This morning, I got the terrible news about the attacks in Istanbul, which killed a number of tourists. Just a few short months ago, my wife and I were standing right at that spot. It could have been us. It could have been among the many tourists who visit Turkey every year who perished. That's because the Erdogan regime seems more interested in locking up political rivals, instead of tackling terrorism.
It doesn't have to be that way. When we got back from Turkey, we told everyone we could about what a great country it was. The sites right by the bombing, from Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace to the Blue Mosque in the Sultanahmet district, are among the best in the world. The people warmly greeted us, whether it was in Istanbul, or even far out in the countryside. And it wasn't about tourist dollars, because my wife and I didn't have that much on the trip. It was about making friendships. We met with people in schools, and even ate with them in their homes. We consider it our greatest trip ever.
But what would I say to people now, after several bombing attacks on political opposition rallies, and now the killings of tourists? If Turkey had a leader more concerned with ISIS and stopping terrorism, I'd recommend risking it. But Erdogan has responded to these attacks by cracking down on political rivals instead. That, coupled with a disproportionate number of bombings at Kurdish rallies and other parties makes you wonder what's really going on.
This week, the stories coming out of Turkey have focused on how a self-exiled cleric and his supporters are being prosecuted for uncovering government corruption. This cleric and his allies are labeled "terrorists" by the media, as the government puts more resources toward bringing down this group, instead of solving these terror attacks, or stopping new ones.
We've also learned this week that Turkish planes are buzzing Greek areas in the Aegean Sea, and Erdogan is attempting to secure an aircraft carrier for his navy. I'm not sure Greeks are the real threat, or that an aircraft carrier is the best anti-terror weapon Turkey can deploy.
This isn't to blame his political party, the AKP. I met strong supporters of Erdogan's party, and even some folks in the police, and had a positive experience. But it seems to be different at the top, for those holding the levers of power.
Even when given the green light to attack ISIS, the world watched with dismay as Erdogan's regime used the opportunity to target Kurds, instead of ISIS, in Syria. Imagine how things might have been different if a Turkish warplane had hit the Istanbul bomber (a Syrian) at the ISIS base, instead of striking a Kurdish village, or a Russian plane. Or what would have happened if Turkey hadn't bombed YPG, the Syrian Kurds, just as they had ISIS on the run? How many Turks and tourists will die because of that decision to hurt those who hurt ISIS is yet unclear.
The reason this hurts isn't just about mourning the dead German tourists, and others wounded who could die in the future. It's about knowing that a country like Turkey, which has people that can be so friendly and welcoming, putting on the best face a Middle Eastern nation can, in an area rich with the best of world civilizations, is now a terror target. It's sad to know that this country, where different faiths can peacefully intersect, where there is so much for us to learn, will become the next war zone for terrorism, thanks to a ruthless ISIS and a governing regime more interested in locking up people who disagree with the country's leadership.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at email@example.com.