As the protests over a Quran burning by a far-right politician in Sweden and Denmark gripped other countries, the United States and European Union countries warned their citizens to avoid crowds in Türkiye. In response, Türkiye’s Foreign Ministry issued a travel warning for Turkish nationals visiting European countries due to the surge in anti-Muslim, xenophobic and racist acts.
In a statement issued on Saturday, the ministry referred to the “dangerous levels” of the surge in anti-Muslim, xenophobic and racist acts, including anti-Türkiye propaganda by supporters of the PKK terrorist group. The statement noted that the developments reflect the worrying level of racist and discriminatory rhetoric in Europe and said Turkish citizens planning to visit countries where such demonstrations occur should be cautious and refrain from visiting areas with large crowds that support the ideologies mentioned above.
The ministry also suggested that Turkish citizens stay calm if they experience such hostility in European countries and contact local security forces, or the ministry, embassies and consulates. It also provided a phone number for the Consulate Call Center, which can be contacted by Turkish citizens at times of emergencies.
The ministry’s travel warning followed weeks of anti-Türkiye and anti-Muslim demonstrations in Europe, mainly in Sweden, as Turkish officials criticized Swedish authorities for failing to take action against terrorist sympathizers and far-right figures who desecrated the Quran. Sweden’s bid for NATO membership is facing a dead end as ties strained over the past two weeks due to anti-Türkiye propaganda in the country, which recently peaked with Quran burning by Rasmus Paludan.
Earlier on Saturday, the Swedish, Norwegian and Danish foreign ministries issued a travel advisory, calling on their citizens to avoid large gatherings in Türkiye amid ongoing tensions. Several embassies in Ankara including those of the United States, Germany, France and Italy on Friday released security alerts for their citizens in Turkey that flagged “possible retaliatory attacks by terrorists against places of worship.”
The U.S. Embassy said in its warning that Quran-burning incidents could lead to “possible retaliatory attacks by terrorists against places of worship in Türkiye.”
“Terrorists could attack with little or no warning, targeting places of worship or places Westerners frequent,” the warning on its website said, after days of peaceful protests in Türkiye to condemn the anti-Muslim act by Danish far-right politician Rasmus Paludan.
The U.S. Embassy was quick to issue a travel advisory for its citizens last year as well over a rally by the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). After last year’s travel warning, U.S. Ambassador in Ankara Jeff Flake was summoned to the Foreign Ministry to express Türkiye’s grievances over the warning, while Turkish police and the Foreign Ministry advised Turkish citizens in the United States to stay away from “widely participated events.”
Though they have been close allies, Türkiye and the United States are often at odds over a number of issues, and embassy warnings to U.S. citizens traveling to Türkiye are among the areas of dispute. Washington angers Ankara over what politicians call an exaggeration of the situation in Türkiye.
In 2018, Türkiye issued a travel warning to the United States, citing a number of far-right and racist incidents, including shootings, shortly after the U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory for visitors to Türkiye, urging them to “reconsider travel” over safety concerns.
Türkiye’s warning for travelers to the United States issued on the Foreign Ministry’s website points out nationwide protests over the death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee and notes that it was “observed” that xenophobic, racist verbal and physical assaults prevailed across the country. Nichols, a young black man, died after being beaten by five police officers. The city of Memphis has disbanded the special police unit involved in the beating whose video emerged and sparked protests. Several dozen demonstrators called for police reform on Saturday afternoon as they gathered in the chilly rain in front of city hall shouting, “No justice, no peace!” and carrying signs with slogans such as “Justice for Tyre Nichols.” At one point, a police car ended up surrounded by a group of protesters, who directed their angry chants at the vehicle. Protests in Memphis, Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta and a handful of other cities on Friday evening were small and largely peaceful after the video was released.
The five Memphis officers, who are all black, were charged with second-degree murder in the beating of Nichols, who died in hospital on Jan. 10, three days after being stopped on suspicion of reckless driving. Despite nationwide calls for police reform following George Floyd’s death and subsequent protests in 2020, the number of people who died in the U.S. during interactions with police hit a 10-year high in 2022, at 1,186 fatalities, according to the website Mapping Police Violence.
In its warning to Turkish travelers, the Foreign Ministry urged them to avoid areas where protests are concentrated and act calm “against possible xenophobic, racist harassments and attacks, and contact local security forces in such cases.” It called upon travelers to monitor local media against the possibility of such incidents and follow additional warnings and announcements by U.S. authorities and Turkish diplomatic missions in the United States.
In a travel warning for European countries, the ministry noted the escalation in anti-Muslim, xenophobic and racist incidents and anti-Turkish propaganda rallies by groups affiliated with terrorists. The ministry said these developments revealed the dangerous heights of religious intolerance and hatred in Europe and expressed concerns about racist movements in the continent. It urged travelers planning to visit European countries to avoid sites of protests and contact local security forces in case of xenophobic and racist attacks and follow warnings by local authorities as well as Turkish diplomatic missions in the countries they visited.
Turkish officials have criticized their Western counterparts for remaining indifferent to anti-Muslim sentiments and ideologies fueling them, while experts believe Türkiye can lead the fight against it. Türkiye has continuously called on world leaders to take action to stop the demonization of Muslims and has been taking action to tackle the growing problem.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has frequently said that Western countries insist on not taking measures against growing anti-Islam sentiment. Erdoğan also called on Turkish institutions to take action on issues related to Muslims and Turks in these countries.
According to the European Islamophobia Report 2021, Islamophobia was “as pressing a problem” across the continent as it was in previous years. It said countries such as the United Kingdom and France became “the main spots of anti-Muslim hatred and Islamophobic incidents.”
“Furthermore, anti-Muslim campaigns of far-right parties in EU member states dominate the discrimination against Muslim individuals and communities,” read the report, which focused on 27 European countries and was prepared with contributions from 35 leading academics and experts in the field.
The report links the persistence of anti-Muslim racism to “the backdrop of a general worrisome trend: The decline of liberal democracy in Europe.” It warns that major forces within Europe, singling out countries like France, are still “investing less in the fight against Islamophobia, and more … into normalizing Islamophobia.”
It noted, “Islamophobia becoming normalized and institutionalized by liberal democracies such as Austria, Denmark, and France is alarming.”
by Eric Bowman Last updated: 9:30 PM ET, Sun June 4, 2023
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