Erdogan opens $100mn Turkish cultural center in Maryland, blasts US elections’ Islamophobic rhetoric

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a dedication ceremony for an Islamic mosque in Lanham, Maryland, April 2, 2016 © Thomas Ramstack
At the opening of the Turkish government-funded Diyanet Muslim center in Maryland, President Recep Erdogan lashed out at US presidential candidates for encouraging xenophobic and Islamophobic rhetoric against “primary elements” of American society.

Speaking to a mainly Muslim crowd at the inauguration of the Turkish-funded Diyanet Center of America, in Maryland, just outside of Washington DC, Erdogan took the opportunity to criticize the American political elite and American society, saying that “there are still people walking around calling Muslims terrorists.”

He blamed the US presidential contenders for spreading anti-Muslim sentiment in the US. In their race to secure the Republican candidacy, Donald Trump has called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country. His main party contender, Ted Cruz urged the police to patrol Muslim neighborhoods in the US.

“It is very interesting and shocking for me to see some of the presidential candidates here in the United States using these allegations and using these labels against Muslims openly and on a continuous basis,” Erdogan said.

Erdogan stressed that Muslim communities in the US have nothing to do with terrorism and in fact are “contributing to strengthening the United States,” adding that Muslim communities are “primary elements” of American society.

“It is unacceptable for the Muslims of the world to be forced to pay the price of a horror of a pain and suffering created by a handful of terrorists, infamous terrorists here in the aftermath of 9/11,” he stressed.

Circumventing discussions about a Turkish military campaign against the Kurds, Erdogan touched on his Thursday visit to the Brookings Institution think tank where he was met by protesters who had been mishandled by his bodyguards.

Violence and chaos reigned outside the event, with one journalist physically removed from the venue by Turkish security personnel, another kicked by a guard, and a third, a woman, thrown to the sidewalk in front of a Washington think tank. Erdogan’s bodyguards also insulted, threatened and pushed the journalists.

The attacks on peaceful protesters by Erdogan’s security team, in addition to the Reporters Without Borders watchdog, was also condemned by the US Department of State as “totally unacceptable.”

However, instead of apologizing for the conduct of his security team, which also brawled with American policemen, Erdogan went on the offensive against the crowd, which kept on shouting, “Erdogan- terrorist!” Erdogan labeled pro-Kurdish protesters as “parallel state structure” in “religious disguise” in addition to calling them “terrorists.”

“There is one organization that specifically upsets me the most which has a religious disguise, which is pretending to be legal but has been involved in all sorts of illegal actions,” Erdogan said. “Not only the representatives of the parallel state organization were outside the Brookings Institution, you could see also members and supporters of the Armenian organization along with other terrorist organizations in Turkey.”

Erdogan moved on to praising the Turkish role in fighting the global terrorism, referencing the terror attack in Brussels, where he blamed the Belgian authorities for not following through on a lead provided by Ankara. At the same time he accused EU countries of refusing to extradite militants wanted by Turkey.

“The perpetrator of the recent attacks in Brussels was a person that we have identified and detained in Turkey and we had provided the relevant intelligence to the authorities in Belgium,” the Turkish President said, adding that the Belgian authorities claimed that there was “nothing ... to pay attention to.”