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Shooting of Judges Highlights Islamist vs. Secularist Strife in Turkey

In what may be the latest setback in Turkey’s ambitions to join the European Union, Judge Mustafa Yücel Özbilgin of the Second Chamber of the Council of State was fatally shot, and four other judges wounded, by an allegedly revenge-driven gunman. The gunman, a lawyer, was said to have shouted “I am a soldier of Allah” and “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”) while firing the deadly bullets in the March 17 attack, which took place in Ankara.,,1777243,00.html. Upon his arrest, he stated that his actions were in protest to a court ruling supporting a local school’s decision to withhold employment from a woman on the grounds that she wears a hijab (Islamic headscarf), a ruling that alienated many of staunchly secular Turkey’s largely Muslim population.

The prohibition of headscarves was initiated by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, known as the Father of Turkey, when he founded modern state in 1923. In a country struggling between ambitions of classic democracy and a long tradition of Islamic values, the headscarf ban has become the most contentious issue between political leaders and their constituents, and indeed amongst the constituents themselves. This apparent ideological alienation of Muslims in Turkey has bred an Islamist undercurrent that often borders on or even crosses the line into fanaticism, which, as in this latest case, has led to tragedy.

This shooting has been the most recent reminder that despite a steady tourism sector, Turkey is in a state of unrest. In late March, a bomb exploded in Kocamustafapasa, a suburb of Istanbul near the Sultanahmet area of the city, a spot famously popular with tourists. In April, a local bus in yet another Istanbul suburb was attacked by men with makeshift gasoline bombs, causing three deaths and numerous injuries.

According to the travel advisory of the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the terrorist group allegedly behind the March attack has demanded that foreign tourists “avoid Turkey or face unspecified consequences,” and has threatened to carry out more attacks against targets crucial to Turkey’s tourism market.

The U.S. State Department echoes the warnings issued by Australia, calling the risk of terrorist attacks “high” in Turkey.
Whether Turkey will ever be able to resolve the issue of balancing democracy with Islamic values, a factious issue for other countries of the region as well, still remains to be seen. Along with the struggle to pacify Kurdish separatists in the Southeast, mend the longstanding feud with Cyprus, heal the old wounds of the alleged Armenian genocide, and to put right the human rights violations of which Turkey has long been accused, Turks have much to tackle if they are to satisfy those who would prefer to bar Turkey’s entry into the EU.

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