Monday, June 11, 2012

Final Blow To Secularism In Turkey?

I doubt that any of our readers have failed to notice that secular Turkey, a longtime American ally, is being swept up in the Islamist cause along with the rest of the Middle East. Relations with the United States have been chilling over the past decade, and the pattern has accelerated rapidly since the Arab Spring began. Now one of the major symbols of secular tolerance may be about to fall.

Hagia Sophia, once the greatest cathedral in all of Christendom, may very well be facing the possibility of becoming a megamosque. Built in Constantinople (modern Istanbul), the cathedral remained in Christian hands until 1453, at which time the conquering Ottoman Turks finally succeeded in bringing down the walls of Byzantium and brought Islam into the cathedral. Christian priests were tossed out or killed, and many of the Christian relics and icons were destroyed.

In the aftermath of the death of the Ottoman Empire following World War I, a secularist/modernist movement led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk took the reins of Turkish government. Among the many reforms taken by Ataturk was the de-Islamisation of the official government. One of his acts, though not formalized until 1934, was to remove all worship, Muslim or Christian, from Hagia Sophia. By converting the great mosque, which had been switched from Christian worship by the Ottomans, he turned a great national symbol from a religious battleground into a national museum, visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists every year.

The building became a national symbol of the secularist, tolerant Turkish government for most of the remainder of the 20th Century. Sadly, over the past few years, secularism has become less palatable to religious Turks. Starting awhile back, the government began to abandon secularism in favor of increasing intrusion of Islamic law into the high elected offices. Though a republic, Turkey is rapidly becoming an Islamic Republic (which is somewhat of an oxymoron).

The remains of Arabic words and symbols have long been highly-visible on the walls of Hagia Sophia, but those Chrisitan symbols, paintings and icons which were still in existence at the time of Ataturk have been preserved. And though worship inside the building has long been strictly forbidden, the museum has until recently been thought of as a Christian historical center under Islamic domination.

That may all change in the near future. The first signs of unrest over the status of Hagia Sophia appeared in 2006 when Pope Benedict had planned a visit there. Though the historical Christian remnants are under the control of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (Eastern Orthodox Christian Church), radical Muslims saw the proposed visit by the Pope (head of the western Roman Catholic Church) as the first move in a Christian attempt to re-take the cathedral. The Pope bravely made the visit anyway, but he was greeted with general animosity including signs which read “Pope get out of Turkey.”

Now we have the earliest and largest demonstrations demanding the “proper” use of the building by Islamists. As reported by Reuters: “ Thousands of devout Muslims prayed outside Turkey’s historic Hagia Sophia museum on Saturday [May 23] to protest a 1934 law that bars religious services at the former church and mosque. Worshippers shouted, 'Break the chains, let Hagia Sophia Mosque open,' and 'God is great' [the notorious 'Allahu Akbar'] before kneeling in prayer as tourists looked on.”

While Christians are being murdered wholesale and churches burned to the ground with the congregants inside in other Middle East and northern African nations by Islamic militants, even such a moderate thing as a Christian historical museum is intolerable to the new generation of Muslim fanatics. Even though Turkey is semi-officially Islamic at this point, there still must be none of this Western tolerance in an Islamic Republic. While Muslims plan a megamosque in London and another at Ground Zero in New York City, the reverse must not be allowed anywhere in Jihadistan.

This one-sided tolerance is best explained by Salih Turhan, a spokesman for the re-conversion group which wants to turn Hagia Sophia back into a mosque. “Keeping Hagia Sophia Mosque closed is an insult to our mostly Muslim population of 75 million.” He doesn’t explain why mosques in the West overlooking the Houses of Parliament and within a block of the site of the mass murder of 3,000 New Yorkers and innocent visitors is not an insult to humanity.

40 comments:

Tennessee Jed said...

well, Hawk I admit that over the past two millenia, many atrocities have been committed in the name of Christianity. And yet, for the most part, it seems that was a long time ago. Religious intolerance is one of the worst attributes of some humans, and right now, one needs only look directly at Islam to find it in abundance. If ever there was a case of why separation of church and state is a good thing, this is it. It is one thing for a group of people to find their principles in the best tradition of the great religions of the world, but altogether different to demand theocracy.

