September 22, 2006 Special Dispatch No. 1297

AKP and Turkish Media Reactions to the Pope's Statements on Islam

September 22, 2006
Special Dispatch No. 1297

Pope Benedict XVI has come under fire in Turkey following his remarks in a lecture at Germany's Regensburg University, in which he quoted a 14th-century text by the Byzantine emperor Constantine XI Manuel Palaiologos critical of the Prophet Muhammad and of the concept of jihad in Islam. Among those who criticized the Pope were Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, government ministers, and other MPs from the ruling AKP party, as well as opposition leaders and much of the Turkish media. AKP Deputy Chairman Salih Kapusuz said that Pope Benedict XVI would go down in history like Hitler and Mussolini.

Many voices also demanded the cancellation of the Pope's upcoming visit to Turkey, which is scheduled for late November 2006.

The following are reactions from the Turkish media to the Pope's statements:

Official Reactions to the Pope's Statements

*PM Erdogan: The Pope "Must Retract These Wrong, Ugly, and Unfortunate Statements"

The daily Yeni Safak reported that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: "'[The Pope's] assessment of and attitude towards Islam - a religion whose meaning is peace - and of its beloved Prophet is unfortunate in [a number of] very serious respects. It can never be acceptable to us. […] The Pope has spoken not like a religious leader, but like an ordinary politician [...]

"'It is our wish that he will rapidly correct his mistake and prevent the casting of a pall on the dialogue between civilizations and religions. […] I believe that he must retract these wrong, ugly, and unfortunate statements, and that he must apologize to the Islamic world and to the Muslims.'

"When asked about whether the Pope's visit would take place, Erdogan said, 'I don't know about that.'" [1]

*Ali Bardakoglu: The Pope's Words Reflect a Crusader Mentality

Most Turkish dailies reported on the official statement of Ali Bardakoglu, who heads the state-run Religious Affairs Directorate and is Turkey's highest-ranking cleric: [2]

"'These were unfortunate, saddening and extremely worrisome remarks, in the name of the Christian world and for the common [values of] peace of all humanity. [...] If the Pope's comments are a reflection of the anger, hostility, and hatred in his inner world, we are faced with a very grave situation.'

"Bardakoglu called on Pope Benedict to immediately retract his words and apologize [to the Muslims]. He noted that the Western approach to Islam and its Prophet was always filled with prejudice, ignorance and hostility. [He said:] 'The Church organized the Crusades because they pictured Islam as the enemy. […] They killed thousands of people [...] Since the fourth century, Christian theologians have divided the world into the Christian world versus the satanic world. This was their mentality. They considered it a holy mission to fight the non-Christian world. This is why the Crusader and holy-war mentality is fundamental to the mindset of the Western clergy. I believe that the Pope's statement is a reflection of this mentality of Crusades and holy wars [...]'

"Referring to the Pope's statement that in Islam there is no bond between God and reason, Bardakoglu said: 'On this issue, it is the deeds of the Church that must be questioned. The Church mistook its distortion of religion for reason. The Christian Church has left out reason in order to serve its own interests, by dominating people's faith, by inserting itself between God and the individual, and by exploiting sanctity. If today there is anti-religious [sentiment] in the West, it is because the Christian Church has left reason out [of the equation].'

"[...] Insulting a religion, its prophet, and its scripture is outrageously arrogant. It is hostile, and it is an unfortunate incitement to clash between religions [...]"

*AKP MP Salih Kapusuz: The Pope Will Go Down in History Like Hitler

According to the secular, centrist, wide-circulation Hurriyet, deputy chairman of the AKP parliamentary group MP Salih Kapusuz said: "'Clearly he [i.e. the Pope] has the dark mentality of the Middle Ages. He is a pitiful being who has not benefited from the spirit of the Reformation in the Christian world. […] This appears to be the result of an effort to revive the Crusader mentality. Benedictus XVI, who made these unfortunate and audacious remarks, will go down in history in the same category as Hitler and Mussolini[…] What saddens us is that in such critical times, the papal seat is occupied by such a hypocritical and pitiful person. On behalf of humanity and world peace, I strongly and hatefully condemn this person […]'" [3]

*Education Minister on the Pope: "A [Truly] Sincere Person... Would Know How to Apologize"

