European Secularism; Where Does Turkey Fit In?

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 10, 2006 | Go to article overview

European Secularism; Where Does Turkey Fit In?


Byline: Tulin Daloglu, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

When President Bush talks about Iraq, he emphasizes the spread of democracy as key to fighting terrorism. He has described his resolve to fight radical Islamists in religious terms, but he has stopped short of characterizing it as a war between Christendom and Islam. "It should be clear to all that Islam - the faith of one-fifth of humanity - is consistent with democratic rule," Mr. Bush has said. But the president chose not to talk about secularism, which is necessary to a functioning democracy.

Alas, even Iraqi President Jalal Talabani says his country is neither a secular nor a religious state. But it should be clear that secularism is an inevitable part of democratic societies. And regardless of whether people accept it technically or officially, a "religious war" is taking place.

On New Year's Day, The Washington Times ran a front-page story detailing an attack in Palau, Indonesia, by suspected Jemaah Islamiyah terrorists, who bombed a market that sold only pig and dog meat. The blast killed eight people and wounded at least 45 - the year's first deaths in the name of religion. But it is also important to stress that Jemaah Islamiyah wants to establish an Islamic state in secular Indonesia.

This "war" isn't limited to violence, however. In other parts of the world, attacking faith has become fashion. On the same day, the paper also carried a story about a hip new line of jeans in Sweden. "A punk-rock style, trendy tight fit and affordable price have made Cheap Monday jeans a hot commodity among young Swedes, but what has people talking is the brand's ungodly logo: a skull with a cross turned upside down on its forehead," the story read. The designer, Bjorn Atldax, called the logo "an active statement against Christianity."

Secularism is not about atheism. Ultimately, democracy - which truly lives up to the name only if it's secular - is about tolerance and respect for others, both in the minority and in the majority. Secularism emerged in Europe centuries ago, when monarchies overthrew the pope's theocratic hegemony and established their own rule. People fled to the United States to be able to practice their religions freely - and the United States has never known a religious war.

Turkey did not fight a religious war, as well. Yet its founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, established a secular republic, abolishing the caliphate. Still there are some Turkish nationals who don't really believe in secularism as a model for society.

Today, there is an ongoing debate about the practice of secularism. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan endorses U. …

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European Secularism; Where Does Turkey Fit In?
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