Anthony said...

Lawhawk,

Kemalism (which bans all public expression of religion, including hijabs and crosses) wouldn't have lasted as long as it did if the Turkish Army hadn't served as its enforcers. Turkey is overwhelmingly Muslims (estimates range from 96-98%).

Don't get me wrong, the massively popular Ataturk (the guy who founded the country) was supported by overwhelming majorities (who didn't complain when he executed those who spoke out against him) when he set about minimizing the influence of all rivals to the State, but the extremism of his secularism (banning the public display of religion and banning anyone openly religious from public office) meant that it couldn't co-exist with religious faith.

Its a shame Ataturk didn't strike a better balance which perhaps might have been sustainable in the long term.

Democracy is inconvenient, but its better to have democratically elected opponents whom we sometimes find ourselves at loggerheads with than autocrats who always agree with us, but whose people are actively plotting against us. On a related note, Middle Eastern autocrats tend(ed) to try to focus the hatred of their people on the US and Israel.

As for the museum under discussion, if the State with popular support with a wave of its hand made a mosque into a museum and now the State with popular support wants to change it back with a wave of its hand, its a bit disappointing, but those are the breaks.

I hadn't heard of the mosques in England, but as for the NY Mosque, are you seriously proposing that we follow the example of countries like Saudia Arabia and Pakistan?

Why subject people who left countries like Saudi Arabia for a better, freer life to Saudi style restrictions because of our disagreements with the countries they emigrated from?

Last but not least, Cordova (or the new name, Park 51, if you prefer) its three blocks away (though its on the third block on the side closest to the second) not one.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Park51_location_map.png

If we want to ban mosques within a certain range of the WTC attack, what distance should the ban cover and should we retroactively impose our new consensus?

tryanmax said...

Hawk, it's my understanding that according to Islamic tradition, once a place has been made Muslim it is considered to be forevermore Muslim, like an indelible stain regardless who or what comes before or after. I think traditions vary as to how much area is made Muslim by the presence of a mosque, be it the mosque itself, the city it resides in, or the whole nation, but one need not put too fine a point on it to understand the ramifications therein. It's a rather feline mentality, "I peed on it, now it's mine."

StanH said...

I’m of two minds about the Arab Spring, one being this makes a dangerous area of the world exponentially more dangerous. The second, this will sling these fanatics back towards the 7th century, this makes it much easier to clean up the mess, if we must. Also, leave them to their own devise, and as sure as the sun rises, the ancient rift will reemerge, and the Shiite and Sunni will kill each other off. Do we have any doubt that the Ayatollah (Iran), would have nuked Saddam (Iraq) if they’d of had a nuke, or vice versa. I always held out hope for Turkey, but we can wave bye, bye, as they vanish into the ancient past.

tryanmax said...

Anthony, the inconsistencies of Islam cannot be covered up by projecting them elsewhere. LawHawk did not even so much as suggest that we follow any other example. He merely pointed out the flaw of one-sided "tolerance." Objecting to a double-standard is just that. It does not automatically assume adoption of an opposing double-standard.

Regarding the state of the museathedrosque, poor practices in the past are not justification for equally poor practices going forward. Quite the opposite, really.

AndrewPrice said...

Honestly, this doesn't bother me. If they want to turn this into a WalMart, I frankly wouldn't care. As for one-sided tolerance, I prefer the American method of religious freedom and don't really care if people in other countries get it wrong.

Anthony said...

tryanmanx,

My point is there is no double standard. There is a single standard, an American standard.

On a related note, neither religious freedom (or tolerance, if you prefer) nor any other sort of freedom in America should be contingent upon laws in other countries.

I'm unfamiliar with the term museathedrosque. What does it mean?

tryanmax said...

Anthony, I'm not sure what you mean by there being a single standard. Clearly there are multiple standard which are being compared.