Hurriyet reported that Turkish Minister of Education Huseyin Celik said that a spiritual leader of a religion must think not once but 10 times when speaking about another religion, and added: "'The Pope's words have wounded and hurt the Islamic world. It would behoove him to apologize.'" As for the Pope's having expressed sorrow that Muslims had taken offense at his statement, Celik said: "'Sorrow and apology are very different things. A [truly] sincere person, a truly saddened person, would also know how to apologize.'" [4]

*"The Pope has Dirtied Himself With His Remarks, and Must Be Cleansed [By Baptism] Before Setting Foot in Our Country"

The chairman of the Union of the Religious Affairs Directorate (i.e. the union of the imams), Huseyin Demirci, said in reaction to the Pope's remarks: "'The Pope, who spoke ignorantly, is a menace to the Christian world and to world peace. Before his insolent remarks turn into a Muslim-Christian clash, he must come out and apologize. Otherwise, his visit to our country will have no meaning and might provoke undesirable events. This is why we are asking [Turkish] President [Ahmet Necdet Sezer] to cancel his invitation [to the Pope for late November]. If the Pope wants to come to Turkey, he must first have his priests baptize him. The Pope has dirtied himself with his remarks, and must be cleansed before setting foot in our country.'" [5]

Spokesman for the secularist opposition Republican People's Party [CHP] Halik Koc also lashed out at the Pope for his remarks: "'The Pope is pouring fuel on the fire, in a world where the risk of a clash between religions is increasing.' Koc also urged the Pope to issue an apology for his remarks before visiting Turkey." [6]

Chairman of the center-right Homeland Party [ANAP] Erkan Mumcu said: "'I do not want to see, in my country, this man who has insulted me, my people, my faith, and my Prophet. This is a very sincere reaction. Only if he truly apologizes might I find it in myself to agree [to such a visit].'" [7]

Turkish Columnists' Reactions to the Pope's Statements

*The Christians and Jews are "Blood-Sucking Vampires"

Columnist Hakan Albayrak of the Islamist daily Milli Gazete wrote: "[…] I spit on the reasoning of Pope Benedict XVI, who calls Islamic jihad against those who make war on us and on oppressors who exile us from our lands 'against reason and God,' yet fails to condemn the Crusader hordes, their cruelty, and their tortures in the name of 'God's will […].'

"By giving 'spiritual support' to the Crusades declared by George Bush, who admires the perverted U.S. TV sermons (of fundamentalists Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, Benny Hinn, etc.), Benedict has acted like the true Vatican. Let us not forget that the Vatican has apologized to the Jews and the Eastern [Orthodox] Christians for the sufferings caused by the Crusaders, but has never apologized to the Muslims. This means that the papacy still believes that it is 'God's will' to boil the Muslims, roast and eat their children, burn the Muslims in their mosques, and tell the Muslims 'to convert to Christianity or die.'. […] I do not expect Benedict to apologize for his disgusting words. What would change if you apologized for the Crusades? […] I hope you drown in your hatred." [8]

Columnist Burhan Bozgeyik wrote in Milli Gazete: "[…] As we have said many times, the Vatican is behind the occupation of the Muslim world. They started a 'mental invasion' before the armed invasion. […] They're all the same: Their rabbis, priests, cardinals, and popes are the same as those criminals who are murdering and plundering in Iraq and Palestine. […]" [9]

Columnist Aziz Karaca of the nationalist-Islamic Turkish daily Yeni Mesaj wrote: "[…] The Muslim world has never had time to rest and live in peace because of the aggressions of the Christians, headed by the arrogant Pope, and of their allies the Jews. […]

"There is no doubt that [the Pope's] crude, rude, and insolent words are the reflection of centuries-old Crusader hatred, through the mouth of an authority. These lowly and despicable expressions are very fitting for the Pope and the world he represents. […] They can no longer hide their cruelty, theft, perversion, and the [fact that] they are blood-sucking vampires. They become visible as the light of Islam shines on them.

"Now, joining all their forces, the Jews and Christians are trying to put out this light. They are becoming ridiculous in assuming that they can extinguish the light by collectively blowing on it. Their voice is familiar [to us], and their aggressive style is also familiar. Look at the expressions of all the past popes and church clergy; examine their statements, and you will find hundreds and thousands of the same. There is no change on that front. They are continuing to harbor their ever-increasing hatred and vengeance against the Muslims. […]

"Re-read the words of this arrogant man [the Pope] and think to yourself: Should this man [be allowed to] set foot in our heavenly homeland?" [10]

*"The First Place Where This Infidel [the Pope] Who Insults My Prophet Should Go is Hell, Not Turkey"

Columnist Hasan Demir of the ultranationalist-Islamic Turkish daily Yenicag wrote, in an article titled 'With What Face Will He Come to Turkey?: "[…]Benedictus, before being seated as the 265th pope - that is, when his name was Ratzinger - said: 'What are the Turks doing in the E.U.? Let them go and build a union with the Arabs.' […] Didn't Pope John Paul II promote this man to preside over the Vatican's most important institute of 'theological teachings?'

