The Tensions in Turkey
To better understand the tension between East and West in the Muslim world,
this report, "Muslims," travelled to Istanbul, Turkey -- a city straddling both
Europe and Asia.
Istanbul has a rich Islamic past. Until 1922, it was the center of the last
great Islamic empire of the Ottomans. But in 1923, Kemal Ataturk became the
first leader of a Muslim people to believe that in order to modernize, Islam's
influence on society had to be crushed.
Under Ataturk, Friday ceased to be a public holiday, and mosques emptied.
Sharia law was replaced by Western legal codes. Islamic scholars were forced
under state control. Arabic script was replaced by the Latin alphabet.
European dress was required for both men and women.
By the 1970s, Turkey had become the most Westernized of Muslim countries and an
active member of NATO. But at the same time, rapid urbanization was changing
Turkey's cities, and a free market economy had increased inequality. Voters
were frustrated at what they saw as corruption within the political system.
Many Muslims began to question Ataturk's belief that Islam should be removed
from politics. Pro-Islamic politicians promised to rectify a split that they
saw as artificial.
By 1996, a Turkish Islamic party had gained enough popularity to win over 20 percent
of the national vote and came to power in a coalition government. In response,
secular officials clamped down on Islam's most visible symbols, among them the
Related Links and Readings
· "Turkey, On Road to Secularism, Fears Detour"
This New York Times article looks at how Turkey practices its own brand
of secularism through the careful monitoring of religion. The article outlines
how the government not only builds the mosques, but "employs those who preach
in them and dictates sermons." Despite this, political Islam is rising to
confront state secularism. But will it succeed?
· PBS's Think Tank: The Transformation of Turkey
The March 7, 2002 episode of this program explored whether Turkey could be
modern, democratic, secular -- and still Islamic. Host Ben Wattenberg
interviews The New York Times' Stephen Kinzer and Bulent Aliriza, a
senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The
website includes a full transcript of the show.
· NPR's Fresh Air: Interview with New York Times' Stephen Kinzer
Here is Terry Gross' October 2001 interview with The New York Times
reporter Stephen Kinzer, author of Crescent & Star: Turkey Between Two
Worlds. It covers the tensions between secularism and Islam, and
Kinzer's thoughts on where it might lead. "Even modest aspects of religious
devotion, modest displays of piety and religious belief, are thought of as
scary [in Turkey]," he notes. "No country that has ever placed itself in
competition with religion has ever emerged successful from that conflict."
· "The Rise of the Islamist Movement in Turkey"
In this 1999 article published in the Middle East Review of International
Affairs, author Nilufer Narli analyzes the rise of the Islamist movement in
Turkey and how its popular support derives not only from religion, but also
from socio-economic factors and the strains of modernization.
· A Changing Turkey: The Challenge to Europe and the United
The Brookings Institution offers here the complete online publication of Heinz
Kramer's 2000 book on Turkey. It's an analysis of the country's history and
geopolitical challenges, its relations with the West, and includes a chapter on
Turkey's experience with political Islam. In this regard, the author notes:
"beneath the secular surface of the republic, religious sentiments and
entities have always been politically active."
· "The Compatibility of Islam, Democracy, and Secularism"
When the author of this article, Suleyman Demirel, wrote in 1997 for The
Journal of International Affairs, he was at the time the president of
Turkey. Demirel defends Turkey's model of secularism and democracy, and outlines
why there is a lot to be learned from the Turkish experience.
· International Religious Freedom Report, 2001
Released by the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and
Labor in October 2001, this excerpt about Turkey says that "government policy and the
generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to
religious freedom." It goes on to point out, however, that some
religious minorities face government and social harassment. The entire
report is available online.
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