[Marxism] Pope's visit to Turkey
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Nov 28 09:17:57 MST 2006
NY Times, November 28, 2006
Popes Visit to Turkey Highlights Tensions
By SABRINA TAVERNISE
ANKARA, Turkey, Nov. 28 Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Turkey this morning
and held talks with the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who
had finally agreed to meet him publicly just 24 hours before.
Mr. Erdogan greeted the Pope as he stepped off his plane, and then held a
brief meeting with him at the Ankara airport before leaving for the NATO
summit in Riga, Latvia, Reuters reported. The Pope remained in Turkey to
visit religious leaders.
The elaborate last-minute choreography pointed to the deep divide that has
festered within Turkish society since the foundation of the modern Turkish
state after the first World War: Should Turkey face eastward, toward its
Muslim neighbors, or westward, toward Europe?
In the past five years, Muslims here have repeatedly felt betrayed by the
West. The United States began holding Muslims without charge at Guantánamo
Bay, Cuba; it invaded Iraq and abused prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Turkeys
hopes of entering the European Union have dimmed. The pope made a speech
citing criticism of Islam.
Turkey a democratic Muslim country with a rigidly secular state is at a
pivot point. It is trying to navigate between the forces that want to pull
it closer to Islam and the institutions that safeguard its secularism.
Turkeys pro-Islamic government is constrained by rules dictating
secularism established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkeys revered founder.
The extremes jostle on Istanbuls streets, where miniskirts mix with
tightly tied head scarves and lingerie boutiques stand unapologetically
next to mosques.
There are two Turkeys within Turkey right now, said Binnaz Toprak, a
professor of political science at Bogazici University.
The popes visit falls squarely on that fault line, and highlights a slow
but steady shift: Turkey is feeling its Muslim identity more and more. The
trend worries secular Turkish politicians, who believe the states central
tenet is under threat. In late October, a senior officer of Turkeys army
which ousted a government it saw as overly Islamic in 1997 issued a rare
warning to that effect.
Others say the threat is overstated, but acknowledge that Turks do feel
pushed eastward by pressures on their country from America and Europe. A
poll by the Pew Foundation in June found that 53 percent of Turks have
positive views of Iran, while public opinion of Europe and the United
States has slipped sharply.
Many people in Turkey have lost hopes in joining Europe and they are
looking for other horizons, said Onur Oymen, an opposition politician
whose party is staunchly secular.
It has been more than 80 years since religion was ripped out of the heart
of the new Turkish state, which was assembled from the remains of the
Ottoman Empire, the political and economic center of the Muslim world for
centuries. But the portion of Turks who identify themselves by their
religion has increased to 46 percent this year, from 36 percent seven years
ago, according to a survey of 1,500 people in 23 cities conducted by the
Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, an independent research
organization based in Istanbul. That is a trend that has emerged in
countries throughout the Muslim world since Sept. 11, 2001.
Im here as a Muslim, said Fatma Eksioglu, who was sitting on the grass
next to her sister in downtown Istanbul on Sunday at a demonstration of
about 20,000 people opposing the popes visit. She did not belong to the
Islamic party that organized the gathering, she said, adding, When it
comes to Islam, we are one.
But in a paradox that goes to the heart of modern Turkey, a stronger Muslim
identity does not mean that, as in Iraq, fundamentalism is on the rise, or
even that more Turks want more religion in their government. Indeed, the
number of Turks in favor of imposing Shariah law declined to 9 percent from
21 percent, according to the survey, which was released last week.
Perhaps the most powerful factor pushing Turks toward the east has been a
series of bitter setbacks in talks on admission to the European Union. To
try to win membership, the Turkish government enacted a series of rigorous
reforms to bring the country in line with European standards, including
some unprecedented in the Muslim world, like a law against marital rape.
But the admission talks have stalled. And while the official reason
involves the longstanding Greek-Turkish dispute over Cyprus, most Turks say
they believe the real reason is a deep suspicion of their countrys religion.
Indeed, in 2002, Valéry Giscard dEstaing, the former French president,
said Turkeys admission to the union would mean the end of Europe.