"Neither of these [popes] used the word 'terrorist' for the PKK. Both these popes readily accepted the allegations of genocide against the Armenians. Both of them gave unlimited support to U.S. President Bush, who declared a Crusade, and never opposed the killing in Iraq of nearly 300,000 civilians [and] the tortures and rapes in Abu Ghuraib […] Did they ever say anything when Muslims were killed [by Serbs]? They secretly rejoiced, because those dying were Muslims, in a different kind of Crusade. Was there any sound from the Vatican when Israel drowned the Lebanese people in a bloodbath? […] Didn't the Crusaders kill two million civilians in Vietnam? Didn't they also kill one million in Cambodia? Didn't they wipe out the Red Indians in America, on instructions from the Vatican? […] Wasn't the Inquisition a papal institution? […] [President] Bush, who turned Iraq into a sea of blood and took the PKK under his wing, sees himself as the commander of the Crusader armies. Does the Pope say anything about this? The first place where this infidel who insults my Prophet should go is Hell, not Turkey." [11]

*"If the [Vatican's] Intrigue is Not Recognized... It May Become an Atomic Bomb That Will Bring Graver Consequences Than 9/11"

Columnist Taha Kivanc of the Islamist daily Yeni Safak, which is considered to be the unofficial mouthpiece of the AKP government, wrote: "[…] When I hear the word Vatican, what first comes to my mind is 'intrigue.' Did the Pope quote this historical-theological dialogue, which outraged the Islamic world, […] with innocent intentions? Was the Pope really surprised or saddened by the reactions of the offended Muslims, as was later claimed by the Church?

"This is what the Vatican wants us to believe; and some think that we should already leave the Pope alone. I do not believe that the Pope was acting innocently when he put the subject on the agenda, but I also think we should not pursue this any further. The reason is simple: I am aware of how capable the Vatican is in scheming, and I believe that the Pope's intention in delivering his not-innocent speech was to start a big storm - of the kind that is now blowing through the Islamic world. […]

"We have been witnessing how peace and harmony has gone from the world after 9/11. What do [1] think about the Pope's speech regarding Islam? My view is that if the [Vatican's] intrigue is not recognized and measures are not taken, it may become an atomic bomb that will bring graver consequences than 9/11. Attention… Beware…" [12]

This Latest 'Operation' by the Pope... is Highly Compatible with Bush's Policies"; "For Them [i.e. Christians], Massacre is a Genetic Trait"

Columnist Tamer Korkmaz of the Islamist, wide-circulation daily Zaman wrote: "[…] The Pope clearly insulted Islam and our Prophet, with that 'quote'…

"[…] Pope Benedict XVI has opposed Turkey's membership in the E.U., basing his rejection on 'religious differences!' This latest 'operation' by the Pope, which incited to a 'clash of religions' and increased world tensions, is highly compatible with Bush's policies… Let's remember that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the U.S. president mentioned the 'Crusades.' It was obvious then that this was not a slip of tongue, and since then we have witnessed the proof of this… Although it appears as if the target is 'radical Islam,' this is deceptive. The reality is that a front targeting the religion of Islam and the Muslims exists… The papacy is a political institution, as much as it is a religious one. The recent offensive is about assuming a political position…

"Ankara has declared that this crisis will not affect the Pope's visit to Turkey. The Pope will visit Turkey [between] November 28-December 1 as an official guest of President Sezer… We will see then the face with which he comes.

"Sezer kept his silence in the face of the Pope's insults to Islam and to our Prophet… A diplomatic source told [the mainstream Turkish daily] Hurriyet that the reason [for Sezer's silence] was that Turkey is not a religious state but a secular one… Sezer most certainly must be thinking that way. […]" [13]

Husnu Mahalli, formerly a columnist for Yeni Safak and currently a columnist for the secular, centrist daily Aksam wrote: [14] "[…] Contrary to the some people's interpretations, the Pope has spoken knowingly, consciously, and deliberately, having calculated all the consequences. This is the same Pope who targeted Turkey and Islam before his selection, and dissolved the Interfaith Dialogue Committee after being selected. On his first visit to his homeland Germany [as Pope], 'His Majesty' visited a Jewish synagogue, and there, in a secret meeting with 60 rabbis, discussed how they should act together against Islam.