I don't think the question is so much about imposing American standards globally as it is how do we as Americans intend to deal with the global-ideology of Islam?

portmanteau: museum + cathedral + mosque = museathedrosque

Anthony said...

By single standard, I meant a single standard in the US.

As for the term, thanks for the info (though I doubt I'll have the opportunity to use museathedrosque in casual conversation).

T-Rav said...

Well, of course, we all know why having mosques in the West is not an insult to humanity. Islam is a religion that must expand by whatever means necessary, and there is nothing that should be regarded as off-limits. Country X is either part of the House of Islam or part of the House of War that must be fought until it embraces Islam. Same reason why Muslims can nurse the Crusades as a grievance, but any mention of the desecration of Hagia Sophia from 1453 onwards is taboo.

T-Rav said...

Incidentally, I think we should all find a way to work "museathedrosque" into casual conversation at least once.

LawHawkRFD said...

Tennessee: We tend to see secularism in America as a bad thing only because it has become radical and is now producing some sad results (First Amendment violations). But secularism in the West has had many good effects, including the ultimate end of most inter-religion and cross-sect warfare. Violent Christianity outside of the Balkans is pretty much a thing of the past. Even the Emerald Isle has become relatively peaceful.

The problem in the Middle East and North Africa is that Islam is both religious and secular/political in nature, and when radical Islam comes to the fore, the two are inseparable.

Christianity has finally accepted "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Islam is still promoting "You shall know the truth, or we'll forcefully shove it down your throat."

LawHawkRFD said...

Anthony: I used the expression "a block away" when referring to the Ground Zero mosque strictly to define its closeness to the site of a mass murder committed by Islamists. One block three, three blocks, a distinction without a difference. It's within clear line-of-sight of Ground Zero. And no, I'm not suggesting we should emulate Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. I'm suggesting that the proponents of the mosque develop some goddam sensitivity.

I will always oppose democracy whenever there is no constitutional restraint on the democratic majority which protects the religious minority. There is no legal or constitutional impediment to the building of the Ground Zero mosque, and there shouldn't be. That makes America very, very different from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia (and in this case, Turkey).

There is an old and very apt truism here: Just because you can do a thing, that doesn't mean you should it. Turkey shouldn't re-convert Hagia Sophia into a symbol of Islamic triumphalsim. But it can and it will.

LawHawkRFD said...

tryanmax: And the current status of the building fits that exactly. This isn't about Hagia Sophia being under Muslim control--it already is. It's about a nation turning its back on religious liberty and instead of tolerating (even while controlling) a minority religious site, simply wiping it out by removing all physical and historical symbols of its existence.

LawHawkRFD said...

Stan: All true. There was another Sunni attack on a Shiite pilgrimage just this morning. The retaliation should follow shortly.

Like you, I kept holding onto the hope that the Islamist strength in Turkey was more apparent than real. That hope is quickly being dashed, and conversion of Hagia Sophia back into a Muslim mosque will be just one major indication of the reality of the rise of triumphalist Islam throughout the Middle East.

LawHawkRFD said...

tryanmax: Agreed. I made a similar comment (above).

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: We're going to have to disagree on this one. I do care, and re-conversion of a formerly-Christian cathedral, now a jointly-controlled historical museum, into a symbol of Muslim intolerance bothers me greatly. I would be concerned if the Library of Congress were to be converted into a Wal-Mart, and religion doesn't even enter into that calculation.

Hagia Sopia ("Holy Wisdom") is more than just a building, or even a religious site. It's a symbol of civilization, which is quickly disappearing in the Middle East.

LawHawkRFD said...

T-Rav: I've discussed this before, but it's worth simple repetition. Judaism and Christianity contain certain fundamental beliefs, and everything else is subject to reference to the modern world and change ("exegisis"). Islam does not tolerate any change of any kind in the meaning of the words of the Koran or the wisdom of Mohammed. Thus, with very rare exception, the secular/religious nature of Islam has not changed one iota since Mohammed emerged from the cave.

