Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Turkish leader's emphasis on morality alarms secularists who fear bigger role for Islam

Turkey's leader, a devout Muslim, talks a lot about morality these days. That's the kind of language that alarms secular Turks, who fear the government plans to make religion a part of their lifestyle.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says it's about religious freedom and meeting the demands of a pious electorate, and not a desire to topple the secular pillars of a nation of more than 70 million that is often praised as a model of coexistence between Islam and democracy.

Parliament voted this past weekend to lift a ban on the wearing of Islamic head scarves by female students in universities after a polarizing debate that delayed progress on key reforms required to achieve Turkey's goal of membership in the European Union. Chief among them is the repeal or amendment of Article 301, a law that limits free speech by saying it is a crime to insult the Turkish identity, and was used to prosecute Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk.

On Wednesday, the prime minister condemned some aspects of secular culture that have taken root in Turkey, even as he said women who do not cover their hair in line with Islamic tradition would not be pressured to do so.

"We guarantee their lifestyle," Erdogan said. But he criticized secular media for publishing racy photographs of female models: "You are the ones who print pictures of totally naked women on newspapers against this society's moral values. Have we interfered with that?"

On Wednesday, some Turkish newspapers carried photographs of women in lingerie, with captions about Valentine's Day on Thursday, on the front and back pages. "I know what a man wants," one headline read. Sabah and Vatan newspapers printed images of Marisa Miller, the cover model of the 2008 swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated.

Erdogan's comments echoed remarks that he made last month to a group of Turkish students who were preparing to study abroad. At that meeting, he seemed to refer to the failure of the Ottoman Empire to absorb the best of Western innovation, a factor that led to its collapse early in the 20th century.

"We could not adopt the West's science and arts. Unfortunately, we have adopted its immorality, which is contrary to our values," Erdogan said.

The debate about morality reflects a broader change under way in Turkey, where the Islamic-oriented government won by a landslide in parliamentary elections last year with the help of conservative Muslims from modest backgrounds. The subsequent election of President Abdullah Gul, a close ally of Erdogan, marked another blow to secular, privileged circles dominated by the military, the courts and the bureaucracy.


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Turkish leader's emphasis on morality alarms secularists who fear bigger role for Islam

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