Turkey's 'creeping Islamisation' divides nation

15/07/2007, Telegraph UK:

It could have been a scene from any beach in Turkey: a cluster of young women reclining on sun-loungers, soaking up the midday rays, thumbing through novels and smoking cigarettes, while fellow holidaymakers splashed in the sea.

Yet there was not an inch of bare flesh on them; these sun worshippers were clad from head to toe in headscarves and cover-all swimsuits. A couple of girls strolled past, their skimpy bikinis fighting an unequal battle against their contents. A teenage boy gawped, but if the other women noticed, they paid little attention.

A holiday complex on the gulf of Antalya seems an unlikely frontline for a clash of cultures that is dividing a nation. But the question of whether these two very different ways of living can co-exist, or whether one must inevitably impose itself on the other, holds the key to Turkey's future.

Next Sunday the country goes to the polls. Opponents of the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, fear that the Right-wing religious conservatives at the helm of his ruling AK party are set on diverting Turkey from its fiercely secular traditions down a path of creeping Islamisation. Educated liberals in cities such as Istanbul and Ankara look askance at rural incomers and what they consider to be their backwards-looking religiosity.

At the upmarket Bera Alanya hotel, a little way down the coast from the fleshpots of Alanya, middle- class religious conservatives are voting with their wallets. Most guests come from cities in Anatolia, while the rest are generally Turkish expatriates, and they have chosen the hotel for a reason: it has a swimming pool for women only. Every room has a copy of the Koran, a prayer mat and a sticker pointing towards Mecca. The bar serves no alcohol.

"It is better for my wife because she is a strong Muslim," said Mustafa Ekina, a 43-year-old furniture salesman from Rotterdam, staying at the hotel with his wife Nuriye and their 13-year-old daughter.

Mrs Ekina, resplendent in elegant silk headscarf, had packed both a bikini and a hasema, the two-piece swimsuit reminiscent of a shell suit with a close-fitting hood. The hotel shop sells the top of the range version for 120 Turkish lira (about £45). The makers claim it is possible to achieve a tan through the material.

"I have a hasema to swim in the sea and a bikini to swim in the women-only pool," she said. "Our beliefs say only our men should see our bodies, not everybody."

Her daughter is unconvinced, however. Eschewing a hasema, she had taken herself off to the pool in her Western swimwear. "My children don't like hotels like this," said Mr Ekina. "My daughter is more European. She wears a bikini. She can choose, however, when she is older. I will talk to her and tell her my beliefs. But I will never say to her what she must do."

People had the wrong idea about religious conservatives, he said. "We are strong Muslims but we do not want terrorism or a fight, we want only a holiday." This is certainly the view of the ruling AK party's leaders. The government claims the secularists are worrying about a threat that does not exist ...

"People ask 'Why do I see more women in the street with headscarves?'" said Egemen Bagis, Mr Erdogan's foreign policy adviser. "The answer is that in the past they were ashamed to go out. Now they are saying that the prime minister's wife wears it, so why should they be ashamed? I defend a woman's right to wear a headscarf as much as I defend her right to wear a miniskirt. We are against central government telling people how to live their lives." ...

"People want a secular country, but if you look at the lifestyle of the prime minister, it is not a modern lifestyle," said Sinasi Oktem, a candidate for the main opposition party, the Left-leaning CHP, in the Umraniye -district of Istanbul. They were just biding their time, he said. "With the AKP, Turkey is in danger." ...

A solicitor, Hatice Kacmazoglu, her long red hair uncovered, said: "I'm modern and open minded. They don't force me to cover my hair. If the AK party thought like that, I don't think I could be a member." She giggled nervously. "It's not going to be like Iran."
No, its not like Iran now. But, over successive generations of liberated Islam, there will be a perpetual danger that each generation can rediscover the brutality of the Koran. And we in the West know only too well how each generation reinvents itself. Made all the more likely by the religious baby boom, compared with the secular. And then you will have an Iran [he giggled nervously].

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