A new global soft-power, Erdogan is funding thousands of mosques

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose Justice and Development Party (AKP) represents the Turkish wing of Muslim Brotherhood, religion has become a critical instrument of Turkish foreign policy. In countries from Latin America to sub-Saharan Africa, from Asia to Europe,Ankara is building mosques, financing religious education, restoring Ottoman heritage, and advertising its unique brand of Islamic leadership along the way.

Fusing Sunni Islam with Turkish nationalism, the state institutions and civil society organizations behind the country’s religious outreach promote Turkish language and culture alongside religious curricula, and they erect the Turkish flag at the sites of new projects. In the minds of those executing the policy, Turkey, as heir to the Ottoman Empire, is Islam’s last fortress and the natural leader of a revival of Muslim civilization.

In the last year the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government constructed a series of new mega-mosques at home and abroad. One in Accra, Ghana, is the largest in West Africa. Another in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, is the largest in Central Asia. A complex in Maryland is said to be the largest of its kind in the entire Western Hemisphere. There are at least 2,000 others of various sizes that are funded by Ankara, and still more have been planned or discussed in places such as Venezuela, where Erdoğan is bolstering Nicolás Maduro’s beleaguered government, and Cuba, which Erdoğan claimed Muslim sailors reached before Christopher Columbus.

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Turkish money has also reached Albania through the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA), which distributes most of the country’s development assistance and which has carried out more than 200 projects there, according to Erdoğan’s office, including restoring Ottoman mosques. The agency is also funding various other programs in Tirana.

In early December 2019 Erdogan attended the official opening of an eco-friendly mosque in Cambridge.The sultan, who was in the UK for a Nato summit in Watford, was reportedly invited to Cambridge Central Mosque by British singer-songwriter Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens.Mr Islam is patron of the Cambridge Mosque Trust, according to the mosque’s website. Previously, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has attended the opening ceremony of a culture center and mosque in the United States, while he was in the country to attend the Nuclear Security Summit. The Turkish-American Culture and Civilization Center, otherwise known as the Diyanet (Directorate of Religious Affairs) Center of America, which was funded by the Turkish government, was inaugurated by Erdoğan on April 2, in Maryland.

In 2018, Erdoganopened the mosque of Cologne in Germany. The Turkish president was received with military honor as well as a state banquet hosted by the German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier with the chancellor Angela Merkel.German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yücelstrongly criticized the Erdogan’s visit, saying it was a form of “betrayal.” Yücel, a correspondent for the German Die Welt newspaper, was imprisoned in Turkey for a year on terrorism-related charges.”It seems as though the German government is gearing up to betray once again all those in Turkey who are longing for a free, democratic and secular society,” Yücel said as he accepted the M100 Media Award in Potsdam.

Last year, the German magazine Der Spiegel reported that some DİTİB imams led prayers supporting Turkey’s military incursion into Syria’s Afrin region. Another DİTİB-run mosque held a performance to mark the Battle of Gallipoli that involved children dressed in fatigues lying as fallen soldiers under a large Turkish flag, Stern, a weekly, said. In 2017, German authorities investigated a number of imams on suspicion that they had spied on followers of Fethullah Gülen, the Pennsylvania-based preacher whom Ankara blames for an attempted coup against Erdoğan in 2016. At the time, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency was reported to be considering placing DİTİB under official surveillance.

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