[Originally published in Turkish Daily News]
The upcoming visit by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to Turkey is a matter of debate in the country as well as on the international scene. Why is the pope coming? What is his “real agenda”? Should we welcome him or not? These are the questions that Turkish intellectuals — and not-so-intellectuals — have recently been debating.
On one side, there are the usual suspects who suspect and abhor anything and anybody non-Turkish. Simply put, these are the Turkish nationalists. They don’t like the pope and they believe that the German former cardinal must be coming here for yet another evil plan to undermine, carve out or even destroy the beloved motherland. That is, after all, what Westerners are for.
On the other side, there are more liberal Turks who want to welcome the pope and make his trip as trouble free as possible. They see this as an opportunity to give a counter message to the ever-growing threat of a “clash of civilizations” and also to show some Turkish hospitality to the world. Though this particular pope has very few fans, if any, in the 70-million-strong nation, most Turks agree with the liberals that His Holiness should be welcomed, not protested against.
However, interpreting the intra-Turkish debate by lumping everybody into one of these two broad categories would be too simplistic. Conventional intuitions can also be misleading. If you think that the liberals would tend to be the secularists, for example, you would be making a big mistake. There are religious and secular figures on both sides, with very interesting combinations and alliances. The real dividing line is not religion but the clash between those who wish to live in a more open society and those who want to keep it as closed as possible.
Enter The Grey Wolves
Thanks to the reports of the international fine print, many must have been informed that the fiercest opponents of the pope’s visit are Turkish nationalists. But these folks do not form a homogenous crowd. They may fit into one of three broad categories: the pure nationalists, the Islamic nationalists and the secular nationalists (aka Kemalists).
Let’s take a look at the first one, the authentic, hard-core, “pure” nationalists, who have expressed themselves since late ’60s around the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). They call themselves Grey Wolves” because they believe in a central Asian myth that the Turkish race originated from a young, brave boy raised by a white wolf in a dark cave. The 100 fellows who rushed into Aya Sofya last Wednesday in order to “pray” there and show some muscle to the pope, who is expected to visit the shrine next week, were such Grey Wolves. They traditionally get 5-10 percent of the vote in national elections, depending on the political circumstances. A celebrity among them is Mehmet Ali A?ca, who shot a previous pope in 1979 in Rome. Another Grey Wolf, just 16, shot a priest in Trabzon this year, in reaction to the Danish cartoons about Prophet Mohammed.
The relationship between these amateur storm troopers and Islam has always been awkward. Some of them tend to play it down and instead yearn for the pagan faith of the pre-Islamic Turks. The great majority, however, accept Islam cheerfully because it is the faith that has inspired the Turkish people for more than a millennium. It is always doubted by the more devout Muslims of Turkey, though, whether the Grey Wolves praise Islam for of its own merits or for its services to the Turkish nation. For them, is Islam a tool to worship God, or to consolidate the Turkish national ethos and rally the Turks against their perceived enemies?
The Grey Wolves’ recent anti-papal show in Aya Sofya has been criticized by popular Turkish columnist Ahmet Hakan Co?kun on these grounds. An up-and-coming liberal with an Islamic background, Co?kun pointed out that the Grey Wolves performed the prayer not to praise God but to protest the Pontificate. This means, Co?kun argued, that they have turned a traditional form of worship into a modern political tool.
Meet The Green Wolves
The second camp in the Turkish nationalists is composed of the more Islamic ones. Actually they are a new phenomenon that became distinct from the more moderate and Western-friendly Islamic circles during the ’90s and onwards. In other words, they represent a reaction within the Islamic camp toward its more progressive elements. The latter is represented by the incumbent Justice and Development Party (AKP) in politics and by the million-strong Fethullah Gülen community in society, both of which champion the EU process and reiterate the sprit of the Alliance of Civilizations.
The AKP’s history is tell-tale one. In the ’90s the AKP’s current leaders were in the big tent of Turkish political Islam, led by Necmeddin Erbakan, who was against the EU and the whole Western world, and evangelized an “Islamic Union” and “Islamic NATO.” However, AKP leaders initiated their revolution by abandoning this old-style Islamism and embracing a secular yet “conservative” political vision, which brought them astonishing success. Their old comrades are still around, though, in the Saadet (Happiness or Contentment) Party (SP), which simply retains the anti-Western rhetoric of Erbakan. Although it got less then 3 percent of the vote in the past election, the SP is active and they are at the forefront of anti-pope sentiments. This Sunday, the SP will run a rally in Istanbul with a very forthright title: “Pope, don’t come!” Thousands are expected to join in. They will probably represent an amalgamation of Islam and Turkish nationalism — a new phenomenon that one might label “the Green Wolves.”
Another leading figure in this movement is Haydar Bas, who is running a very conservative religious community and a marginal political party, the Independent Turkey Party. As a die-hard anti-Western demagogue, Mr. Bas is also the main proponent of “Christianophobia” in Turkey — the fear that Christians are conspiring against Turkey via Protestant missionaries, the Orthodox Patriarchate and the inter-faith programs of the Vatican. His wrath is directed not only towards Christians but also towards Muslims who are in good dialogue with Christians, like the influential Fethullah Gülen group, which is accused of being “crypto-Christian” by Mr. Bas’ movement.
In his Web site, Mr. Bas’ wide and bearded face is joined by an unexpected figure: Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Turkey’s founder and the pillar of its secular regime. If you think that this is an odd configuration, think again, because Turkey’s Green Wolves have been in close cooperation with the die-hard secular nationalist who would die for Atatürk. They, i.e., the Kemalists, are the third major component in Turkey’s nationalist front and in some cases, the fiercest.
And they are worth looking into.
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