Turkey Today: A Nation Divided over Islam's Revival

Turkey Today: A Nation Divided over Islam's Revival

Turkey Today: A Nation Divided over Islam's Revival

Turkey Today: A Nation Divided over Islam's Revival


Three-quarters of a century ago Mustafa Kemal Ataturk launched a sweeping Cultural Revolution in the disintegrating Ottoman Empire, abolishing the Caliphate and Sufi orders and other Islamic institutions to create the modern secular Republic of Turkey. Most Turks and Turkish observers ignored signs of an Islamic revival and were stunned by the victory at the polls of the pro-Islamic party in 1994 and 1995. Marvine Howe, Ankara bureau chief for the New York Times before and after the 1980 military coup, returned to Turkey in 1995 to examine the rise of the Islamic movement. In Turkey Today, she describes the multi-dimensional nature of Islam in Turkey, its roots and ramifications. Howe introduces leaders of the Islamic movement, scholars, and simply devout Muslims, who discuss their problems and goals. From the secular camp, she presents politicians, women, military, jurists, and ordinary citizens, who articulate their concerns about the Islamic resurgence. In conclusion, Howe speaks of some of the people who are trying to bridge the gaps in this divided society.


Rarely is anyone indifferent about Turks and Turkey.

There are those who hate the country and its people out of hand. They are often ethnic Greeks or Armenians held hostage to their view of historical events. Or they are persons who have never visited Turkey but have been indelibly impressed by stereotypes of the ferocious Turk, starting with Attila the Hun and Tamerlane and culminating with the tortionnaires of the film Midnight Express.

Generally those foreign diplomats, students and scholars, businesspersons, journalists, and ordinary tourists who have traveled around the country and gotten to know present-day Turks fall in love with the place and its inhabitants. I am admittedly in the second category. For this reason, I am concerned about the divisions that are tearing the country apart.

Turkey today is nothing like it was in 1979, when I was first sent there to open the Ankara bureau for the New York Times. I had come from years of working in the Arab world and was surprised at the extent that Turkey had turned its back on the Middle East and placed its sights on Europe and the United States. At that time, the country was engulfed in violence, instigated by a minority of left-wing and right-wing extremists. When the military intervened in September 1980, many Turks breathed a sigh of relief, although their democratic freedoms were drastically curtailed and have not been fully restored even now.

After a long absence, I returned to Turkey in 1995 to see old friends-- and have gone back every year since for lengthy visits. I was astonished at the transformations. The economy had blossomed, with new industries, highways, offices, and high-rise apartments everywhere and consumerism (and inflation) soaring. A vigorous press, radio, and television had multiplied and seemed to know no bounds. There'd been an explosion in education, with new universities opening all over. Democratic political life was in full swing, and new nongovernmental organizations . . .

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