Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to Turkey, thanks to being under tight security including shutting down major arteries, snipers and security checkpoints in Istanbul and portions of the public transit system in Istanbul went off with nary a hitch, and the main demonstrations during the duration of his stay were either far afield from his itinerary or personal protests in heavily trafficked districts. The mainstream local press largely heralded his apparent efforts to bridge the religious divide between Christians and Muslims that was widened by his quoting from a dialogue of 14th-century Byzantine emperor Palaiologos that sparked fury across the Muslim world. Moderate Muslim-majority
His trip to
Yet some remained doubtful of the Pope’s motives. His main reason for going to
This distinction is key to understanding the nature of secularism in
Granting one religious minority perceived special status, could in the eyes of the state, set off a chain of demands from other religious groups, most notably conservative Muslims. Although only some 9% of Turks favor sharia law according to a survey conducted in May-June 2006 by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), recognizing the requests of an even smaller sliver of the religious milieu could be interpreted as an eventual threat to the secular state. It was just in 1997 that the army launched its so-called “post-modern coup”, pressuring heavily Islamist-leaning Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan out of power. Erbakan, now officially banned from politics, is now the behind-the-scenes leader of the Saadet (Happiness) Party. The party behind the largest pre-papal visit protest, held November 28 and attracting over 20,000 participants, only polled 3% in the last elections. The BÃ¼yÃ¼k Birlik (Grand Unity) Partisi, another far-right Islamist party and organizer of a protest held at the Hagia Sophia, waving banners that the Pope get out of Turkey and that the museum should revert to being a mosque, polled less than 1% in the last round of voting.
This is not to say that there aren’t fears among
Yet the majority of Turks are moderate in their approach to Islam, thus the pope’s calls for reconciliation were heralded by much of the country. Yet the pontiff’s calls for religious freedom may be muffled by a fear of reverting to a country more divided than the status quo.