WRITTEN BY IQBAL TAMIMI Yesterday evening the Centre for Islamic Studies in Oxford hosted Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accompanied by his wife Amina, whom I consider as an icon of a Muslim woman that deserves all the respect and admiration for her continuous support for the Palestinian women and her courage and dedication to human rights. A number of diplomatic personalities and statesmen accompanied the PM to Oxford after the last G20 summit meeting.
Erdogan was welcomed with a very long, warm applause, he spoke to the masses after some delay by the traffic in London which he apologized for, commenting in his usual humorous way that his counterpart Gordon Brown should do something to solve the traffic problem. ‘I used to think that the traffic jams in Turkey were the worst, but I discovered that London’s traffic is even worse,’ he said.
The Turkish Bristolian group who I have accompanied included Sakir Yildirim who drove an eight thousand mile round trip delivering an ambulance loaded with practical aid to Gaza. Business man Talip Topuz waited a long time until he got Prime Minster Erdogan’s autograph and danced happily with it for quite a while. The Bristol PSC group were lucky to secure a place, while almost a thousand people had to return back home, for the crowds were much more than the expectations of the lecture organizers, but still some preferred to wait outside the hall.
Most amazing was the relaxed atmosphere and the very friendly local police and security personnel, amongst whom were a British Muslim policewoman wearing a Hijab as part of her uniform.
Erdogan who had just arrived from the last meeting of the G20 summit held in London, during which he proposed solutions for the global economic crisis were discussed as well as another equally important issue of the mutual understanding and respect between people of different faiths and communities.
“It is important that the Western community understands that Turkey is a country that identifies with the European region and is part of it, but at the same time the majority of our nation are Muslims,” he said.
His call for others to understand the importance of mutual respect of faith choice was clear, ‘I respect Jesus and Moses and the message they came with, and I expect others to have similar understanding and respect for my faith,“ he said.
One of the guests requested a comment from the Prime Minister regarding the incident when he stormed out of a conference held in Davos, which was attended by Israeli President Shimon Peres after Israel’s bombing of Gaza. Erdogan said, “I had to do the same in Georgia as well, because I saw a fierce barbaric attack on women, children, the elderly and the vulnerable who do not have the means to defend themselves, they were killed while no one from the international community intervened to stop this aggression, this I could not tolerate. I saw with my own eyes young Palestinian children being killed in Gaza. The situation is still bad, for Israel is still refusing to open this big prison of Gaza to allow for humanitarian aid and food to reach families in desperate need of help, the people of Gaza are still living in tents and in need of help. I spoke with Quartet envoy Tony Blair on this subject, and told him there is an urgent need to open the borders to allow the necessary building materials enter Gaza for rebuilding the badly damaged infrastructure.”
In response to a question about the expected timing of Turkey’s joining the European Union, Turkish Prime Minister said, “Until now, there is no set time. The UK had struggled for 11 years before joining the EU, and perhaps we should expect to wait as long. There is a routine procedure of examining two files at a time, and I always asked why only two, why not three.”
Erdogan also talked about Turkey’s organic farming plans: “There is a large extended border area between Turkey and Syria full of land mines; we plan to clean up the minefields and cultivate the area organically,” he commented on a question asked about farming in Turkey.
He also spoke about the upcoming visit of U.S. President Obama, expected to take place in Turkey next week and said, “I spoke with Quartet envoy Tony Blair as well, and discussed this issue with USA President Obama and we will discuss it again when he arrives in Turkey that there is an urgent need to find a solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and such discussions should involve all Palestinian parties involved, including the Hamas.” (photo by Iqbal Tamimi)