Last month's horrific quake in Turkey cracked open many hardened hearts but, strangely, not those of Turkey's military and government leaders. The shock waves of the quake moved even Turkey's enemies to extend their helping hands but had little effect on the country's leaders, who ignore their people's wishes and seek to erase its Islamic identity.
Yes, even Turkey's traditional archenemies like Greece and Armenia have opened their hearts to the Turkish people after the quake. The Greeks and their Cypriot cousins have rushed aids to the victims. Greece has also lifted its veto over EU loans to Turkey and waived its objection to Turkey's induction as a EU member. Turkish leaders politely rejected the Armenian offer for help.
These leaders haven't, however, been so kind or even polite with their people--the Turkish Muslims who practice Islam. Instead, they have re-embarked on a vicious, ad hominem campaign to deny them fundamental civic and human rights. Outrageous though it may sound, these leaders think that Turkey's pro-Islamic political and human rights groups were grievously wrong as they responded fast to the cries of the quake victims just because the military guardians of the country were awfully laggard.
At a time when Turkey's people are in extreme need of solidarity to rebuild their devastated lives, their military leader General Huseyin Kivrikoglu announced a solemn pledge on September 4 to fight Turkey's pro-Islamic groups for ``1,000 years.'' Like an Olympian god of the ancient Greeks, the general "instructed" the parliament to pass tougher laws against what he usually calls "religious extremism," obviously reminding the elected government that the military may topple it, as they did in the past, if it allows even a moderate expression of Islam in media, politics, or dress styles.
Absurdly, and undemocratically, the general and his like-minded colleagues regard the Turks who practice and advocate the Islamic way of life as a threat to their vision of ultra-secularism.
Furthermore, Turkey's authorities have downplayed international Muslim aid to the quake victims, signifying a desire to isolate Turkey from the global Muslims. In some cases, they have cracked down on the Muslim aid agencies in the manner they did on the pro-Islamic human rights groups in Turkey.
Last week, an American Muslim relief agency rep reported how badly the Turkish authorities treated him during his relief trip to Turkey. When he arrived in Istanbul with a truckload of relief goods, the authorities asked him why he went there. As he said that he went there out of concern for his fellow Muslim victims, they detained him and seized his relief materials.
Eventually, when he said that he represented an American Muslim organization that is approved as tax-exempt by the U.S. government and that his agency would complain to the U.S. State Department against the Turkish authorities, he was released. To his amazement, however, he saw that the Christian relief workers were being freely allowed to carry on their relief work.
This news is shocking for American Muslims. No less frustrating is the news that the Turkish Daily News reported Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit's upcoming visit to the U.S. later this month. The report says, "He is also expected to meet with representatives of the Jewish community in the United States." However, it does not say that the Prime Minister will ever have any contact with the American Muslims.
Why does the Turkish Government ignore the American Muslims while being so cozy with the American Jews? As a country with a 98% or more Muslim majority, and as a country that has the legacy of leading the Muslim community for more than half a millennium, Turkey owes a leadership role for Muslims in the (post)modern times. Muslim countries can benefit from Turkey's experiences in industrialization and modernization. Turkey's leadership in founding of the D-8 forum gave the Muslim world a lot of hope.
As long as the Turkish authorities seek to dissociate themselves from their roots, Turkey will continue to hurt its own people and degenerate as an international power. The Turkish leaders can do better by realizing that Turkey's Islamic identity doesn't have to be at the expense of its EU membership, democracy, human rights, and close ties with the U.S. For a nation that is ashamed of its own identity and heritage will continue being a laughing stock in the comity of nations.
As soon as the Turkish leaders in power realize this truth and as soon as they feel proud being Muslims, establish real as opposed to the existing sham democracy, Turkey will begin to exercise leadership in both the Muslim world and the world at large. Once such a leader, Turkey won't have to beg for the EU membership; instead the EU will be praying for opportunities to honor Turkey.