Are Secular Turks Paranoid About Islamic Influence?

In a turnabout, the Times mocks protestors in Turkey calling for less religion in public life: "Some concerns were snobbish: religious Turks were uneducated and poor, their pesky prayer rugs got underfoot in hospital halls."

Istanbul-based reporterSabrina Tavernisedismisses secular concernsabout radical Muslim influence in Monday's "Memo from Istanbul," "In Turkey, Fear and Discomfort About Religious Lifestyle."

Tavernise took a strangely negative stance on a protest calling for liberalization, mocking the concerns of the protestors in a way you could never imagine the Times doing about a left-wing protest against the Religious Right in America.

"When hundreds of thousands of protesters filled the streets of Istanbul on Sunday, it may have looked like a protest of government policy.

"It was not.

"Behind the slogans and signs of marchers in Istanbul on Sunday and in Ankara two weeks ago was something much more basic: a fear of the lifestyles of their more religious compatriots.

"Some concerns were snobbish: religious Turks were uneducated and poor, their pesky prayer rugs got underfoot in hospital halls.

"Others were less elitist and had more personal worries: how much tolerance for our secular lifestyles will an emerging class of religious Turks have?"

There's no mention of "Muslims," although virtually everyone involved on both sides are Muslims (the Muslim population of Turkey approaches 100%).

Tavernise went out of her way to dismiss any potential significance of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayiip Erdogan's Islamic heritage.

"Secular Turks fear that Mr. Erdogan has a secret agenda to impose Islamic law on Turkey and that his party's move to secure the presidency, the highest seat of secularism in Turkey, is one of the final steps needed to start that process.

"Mr. Erdogan, for his part, came from Turkey's political Islamic movements of the 1990s, but he broke with them and formed his own, which swept national elections in 2002. He has said that he would keep religion out of policy decisions, and for the most part, he has.

"But for the protesters on Sunday, that was not enough."


"Mr. Erdogan dodges direct discussion of religion, preferring instead to cite his party's glowing economic achievements, which his secular critics often dismiss. 'Some have eyes but cannot see,' he said in a speech this month. 'Some have tongues but cannot speak the truth. They have ears but can't hear. That's where the problem is.'

"Then, in an earnest cry of incomprehension: 'What makes you so uncomfortable?'

"But his silence has fed the worries of secular Turks, who fear that their freedoms will be curtailed by the rank and file of Mr. Erdogan's party, who have grown up in conservative communities largely separated by sex."

Tavernise again danced around the word "Muslim," as she did almost throughout her story two weeks ago on the torture-murder of three Christians by Muslims in the Turkish town of Malatya. That inciden somehow goes completely unmentioned in Tavernise's latest story.