- The Washington Times - Monday, October 15, 2001

ISTANBUL Turkish Muslims fear that the terrorist attacks conducted by Osama bin Laden in the name of Islam along with a backlash against the U.S. retaliation will set the Muslim world on a course toward conflict with the West, technological backwardness and economic despair.
From the common barber to Turkey's top Muslim cleric, the vast majority of devout Turks reject bin Laden and his followers' calls for a violent jihad against America.
They spontaneously denounce bin Laden, offer apologies for the terrorist strike on New York and quickly point out that there is no condoning such activity in Islam.
At a special sermon over the weekend to mark the holy day Meraj, or the ascent of the Prophet Mohammed into heaven, Turkey's leading cleric, Mehmet Nuri Yilmaz, said Muslims should reject any links between the violence and Islam. Instead he urged Muslims to reflect on how Islamic societies could improve their lot and not fall further behind the West.
"Islam means peace and prosperity, and expressly forbids the killing of innocents and all living creatures. This is a religion where the killing of one person means the killing of all mankind, while the resurrection of one person means the resurrection of all mankind. It has nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism," Mr. Yilmaz said.
"This night should make us contemplate why the Muslim world is in a miserable state, due to ignorance and discord, while the non-Muslim world has advanced," he said.
As Mr. Yilmaz spoke Friday, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Istanbul's Bayazit Square and in the devoutly religious southern city of Konya to denounce the U.S.-led strikes on Afghanistan.
In Istanbul, up to 1,000 people held a mock funeral ceremony for those who died in the attacks. Protestors called for the unity of all Muslims and shouted slogans against the United States. It was the first mass demonstration in Turkey since the air strikes began a week ago.
The leaders of Turkey's two Islamist political parties have also denounced terrorism in the name of religion, as well as the Taliban regime in particular for fomenting a radical expression of Islam. But the politicians are wary of the U.S. military strikes against Afghanistan and have warned the government in Ankara not to let the country become too deeply involved.
The coalition government led by Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit has strongly supported the U.S.-led anti-terror coalition, and Turkey's parliament approved a bill last week allowing the government to contribute troops to help train anti-Taliban fighters in Afghanistan and distribute humanitarian aid.
"Neither Turkish nor world opinion polls are convinced about the legitimacy of such a military attack," said Recai Kutan, leader of the Saadet Party, the hard-line splinter movement of the outlawed Islamist Virtue Party.
Mr. Kutan's counterpart in the more centrist Justice and Development Party, the former Istanbul mayor Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has warned that U.S. strikes on Afghanistan could create more sympathy among Muslims for extremist movements like the Taliban.
NATO-member Turkey may play a critical role as the global anti-terrorism coalition seeks a way to integrate and influence countries such as Pakistan and Egypt threatened with Islamic extremism.
The country's development into a modern, dynamic society where Islam and Westernization have blended, despite some social tensions, could serve as an example for other nations as they seek a path away from extremism.
Turkey has held to its secular path since the founder of the modern republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, abolished the Muslim caliphate in Istanbul nearly eight decades ago.

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