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Old 12-15-2006, 03:39 PM   #1
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Christmas wars in Turkey

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Christmas wars -- even in Turkey
Friday, December 15, 2006
Analysis by Mustafa Akyol
A couple of decades ago, few Westerners could predict that Christmas would become a bone of contention in their societies. The birth of Christ, which marks the apex of human history according to Western tradition, was taken as granted as tidings of comfort and joy.

Things have changed, however, and now Christmas is losing its meaning in the West. This year nearly 99 percent of Christmas cards sold in Great Britain contain no religious message or imagery. And the Britons are no exception. Other Western nations have the tendency to see Dec. 25 not in terms of Christ and Mary but of vacation and “fun.” Christmas, due to excessive secularization on one hand and political correctness on the other, is not so Christ-mass anymore.

Hence we have the Western Christians' cultural war against “the war on Christmas.” In a book with the same title -- and which bears the explicit subtitle, “How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought” -- American conservative pundit John Gibson launches “the fight back against the secularist forces” in their effort to erase Jesus from public life. Many conservative Christians in the United States agree with Mr. Gibson.

And what makes all this even more interesting to the Turkish Daily News and hopefully, its readers, is that Christmas is also a matter of cultural debate in Turkey. There is in some sense a culture war around it too, but with quite a twist: Since there are not many Christians around, the controversy is among the Islamic and secular camps of Turkish society.

Crazy parties vs. the conquest of Mecca:

Turkey's secular class adopted Christmas long ago simply because it was, for them, something Western and thus cool. But since they had no interest at all in Jesus Christ, they just imported the material elements of the Western Christmas culture: Decorated pine trees, Santa Claus, fancy presents and, most importantly, parties. And instead of focusing on Dec. 25, which marks the birth of the Nazarene, about whom they had no idea, they chose New Year's Eve as the day of their “mass.”

Thus, Turkey has for decades been having the weirdest New Year's Eve celebrations on earth. Symbols of Christmas are infused into “crazy parties” of heavy drinking, gambling, belly dancing and even strip shows. Conservative Muslims of the country have abhorred this “alien” tradition, which they have seen as yet another “liberal plot” to degenerate the moral values of society. Over the years, many religious scholars and public intellectuals have denounced New Year's Eve and symbols like Santa Claus and decorated pine trees, which reminded them of nothing about Jesus -- whom they would respect -- but everything about materialism. Since the '90s some Islamic organizations have started celebrating an “alternative New Year's Eve” on the night of Dec. 31: The anniversary of the conquest of Mecca by Prophet Mohammed. There is no champagne or high heels at these “parties”; women wear headscarves and men recite the Koran.

This year, the contrast between these two different faces of Turkey has become even starker, because New Year's Eve coincides with the very first day of the four-day long Feast of the Sacrifice, one of the two holiest events in the Muslim calendar. This would take some middle-of-the-road Turks to the mosque early in the morning and to the bar at night. Dr. Ali Bardakoğlu, head of the Religious Affairs Directorate, was asked about this -- in particular whether it would be too grave a sin to drink on the holy days. “Drinking is prohibited by Islam” the country's top cleric said, “but of course people have the right to shape their lives according to their free will; we just say what we think to be right.” He also noted that New Year's Eve and the Feast of the Sacrifice are “different traditions that shouldn't be confused.”

Santa Claus as a demon?:

Some Islamist publications are taking a harder line. Anadolu Gençlik, a publication with links to the marginal Saadet (Happiness or Contentment) Party (SP), which organized the protest against the pope before his arrival to Turkey last month, ran an op-ed titled “We should sacrifice Christmas.” Depicting Santa Claus as a demon, the article told how Christmas culture is corrupting Turkish society and how it should be resisted. The writer, Kerem Balci, seemed to have no clue about the Western Christians who complain about the corruption of the Christmas culture itself, based on the same concerns he has about hedonism and cultural materialism.

Some Muslims who can see the world beyond boundaries have more ecumenical views, though. Niyazi Öktem, the president of the Intercultural Dialogue Platform, Turkey's most prominent inter-faith initiative, sees no problem in “the real Christmas.” “Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ,” says Dr. Öktem, “and that's fine for Muslims because Jesus is a revered prophet in Islam.” Öktem suggests that Muslims can indeed see and celebrate Christmas as a “Kandil,” the holy days of the Muslim calendar in which historic events like the birth of Prophet Mohammed or the first revelation of the Koran are celebrated.

Such an inter-faith celebration of the Christ's birth -- say, a “Monotheist-mas” -- could be an unpredicted candidate to ease Turkey's Christmas wars. But that's possible only if Turks, unlike most contemporary Britons, get the meaning of Christmas right.

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Old 12-16-2006, 04:36 AM   #2
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well, although ive never heard about it, its just stupid to go to the religious new year's party.. where's the sense of fun?

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Old 12-16-2006, 09:52 AM   #3
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Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe wrote a column that is nearly identical to this. I'm too lazy to look it up becasue trust me, it's not worth the effort. But the conservative columnist movement just plagiarizes eachother, or produces propaganda, or something...

What paper was that in?
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Old 12-16-2006, 11:04 AM   #4
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Turkish Daily News.
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