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Generational Dynamics Web Log for 26-Feb-2010
26-Feb-10 News - Turkey debates Islam versus secularism

Web Log - February, 2010

26-Feb-10 News - Turkey debates Islam versus secularism

Consumer confidence plummets along with bank lending.

Operation Sledgehammer coup plot roils Turkey's politics

A major confrontation is developing between the Islamist AKP party, currently in power in Turkey, versus the pro-secular Army. 30 Army officers have been jailed after evidence has been found that they attempted a coup in 2003.

The coup plan, code named Operation Sledgehammer, involved bombing two Istanbul mosques and escalating tensions with Greece by forcing Greek jets to down a Turkish plane over the Aegean Sea, according to Al-Jazeera. The operation was planned after the Islamist AKP party first won parliamentary elections in 2002. This was the first non-secular government in power since the early 1920s, when Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey, declared Turkey to be a secular state.

A secular country?

Is Turkey now a Muslim state or a secular state? That's a question that's plagued the country for centuries, and it's rising as a major political issue again.

When Constantinople (now called Istanbul) fell in 1453 to the Muslim Ottomans, it marked the end of the Byzantine Empire, and even the end of the last vestiges of the Roman Empire. It was possibly the most important world event of the millennium, and an enormous victory for the Ottomans. The Ottoman Empire began scoring one victory after another, as it took on both Western Christians and Orthodox Christians in the following centuries.

However, the balance of power began to shift from the Muslims to the Christians in 1699, when the Ottomans were forced to sign the Treaty at Karlowitz after being defeated by the Germans and allies in the War with the Holy League. This war stunned the Muslim world, and even today is considered by many Muslim scholars to be the most calamitous defeat in Muslim history.

After that, the Ottomans began losing pieces of their empire, and they were particularly humiliated by the Crimean War in the 1850s, when they had to be saved from a Russian invasion by European forces.

In the generational Awakening era that followed this crisis war, there began a movement of young Muslims to develop a new Turkish (as opposed to Ottoman) culture, and this led to the "Young Turks" rebellion in 1908. The Ottoman Empire was finally destroyed completely in the aftermath of World War I.

WW I was not a crisis war for the West, but it was a generational crisis war for Turkey. After any generational crisis war, a country always goes through major political changes. For Turkey, led by Kemal Ataturk, it was a huge change: Turkey would abandon its position as Caliphate for Muslims worldwide, and would become a completely secular country.

(It's worthwhile noting that Russia went through a similar change at that time, when the Bolshevik Revolution turned the country from the head of worldwide Orthodox Christianity to an atheist nation. Today, Russia and Turkey are both questioning those decisions.)

The headscarf controversy

In 2007, I wrote a brief historical analysis of Turkey in the article More than a million of secularists rally in Turkey. As I pointed out in that article, a controvery over headscarves has been the focal point of a culture war between the Islamists and the secularists.

Turkey's current president, Abdullah Gul, is from the Islamist AKP party, and his wife wears a headscarf, according to some Muslim traditions. But in the secular Turkey established by Ataturk in 1924, wearing headscarves in public buildings is illegal.

I recall that my mother used to wear a headscarf at times, to keep her hair in place, and she isn't even Muslim! We have one Muslim country, Iran, where women who DON'T wear headscarves are swept up by the police and arrested, and we have a secular country, Turkey, where WEARING a headscarf is illegal is some circumstances. This shows how confusing this issue is for Muslims, and especially how confusing it is for Turkey.

The stakes are very high in Turkey now, with two large, powerful institutions fighting over the secularist vs Muslim issue. The Army has a history of enforcing Ataturk's laws about secularism, and it's widely known that the army has triggered coups in the past to keep the government secular. But Operation Sledgehammer really crossed the line, in the minds of many Turks.

Additional Links

US Consumer Confidence fell to its lowest level since last spring. According to Bloomberg, that this means that consumers may "hold back the spending needed to sustain the recovery." Once again, the dreams of those who are hoping that a full-fledged credit bubble will return again are dashed.

In fact, bank lending is falling at an "epic pace," according to WSJ. "Besides registering their biggest full-year decline in total loans outstanding in 67 years, U.S. banks set a number of grim milestones. According to the FDIC, the number of U.S. banks at risk of failing hit a 16-year high at 702. More than 5% of all loans were at least three months past due, the highest level recorded in the 26 years the data have been collected."

In the past two weeks, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been stepping up his calls for the destruction of Israel. In one speech translated by Memri, he said, "A Middle East without Zionism is a divine promise... Time is on the side of the peoples of the region. The Zionist entity is nearing the threshold of nonexistence. Its raison d'Ítre is finished, and its path is a dead end. If Israel wants to repeat the mistakes of the past, the death of the Zionist entity is certain... This time, all the nations of the region will stand fast in the face of the [Zionist regime], and will uproot it."

(Comments: For reader comments, questions and discussion, see the 26-Feb-10 News - Turkey debates Islam versus secularism thread of the Generational Dynamics forum. Comments may be posted anonymously.) (26-Feb-2010) Permanent Link
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