‘That protest? That was just to save face.’ I hadn’t yet seen it from that angle, and the friend who said it made me laugh. Turkish Muslims who feel they have to somehow show they are against ‘insulting Muhammed’ to confirm their identity to the outside world. They think of some slogans, carry a banner, walk along a route and then go home again, back to the routine of the day. I don’t know if that’s true, but the fact is: Muslims in Turkey are not consumed by anger and aggression because of the video that has pushed many Arabs to violence and even murder. Why is that?
Did I see the video? No, I didn’t. I hear it’s dramatic quality-wise. It made me think of videos on YouTube that are supposedly ‘insulting to Atatürk’. I saw a few of those and really, too stupid to watch longer than ten seconds. But also, I didn’t watch it because, in a way, how the video really looks is irrelevant. Insults are in the eye of the beholder. So called ‘insulting videos’ usually say more about the people that make them than about the people they are aimed at. I mean, how pathetic and sick are you if you spend money on shooting a video purely made to stir up emotions?
Then again, the reactions to it say something about those being ‘insulted’ too. If you feel secure about yourself, about your faith, about who you are, you don’t care about how others see you and you sure don’t get insulted easily. And definitely you don’t get aggressive. I can’t compare Turks with people in countries where violent protests do occur because I don’t know too much about those countries, but I do know Turks are just not fanatical about their faith. They are calm believers.
It’s always said 99% of Turks are Muslim, but that’s just because ‘Muslim’ is written on 99% of the identity cards given out. Many of them don’t practice their faith, or just apply the Islamic rules that fit their way of thinking about Islam or that fit their personal lifestyle. If you make religion that personal, how could you be insulted about a video that targets ‘Islam in general’, made by some American and which gives a very narrow picture of your religion? Religious feelings that are so personal don’t easily get damaged by general attacks.
The way Turks react to this video, or actually don’t react, also has to do with the lack of freedom of religion in Turkey. The country is usually referred to as being secular, but Turkey is all but secular. The state controls religious life. All the mosques are state-owned, all the imams are paid by the state, and Diyanet, the directorate of religious affairs, is a state institution controlled by the government. It preaches that religion is a strictly, repeat strictly personal thing, and that it can’t be used for political reasons.
Atatürk arranged it that way because he was afraid that Islam would get too much influence on political life and that it would hinder progress and westernization. It’s the typical Turkish form of ‘secularism’, which aims to protect the state against the influence of religion rather than, as in western secularism, protect religion against the influence of the state. So in Turkey, it’s forbidden to form your own religious group, to build your own mosque, or any other prayer house. It is, in other words, a tool to limit freedom of religion, and many groups that are not Sunni Muslims following the state version of Islam have trouble with it, as you can read here and here.
Nationalism, not religious fanaticism
Which automatically raises the question: would Turks behave differently if there was freedom of religion in their country? Would they instantly become intolerant, easily inflamed and insecure religious fanatics? I don’t think so. Turkey doesn’t have a history of fundamentalism, of practicing a form of Islam that prescribes strict rules about every step you take in life.
In Ottoman times, religions other than Islam were relatively free, which explains the number of churches and synagogues in Anatolia. The violence against religious and ethnic minorities in the history of Anatolia and of Turkey had more to do with nationalism that with religious fanaticism.
From what I hear, this has its roots in the way Islam came to Turkey, or rather to Anatolia. Not directly from the Arab world, but via Persia. Persia at the time already had an advanced society and had integrated Islam into the already existing lifestyle. Islam didn’t define the societies of for example Persia and Anatolia, the religion was just fitted in. With roots like that, religious fanaticism is just not in your veins.
But hey, I’m not an expert on Islam. I welcome any other view on why Turkey’s Muslims stay calm, the reaction field below is open!