Nicholas Sarkozy, the French presidential hopeful, has made his opposition
to Turkish membership a campaign issue. Even the pope, when he was still a
cardinal in Germany, said publicly that he did not think Turkey fit into
Europe because it was Muslim. That talk has begun to grate on Turks.
It hurts me that the E.U. expects Turkey to be something its not, said
Nilgun Yun, a stylish 26-year-old eating a chocolate muffin in a downtown
Istanbul cafe on Sunday.
Her position, shared by many of her friends, was simple: Accept me as I
am. We are Muslim, and we will remain Muslim. Thats not going to change.
Mr. Oyman, the Turkish opposition politician, said criticism of his country
was tougher than ever. You cannot believe how they accuse Turkey on Cyprus
and other issues, he said in a telephone interview from Brussels, where he
was attending a meeting of European parliamentarians. Our European friends
are playing a very shortsighted game.
The shift has begun to affect trade. While Europe is still Turkeys largest
trading partner, business with other neighbors, including Syria, Iraq and
Iran, has picked up substantially in recent years, said Omer Bolat, the
head of one of the countrys largest business associations, whose members
are mostly pro-Islamic. He put the growth at about 30 percent from just 3
percent in 2000.
It is risky for a country with respect to foreign policy to have
dependence on one partner and market, he said in English, sitting in a
sleek conference room overlooking a bustling trade fair that showcased
Turkish goods. Now Turkey is opening its muscles, its horizons.
The policies of the Bush administration have deeply worried Muslims, he
said, before rushing off to speak to the Pakistani ambassador, who had
arrived at the fair.
The United States used to be paradigm of freedom and rights, he said.
But since the Republican period, the U.S. policies have been so
detrimental in Muslim eyes.
In just four years, Mr. Erdogan has managed to get inflation down to
historical lows and growth rates to all-time highs. The growing prosperity
has eased the integration of religious Turks into the countrys secular
society, which is still suspicious of advocates of Islam, as well as of Mr.
This group of people that was more religious has relaxed, said Ms.
Toprak, the professor. They are now visible. They go to restaurants they
would never have gone; they go to posh shopping malls.
It was a struggle to get a piece of the pie, she said. Now they have one.
Even so, the increased religiosity, or at least identification with
religion, could eventually present a serious problem for Turkish society.
There are already rumblings. A killing of a judge whose court had ruled
that a nursery school teacher could not wear a head scarf, even away from
school, alarmed Turkeys secularists. Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, head of the
Turkish Army, has referred to a rising threat of fundamentalism on at least
four occasions since he took up his position in late August.
Mr. Erdogans closely watched government had attempted to limit liquor
consumption in public places, but later backed down. It also tried to make
adultery a crime, but relented.
Some Turkish officials play down the possibility of real damage to
secularism, but say that European suspicion does Turkey no good.
The delay with Europe, for instance, fans up the disappointment, the
disillusionment, said Namik Tan, the spokesman for Turkeys Foreign
Ministry. People say, Why are they doing this?
That is why public officials, including Mr. Erdogan, have shrunk from the
visit by the pope, who symbolizes, in the eyes of Turks, a disdain for
Islam and the unfair exclusivity of the Western club. A cartoon in a
Turkish newspaper last weekend showed two public officials belly laughing
at the bad luck of those Turkish officials obliged to meet him. (The senior
official appointed to be his formal guide has the portfolio of youth and
But the meetings are happening. Despite growing pains, a neglected Kurdish
minority in the south, a thin skin for any reference to the Armenian
genocide, and failure to scrap a law that makes insulting Turkishness a
crime, Turkey stands out as lively democracy in a larger Middle East
riddled with restrictions, and its acceptance by the West is a test case
for others, officials said.
Muslim countries, Mr. Tan points out, are watching.
Turkey is a beacon for those countries, he said. Dont forget, if we
fail, then the whole dream will fail.
Sebnem Arsu contributed reporting from Ankara, and Ian Fisher from Rome.
Sabrina Pacifici contributed research.
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