Commentary Magazine

A Reprieve for a Hostage of Sultan Erdogan

DHA via AP

Andrew Brunson is not free, but at least he’s no longer trapped in a Turkish dungeon. A Turkish court on Wednesday transferred the American evangelical pastor to house arrest after he spent nearly two years in prison on trumped-up “terrorism” charges. In captivity, Brunson lost 50 pounds, according to his daughter. He is a pure victim of the benighted new Turkey under the shadow of Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Brunson’s ordeal began in October 2016, when the Turkish Interior Ministry summoned the pastor and his wife for an interview in Izmir, the coastal city where they had been preaching the gospel for 23 years. The Brunsons figured they were going to be offered Turkish citizenship. But they were detained for reasons unspecified pending deportation. Brunson’s wife, Norine, was released after two weeks, but the pastor remained imprisoned—until now.

The Turks accuse of him of “membership in an armed terrorist organization,” by which they likely mean the cultish network of Fethullah Gülen, the Pennsylvania-based Islamic guru whom Erdoğan accuses of hatching an attempted coup in the summer of 2016. The charge is an absurdity, and as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo noted in a tweet reacting to news of Brunson’s transfer, “we have seen no credible evidence against Mr. Brunson.”

As I’ve noted elsewhere, Gülen, who once helped Erdoğan purge the secularist old guard, is something like Turkey’s “Goldstein,” the mythical subversive who haunts Big Brother in George Orwell’s 1984. Erdoğan and his propagandists have decided to peg Christians in Turkey—both indigenous believers and foreign missionaries like Brunson—as Gülenist conspirators. The move is of a piece with the broader push to Islamize, or re-Islamize, the new Turkey.

Brunson isn’t the only Western national caught in the sultan’s dragnet. Others include Deniz Yücel, a German reporter with Die Welt who spent a year in prison for interviewing Kurdish militants—i.e., for the crime of practicing journalism. The Istanbul prosecutor has “investigated” Michael Rubin, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute and a contributor to these pages, and 16 other U.S.-based figures at the behest of pro-Erdoğan lawyers. Other figures under “investigation” include Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, former federal prosecutor Preet Bharara, and former CIA director John Brennan. The allegation was that all these figures were—you guessed it—Gülenists.

The question for the U.S. and other NATO allies of Turkey is: What kind of an ally treats citizens of supposedly friendly nations this way? And the painful answer is that Ankara should no longer be thought of as a Western ally. Under Erdoğan, Turkey increasingly acts like the Islamic Republic of Iran and similar anti-Western regimes. Perhaps it should be treated accordingly.

Meanwhile, if you’re the praying kind, say a prayer for Pastor Brunson’s speedy release.

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