Prince Metternich, the architect of the Holy Alliance against France, is supposed to have said after hearing news of the death of his arch-rival, the devious French diplomat Talleyrand, “I wonder what he meant by that?” Metternich (if he really said it) mean it as a joke. The State Department will ask what Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan meant by his outburst yesterday that Zionism is “a crime against humanity.”

Erdogan, after all, has “bonds of trust” with Barack Obama. Last year Obama told Fareed Zakaria of Time magazine that the “friendships and the bonds of trust” that he forged with Erdogan (whom he named among five foreign leaders) is “precisely, or is a big part of, what has allowed us to execute effective diplomacy.” What could the president’s friend have meant by that? Erdogan said exactly what he believes. The Turkish leader is a holdover from the enchanted world of rural Anatolia, in which Jewish conspiracies swirl in the night air along with jinn and witches. That is not an exaggeration, but an objective report, as I will explain below. No-one should be surprised. Lunatics have run better countries than Turkey in living memory.

I wrote in my 2011 book How Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying, Too):

There is bizarre edge to Tayyip Erdogan. He is given to lurid, sometimes bloodthirsty outbursts. During a February 2008 visit to Germany, Turkey’s most important European trading partner, Erdogan scandalized his hosts when he told an audience of 20,000 Turks that assimilation into German culture was “a crime against humanity.” Germany, after all, knows a thing or two about crimes against humanity. German opinion was outraged, and Turkey’s chances for membership in the European Community—a pillar of Turkish diplomacy for a generation—fell to negligible. Erdogan ignored the uproar, and told the Turkish Parliament upon his return to Ankara, “I repeat… assimilation is a crime against humanity . . . . We can think differently from (Chancellor Angela) Merkel about this, but that is my opinion.” The German attitude towards its Turkish minority has swung from multicultural outreach to pessimism about their future in German society. In October 2010, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a gathering of her political party that Germany’s attempt to create a multicultural society has “utterly failed.” As press reports paraphrased her remarks, “Allowing people of different cultural backgrounds to live side by side without integrating has not worked in a country that is home to some four million Muslims.”

We obtain some insight into Erdogan’s warped view of the world by considering the leading ideologue of Turkish Islamism, Fethullah Gulen. I profiled him in a September 2010 Asia Times essay. He presides over a business empire worth tens of billions of dollars and a system of Islamist schools that stretches from Central Asia to charter schools in the United States. The Gulen organization took control of Turkey by infiltrating its security services in a patient march through the institutions over the past two decades. Gulen’s pan-Turkic mysticism views Turkey as the center of a new caliphate uniting the Muslim world. He preaches a “Turkish renaissance” with a modern spin “to ensure that religion and science go together and that science penetrates not only individual lives, but also social life.”