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.
MARGARET WARNER: That's not the view taken on the campus of Fatih University, where students tend to come from more pious religious families. It 's a private college but must still obey the Turkish ban against wearing the headscarf or veil.
Student Hava Donmez (ph), who pulled up her sweatshirt hood while we spoke on camera, says she faced a painful choice, because Islam commands her to be covered, but even more so, she says, it commands her to learn.
TURKISH STUDENT: It's hard because you are trapped between your choices, and between your emotions, and between your -- maybe here, I was trapped in my religion belief and in my education.
MARGARET WARNER: Her friend, Daria Margan (ph), doesn't wear a headscarf on or off campus. But she thinks Hava (ph) should be free to express her religious beliefs without undermining modern secular Turkey in any political sense.
TURKISH STUDENT: It can't threaten people, and I think people makes this problem, not a headscarf.
MARGARET WARNER: The headscarf issue is central in Turkish politics today as a symbol of the struggle over whether to redefine the secularism of the modern Turkish state.
BEDRI BAYKAM: The tolerance that they want for the veil is something that they don't show at all for the other lifestyles, including the miniskirt, including women wearing sleeveless shirts, including alcohol, including nude pictures. It's a political propaganda tool.
It's not at all the conservative, traditional headscarf that our grandmothers used to wear. This is like totally invented by Islamist fundamentalists' lifestyles, and agendas, and political goals.
MARGARET WARNER: Conservative people of faith, like Fatih University Dean Alparslan Acikgenc, says it's the secularists who are intolerant and unjustifiably paranoid about a secret plan by religious people to change the culture.
ALPARSLAN ACIKGENC, Dean, Fatih University: This is what they are basically saying, that these people are hypocrites. They say openly that they want secularism, but inside they don't want.
MARGARET WARNER: They're saying this about the government?
ALPARSLAN ACIKGENC: They say this about anyone who is actually religious. And as a result, they try to, you know, make an atmosphere of, you know, feeling uncomfortable in a religious environment.
MARGARET WARNER: Turkey's religiously conservative prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, insists he's more interested in cementing Turkey into the West than in trying to Islamicize its culture.
One recent Sunday, he spent all evening at a party-sponsored debate for young people over globalization, and the pro-globalization team won. Erdogan's people note it was his government that last year began negotiating for Turkey to join the European Union. And his foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, says Turkey is moving briskly to adopt evermore European economic, political and social norms.
ABDULLAH GUL, Foreign Minister, Turkey: Our government is a reformist government in this country. After so many years, there is a single-party government, and we upgrade the democratic standard. Turkey is modernized country, and it's getting -- every day it's getting more modernized.
MARGARET WARNER: To see a surprising aspect of Turkey's modernization, we went 500 miles east of Istanbul into the religiously pious heartland of Turkey, a major base of the ruling party's support, to the city of Kayseri. Here live the so-called Anatolian Tigers, businessmen who've built vast complexes of factories and mosques for their workers to pray, and now produce a growing share of Turkey's GDP.
One decade-old business, Keep Out Denim, sells $17 million worth of denim clothing each year, nearly half of it as exports, hugging the hips of young European women in a way that would make some conservative Islamists cringe. But not the factory's owner, Celal Haznalcaci.
A pious Muslim, he prays five times a day and has made his pilgrimage to Mecca. But business, he says, is business.
CELAL HAZNALCACI, Denim Manufacturer (through translator): Of course, in our Islamic culture, we're not in the habit of wearing clothes like these, but it's our business to manufacture them. We understand the demands of our customers, and we produce accordingly.
MARGARET WARNER: On his factory floor, he notes men and women work together. And while some women wear headscarves, others don't.
The number-one Kayseri powerhouse is the Boydak Group. One of Turkey's top 10 conglomerates, it's on track to sell $1.8 billion this year in furniture, textiles and financial services in Turkey and abroad. The company's deputy chairman, Sukru Boydak, voted for Erdogan's party, but says the West needn't worry about it trying to take Turkey in an Islamist direction.
SUKRU BOYDAK, Deputy Chair, Boydak Holding (through translator): It is because the people in our government are religious that those thoughts come to people's minds, but I definitely don't believe that Turkey will move to the right or become more Islamic. Seventy-five percent of Turks don't believe in this, maybe even 90 percent.
