- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 7, 2007


ISTANBUL, Turkey. — Evangelical Christians helped President Bush win the White House twice and in return, the president set up an Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in 2001 to help religious groups compete with secular organizations for federal grants to provide social services. The Freedom From Religion Foundation sued the White House-sponsored initiative, but on July 25, the Supreme Court decided that it breaks no laws, allowing the White House to continue advocating on behalf of faith-based charities. There is a debate about whether this effectively dwindles the separation of church and state, and whether the Bush-appointed judges are allowing religion to guide their decision-making.

Meanwhile, in Turkey, the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), which lost the election, announced that the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) won mainly because of backing by religious groups and U.S. support. Under this logic, Mr. Bush identifies strongly with the AKP, given his own ties to religious groups. And the same debate about — this time — mosque and state will occur when secular Turks worry about AKP-appointed judges. After September 11 and two wars on Muslim land — Afghanistan and Iraq — Mr. Bush may be simply trying to convey a message that he is not at war with Islam, but with those who use it to create a violent ideology. Yet, Turkey has an exceptional anti-Bush population at times focusing solely on differences in how one reaches his own God. Many AKP-oriented Turks also deny there is such thing as political Islam, but only religious people. If one buys that argument, there remains no reason to be fearful of the Islamists’ rage in countries like Algeria, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and etc.

Looking at Turkey through the prism of the Middle East, the AKP is a modest Islamic-rooted party. Turkey’s Islamists owe tremendously for this painted image to the secular democracy they live in, though. Each time I have traveled to the Middle East since the AKP came to power, every Muslim Arab man that I met, from government official to ordinary citizen, greeted me as a Turk first, saying that Turkey finally has a Muslim prime minister — as if in this 98-percent Muslim nation, the others were non-Muslims. Evidently, the point that they are all trying to make is a revolt against the secular regime and its watch-guard, Turkish military.

The CHP is strongly critical of anyone talking about Islamophobia and Islamofascists. But their “findings” proved that they fear the way their own people interpret religion. The fact is, 53 percent of Turks (AKP got 47 percent in the election) may fear the intentions of AKP’s Islamist base. Yet CHP has more responsibility, because the party believed that banning religious teachings and characterizing people with religious intentions as immoderate would help fight radical interpretations of Islam. It did not. They created a perception that they think of God as the enemy, and Turks are still debating whether secularism means atheism. CHP needs to explain why it cannot build an equally successful support group — a religious one — to assist their political victory.

If denial of reality is the tactic that Turkey’s secularists use, they will surely lose more opportunities in their attempts to win power. But the failed secular opposition is correct about one thing: its stand against Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul’s presidency. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan acknowledges that he has a bigger responsibility today and understands the concerns of the people who did not vote for him. If he means it, he should see that a first lady wearing a turban will not only change the face of Turkey, but will take the country one step closer to being seen as an Islamic state. If Mr. Erdogan is true to his word that he will keep the country secular and decide who the next president will be based on that principle, not which party won the most seats in Parliament, his candidate should not be Mr. Gul.

Today’s Turkey looks like an experiment field for how Muslims can express themselves. The other day, I saw a woman in her early 30s with a butterfly tattoo under her elbow, wearing a short-sleeved blouse and blue jeans along with her candy-pink headscarf. They call women like her “light” Muslims here. There are definitely the ultra-Muslims and various practices in between. Today, those women feel they represent the elite class in Turkey.

If Turkey is going to find its ultimate identity through this experiment, let women enjoy their freedom, hoping that in time importance of this issue will decline because it loses its symbolism. But while allowing this experiment to continue, it would be a tragic mistake for all supporters of the AKP and the party itself to nullify the delicate line between the mosque and the state.

Tulin Daloglu is a freelance writer.

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