One article following the New Year attack in Istanbul suggests that it symbolizes a deep divide in Turkey between the secular and the pious. It cites excerpts from Friday sermons in December, which said New Year revelry belongs to other cultures, not to Turkey.
The rhetoric of religious leaders certainly has consequences, but in this case (as in others) the attack was perpetrated by foreigners and foreign organizations. Turkish citizens haven’t commonly resorted to violence to settle differences over their religious views. This is due in part to whatever elements of democracy exist in the country. From the onset of the founding of the Turkish republic, the country has struggled with just how democratic it could and should be; the fact that Turkey engaged in this struggle has enabled it to make some inroads towards this path.
Authoritarianism, whether embraced by secularists or the pious, threatens the generally peaceful disposition Turks have had for one another despite their differences.
Whatever their views, Turks need to acknowledge and learn from the mistakes of past and present, and hear out each other’s grievances and perspectives.
The history of the republic is replete with examples of secularist forces constraining the development of Islam. A campaign to control religious institutions and relegate religion to peoples’ private affairs has been based on a typical critique made against religion in general: simply, that it hinders human progress in various ways. The typical education and critique of religion in Turkey is on par with the incomplete and misleading approach of many other approaches, from communist ones to those of the New Atheists. More religious Turks have looked at the forces of secularism with derision and distrust. For a good number of them the reign of the AK party for at least the last decade has been of needed help to quell the tide of harsh secularity.
On the other side, the AK party has plenty of work to do in regards to honing their commitment to democratic values and behavior. When the party took over several years ago, there were already troubles lurking for the prospect of stronger democracy in Turkey. For example, the quality and variety of mainstream media in Turkey has been lackluster for quite a while. It’s also disturbing how easily Turks are swayed by hype and conspiracy. As a recent article shows, American plots are frequently cited as the main culprits in a lot of the internal events in Turkey. Sadly, this is perpetuated by government, media, and citizen alike.