The Brave Pope

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Nov 28, 2006 12:23 PM
The Pope is visiting Turkey this week. That's the visit everyone was buzzing about back when the Pope made his controversial remarks about Islam in September.

I'm praying for his safety.

The pontiff emphasized the importance of religious freedom in a meeting with a Turkish Islamic cleric:

“Freedom of religion, institutionally guaranteed and effectively respected in practice, both for individuals and communities, constitutes for all believers the necessary condition for their loyal contribution to the building up of society,” the pope said following talks with Ali Bardakoglu, chief of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate.

Benedict has made religious freedom one of the centerpieces of his papacy, and has complained about countries denying full rights to Christians.

The cleric fell back on an old stand-by. "Islamophobia!"

Bardakoglu, at a joint appearance with the pope, said that growing “Islamophobia” hurts all Muslims.

“The so-called conviction that the sword is used to expand Islam in the world and growing Islamophobia hurts all Muslims,” he said.

I wonder where anyone would get that idea.

Here's a good round-up of world press coverage of the visit. Note the difference in tone on the NYT and WashTimes pieces on Turkey's turn toward Islam:

NYT: Allure of Islam Signals a Shift Within Turkey
The New York Times reported that Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan finally agreed to meet the pope publicly just 24 hours before his visit, adding there was a shift to Islam in Turkey.

Washington Times: Turkey Moves to Islamist Future
The Washington Times claimed, “Although still a secular Muslim country, Turkey has been steadily moving toward an Islamist future. Clearly, Turkish secularism isn't as popular as it used to be, which is certainly hurting its bid for EU membership.”

The "allure" the NYT speaks of so non-judgmentally doesn't sound great for secularists, democrats, and lovers religious freedom:

A short 24 hours before a visit by Pope Benedict XVI to this Muslim country, its prime minister finally agreed to meet him publicly. The venue: the airport, on the Turkish leader’s way out of town.

The elaborate, last-minute choreography pointed to the deep divide that has festered within Turkish society since the foundation of the modern state. Should Turkey face eastward, toward its Muslim neighbors, or westward, toward Europe?

In the past five years, Muslims here have repeatedly felt betrayed by the West. The United States began holding Muslims without charge at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; it invaded Iraq and abused prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Turkey’s hopes of entering the European Union have dimmed. The pope made a speech citing criticism of Islam.

They have felt betrayed by the West? What about the small matter of 19 guys blowing up 3,000 civilians in the name of their religion? That was quite a betrayal.

Turkey — a democratic Muslim country with a rigidly secular state — is at a pivot point. It is trying to navigate between the forces that want to pull it closer to Islam and the institutions that safeguard its secularism. Turkey’s pro-Islamic government is constrained by rules dictating secularism established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s revered founder.

The extremes jostle on Istanbul’s streets, where miniskirts mix with tightly tied head scarves and lingerie boutiques stand unapologetically next to mosques.

“There are two Turkeys within Turkey right now,” said Binnaz Toprak, a professor of political science at Bogazici University.

Will tolerance become submission?

The pope’s visit, which begins Tuesday, falls squarely on that fault line, and highlights a slow but steady shift: Turkey is feeling its Muslim identity more and more. The trend worries secular Turkish politicians, who believe the state’s central tenet is under threat. In late October, a senior officer of Turkey’s army — which ousted a government it saw as overly Islamic in 1997 — issued a rare warning to that effect.

Others say the threat is overstated, but acknowledge that Turks do feel pushed eastward by pressures on their country from America and Europe. A poll by the Pew Foundation in June found that 53 percent of Turks have positive views of Iran, while public opinion of Europe and the United States has slipped sharply.

Oh dear.

Security is super-tight for Benedict. Washington Post has video.

Turkish officials said security for the pope was heavier than the preparations made for President George W. Bush's visit here in 2004. Soldiers and sharpshooters lined the highways and bridges from the airport to the pope's first stop, a visit to the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern secular Turkey.

The pope, escorted by Turkish soldiers and marines in white helmets and white gaiters, laid a wreath of red and white carnations at the foot of Ataturk's grave.

The mood for the pope's arrival was mostly low-key though, with none of the crowds that usually greet him when he travels to Christian countries, but also little of the noisy protests that preceded his visit to the predominantly Muslim nation.