Don't Panic! December 04 2003

Your war questions answered

What do terrorists have against Turkey?

Late last month, the president (ours, not theirs) declared that Turkey is the newest front in the War On Terror(TM). The president's statement was prompted by the four big car bombs that had just gone off in Turkey's largest city, Istanbul (not Constantinople). The bombings killed nearly 60 innocent people, a few guilty ones (the bombers, that is) and wounded more than 700. At this point, the bombings are thought to have been the work, if you can call it work, of al-Qaeda and some of its local affiliates.

The actual physical targets of the bombings make it pretty obvious what it is that Islamic terrorists have against Turkey. Muslim terrorists don't like Jews and they don't like anything that has to do with the West, the United States or its allies. The targets of the bombings were two synagogues (Beth Israel and Neve Shalom), the British Consulate building, and a London HQ-'d bank called HSBC (which, even though I want it to, doesn't stand for Hefty Sacks of British Coins).

Turkey is a natural target of fundamentalist ire. It is nearly as Muslim as Ivory is pure soap, yet it is a secular republic. Modern Turkey was founded by a man named Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Ataturk spent much of his political energy disempowering Islam in Turkey and reorienting Turkey westward (note to self, is it really possible to "orient" something westward?).

During the 400 years prior to Ataturk's presidency, the Sultans who ruled Turkey (then called the Ottoman Empire) were also Caliphs, a title which made them the spiritual leader of the world's Muslims. Ataturk abolished the caliphate, disestablished Islam as Turkey's official religion, replaced the nation's entire lslamic law-based legal system with, I'm not kidding, the Swiss Civil Code, changed the official national day of rest to Sunday (even though the Muslim Sabbath is Friday), and perhaps most famously, banned the traditional Turkish Fez hat and instead required Turkish men to wear bowlers and fedoras.

The "anti-all things old World and Muslim" attitude has subsided. Turkey is currently governed by the Islamic-rooted Justice & Development Party. Instead of turning Turkey away from Europe, they've actually accelerated some West-inspired human rights and criminal justice reforms in hopes of getting into the European Union. The Justice & Development Party's rule since November 2002 has thus far presented a model of how Islam and modernity can co-exist happily.

As if that wasn't enough to piss off your typical bargain bin Laden-types, note that Turkey's army, with half a million men under arms (and 1 million men's underarms) is the second largest in NATO (after us). IN NATO!!! That's NATO, as in North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as in the alliance started by the United States to protect North America and Western Europe. They also just offered (but the offer was declined) to send soldiers into Iraq to help us out a bit.

Perhaps most offensive of all to the narrow minds of fundamentalists, Turkey is pleasantly tolerant of its native Jews. Istanbul is a cosmopolitan city that has welcomed Jews for seven centuries. Although Bush says that Turkey is a "new" front in the war, one of the targets attacked last month is in fact an old one. The Neve Shalom synagogue was attacked by gun- and grenade-toting fundamentalists in 1986, killing 22 worshippers. Nevertheless, there is a certain newness to the attacks. So disgusted was Turkey by the bigoted inspiration of the recent synagogue attacks that its victims' coffins were draped with Turkish flags. In case you're not good with symbolism, that's Turkey's way of saying, "You didn't attack a Jewish them. You attacked a Turkish us."


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