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Friday, December 15, 2006

The War on Xmas -- In Turkey

As wars do all too often, the 'war on Christmas' seems to have spilled over our borders and grown into a broader conflict.

McClatchy Newspapers:

The trees are trimmed, merry lights blink in the store fronts, children spend sleepless nights giggling in anticipation and adults, of course, double-check to make sure the belly dancer is coming.

Christmas is a pretty big deal in Turkey, which is 99% Muslim. Like Christmas in other non-christian cultures -- Japan, for instance -- the holiday is mostly a celebration of consumerism and kid culture (before the kids go to bed, anyway. But more on that in a bit). And some worry that the reason for the season -- i.e., family -- is being lost in the commercialism. Other's have less secular concerns.

Turkish Daily News:

[W]e 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.

Big surprise, islamic fundamentalists aren't thrilled to see Muslims celebrating Christmas. It's not actually Christmas, by the way, it's New Years Eve. But there are trees and presents and Santa Claus, so it's close enough. TDN tells us, "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."

There's a Christmas I can get behind. But you can imagine how fundamentalists must see all of this; a celebration of sin and decadence with idolatry to boot. Cecil B. DeMille would be proud. And this year, the conflict gets especially complicated.

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 Bardako─člu, 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."

A bit of irony:

Some Islamist publications are taking a harder line. Anadolu Gen├žlik, 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.

I wonder if Bill O'Reilly knows he has an islamist counterpart?

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