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Turkey 'more democratic' under Erdoğan, says Spanish Muslim leader

MADRID - Hürriyet Daily News | 3/26/2010 12:00:00 AM | BARÇIN YİNANÇ

Muslims in Spain are firm admirers of Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a representative of one of the three Muslim organizations in Spain said Wednesday.

Muslims in Spain are firm admirers of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a representative of one of the three Muslim organizations in Spain said Wednesday.

According to Yusuf Fernandez Ordonez, the secretary of the Muslim Federation of Spain, or FEME, Turkey has acquired more freedom of religion since Erdoğan came to the head of the government. He added that Turkey’s entry in the European Union would strengthen Europe’s 10 million Muslims.

Speaking to a group of visiting Turkish journalists, Ordonez said he appreciates Turkey’s foreign policy, which has an important weight among Muslim countries. Turkey is currently playing a role not just in the Balkans and Central Asia, but also in the Middle East, Ordonez said.

“It is important that Turkey plays the role of a bridge between the world and Iran,” he said, noting that Turkey’s role was less important in the past due to ideological constraints.

“People see Turkey as the China of the Middle East,” he said. “The 10 million Muslims in Europe will get stronger with Turkey’s entry to the EU and the fight against Islamophobia will become more effective.”

[HH] Muslims in Spain

According to the FEME secretary, there are approximately 1.2 million to 1.5 million Muslims in Spain, 80 percent of whom are estimated to be Moroccans or Spanish converts to Islam. His organization also represents Muslims originally from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Senegal and is distinct from the other leading Muslim organizations in the country in its incorporation of Spanish people who were born Catholics and later converted. This group is believed to number around 30,000, said Ordonez, himself a Muslim convert.

Ordonez said Turks living in Spain generally prefer to remain invisible. “I have been a Muslim for 20 years and I have met only one Turk living in Spain,” he said. Figures provided by the Turkish Embassy in Madrid say there are approximately 4,000 Turks living in Spain.

“We organized a Muslim fair last year. We asked the Turkish Embassy for cooperation. But we did not receive a positive reply,” Ordonez said. “That is probably due to Turkey’s strong secularist system.”

When asked about whether he believes Islam and secularism can be compatible, Ordonez said he finds the “radical secularism” applied in France, or in Turkey prior to Erdoğan’s government, problematic. He added that he prefers the system applied in England or Sweden. “I find it wrong that the daughters of Prime Minister Erdoğan have to go to the United States to study because they are covered,” he said. “Are Muslims’ rights better in the U.S. compared to Turkey?”

“We condemn the fact that women wearing the headscarf cannot enter universities [in Turkey],” Ordonez added, saying that Turkey has become more democratic in terms of religious freedoms under Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government.

[HH] Islamophobia on the rise

“I believe that states have to be secular, not individuals,” added Laura Rodriguez, the president of the Muslim Women’s Union, an affiliate of the FEME. Both Ordonez and Rodriguez say Muslims in Spain do not face legal restrictions, though they do encounter social and economic difficulties.

As recently as 1990, there were just 100,000 Muslims in Spain. This number increased tenfold as growth in the country’s economy encouraged Moroccan migrants to settle, rather than just using Spain as a transit point. According to Ordonez, there are now 500,000 Moroccans with Spanish citizenship.

Since the 2004 terrorist attacks in Madrid by Islamic fundamentalists, Islamophobia has been on the rise, according to both Ordonez and Rodriguez. “We wanted to open a prayer room in Toledo, but the owner of the place, who was a bank manager, backed down when some locals threatened to withdraw their money from the bank,” he said.

According to Ordonez, the Catholic Church is also threatened by Islam because there are fewer people attending church while mosques are full of people coming to pray.

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[HH] No support for new party

The rebirth of the Union of Spain Party, a political party recently founded by and for Muslims, has not drawn much support from the Muslim Federation of Spain, or FEME.

The founder of the new party is the vice president of the Federation of Islamic Religious Entities of Spain, or FEERI, and has close relations with Morocco, according to FEME secretary Yusuf Fernandez Ordonez.

“We are not sure whether this is a Spanish initiative or an initiative from abroad,” Ordonez said, adding that not too many Muslims have shown support for the new party.

“I am for Muslims taking part in politics,” added Rodriguez. “But this does not require having an Islamic party. If we want a secular country, we should not use Islam in politics.”

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