Why Turkish Muslims are calmer

Why Turkish Muslims are calmer

In just one week, the vulgar anti-Islamic film titled “The Innocence of Muslims” has become a global phenomenon. The protests against it, some of which have been violent, are spreading from country to country. Luckily, the lethal attack against the American consulate in Libya has not been repeated elsewhere, but the fury in other places is still disconcerting.

In the midst of all this chaos, it has been proudly noted by some Turks, including my humble self, that the Muslim reaction in Turkey has been more restrained – at least so far. Undoubtedly, all Turkish Muslims, including even many secular-minded people, find the film disgusting. Hence many condemnations have appeared in the Turkish media, and some small protests were organized in Istanbul and elsewhere. However, thank God, no acts of violence have taken place. There weren’t even any angry protestors in front of American diplomatic missions.

Of course, Turkish Muslims are not alone in their calm mood: There are hundreds of millions of Muslims all around the globe who seem to think that the best response to anti-Islamic propaganda is not to take it too seriously. However, in the past decade, Turkey has been marked by some “experts” as a country in which “Islamism” was on the rise, and secularism on the retreat. And if this were true, one would probably expect a more strident Islamist attitude in Turkey, right?

The answer is no, because the Turkish reality is more complex than just a swing from secularism to “Islamism.” Here are some of its nuances: First of all, in Turkey there are virtually no Salafis, such as the ones who attacked the U.S. embassy in Benghazi. That ultra-literalist and ultra-rigid extreme of Sunni Islam simply does not have any heritage or presence here. Turks subscribe to mainstream Sunni Islam, of the lenient Hanafi branch, and even with a Sufi-infused version of it, which evolved over the Ottoman centuries.

Turkey has never had a history of organized Islamic violence. There has never been a Turkish Islamist terror group, such as Egypt’s Al-Taqfir wa Al-Hijra. The word “terrorist” generally implies either Kurdish separatists or Marxist-Leninists in the Turkish context. In fact Turkey’s “Islamists” are, at most, like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which is apparently not fanning the fire right now, but trying to control it. And even the Muslim Brotherhood is conservative when compared with Turkey’s main pro-Islamic political organization, the incumbent Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan. The equivalent of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood would be Turkey’s Saadet Party, which received only one percent of the votes in the latest election. Last Friday, they organized a small anti-American rally in Istanbul, which was civilized and peaceful.

Some Turkish commentators have also argued that the very incumbency of the AKP might have toned down Islamic reactions in Turkey: It is the sense of oppression that makes Muslims angry, they argue, and Turkey’s Muslims are now in power and thus feel more self-confident. This is certainly true, in my view, but one more thing needs to be added: Turkish Muslims have also become more cosmopolitan in the past two decades, thanks to their rising socio-economic status. Hence they realize that defending Islam in the modern world can only be possible through modern methods: counter-campaigns against Islamophobia, or publications or websites that convey the virtues of Islam.