"Don't waste your breath; the Pope will never apologize to the Muslims. Moreover, this Pope and all the Crusaders - his allies - will do much more. Those who want dialogue between religions, cultures, and civilizations will soon find themselves in a monologue. […]

"For them [i.e. Christians], massacre is a genetic trait. […] We are again face to face with Crusader countries and forces. […] It is our obligation to be aware of all the dirty plots of the other side, and to take all the necessary short-, mid-, and long-term precautions. The most important thing is never to trust the other side, at any time. The day will come when those who trust the U.S., Israel, and their co-conspirator Westerners will be left naked. Because the U.S., Israel, and Europeans with the Crusader mentality never think about their Muslim allies, and they easily discard them. Those who do not want to find themselves in that situation should turn back before they become miserable. Otherwise neither the power and the money of Bush, Blair, Chirac, Sharon and their ilk, nor the Pope's blessings, will protect them from Hell, in this world and the next!"

*"No Matter How Strongly We Say That We are 'A Muslim, But a Modern and Democratic Country,' Our Words are Unconvincing if We Become Islam's Advocate"

Columnist Fatih Altayli of the secular, centrist Sabah wrote: [15] "[…] According to our [i.e. Sabah 's] report [on the Pope's statements on Islam], Religious Affairs Directorate head Ali Bardakoglu issued a tough response. Bardakoglu's statement appeared in the European press - especially in the Italian press. A strange picture appeared.

"This is what was strange about this picture: speaking on behalf of the Muslim world appeared to be Turkey's job, when it [Turkey] is in no way tied to the kind of Islam that had been criticized. Turkey [appeared to be] acting as the spokesman in Europe for Islam and the Muslims. This representation of Islam naturally emphasizes Turkey's image as a Muslim country, in a Europe struggling with grave Islamophobia.

"As this image grows stronger, the phobia related to radical Islam begins to include Turkey too, and this is damaging the process of Turkey's E.U. membership. No matter how strongly we say that we are a 'Muslim, but a modern and democratic country,' our words are unconvincing if we become Islam's advocate.

"If you add to this the [attempted] assassination of the Pope [16] and the killing of a priest in Trabzon, [17] everything [i.e. Turkey's chances of E.U. membership] is in jeopardy."

[1] Yeni Safak (Turkey), September 17, 2006.

[2] Hurriyet, (Turkey), September 14, 2006. A similar report appeared in Sabah, Yeni Safak, and Yenicag, on the same date.

[3] Hurriyet, (Turkey), September 16, 2006.

[4] Hurriyet (Turkey), September 17, 2006.

[5] Hurriyet (Turkey), September 19, 2006.

[6] Turkish Daily News (Turkey), September 16, 2006.

[7] Hurriyet (Turkey), September 17, 2006.

[8] Milli Gazete (Turkey), September 17, 2006.

[9] Milli Gazete (Turkey), September 20, 2006.

[10] Yeni Mesaj (Turkey), September 18, 2006.

[11] Yenicag (Turkey), September 18, 2006.

[12] Yeni Safak (Turkey), September 18, 2006.

[13] Zaman (Turkey), September 19, 2006.

[14] Aksam (Turkey), September 19, 2006. For more on Husnu Mahalli, see MEMRI Columnist in Turkish Islamic Daily: 'USA – the God-Damned Country'; 'Murdering is Genetically Ingrained in American Culture', "Columnist in Turkish Islamic Daily: 'USA - the God-Damned Country'; 'Murdering is Genetically Ingrained in American Culture,'" February 2, 2005, Columnist in Turkish Islamic Daily: 'USA – the God-Damned Country'; 'Murdering is Genetically Ingrained in American Culture' ; MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1114, "Hamas Visit to Turkey Deepens Secular-Islamist Rift," March 14, 2006, Hamas Visit to Turkey Deepens Secular-Islamist Rift

[15] Sabah (Turkey), September 17, 2006.

[16] A reference to the 1981 assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II by Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turk.

[17] In February 2006, a Catholic priest was murdered in a church in Trabzon, Turkey, by an Islamist.

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