The nearly yearlong imprisonment of an American pastor by the Turkish regime underscores the danger of appeasing – and, by extension, lavishing praise upon – Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as he determinedly charts his authoritarian descent.
To say that Andrew Brunson is behind bars solely for being a Christian is missing the full, accurate picture. Brunson, who lived and preached among the country’s 150,000 or so Christians of varying denominations for more than two decades, was seized as a victim of opportunity – much like the nearly 60,000 Turks who have been arrested since July 2016 on some vague assertion that they were all part of a fantasy plot with an exiled cleric in Pennsylvania to usurp Erdoğan’s rule.
Brunson was also seized to send a message to the United States. Just before a then-unknown transition in U.S. leadership, a month before our presidential election, Brunson and his wife were summoned to their local migration management office. Both were detained, with Norine Brunson quickly freed – and with the pastor’s incarceration, the Turkish regime had itself an American hostage.
In captivity, Brunson can be used by Erdoğan as a bargaining chip to extract concessions – which is why, incidentally, Iran continues to seize and hold several U.S. hostages as well – such as Turkey’s long-demanded extradition of Fethullah Gülen. Or, quite simply, Brunson is a symbolic captive in Erdoğan’s obsessive need to project might to the world.
Either way, this is a man’s life in the balance – like the nearly 60,000 Turks also arrested in Erdoğan’s tyrannical purge – and, charged with bogus counts such as attempting to overthrow parliament and trying to destroy Turkey’s constitutional order, he faces a potential life sentence in hellish conditions.
One would think that Erdoğan isn’t used to being told what to do.