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The Islamization of Turkey (through nudist hotels, gay bars, etc)

Saturday 15 May 2010, by Mustafa Akyol

One of the interesting stories I recently read in this paper was about Turkey’s first “nudist hotel,” opened in Marmaris, a beautiful town on the Aegean coast. Here was a place where “nudist tourists will be able to work on their full-body tan” on their “private naturist beach.” This would be, the story added, “a small revolution in Turkey’s conservative society.”

If you look for such “small revolutions” in this conservative country, you can find other ones. Gay bars and lesbian clubs, for example, have boomed in big cities in recent years. A new and fancy one was launched in Istanbul just a few weeks ago.

My secular liberal friend Orhan Kemal Cengiz, who pointed out to these things to me over lunch a few days ago, also said that he, as a fine diner, has a better time on the Ankara-Istanbul trains now. “They started to serve alcohol on the fast train,” he said, quite approvingly. “I am thankful to the ‘Islamist’ AK Party for that.”

Openness and diversity

Another small revolution, or perhaps a mid-size one, was the May Day demonstrations that freely took place in Istanbul’s Taksim Square on Saturday. After being banned from Taksim for more than 30 years, not just labor unions but Marxists of all types opened their red flags and sang their marches in the county’s most popular spot. “Godless communists,” in other words, had their biggest show in decades.

Now, if I wanted to argue that Turkey is rapidly becoming a more “corrupt” and “godless” society, I could cherry-pick all such examples and draw a convincing picture. (And you could be alarmed or thrilled, depending on your worldview.) But this would be a misleading picture, for I would be consciously choosing the facts that fit into my agenda, and overlooking the ones that don’t.

Unfortunately, that is precisely what some of my hyper-secularist colleagues have been doing for quite a while. Their endless rantings about the “Islamization” of Turkey under the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government is based on a compiling of carefully selected facts: We have more veiled women on our streets. Getting a license to sell alcohol is harder in some AKP-run municipalities. Or Islamic communities are more active in public life than ever. Hence, the reasoning goes, we are being Islamized. (And, perhaps, we need a little hand from our enthusiastic generals to “save our secular republic.”)

What I think instead is that all these seemingly contradictory things – more veils and more gay bars – are happening at the same time and for the very same reason: Thanks to capitalism, urbanization and globalization, Turkey is becoming a more open and diverse society. Or, perhaps, the diversity it always had is getting more visible. The reason why we have more veiled women on the streets is that the religious conservatives have become more urban, self-confident and active. (In the past, such women mostly lived in rural areas and often sat at home, and my hyper-secularist colleagues did not notice that they exist.)

Openness and diversity are visible on many other fronts. Kurds, who are not “mountain Turks” anymore, are demanding (and at least partly achieving) civil liberties that they could not have imagined in the ’80s. Turkish Armenians, members of a community that has kept its head down since the beginning of the Turkish Republic (for reasons you can imagine), now have public intellectuals who influence our national discussions. What exactly happened to their forefathers in 1915 is being discussed freely on television for the first time.

All this change not just empowers previously suppressed groups, but also transforms them. The case of the Islamic conservatives is the most interesting one. If you read only the secularist Turkish press, you will only get complaints about their ascendance. But if you also read the Islamist press, as I do, you will also see complaints about their modernization. The more old-fashioned voices in that camp routinely criticize the “Westoxification” that young Muslims are going through, and the “consumerism” that AKP policies have dragged them into.

What modernization does

What is simply happening is that Turkey is becoming truly modernized. And if you ask what this means, I would agree with social scientist Peter Berger: “Modernization does not secularize,” as the secularists hope and the Islamists fear. “It rather pluralizes.”

So, here is my bet for Turkey in 10 years’ time: It will be an even more diverse country, a bit like America. Like the latter’s Bible Belt, it probably will have some conservative inland regions with dry zones, but also ultra-liberal coasts with even more nightclubs, nudist beaches and God knows what else. In the Southeast, Kurdish culture and language will be more visible, perhaps giving the sense of an unofficial “Kurdistan region.” The Islamic conservative camp will be more multicolored in itself, while the godless communists, who might perhaps go a little more “green” than just “red,” will continue to prove their resilience.

It will be, in other words, an even more interesting country. Just wait and see.

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Source : TdZ, Tuesday, May 4, 2010

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