Erdogan cut the ribbon on a $110m (€99.5m) Diyanet Center of America on the outskirts of the US capital city Saturday saying Muslims face growing prejudice around the world.
“Unfortunately, we are going through a rough time all around the world,” Erdogan said. “Intolerance towards Muslims is on the rise not only here in the United States but also around the globe.”
The Turkish leader has courted controversy at home for his fiery rhetoric in branding his political enemies “terrorists” and is no less a polarising figure on trips abroad.
On Thursday Erdogan’s security detail clashed with reporters and protesters in scuffles. The president’s security detail removed one opposition Turkish reporter from the speech room, kicked another and threw a third to the ground outside the Brookings Institution, in a melee that provided Washington’s foreign policy elite a firsthand glimpse at the state of the press in Turkey.
“We have increasingly seen disrespect for basic human rights and press freedom in Turkey,” Washington’s National Press Club president Thomas Burr said. “Erdogan doesn’t get to export such abuse.”
The following day US President Barack Obama said Washington had expressed its concerns about authoritarian tendencies in Turkey.
“It’s no secret that there are some trends within Turkey that I have been troubled with,” Obama said Friday. “I think the approach they have been taking toward the press is one that could lead Turkey down a path that would be very troubling.”
Scuffles with reporters, protesters
Domestic political rhetoric in the US has been particularly poisonous among Republican Party presidential front-runners, a theme that Erdogan seized upon as he condemned terrorism and those who commit violence in the name of Islam.
“Terrorism will never have a religion, will never have a nation, will never have a nationality, nor will it ever have a root or ethnicity,” Erdogan said. “It is unacceptable for the Muslims of the world to be forced to pay the price of the horror and pain created by a handful of terrorists in the aftermath of 9/11.”
Erdogan also noted that the recent attacks in Brussels and Paris paled in comparison to the level of bloodshed that Turkey has endured with bombings in Istanbul, Ankara and the southeast.