Why there’s so much Pope protesting in Turkey

Why there’s so much Pope protesting in Turkey

It is notable that Turkey—often considered to a moderate secular Euro-friendly Muslim country—has become a center of much of the protest against Pope Benedict’s Regensburg lecture. But perhaps some things he said not last week, but when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger, may be at the root of that.

What is the Turkish reaction?

Notably, the strongest denunciations came from Turkey — a moderate democracy seeking European Union membership where Benedict is scheduled to visit in November as his first trip as pope to a Muslim country.

Salih Kapusuz, deputy leader of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted party, said Benedict’s remarks were either “the result of pitiful ignorance” about Islam and its prophet or, worse, a deliberate distortion.

“He has a dark mentality that comes from the darkness of the Middle Ages. He is a poor thing that has not benefited from the spirit of reform in the Christian world,” Kapusuz told Turkish state media. “It looks like an effort to revive the mentality of the Crusades.”

“Benedict, the author of such unfortunate and insolent remarks, is going down in history for his words,” Kapusuz added. “He is going down in history in the same category as leaders such as Hitler and Mussolini.”

Even Turkey’s staunchly pro-secular opposition party demanded the pope apologize before his visit. Another party led a demonstration outside Ankara’s largest mosque, and a group of about 50 people placed a black wreath outside the Vatican’s diplomatic mission.

Okay, so the response in Turkey is over the top. Comparing his relatively mild statement to the likes of Hitler or Mussolini is just ridiculous. Saying that he has “a dark mentality that comes from the darkness of the Middle Ages” is irony of the highest order and a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

So why the response in Turkey? Partly it may be the fact that Pope Benedict is scheduled for an historic visit to Turkey in November. But I think it may also have to do with his public statements in 2004 that Turkey should not join the European Union.

“In the course of history, Turkey has always represented a different continent, in permanent contrast to Europe,” Ratzinger told the magazine, noting that the history of Ottoman Empire, which once invaded Europe as far as Vienna. “Making the two continents identical would be a mistake,” he said. “It would mean a loss of richness, the disappearance of the cultural to the benefit of economics.” The born cardinal said Turkey “could try to set up a cultural continent with neighboring Arab countries and become the leading figure of a culture with its own identity.”

That came in the context of the battle over the EU constitution and its lack of recognition of the Christian heritage of the continent.

Think there are hard feelings? Perhaps some in Turkey suspect that the Pope has long harbored ill will against the country. It’s worth remembering.

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  • Perhaps the Pope’s doubts about integrating Turkey into Europe are related to Germany’s experience with Turkish immigrants who failed to assimilate into German society.  They indeed did come from a different “cultural continent”.