THE release of Dr Andrew Brunson from Turkey at the weekend is greatly to be welcomed. The US pastor, previously best-known for his doctoral thesis from the University of St Andrews, an intertextual study of Psalm 118 and St John’s Gospel, was accused of plotting against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and has been incarcerated for two years. The evidence against Dr Brunson was widely agreed to be ludicrous; yet, when the prosecution witnesses retracted their statements last week, the Turkish court convicted him none the less. His three-year sentence was deemed to have been served, however, and he was given permission to leave the country.
The episode is a sober reminder of the way in which individuals’ fate is caught up in larger political movements. Dr Brunson’s arrest came shortly after the 2016 coup attempt. President Erdogan has tried, and failed, to exchange him for Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric residing in Pennsylvania, accused by the Turkish government of involvement in the coup. He has been released after the imposition of US sanctions, and during the latest political crisis in Turkey, which involves another seeming innocent, the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The alleged murder of Mr Khashoggi by a Saudi hit squad in the country’s Istanbul embassy might not have been broadcast so prominently were Turkey not vying with Saudi Arabia for influence in the region. The face-saving formula offered by President Trump — that the murder was the work of unsanctioned “rogue killers” — might not have been suggested were the United States not determined to hang on to its defence contracts with the Saudi kingdom. As is his wont, President Trump made no attempt to disguise the power politics. After Dr Brunson’s release, he said: “I have a very good feeling toward Turkey — two days ago, I did not.” Of the Saudi defence contracts, he said: “I don’t want to hurt jobs. I don’t want to lose an order like that.”
These are people whose names are widely known. Critics have pointed out that at least two other US citizens are caught in Turkey’s justice system (a misnomer), Serkan Golge and Ismail Kul, both scientists. In addition, hundreds of activists, opposition politicians, journalists, and other Turkish citizens remain in Turkish prisons, held without trial or convicted on fabricated evidence. And this is not to mention the millions in Yemen who face hunger, and even death, partly as a result of Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the civil war. These are just two nations with which the West is concerned. The composers of the Prayer Book would recognise a world where individual peace and security are fragile. It is for these reasons that congregations are enjoined to pray that they may be godly and quietly governed; and that this week’s collect asks God, of his bountiful goodness, to “keep us from all things that may hurt us; that we, being ready both in body and soul, may cheerfully accomplish those things” that he wills to have done.