I caught up with some friends this past weekend, who had recently visited Istanbul with their daughter in late May. We had recommended the wonderful guide we had when we visited various parts of Turkey in 2009.
All in all, our friends said they had a great time. They recounted the highlights of their trip. They were wowed by the beauty and uniqueness of Istanbul. The Blue Mosque, the underground cisterns, the spice market, sailing on the Bosphorus Strait. One of the big highlights of their trip was the witnessing of a large protest on Taksim Square, in the heart of the city, by many Turkish youth.
They said they witnessed two: One was the protest against the proposed restrictions on the consumption and sale of alcohol. The next protest they “happened to be in the vicinity” of was the peaceful sit-in that turned quite violent at Taksim’s Gezi Park. They explained that some crony of the top officials wanted to bulldoze the urban park and convert the area into a shopping mall with some residential buildings. On the one hand, I can see why people would react so violently to such a plan. The park is one of the few remaining green spaces on the European side of Istanbul. However, the people’s response was overwhelmingly big, loud, and messy. It seems that the powers-that-be did not expect such a resoundingly defiant protest.
There appears to be more grievances than just the environmental impact of removing a park. It exposes the underbelly of the country’s displeasure over the increasing encroachment of the ultra-conservative religious folks over many policies that have been slowly but surely implemented in the recent years.
Whatever happened to the modern and secular Turkey that Ataturk worked so arduously to establish? The current prime minister, Erdogan, is said to be almost as popular and influential as Ataturk had been. Has he allowed the gap that separates the state from religion narrow during his term? These protests are still ongoing and have spread to other cities in Turkey, becoming an “Occupy” movement where people are lamenting and demanding the stop to the erosion of their freedoms. What a shame.
Juxtapose this to the removal of President Morsi and his team from the Muslim Brotherhood, by a military that says they were moved to do so by the people of Egypt. I can’t help but wonder how this landmark statement to resist the installation of extreme conservative religious beliefs and practices into the fabric of government and the lives of Egyptians, would influence the advancement of extremists in the Middle East. Can it change the conversation in the “Arab Spring?”
I don’t believe that the extremist’s Islam is the true Islam, the same way I don’t believe in the Christianity of the Tea Party nor the extreme right-wing ultra-conservative religious groups here in America. I am beginning to doubt if even the Catholicism that most Bishops and Cardinals here espouse is true and authentic. All of these groups practice such exclusionary practices. We have all seen the fate of exclusionary societies historically, as a good friend recently pointed out to me. I would like to add that many religions that would sacrifice or surrender human rights such as equality and social justice, should question the validity of their religious leaders.
P.S. My friends said that they noticed more women in burqa walking around the city when they were there. I had told them that when we were there in 2009, there were as many women working burqa as those in western attire.
Why does it feel as though we are on the road to equality and social justice. That we are far better off today than our mothers. But we seen to be traveling at a snail’s pace. Or are we making small progress only to be met with more set-backs? One step forward, two steps back?
- Turkey reopens Istanbul’s Gezi Park protest spot (worldnews.nbcnews.com)
- Taksim Square Redevelopment Canceled After Ruling By Turkish Court (2012indyinfo.com)
- In Turkey, They Mace Fine Looking Women In Red Dresses (therearenosunglasses.wordpress.com)
- The future of Islamism part 1: A difficult year for Islamists (dailynewsegypt.com)
- Did Egypt Experience a Coup? The West May Not Be Sure, But Turkey Is (world.time.com)
- Catholic Bishops: Birth Control Is “Ubiquitous and Inexpensive” (huffingtonpost.com)