Today’s foment in Turkey may be more significant than many people realize.
In 632 AD, the long-smoldering feud between the sons of Ishmael and the sons of Isaac again erupted into conflict. Leaving behind their Arabian Peninsula homeland, the Arab nomads challenged the kuffar – Jews and Christians in Babylon, Persia, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and North Africa. They eventually conquered southern Europe and stormed into the continent as far as Vienna before they were stopped.
Before this, the prophet Mohammad was still living in Mecca, the city of his birth. In keeping with his revelation from Allah, which had begun in 610 AD, Mohammad had remained moderate toward Christians and Jews. He called them “the people of the book.” He believed they could be converted to Islam through persuasion. For Muslims who want to live in a pluralistic society this remains the foundational message of the Quran.
When the people of the book failed to be persuaded by Mohammad’s preaching, his frustration led him north to Medina in 622. There his message became strident. Christians and Jews were “infidels.” There was no time to persuade. The kuffar would surrender to the sword or be killed. This view of the Quran has led to militant Islam and the concept of jihad.
It was upon Mohammad’s death in 632 that his followers left the Arabian Peninsula to conquer the Jews and Christians and then the world. By 651 they ruled the Middle East and half of North Africa. By 750 they had pushed east to what is today Pakistan. They finished conquering North Africa, crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and controlled what is today Spain and Portugal as well as modern Turkey and southern Europe into northern France.
The Muslims continued their quest to conquer more of Europe. In 1683, troops from the Ottoman Empire laid siege to Vienna (pictured below). On September 11, 1683, the combined armies of Germany, Austria, and Poland, under the command of Polish King Jan III Sobieski, broke the two-month siege, ending a 900-year Muslim advance. Islam has been in retreat in Europe ever since.
Fast forward to November 1, 1922, the day Sultan Mehmed VI Vahdettin resigned as the last leader of the Ottoman Caliphate Sultanate. On July 24, 1923, the new “secular” Turkey was established by the Treaty of Lausanne, and on October 29, 1923, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk became the first president of a modern, secular Turkey.
The loss of the Ottoman Caliphate was a devastating blow to Islam; Muslims had enjoyed unbroken government from 632 to 1924. Then, in 1928, an Egyptian school teacher named Hasan al-Banna started the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni fundamentalist movement. The re-conquest had begun. Today the Muslim Brotherhood controls Egypt and is fighting to establish its presence in the Arab Spring countries.
The defeat of the Ottoman armies in Vienna on September 11, 1683, was commemorated by Osama bin Laden 318 years later, 9/11/2001. Bin Laden attacked the gates of Western power: the twin towers – symbols of the West’s economic might, the Pentagon –symbol of the West’s military supremacy, and the failed attempt on the White House or Capital – symbols of the West’s political influence.
The September 11 date was clearly intentional. (To read more on this, and to understand a Christian response to these attacks, see my book Emancipating the World).
So far the Arab Spring has replaced secular tyrants with religious tyrants. At least in Hussein’s Iraq, Mubarak’s Egypt, and Assad’s Syria, secularists and Christians have found a modicum of protection to live without harassment. But the new religious tyrants have driven Christians to flee for their lives. In addition, many secularists have been imprisoned and their voices smothered. The same is likely to be the case if Assad falls in Syria.
But Turkey’s protests are very different …
But the current international headlines about the demonstrations in Turkey may have a different outcome. In most cases those who have started the protests in the Arab Spring have been young people yearning to live in freedom. In North Africa and the Middle East, Islamists, while not a majority, enjoyed superior organizing and more political clout than that of the various groups involved in the demonstrations. They were able to hijack the movements started by the young liberals.
In Turkey the situation is very different. The majority of Turks are secularist; only 12 percent want to live in an Islamist state under Sharia Law. Prime Minister Erdogan was chosen in a popular election. But he leads a Muslim government that is slowly trying to restore Turkey to an Islamist state.
Students in Turkey have become aware of Erdogan’s strategy and begun to protest. Now they have been joined by the trade unions and their protests are spreading all over the country. Islamists are a small minority in Turkey and likely unable to take over the movement as they have elsewhere. If the forces of freedom prevail, the current struggle could be the 2013 equivalent of the breaking of the Vienna siege in 1683.
In the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin, Elizabeth Kendal has written a thoughtful piece Turkey: at the crossroads?
Turkey is at a crossroads. Could this be an opening for change that will be more than skin deep? Might Islamisation be halted? Might liberty and equality become a reality? Pray for Turkey through these days, weeks and months of turmoil and questioning, for the sake of the gospel and the long-suffering remnant Church.
- Darrow Miller