He runs around in a fake fire extinguisher’s outfit, holding a silly hose in his hands and knocking on neighbors’ doors to put out the fire in their homes. “Go away,” his neighbors keep telling him. “There is no fire here!” I am the person to put out that fire, he insists, as doors keep shutting on his face. That was more or less how Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman, pro-ummah (Islamic community), “Big Brother” game has looked in the Middle East.
After years of trial and failure Erdogan does not understand that his services are not wanted in the Muslim neighborhood: The Iranians are too Shiite to trust his Sunni Islamism; the (mostly Sunni) Kurds’ decades-long dispute with the Turks is more ethnic than religious; and Sunni Arabs do not wish to revisit their Ottoman colonial past. Still, Erdogan insists.
Turkish textbooks have taught children how treacherous Arab tribes stabbed their Ottoman ancestors in the back during the First World War, and even how Arabs collaborated with non-Muslim Western powers against Muslim Ottoman Turks. A pro-Western, secular rule in the modern Turkish state in the 20th century coupled with various flavors of Islamism in the Arab world added to an already ingrained anti-Arabism in the Turkish psyche.