Saturday, January 22, 2005

In a column on The Washington Times’ Web site, dated Dec. 28, 2004, UPI International Editor Claude Salhani describes a startling assertion by a Turkish commentator. “We perceive George W. Bush like Osama bin Laden,” Beyza Bilgin, a theology professor at Ankara University, is quoted as declaring, “Both think they have a mission [from God].”

Since Mr. Bilgin used the pronoun “we,” the comment appears to convey a common point of view among Turks. Yet, as a Turk I strongly disagree.

First, it is self-evident Mr. Bush, as the president of the United States, cannot be compared with a terrorist who set up an organization for the sole purpose of killing innocent civilians.

What bothers me more, however, is Mr. Bilgin’s second statement, i.e., that assuming a mission from God puts someone in the same category as terrorists. That is simply absurd. In fact, many great men and women of faith have believed in a God-given mission, and they were far from being akin to al Qaeda operatives. In the modern world, there are many passionate believers who simiarly feel they are chosen by God but don’t possess a violent agenda at all.

Actually, this should be common knowledge. One wonders, though, how this cannot be grasped by otherwise rational people. The problem may not with their rational faculties, but rather with their agenda.

This agenda caught my eye the first time when Oxford zoologist Richard Dawkins — a diehard Darwinist, committed atheist and fierce antireligionist — blamed the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, on the “Abrahamic mind,” just four days after the fall of Twin Towers. The anti-Abrahamic propaganda spread fast, on both sides of the Atlantic, and it has been a key element in the “Bush-hater” agenda.

The policies of President Bush could be criticized, and fairly, but some of his critics hated him simply for praising the Almighty too often or reading the Bible every morning.

Some of the anti-Bush sentiments outside in Turkey are linked with the same antireligious agenda. During and after the recent U.S. presidential elections, what one might term the “liberal media” in Turkey launched an unholy crusade against American conservatives. The value voters in the United States were repeatedly depicted as ignorant, backward and reactionary people — in short, “religious nuts.”

The vanguards of this propaganda were those very pundits who are also well-known for their contempt for Islam. One such figure was Mine Kirikkanat, a controversial columnist for the influential liberal daily Radikal. A Francophone Turk living in Paris, Mrs. Kirikkanat is a rigorous ultrasecularist and an outspoken advocate of “expelling God from the public square.” She has a strong distaste for religion — i.e., assuming it is a monotheistic one. In a memorable column of hers titled “The smell of blood of monotheistic religions,” she jubilantly quoted the avid French atheist Michel Onfray who argued all Abrahamic faiths are “cults of murder and hatred.”

The wrath of Mrs. Kirikkanat is unleashed against conservative Americans, too. Once she wrote American brains “were malfunctioned because of eating hamburger.” She despised Mr. Bush because he “wakes up with God and sleeps with God” and dares to give iftar suppers to Muslims. Recently Mrs. Kirikkanat authored a well-publicized novel, telling how Turkey will be occupied by U.S. troops after a massive earthquake.

That Mrs. Kirikkanat has no evidence beyond daydreaming does not stop others from being convinced by her. The Marxist, as usual, welcomes such bizarre conspiracy theories, but recently some conservatives have bought into this fantasy, too. One such figure, Nuh Gonultas, a columnist in the respected conservative daily Tercuman, wrote an article titled “The American invasion of Turkey.” He referred to two sources: Mrs. Kirikkanat, the usual Islamophobe, and Dogu Perincek, the godfather of Turkey’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist movement and a fierce atheist. Mr. Gonultas also writes often about the “threat” from evangelical Christians, a favorite theme shared by the liberal media in the United States.

I find it incongruous that Mr. Gonultas is a faithful conservative. He, along with Mr. Bilgin, might well sympathize with the United States for being a “nation under God” in a profane world. They could still criticize the U.S. for some aspects of its foreign policy, but they should see no need to jump on the anticonservative bandwagon. But, unfortunately they do so.

And why, you might ask, am I so concerned about all this? First, the anti-conservative bandwagon is led by those who believe religious faith is irrational and anyone who takes it seriously must be out of his mind. Thus, it is self-contradictory and self-defeating for a Muslim conservative to co-opt that attitude.

Second, the local “Bush haters” in question depict the U.S. as a deadly enemy of Turkey and the Islamic world, which is a disastrous misconception. It not only feeds terrorism and conflict, but stifles what Muslims can learn from America.

Let me add that Americans often say Turkey is a model for other Muslim nations. I have appreciated that sentiment and should like to return the compliment. America is also a model for Muslim nations, because it presents a powerful testimony to the compatibility of deeply held religious belief and modern life.

Those who fuel anti-Americanism in Turkey — such as Mrs. Kirikkanat, Mr. Perincek and a host of other committed Islamophobes — know this very well. That is their new way of disseminating all-religious-people-are-nuts philosophy and preventing a global conservative cooperation. Turkish conservatives should not be taken in by this ruse.


Mustafa Akyol is a columnist and writer living in Istanbul, Turkey. He is the author of the forthcoming “The Opium of the White Turks,” a critique of the ultra-secular Turkish elite.

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