TOPICS > Politics

Turkey Torn Between Eastern Heritage and Western Opportunity

December 1, 2006 at 6:35 PM EST

TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, Margaret Warner’s wrap-up of her reporting trip to Turkey, a nation caught by history and the present between East and West.

MARGARET WARNER: If you want to get a glimpse of modern Istanbul with echoes of 1930s Berlin, just catch this nightclub here. Female impersonators sing to a packed house while trendy businesspeople, their spouses and special friends inhale the food and scotch, wine and raki, Turkey’s potent national liquor, at least for now.

But club manager Gulsum Sami worries how long it can last in the current political climate.

You have an Islamic government now.

GULSUM SAMI, Nightclub Manager: Yes. We’re not happy with it.

MARGARET WARNER: Are you worried that a place like this will be shut down?

GULSUM SAMI: I don’t think so, but they have other ways of making impression on people.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you come under pressure as the manager of a club like this?

GULSUM SAMI: No, not yet.

MARGARET WARNER: Are you worried that you may?

GULSUM SAMI: Of course.

MARGARET WARNER: Worried because modern Turkey, 99 percent Muslim in faith, is at a crossroads. Sandwiched between East and West, it’s struggling with its identity as it hasn’t since 1923. That’s when the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, whose images still loom everywhere, decree Turks should adopt the Latin alphabet and Western dress. He imposed a legal separation between religion and state, which Turks define as secularism.

But a new political party with Islamist roots won national elections three years ago. And the country’s secularists say it’s mounting a sneak attack on Turkey’s secular culture.

BEDRI BAYKAM, Artist: There is no something called “soft Islamist government.”

MARGARET WARNER: Bedri Baykam is a prominent artist and an ardent politically active secularist. He points to steps that the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has taken at the national and municipal level: rewriting school books to insert Islamic themes; trying to restrict alcohol-serving restaurants to ghettoized red zones outside the cities; campaigning, though not yet succeeding, to lift the ban on headscarves in universities and government buildings.

BEDRI BAYKAM: You take a frog, and you put it into boiling water. The frog would jump out, and you could not cook it and eat it. So what you do is you take a frog and you put it in kind of coldish, lukewarm water, and you start heating the water very, very slowly. And then the moment the frog realizes what happened, it’s too late. This is the example that we give for what they’re doing to the Turkish society.