Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has long been one of the most anti-free speech leaders in the world, particularly demanding the censorship and the arrest of those who insult Islam. Now Erdogan is blocking Sweden from NATO membership because it refuses to curtail free speech. It is a tragically ironic moment for an alliance based on what were viewed as shared Western values. It is now held hostage by one of the most authoritarian leaders in the world.
Erdogan is upset because Rasmus Paludan, a Swedish politician, burned a Quran outside the Turkish embassy during a protest this weekend. It was a hateful and grotesque act. However, it is also a form of political speech. I have previously written about the pressure of countries like Turkey to get the world to adopt blasphemy laws, a move that the Obama Administration and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed to support.
Erdogan declared “It is clear that those who allowed such vileness to take place in front of our embassy can no longer expect any charity from us regarding their NATO membership application.” In other words, reject the core Western value of free speech if you want to join the Western alliance.
Sweden already caved to Turkish pressure to change its laws and crackdown on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK in the country.
However, it now appears to say that it will not allow Sweden to join the alliance to protect it from Russia if Sweden insists on protecting free speech.