Opinion Columns & Blogs

U.S. would look weak, and be weak, if they sent Muslim cleric back to Turkey

President Donald Trump prays with American pastor Andrew Brunson in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Oct. 13. Brunson had returned to the U.S. after he was freed from nearly two years of detention in Turkey.
President Donald Trump prays with American pastor Andrew Brunson in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Oct. 13. Brunson had returned to the U.S. after he was freed from nearly two years of detention in Turkey. AP

For two years, Christians have prayed for the release of the Rev. Andrew Brunson, an American held in prison in Turkey. His recent release by a Turkish Court was a source of joy for America. But if it leads to the murder of the most anti-terrorist Muslim cleric who is living in America, as part of some sick “trade,” it will not only be a most un-Christian action by the U.S., but it will demonstrate that America can be coerced by hostage-taking, weakening this country’s foreign policy, even as more Americans are held captive in Turkey.

Two years ago, Brunson was arrested in Turkey, where he had preached for nearly 20 years in Izmir, a West Turkish coastal city. He was accused of being part of the Fethullah Gulen (Hizmet) movement, whose spiritual leader preaches education, a liberal brand of Islam, cooperation between Christians, Jews and Muslims and who abhors terrorism.

Cleric Gulen does more than just speak out against terrorism. He took out full-page ads denouncing 9/11 terrorists, and those who attacked Charlie Hebdo, etc. For condemning those in the Muslim world who condemn Christianity, Gulen is seen as so pro-American that he’s been accused of being a CIA agent, or at least funded by them.

When a small band of rogue Turkish military officers allegedly tried to overthrow the increasingly dictatorial regime of “Islamist” populist Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president blamed the United States, and the 77-year-old Gulen (who has lived in Pennsylvania for years) of orchestrating the coup. Gulen’s an easy target, given his close ties to America, and his reform-minded version of Islam that seeks cooperation with Christians and Jews.

So anyone accused of being friends with Gulen’s movement, like Brunson, were locked up as “coup plotters,” even those there’s not a shred of evidence against Gulen and the tens of thousands of teachers, judges, police officers, human rights workers and other ordinary Turkish citizens facing indefinite imprisonment for trying to build an inter-faith dialogue. And Erdogan has locked up more Americans as well who are tied to this group, to be used as bargaining chips.

If we short-circuit the U.S. judicial process on extradition matters (which has blocked Turkey’s groundless case) and send the most pro-American Muslim to a Middle Eastern country to face a gruesome execution, what does that say about us as a Christian country? Our leaders would be like King Ahaz of Judah, groveling before the Assyrians, allowing the 12 Tribes of Israel to be ethnically cleansed in an unholy bargain, undermining the faith in God.

There’s also the matter of American foreign policy. By surrendering Gulen in order to retrieve our hostage, Brunson, it will prove to the world that America can be pressured into doing another country’s bidding. Rogue states and terrorists will be taking notes. Think of those other American hostages that Erdogan has imprisoned to be traded for us doing his dirty work in the Syria and the rest of the Middle East, helping him rebuild the Ottoman Empire?

Thankfully, President Donald Trump has so far resisted the urge to kowtow before Erdogan’s throne. Republicans and Democrats in Congress have also sanctioned Erdogan for ordering his bodyguards to beat up American citizens in Washington, D.C. If you cheered Brunson’s release, contact your elected officials in the House (www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative) and Senate (www.senate.gov/senators/index.htm), and demand they fight for the unconditional release all Americans held in Turkish captivity this Christmas.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.

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