Caesorpapism was an aberration of Medieval Christianity, but is not supported by Christian doctrine. As Jesus said: "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things which are God's." Thus, the separation of civilian authority from religious authority contained in the Constitution is very much in keeping with Christian doctrine. Any religion which seeks to prevail must do so by persuasion, not by government force.

There is no room for such a thing in Islamic religious thought. Within Islam, there is no argument that the religious leaders should not also be the secular leaders. It is only a matter of which religious authorities should be in charge.

LawHawkRFD said...

tryanmax: I'm not sure I'd be able to pronounce "museathedrosque." LOL

tryanmax said...

Hawk: "mew-zee-ah-THEED-rawsk"

LawHawkRFD said...

tryanmax: Thanks. I can do it now, but it's still a tongue-twister.

LawHawkRFD said...

Historically, I see the re-conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque as something on the order of the burning (accidental or intentional)of the library of Alexandria by Caesar's troops. The world will go on, but it will be a lesser place than it was before the disaster.

Also historically, and much more recently, I see this re-conversion of Hagia Sophia in the same light as the Taliban destruction of the Buddhist statues. Though they were "only statues," they had represented historical tolerance of a minority religion, and the act of destruction was only the precursor of things to come.

T-Rav said...

LawHawk: When people get death threats simply for translating the Koran out of Arabic, it's really worth questioning how tolerant the religion is.

Tehachapi Tom said...

Hawk
Two cruise missiles would make this whole issue mute. Since we do not have jihad in our mo lets start a "KJIBE" as a new crusade in response to the intolerance of Islam. Meet their intolerance with a stronger level of intolerance executed with the most sophisticated technology in the world.
The Islamist would understand that and probably would go quiet for another 100 years or more. Remember the Barbary Coast would be the battle cry.

Koshcat said...

I see your point, LawHawk but I can see just as easliy the position of mouslims as well. It was a mosque for 600 years until it was decreed a museum. I think it is both politically and economically unwise to change it back as it has far more value as a museum. But since when has Islamic thought been pragmatic. In the scheme of things it is just a very old building. If it changes, I won't lose much sleep over it but it will be another reason not to visit the city and spend my money there. The Egyptians are learning how painful it is to treat Christians so poorly as tourist money has evaporated.

LawHawkRFD said...

T-Rav: Ya got that right!

LawHawkRFD said...

Tehachapi Tom: I don't think a cruise missile on Hagia Sophia would solve anything, and even though they may eventually force our hand, I don't think we're ready to go to war with the various governments. We still have to sort out how to separate asymmetrical jihadism from formal governments, if such a thing is possible. Meantime, offering those governments huge amounts of foreign aid has proved not to be particularly efficacious, since mass murderers are not easily bribed.

There is one small breath of good news coming out of the Middle East. The leading candidate for head of the Egyptian government has promised that their new constitution would include religious tolerance. It's probably a purely political move designed to pick up expatriate Egyptian and Coptic Christian votes, but it's the first time since the fall of Mubarak that we've heard a major Egyptian politician even suggest such a thing.

BevfromNYC said...

Anthony and LawHawk - For the sake of accuracy, the building of WTC mosque slash "community center" has effectively been halted. Not because of any objections (though they were frequent and loud), but because of something much more mundane - lack of financing. The people behind Park51 never had the money to build in the first place and have fallen behind in the rent. The owners are trying to evict them now for non-payment. There was so much fighting about the building and the contract, and community boards approvals that no one checked to see if there was any money backing up the proposal.

But the real point is that there IS a double standard at play even at Ground Zero. The same groups that were so gungo about the building of the WTC mosque/community center were working overtime to deny permits for the RE-building of a Greek Orthodox church that had been leveled during the 2001 attacks.

The sad part about Hagia Sophia is that once it has been reverted to a mosque, it will no longer be available as a magnificient historical site for non-muslims.

LawHawkRFD said...

