It is customary that the last week of every year produces a rich menu of Santa-related news in the Turkish press. Last year’s most amusing read, though, came from The Mideast Beast, titled, “Turkey Shoots Down Santa Claiming Sleigh Violated Turkish Airspace.”
The story went on: “Turkish F-16s shot down Santa’s sleigh over international waters late Thursday night, as the Turkish president claimed Saint Nicholas had violated the country’s airspace. While the fate of Father Christmas remains unclear, several reindeer have been confirmed dead in an incident certain to further damage the already strained relationship between Ankara and the North Pole…
“The incident occurred as Santa was flying over the Black Sea on his way from Georgia to Romania, two countries which had approved the North Pole’s use of their airspace to deliver toys to well-behaved Christian children. Turkish officials had warned Saint Nick that violations of its airspace would not be tolerated…
“Officials at the North Pole denied violating Turkey’s airspace and warned of consequences, though they stopped short of threatening a military response…
“While President Obama issued a brief statement supporting Turkey’s right to defend its airspace, several Republican leaders questioned Erdoğan’s motives.”
The Mideast Beast is a humor newspaper. Santa’s news in the non-humor Turkish press was equally amusing but, unlike the sleigh violating Turkish airspace, real.
In Bolu, a small nationalist/Islamist party, the Great Unity Party (BBP), protested New Year’s celebrations with a street play its members colorfully staged – a sequel to their 2014 show which saw Santa Claus being shamefully expelled from the town by a man dressed as an Ottoman sultan. This year’s play saw Santa Claus facing janissaries who took him to an Ottoman judge (a “qadi”). Santa was asked to explain why he was drunkenly rampaging through the streets handing out presents.
Santa then gets a lecture on the positive traits of Islam and admits that he heard that the Turks were barbaric, only for the sharia judge to tell him that there is no room for barbarism in Islam. The repentant Santa finally recites the Muslim profession of faith and converts to Islam. Everyone, including Santa himself, is happy. He, most probably for escaping a beheading; others, for winning another converted soul.
A second Santa in an Istanbul district had the same fortune. Turkey can now boast to have the world’s first Muslim Santas. Buddhas can wait for another couple of years before they are given the opportunity to convert.
The innocent and rather childish street play demonstrates a mindset that is, in fact, less innocent: A grand desire to have the entire world converted to one Islamic discipline – ours. That desire is not just about having non-Muslims convert but also “other” Muslims. It is the desire that prompts Muslims to kill each other and bomb their mosques. It is the desire that leads to passionate worshipping of the idea “to conquer.”
It also reflects a centuries-old fear: What if we lose our faith? Turks often love to boast that their country is “99 percent Muslim” but fight the remaining “1 percent” on fears that that 1 percent could “mislead” the 99 percent.
It is the same fear that must have prompted Professor Mehmet Görmez, Turkey’s top Muslim (Sunni) cleric, to declare that granting legal status to Alevi houses of worship (cemevis) is a “red line” for the Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) – which is funded by taxes paid by Sunni, Alevi and non-Muslim Turkish citizens.
Professor Görmez has reiterated the old establishment line that: “We have always had two red lines and we have never abandoned them. The first is the definition of Alevism as a path outside Islam, which contradicts 1,000 years of history. The second is defining cemevis as alternatives to mosques as a place of worship.”
That view contradicts with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s pledges to grant legal status to traditional Alevi cultural centers and houses of worship – so that they would qualify for state funding like mosques.
The next street play? Why not have Alevis chased by janissaries and brought to a “qadi” to convert to Sunni Islam?