Turkey’s Choice: Past or Future

Turkey's Choice: Past or Future

ISTANBUL — Coming from the airport into this city of about 15 million people and 5 million cars, as my driver describes it, I pass ancient Roman ruins and blocks of upscale shops; an old hotel where Agatha Christie penned “Murder on the Orient Express,” smoke shops and modest restaurants, and luxury car dealers. It is a metaphor for the choices Turks are being forced to make under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: forward to a better future and a recapture of their secular state, or back to a nostalgic past when Islam was the official religion of the Ottoman Empire.

Recent waves of terrorist attacks throughout the country have raised security levels. My car was stopped and given a cursory search before being allowed to proceed to the hotel entrance where I was then required to pass through a metal detector and have my hand luggage scanned before approaching the registration desk.

Here, where the Bosphorus Strait divides Europe from Asia, President Erdogan seems bent on imposing his brand of radical Islam on what has for decades been a nation ruled by secular leaders. It was the late president Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who helped establish the Republic of Turkey, modeled on Western governments and their belief in church-state separation.

Erdogan, it appears, hears more than the Muslim call to prayer. It’s as though he hears a “call” to tear down the wall separating mosque and state and, writes the Christian Science Monitor, restore Turkey to “its historical Ottoman influence.”

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