Turkish secularism on the ropes. “A Secular Turkish City Feels Islam’s Pulse Beating Stronger, Causing Divisions,” by Sabrina Tavernise for the New York Times, with thanks to Steve:
DENIZLI, Turkey “” The little red prayer book was handed out in a public primary school here in western Turkey in early May. It was small enough to fit in a pocket, but it carried a big message: Pray in the Muslim way. Get others to pray, too.
“The message was clear to me,” said a retired civil servant, whose 13-year-old son, a student at the Yesilkoy Ibrahim Cengiz school, received the book. “This is not something that should be distributed in schools.”
This leafy, liberal city would seem like one of the least likely places to allow Islam to permeate public life. But for some residents, the book is part of a subtle shift toward increasingly public religiosity that has gone hand in hand with the ascent of the party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The phenomenon is complex. The party has not ordered changes, but sets examples through a growing network of observant Muslim teachers and public servants hired since it came to power in 2002.
The shift goes to the heart of the question that has gripped this country for the past two months: As the party settles more deeply into the bureaucracy, will it leave its Islamic roots in the past and build a future that includes secular Turks, or will it impose its religion more rigorously?
“In a very quiet, deep way, you can sense an Islamization,” said Bedrettin Usanmaz, a jewelry shop owner in Denizli. “They”re not after rapid change. They”re investing for 50 years ahead.”
At the heart of the issue is a debate about the fundamental nature of Islam and its role in building an equitable society. Turks like Mr. Zeybekci contend that their country has come a long way since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s secular revolution in 1923, and that it no longer needs to enforce controls like preventing women from wearing head scarves in public buildings. “It’s like locking everybody in a stadium, when you know that only three are thieves,” Mr. Zeybekci said, in his office, which has pictures of Mr. Erdogan and Ataturk.
But secular Turks contend that Islam will always seek more space in people’s lives, and therefore should be reined in. They look to the military as secularism’s final defender.
“Islam is not like other religions,” said Kadim Yildirim, a history teacher in Denizli from an opposition labor union. “It influences every part of your life, even your bedroom.”…
According to a report to Parliament by the education minister, 836 people from the government’s Religious Affairs Directorate have been transferred to the ministry”s offices during Mr. Erdogan’s tenure. That has also led to changes in the habits of the bureaucracy. In Denizli, the lunchroom in the local Ministry of Education no longer serves food during Ramadan, based on an assumption that all workers are observing the religious fast, employees said….
All education material, once vetted centrally, is now checked in a far looser fashion, according to one senior Ministry of Education official in Ankara, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was afraid for his job. A point system to rate textbooks has been loosened. The red prayer book, illustrated with pictures of small children praying, would probably not have been distributed in past years.
It is still unclear where today”s changes will lead the country. Mr. Oran says that although the ideology of Mr. Erdogan and his allies “is inevitably Islam,” they are workers and tradesmen who are ultimately motivated by profit. “They are very rapidly becoming bourgeois.”
Mr. Yildirim draws hope from a recent exchange among his students he overheard. One posed a question: If you were rowing a boat with only one extra seat and passed by a deserted island with the Prophet Muhammad and Ataturk, whom would you save?
Another answered: “Ataturk is resourceful. He can save himself. Take Muhammad.”
So evidently Muhammad can’t save himself. He has to be zealously looked after, cf. Cartoon Rage, Pope Rage, etc.