Is atheism on the rise in Turkey?
Turkey : Ghettos for unbelievers?
Nurcan Ibrahimoglu is 19, sporty and handsome. Perhaps too pretty for some men in the Turkish metropolis of Istanbul, as she now wants to see first hand. The young woman was on her way back from volleyball training in a city bus at the end of July, when, according to her own account, she was not only verbally abused but also beaten by a passenger. Because of her bare legs.
Ibrahimoglu, wearing shorts, stretched her legs, tired from training, on the bus, as she told the newspaper "Radikal". "You're stretching your bare legs here," a man called on the bus. "That is against our morals." Ibrahimoglu did not let that sit on him and called the man a bully. Then he hit her face with his fist, her lip burst open. “Nobody on the bus said anything,” she reported, shocked. On the contrary: When she got out to go to the police, even some women on the bus agreed with the attacker. The police were also not very eager to record the incident; a doctor refused to register the split lip as evidence of the use of force.
Nobody knows at the moment whether Ibrahimoglu is telling the truth, the alleged racket has not yet been found. Nevertheless, the case has been making headlines in Turkish media critical of the government for days. Because it symbolizes a feeling that has spread in secular circles since the renewed election victory of the religious-conservative ruling party AKP in June and especially since the army was ousted after the resignation of the General Staff at the end of July. It's the feeling of powerlessness.
Turkish secularists have always seen the pious Islamic majority in the country as a danger - only until now they believed they could rely on the army in an emergency, which has overthrown four governments since 1960 and regards Islam as a danger to the state. But some government opponents think that the protection provided by the soldiers is over. "Now Erdogan also has the army under his thumb," said a resigned opponent of the government in Istanbul recently about the pious prime minister in Ankara. Now nothing can stop the Islamist advance.
Government critics are seeing new signs of an Islamist offensive everywhere. In Eastern Anatolia, there was a blow to a woman who smoked a cigarette despite the fasting month of Ramadan. The article by theology professor Harettin Karaman in the well-read government-affiliated newspaper “Yeni Safak” is particularly dangerous: The scholar suggests that true Muslims should not live with unbelievers - as examples he cites gays, unmarried people and alcohol drinkers. Columnists in other newspapers now fear that Karaman wants a ghetto for all those who think differently.
In fact, Karaman's comment doesn't quite fit the image of an open and modern democracy. The attitude of devout Muslims with regard to people who disregard Muslim values could not consist in tolerance, but at best in toleration, he wrote in the article. Only if the Islamic dominant culture cannot be enforced by “intervening” and a separation of the places of residence seems impossible, the Muslim has no choice but to grit his teeth.
"Super dangerous" are Karaman's ideas, replied the columnist Ahmet Hakan in the "Hürriyet". The described “intervention” can be interpreted as a call to violence against all who are different from conservative Muslims. Karaman's views also met with criticism from scholars. In the newspaper “Vatan”, Professor Saim Yeprem from the State Religious Office said that all lifestyles must be respected.
However, Karaman is not alone with his views. Just recently, 48 percent of respondents in a representative poll said they rejected Christians as neighbors. The rejection rate for Jews was 54 percent, for atheists 64 percent and for homosexuals as much as 84 percent. The survey also painted the picture of a very conservative country in other respects. 61 percent described it as a sin for women to show themselves on the beach in bathing suits.
However, radical Islamic ideas were also rejected in the survey: 54 percent of those questioned did not want a Shariah follower as a neighbor. Representatives of the Erdogan government also point out that in almost nine years of AKP rule, Turkey has become more democratic and free, and not more Islamist. The final disempowerment of the military a few weeks ago was seen by the media critical of the government as a victory for democracy. But the distrust of Erdogan in part of Turkish society continues to grow. And Professor Karaman as well as the unknown thug on the bus do nothing to reduce this distrust.
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