Turkey struggles with popular Islam
The deaths of three Christian believers at the hands of young Muslim radicals in Turkey broke only a few days before a huge demonstration on the streets of Istanbul, when hundreds of thousands rallied in support of secularism in Turkey.
The uneasy balance between Islam and secularism in Turkey is a volatile social mix that concerns European governments at a time when Turkey is lobbying to gain access to the European Union.
The roots of the present religious and political mix go back to 1923 – the start of the modern Turkish state, founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a military general, in what had been the Ottoman Sultanate.
Ataturk believed the mainly Muslim nation should be a modern, secular country; and he introduced wide-ranging reforms, including freedom for women, the wearing of western dress, a modern legal code and the abolition of Islamic institutions.
Since then, Turkey’s ruling elite and powerful military have seen it as their role to protect and continue what Ataturk began. The army has in the past staged three coups against elected governments in Ankara.
The cause of the recent demonstrations is fear in some quarters that Turkey is again moving to a more Islamist society, with the foreign minister Abdullah Gul and ruling PK party pursuing a hidden Islamist agenda.
The catalyst for the secularist demonstration was the election of Gul as President, an appointment immediately annulled by the country’s constitutional court. European leaders and Christian believers may well wonder what kind of country will be joining the EU if the current plan of accession continues unchallenged.