Istanbul's LGBTQ community: Dealing with 'conservative attitudes' or DNA of Islamic law?

If you are reading a newspaper in India and you see a reference to "community violence," or perhaps "communal violence," do you know how to break that code?

As I have mentioned before, a young Muslim journalist explained that term to me during a forum in Bangalore soon after the release of the book "Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion."

Whenever there are violent clashes between religious groups, especially between Hindus and Muslims, journalists leave out all of the religious details and simply report that authorities are dealing with another outbreak of "community violence." Readers know what is going on.

As the student told me, if journalists write accurate, honest stories about some religious subjects in the nation's newspapers, then "more people are going to die."

I thought of that again reading the top of a recent Washington Post story about the tensions in Istanbul between civil authorities and the LGBT community in modern Istanbul, symbolized by confrontations during gay pride parades. Please consider this a post adding additional information to the complex religious issues that our own Bobby Ross, Jr., described in his post about terrorist attacks -- almost certainly by ISIS -- at the always busy Ataturk International Airport in that city.

Here is the overture for that earlier Post report:

ISTANBUL -- It was just after sunset when patrons began to arrive, climbing a dark stairwell to the bar’s modest entrance. Here, in dimly lit corners, is where the mostly gay clientele come to canoodle and drink -- but without the threat of violence or harassment.
Turkey, with more than 74 million people, is one of 20 Muslim-majority countries where homosexuality is technically legal. And cosmopolitan Istanbul, the country’s largest city, is a hub for gay and transgender life.
But conservative attitudes and a repressive government mean many gay Turks are still subject to persecution.

Now, when you read the phrase "conservative attitudes" -- linked to repressive actions by government leaders -- what do you think those two words actually mean? Isn't that kind of like the code term "community violence"?

What realities, what facts, are at the center of the spectrum of Turkish attitudes toward homosexual identity and behavior? Might this have something to do with religion and, to be specific, actual teachings in mainstream Islam, as well as radicalized forms of that complex faith? Is the vague word "conservative" enough?

Now that I think of it, what does the phrase "technically legal" mean in the lede? What's that all about?

You can see more hints here:

... The government’s decision also drew accusations of discrimination, and organizers said this is the first year since 2003 that a gay-pride march will not take place. LGBT activists say the threat from extremists is real but also accuse the Islamist-led government of canceling the parade in a bid to silence dissent.

In other words, there is a thin line between protecting LGBT people (and members of other minorities) from jihadist terrorism and police officials using that excuse to actually limit personal freedoms.

Frankly, the story dedicates more than enough room to background material. The problem is that the Post team goes way, way out of its way to avoid dealing with religion, and specifically Turkey's unique attempt to blend an almost, in the past, French Revolution secularism with a state in which an overwhelming majority of people are Muslims, to one degree or another.

As I stressed in a post and podcast the other day, the momentum in Turkey is toward a more muscular version of Islam. You can also see that in coverage of another issue -- the rising presence of women in traditional forms of head coverings, which are no longer banned.

So, in conclusion, read this passage from this Post report.

Homosexual activity has been legal in Turkey since the modern republic’s founding in 1923, but there are no laws that protect gay and transgender Turks from discrimination. And Turkish officials routinely use “homophobic and transphobic rhetoric” in speeches, Amnesty International said in a statement this month.
Attacks on LGBT individuals -- including killings -- are often ignored or only lightly investigated, activists say. Courts also regularly reduce or suspend the sentences of criminals convicted of these assaults.
In Turkey, if you are gay or transgender, “there is no support from the state. The government is against you because they don’t like people who are different,” said Levent Piskin, an Istanbul-based lawyer and gay rights activist.

The question that many are asking, but not in the Post story: Is Turkey swinging away from secularism and back toward some form of Islamic law? Why not ask that question to gay-rights activists in Istanbul and their critics?

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