affairs, Ömer Çelik, issued an ultimatum, warning the European Union that if it does not grant Turkish citizens visa-free travel by the end of May, Turkey would suspend the migrant deal and flood Europe with migrants.

On March 17, Turkey’s Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu warned that his country would “blow the mind” of Europe and renege on the deal by sending 15,000 Syrian refugees a month to Europe:

“We have a readmission deal. I’m telling you Europe, do you have that courage? If you want, we’ll send the 15,000 refugees to you that we don’t send each month and blow your mind. You have to keep in mind that you can’t design a game in this region apart from Turkey.”

In February 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had already threatened to send millions of migrants to Europe. “We can open the doors to Greece and Bulgaria anytime and we can put the refugees on buses,” he told European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. In a speech, he signaled that he was running out of patience:

“We do not have the word ‘idiot’ written on our foreheads. We will be patient, but we will do what we have to. Don’t think that the planes and the buses are there for nothing.”

In February 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (left) threatened to send millions of migrants to Europe. “We can open the doors to Greece and Bulgaria anytime and we can put the refugees on buses,” he told Jean-Claude Juncker (right), President of the European Commission. (Image source: Turkish President’s Office)

European officials say that to qualify for the visa waiver, Turkey must meet 72 conditions, including the most important one: relaxing its stringent anti-terrorism laws, which are being used to silence critics of Erdoğan, especially since the failed coup in July 2016. Turkey has vowed not to comply with the EU’s demands.

Critics of visa liberalization fear that millions of Turkish nationals may end up migrating to Europe. The Austrian newsmagazine, Wochenblick, recently reported that 11 million Turks are living in poverty and “many of them are dreaming of moving to central Europe.”

Other analysts believe Erdoğan views the visa waiver as an opportunity to “export” Turkey’s “Kurdish Problem” to Germany. According to Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Söder, millions of Kurds are poised to take advantage of the visa waiver to flee to Germany to escape persecution at the hands of Erdoğan: “We are importing an internal Turkish conflict,” he warned. “In the end, fewer migrants may arrive by boat, but more will arrive by airplane.”

The European Union now finds itself in a Catch-22 situation. Turkey appears determined to flood Europe with migrants either way: with Europe’s permission by means of visa-free travel, or without Europe’s permission, as retribution for failing to provide visa-free travel.

Greek officials recently revealed that they have drawn up emergency plans to cope with a new migrant crisis. Turkey is hosting some three million migrants from Syria and Iraq, many of whom are presumably waiting for an opportunity to flee to Europe.

Italy is also bracing for the worst. Up to a million people, mainly from Bangladesh, Egypt, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan and Syria are now in Libya waiting to cross the Mediterranean Sea, according to the IOM.

The director of the United Nations office in Geneva, Michael Møller, has warned that Europe must prepare for the arrival of millions more migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. In an interview with The Times, Møller, a Dane, said:

“What we have been seeing is one of the biggest human migrations in history. And it’s just going to accelerate. Young people all have cellphones and they can see what’s happening in other parts of the world, and that acts as a magnet.”

German Development Minister Gerd Müller has echoed that warning:

“The biggest migration movements are still ahead: Africa’s population will double in the next decades. A country like Egypt will grow to 100 million people, Nigeria to 400 million. In our digital age with the internet and mobile phones, everyone knows about our prosperity and lifestyle.”

Müller added that only 10% of those currently on the move have reached Europe: “Eight to ten million migrants are still on the way.”

Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.

***