Turkey’s president has accused India of violence against Muslims who eat beef and of disrespecting Islam, while his government’s religious arm continues to stir up controversy with the practice of cow slaughter in countries with Hindu-majority populations.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s official démarches and speeches during the 74th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) last week revealed how he has controversially turned religion into a diplomatic cudgel.
Erdoğan’s outburst against India came when he went off script during a high-level meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on combating hate speech on the margins of UNGA. At the meeting Erdoğan reiterated his support for Pakistan in the Kashmir conflict, dropping the relatively balanced Turkish approach to India-Pakistan disputes. He even claimed that India directs violence against Muslims who eat beef and urged respect for freedom of faith.
The Turkish president continued openly cozying up to Pakistan against India in the aftermath of UNGA. On Sunday he attended a ceremony in Turkey to launch construction of a ship set to be sold to Pakistan’s navy and likened the situation of Kashmir to Palestine.
Erdoğan claimed at the UN that Muslims are whipped, beaten and condemned to death in India just because they eat beef. He described it as nonsense, saying he also eats beef, and stated that his government does not interfere those who eat pork in Turkey. However, his speeches failed to make any mention of a controversial practice pursued by Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet), the proselytizing arm of the political Islamist government, in countries with large Hindu populations.
Following President Erdoğan’s remarks, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held three separate meetings with President Nicos Anastasiades of Cyprus, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of Greece and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan of Armenia during UNGA in New York. Modi conveyed his messages to Turkey in a more diplomatic manner without touching on religious issues. His meeting with the three leaders seemed to be aimed at sending a stern message to Ankara.
Charities such as the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), the Cansuyu Charity and Solidarity Foundation and the Beşir Association, which are linked to Turkey’s Islamist ruling party, and the Diyanet receive harsh criticism every year over meat distribution campaigns during the Eid al-Adha festivals from the Hindus of Asia, to whom the cow is sacred. The Diyanet and pro-Erdoğan charities offend Hindus by supplying beef to local Muslim communities in the countries despite the fact that the religious sentiments of the region are well known.
For instance, visual material shared by the Turkish Diyanet Foundation (TDV), a charity associated with the Religious Affairs Directorate, exposed that the TDV has slaughtered cows, sacred and symbolic animals in Hinduism, and distributed the meat to the Muslim community of Nepal during Eid al-Adha in August 2019. According to a statement issued by the TDV, the meat was distributed to at least 135,000 needy people in the Asian country.
Muslims with the financial ability to do so are required to slaughter an animal during the Eid al-Adha festival as a form of sacrifice.
In Nepal, the cow was declared the national animal of the country by its secular constitution in 2015 and its slaughter is prohibited by law.
As Nepal attempted to recover from a devastating earthquake in 2015 that killed more than 5,500 people, Pakistan was accused of committing a serious cultural error by sending food containing beef, which was avoided by survivors, to the deeply Hindu nation. The Pakistani Foreign Ministry then had to deny the reports and said there was no beef content in the ready-to-eat food dispatched by Pakistan to Nepal.
In 2002 Turkey entered a new period of social, political and cultural transformation under Erdoğan’s rule. His Islamist party (Justice and Development Party, AKP) rose to power in an atmosphere where the role of the military amounted to virtual veto power over elected politicians. The party empowered various social groups and had subdued the military by the end of 2010. However, this did not necessarily result in democratic consolidation, and the AKP’s dominance generated deeply politicized state institutions and foundations. Similarly, the structure and activities of the Diyanet were increasingly synchronized with AKP policies. President Erdogan benefited from its network, and the Diyanet became an imposer of his radical and political Islamist ideology.