MARGARET WARNER: Recent polling here seems to bear that out. A survey published just last week by a respected Istanbul think-tank did find that a greater percentage of Turks now identify themselves primarily as Muslim.
Yet it also found that only 9 percent favor imposing Islamic Sharia law, down from 21 percent just a few years ago. And that gives heart to those who believe that Turkey's essential character won't change.
Many members of Istanbul's business elite, Muslim but secular in their private attitudes, seem to have made their peace with this government, because it has instituted the kind of economic reforms and stability that have been very good for business. They don't publicly acknowledge any worries about the government's alleged Islamist designs.
GULER SABANCI, Chair, Sabanci Group: I'm a businesswoman. I only talk with facts and figures. And just intentions, it's difficult to read.
MARGARET WARNER: Guler Sabanci is the most powerful businesswoman in Turkey today, as chairman of the country's second-largest conglomerate, the Sabanci Group. And she's bullish on Turkey's prospects for joining the European Union.
GULER SABANCI: There is a sentiment in Europe against Turkey right now, but I feel this is temporary. And also, we all know that the public opinions change.
Turkey needs to stay on this road. This accession process is important for Turkey. The process itself is important for Turkey. It is the journey that is important, not the destination.
MARGARET WARNER: The EU this week took steps to stall Turkey's membership over Ankara's refusal to let Greek-Cypriot ships dock in its ports, as well as concerns over Turkey's human rights record, its treatment of religious and ethnic minorities, and the prosecution of intellectuals on charges of insulting so-called Turkishness.
Yet Sabanci is confident the Europeans won't throw them off the track.
You wrote recently in the Financial Times that the EU needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the EU. What did you mean?
GULER SABANCI: That Turkey has, first, a young population. The demography is very important, which all the numbers show that Europe would need this in the future.
Second, Turkey has a geographical location. It's a bridge for energy sources; Turkey is a bridge for cultural sources. I think both Europe needs Turkey, and I also called Turkey needs Europe.
MARGARET WARNER: The United States has lobbied hard for the EU to admit Turkey even though it's a Muslim country, for the U.S. has a major stake in anchoring Turkey in the West, says the U.S. ambassador here, Ross Wilson.
ROSS WILSON, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey: The debate here over what some regard as creeping fundamentalism on the one hand, secularism and Ataturk's principles on the other, is one of the fundamental divides in Turkish politics today.
There's a very loud and very lively, very vibrant debate going on. That's a good thing; that's what democracies do. I think we have -- certainly I have a lot of confidence in the ability of Turkey's citizens and its institutions and its leaders to sort through these in what's going to be a very interesting political year.
MARGARET WARNER: One thing that could throw Turkey off the EU track is political upheaval, and there's talk that could be triggered if Prime Minister Erdogan gets his ruling party-controlled parliament to elect him as president next April.
That would eliminate the last remaining secular figure with the power to veto pro-Islamist legislation, a vision that terrifies the secular forces here. The military has intervened in politics before, staging coups in 1960, '71, and '80, and pressuring an Islamist government to quit in 1997.
And many Turks told us, if the political opposition can't unite, they're counting on the army to protect them from the Islamists.
This fall, the army's new chief of the general staff gave pointed speeches warning of "a reactionary threat in Turkey" and vowing that the Turkish armed forces "will forever stand against such threats."
GEN. EDIP BASER (RET.), Turkish Army: We have to keep an eye on this, because we have been given this responsibility by our constitution, by the constitution of this nation.
MARGARET WARNER: Is the day of military coups in Turkey over?
GEN. EDIP BASER: Yes, I can say that.
MARGARET WARNER: We've talked to even young people here who say, in the end, if this government tries to push this country in an Islamic direction, the Turkish military will step in and save us. What would you say to them?
GEN. EDIP BASER: It's the civil population's responsibility to protect the democracy. Initially, it's not the army's mission.
MARGARET WARNER: But, he added, if public opinion insists there's no other way, quote, "The army should do whatever is necessary."
How this complex, multi-layered country, from its cosmopolitan hub of Istanbul to 5,000-year-old villages in the heartland, resolves its internal debate will have consequences for Turkey, the region and the world.
As the evening at the Istanbul night club wore on, the Westernized revelers belted out a Turkish rendition of the 1970s classic "I Will Survive." It was an assertion of confidence in a certain kind of future for Turkey, a future that they may yet be called upon to defend.