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Talk Cold Turkey

Henri Matisse View of Nôtre Dame 1914

Recep Tayyip Erdogan became Prime Minister of Turkey in 2003. His AKP party had won a major election victory in 2002, but Erdogan was banned from political office until his predecessor Gül annulled the ban. Which he had gotten in 1997 for reciting an old poem to which he had added the lines “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers….”

The Turkish courts of the time saw this as “an incitement to violence and religious or racial hatred..” and sentenced him to ten months in prison (of which he served four in 1999). The courts saw Erdogan as a threat to the secular Turkish state as defined by Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey in the 1920’s. Erdogan is trying to both turn the nation towards Islam and at the same time not appearing to insult Ataturk.

The reality is that many Turks today lean towards a religion-based society, and no longer understand why Ataturk insisted on a secular(ist) state. Which he did after many years of wars and conflicts as a result of religious -and other- struggles. Seeing how Turkey lies in the middle between Christian Europe and the Muslim world, it is not difficult to fathom why the ‘father’ of the country saw secularism as the best if not only option. But that was 90 years ago.

And it doesn’t serve Erdogan’s purposes. If he can appeal to the ‘silent’ religious crowd and gather their support, he has the power. To wit. In 2003, one of his first acts as prime minister was to have Turkey enter George W.’s coalition of the willing to invade Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. As a reward for that, negotiations for Turkey to join the EU started. These are officially still happening, but unofficially they’re dead.

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