I’ve been traveling quite a bit and so this initially escaped my attention, but it does shed some light on why the Turks in Taksim Square are increasingly worried about intolerance and the increasingly open religious agenda of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party, best known by its Turkish acronym, AKP.
Mahmut Macit, an AKP official in Ankara, raised hackles last week when he tweeted: “My blood boils when spineless psychopaths pretending to be atheists swear at my religion. These people, who have been raped, should be annihilated.” He continued to declare, “Insulting Islam could not be considered freedom of expression.”
This, of course, comes against the backdrop of a tweet by Ahmet Kavas, Turkey’s ambassador to Chad (and a product of one of Turkey’s religious high schools) who declared, “al-Qaeda is not a terrorist organization.” On February 6, 2012, Erdoğan unleashed a furor when he declared, “We want to raise religious generations,” and, indeed, he has also counseled Turkish women about how many children to have and when. A number of earlier statements by Erdoğan from his tenure as Istanbul mayor should have raised eyebrows, for seldom do intolerant men suddenly find tolerance overnight.
All of this, of course, is open source and readily available. Turks may be religious, but many of them—including some in Taksim Square—consider Islam to be a personal choice, not something to be imposed by the government. When Erdoğan, Macit, Erdoğan bagman Egemen Bağış, and other aides counsel restricting free speech to avoid insult to religion, they are in practice seeking to muzzle criticism not of religion, but of their own politicized interpretation of it.
How disappointing it must have been for the Turkish liberals who today stand watch in Taksim that just last month, President Obama stood side-by-side Erdoğan, joking once again about how he solicited Erdoğan’s advice about how to raise teenage daughters, while keeping the erosion of their own human rights off the table.