Koshcat: My life won't change much if Hagia Sophia again becomes a mosque. But it will have a large effect on triumphalist Islam throughout the region and a very negative effect on the 10% of the Turkish population which is Christian. If the march of militant Islam continues, it will eventually affect me and mine and all Americans as we face a united militant Islamic front. Even Hitler and Stalin could get along with each other long enough to divvy up Poland.

For now, neither I nor the US government can do anything about the looming re-conversion, but I still feel it's worth lamenting. It remains to be seen if a down-tick in tourism will cause any changes in the Islamic hostility to other religions and Western civilization.

BevfromNYC said...

Oh, and as an aside - Did you see that Madonna had an intentional "wardrobe malfunction" causing her to bear her breast while performing in Turkey?

rlaWTX said...

[1] There is most def a double standard - even in the "western" world. Anything is allowed of Islamists in their nominally adopted nations, while anything that acts to preserve said nation's culture against Islamist attack is racist. While the US GOV'T shouldn't necessarily stop a private organization from building on private land, the citizens certainly are allowed to have an express alternate opinions - and they should be able to do so without being shut down and labeled as "haters" or "racists".

[2] I think that Turkey's secularism was too intense to be maintained without force. And since Islamism is on the rise, that force would have to be greater and greater. And since "democracy", without the republican limitations that protects minorities, is also on the rise, it is no surprise that the Islamists are embracing the idea - for as long as it takes to get themselves into power. Then democracy will go back to be a "western" concept being "forced" on them by those mean ol' Americans.

[3] Since anything "Muslim" is by definition off-limits to the infidel, altering the Hagia Sophia's status removes it from a possession of "civilization". I don't think it should be turned back into a cathedral - but turning it into a mosque is as illegitimate a response to history as the other.

[4] museathedrosque: mew-zee-ah-THEED-rawsk
Thanks for the new word and pronunciation, but I am not foreseeing this being slipped into my "casual conversation" anytime soon. My friends already think I'm a "bit" weird.

LawHawkRFD said...

Bev: Thanks for the update, and the good news. I did mention the Greek Orthodox Church in a post almost a year ago now. I rarely have good things to say about unions, but the unions in NYC made it pretty clear they had no intention of participating in the building of the Great Insult. Good for them. The union stranglehold on NYC construction is usually a bad thing, but this time it worked for good.

You caught my main point, which was that a great historical site in Turkey will now be cut off for all non-Muslims. Even from just a purely architectural viewpoint, the building is a wonder of the world which ought to be open to everyone.

Koshcat said...

Um Bev, I saw the video. The wardrobe work fine; she just whipped it out.

The Turks deserve this kind of punishment.

LawHawkRFD said...

Bev: So was Madonna defying Islamic prudery, or just being her usual obscene self?

LawHawkRFD said...

rlaWTX: I agree on all points, although I would have to say that it would be constitutionally impermissible for New York to forbid the construction of the Ground Zero mosque solely on religious grounds. But there are plenty of other legitimate grounds to do so. And now Bev has informed us that the construction becomes less likely each day because of simple matters unrelated to religion itself.

LawHawkRFD said...

Koshcat: Not even militant Muslims deserve that kind of punishment.

I had the same thought you had, but I was hoping that someone else would bring it up first so I could avoid being called a sexist/lookist/ageist. When it happened, did she say "blimey?"

tryanmax said...

If I can tangent a bit on the Ground Zero Community Center: I found it very ironic at the time that the usual liberal proponents of "democracy" were very much against it when there was popular objection to the GZM. It was almost as if, for a bright, shiny moment, the Constitution mattered to these people. But I won't go that far.

Liberal maxim for the day: if democracy doesn't work to your liking, change the sample size.

LawHawkRFD said...

tryanmax: I'm sure Satan himself can find things in the Constitution that he likes when it suits his purpose.

Great maxim. Corollary: If the changed sample size doesn't work, change the samplers.

Koshcat said...

I don't think anyone gets too excited about seeing 50 y/o boobies, unless they are on your beautiful wife.

LawHawkRFD said...

Koshcat: And since she's my ex-wife--well, never mind.

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