Pluralist state finds itself in a divided world




By Mark Huband in Istanbul

Financial Times, 21 November 2003

The evening gun, marking the end of the day of fasting, sent flocks of birds swooping across the Bosporus strait.

Momentarily, it sent a shock wave through the city that has been blasted by four similar-sounding explosions in the past week, which have left 50 people dead and hundreds wounded.

Sipping tea in the Sembol Kiraathaanesi cafe long before the Ramadan gun had sounded, a group of middle-aged men thought nothing of the fact that around the corner, a mosque full of pious believers was attending Friday prayers, the fasting fully observed.

The question all now face is whether the onslaught has emerged from within Turkey’s pluralist state, or is the work of outsiders  and so whether Turkey is facing an indigenous enemy interwoven with its own cultural fabric, or an external threat that can be confronted with a mixture of policing, intelligence gathering and international co-operation.

“It’s the women who are becoming more Islamist, by covering themselves,” said Tastan Yener, as he sipped tea and waited for one of the shops on Malta Street to offer him a day’s work.

He recognised that Turkey’s strongly Islamic government had established a good relationship with the secular military, but that more bombs could lead the relationship into crisis.

Until now the substantial Jewish population has not been targeted, as a direct consequence of successive Turkish governments’ close ties with Israel, despite very strong anti-Israeli feeling and sympathy for the Palestinians in the country.

The twin bombings of two synagogues last weekend, which left 25 dead, are being treated as attacks on government policy rather than as a sign that the Jewish population is going to pay the price for Israeli policies.

“The attack on the synagogue was intended to attack the republic of Turkey. They wanted to punish the government,” said Nessim Azuz, a Jewish businessman. “They wanted to give a lesson to Turkey. They wanted to say to Turkey: don’t approach the west, and don’t tolerate other religions.”

But Enver Ozkan, imam of the nearby Dulgerzade mosque, said: “Palestinian blood has been flowing for years, but nobody calls the Israelis terrorists. But now the west knows that Islam is growing and that it is going to be the leader of the religions, and the west is going to lose.”


© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008