Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Jailed Evangelical Presybterian pastor in Turkey finally gets full-court press coverage

Jailed Evangelical Presybterian pastor in Turkey finally gets full-court press coverage

Quite a few mainstream news outlets are finally chronicling the drama of a Christian pastor, a Turkish prison and a tussle over religious freedom that’s pitting President Donald Trump against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

At issue are the few Christian missionaries in Turkey (the only Muslim majority country I know that actually allows missionaries to operate there) who are pawns in a war of words between the two countries.

In the summer of 2016, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pulled all of its missionaries out of Turkey, sensing things were going to get worse, not better, for believers there.

So here’s how the Wall Street Journal described a trial that happened this week:

An American pastor who has spent 18 months in Turkish custody appeared for the first time in court Monday, denying accusations of espionage and contacts with terrorists in a case that has exacerbated tense relations between Washington and Ankara.
Turkish prosecutors allege Andrew Brunson colluded with a group Turkey blames for the 2016 failed military coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as well with Kurdish militants Turkey regards as terrorists. If convicted he faces up to 35 years in prison.

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News media, and The Religion Guy, catch up with yet another Mideast religious minority

News media, and The Religion Guy, catch up with yet another Mideast religious minority

Last year the Knights of Columbus sent Secretary of State John Kerry a 278-page report portraying in detail what the title called “Genocide Against Christians in the Middle East (.pdf here).”

The media should be paying continual attention to this minority’s disastrous decline in its historic heartland under pressure from Muslim extremists and chaos otherwise.

The largest targeted group is the Copts, the original ethnic Egyptians with a heritage that dates to Christ’s apostles, making up perhaps 10 percent of the national population. In Syria, where “Christians” were first given that name, believers constituted a solid and generally respected 12 percent of the population before the ruinous civil war erupted. Numbers have plummeted there and in Iraq, where Christians constituted 7 percent until recent times. Conditions are also harsh in neighboring countries.

Western media coverage of the Christians’ plight should acknowledge that extremists also visit death and devastation upon legions of their fellow Muslims, including groups regarded as heterodox. Oddly, Syria has been ruled largely by members of one such off-brand minority, the Assad clan’s Alawites.  

Given the complexity of world religions, even a seasoned reporter can miss an important group. And The Religion Guy confesses he was essentially unaware of one, the Alevis, until they were treated July 23 in a comprehensive New York Times report by Turkey correspondent Patrick Kingsley. Foreign Affairs magazine says this religio-ethnic group claims up to one-fifth of Turkey’s 80 million citizens.

Syria’s Alawites and the Alevis are not to be confused, though both are offshoots of Shi’a Islam that developed into new, heterodox forms of Islam if not new religions altogether,  drawing elements from non-Muslim faiths.

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Evolution and Islam: Turkey's hot back-to-school story and (let's work it in) the specter of jihad

Evolution and Islam: Turkey's hot back-to-school story and (let's work it in) the specter of jihad

Broach the question of teaching evolution versus "creationism" in U.S. public schools, and you’re probably talking about the debate fueled by biblical literalists of varying stripes. There are also debates that include a variety of scientists who embrace most elements of evolution, but deny that scientists have proven the process is random and without meaning. Remember that famous 1996 statement by Pope John Paul II?

Now, did you know that the same argument convulses Islam, including Sunni Muslim Turkey, where it's the year’s marquee back-to-school story?

Notice that in relation to Turkey I said “argument” not “debate.”

That’s because the increasingly Islamist and authoritarian government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has settled the matter by decree. The debate, such as it was, is over. As Mel Brooks famously proclaimed, “It’s good to be the king." Or wannabe neo-Ottoman sultan, in Erdogan’s case.

In short, Turkey has eliminated the teaching of evolution from primary and high school curricula.

Need to get up to speed on this one? Then read or listen to this piece from NPR. Or you can save a few minutes and just read this excerpt from the NPR script.

At a news conference last month, Turkey's education minister announced that new textbooks will be introduced in all primary and secondary schools, starting with grades 1, 5 and 9 this fall, and the rest next year. They will stop teaching evolution in grade 9, when it's usually taught.
"Evolutionary biology is best left to be taught at the university level," Education Minister Ismet Yilmaz told reporters. "It's a theory that requires a higher philosophical understanding than schoolchildren have."

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How religion figures in the story of Turkey invalidating NBA center Enes Kanter's passport

How religion figures in the story of Turkey invalidating NBA center Enes Kanter's passport

Not long ago, my son Keaton — one of the world's most devoted Oklahoma City Thunder fans — met center Enes Kanter at a local Arby's. Keaton took a selfie with Kanter and was quoted in an NBA.com feature about Thunder players serving up "acts of kindness":

“There’s something unique about the team and how the guys are committed to the community by getting out there and doing work,” said Keaton Ross, a student at Oklahoma Christian.

I'm only a casual Thunder fan — baseball is my sport — but I'm fascinated with the 25-year-old Kanter, who must boast one of the NBA's top senses of humor. For example, Kanter tweeted this last year after a Thunder beat writer from The Oklahoman left to cover the Golden State Warriors — Kevin Durant's new team — for the San Jose Mercury News.

More recently, though, the "Turkish-born big man" has been making serious national headlines. And even though it may not be clear from news reports, there is a strong religion angle. More on that in a moment.

But first, the crucial background: As a helpful, big-picture Wall Street Journal report notes today, Turkey invalidated the NBA player's passport earlier this month as part of a global arrest strategy:

ISTANBUL — Turkey is expanding efforts abroad to capture opponents by canceling their passports to force foreign governments to send them back, Turkish officials said, describing a strategy that nearly netted an NBA player this month.
The efforts accelerated this spring in what one of the officials said is part of a counterterrorism campaign focused on Turkish followers of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, a critic of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan whose network Turkey classifies as a terrorist group.
Oklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter told The Wall Street Journal he narrowly escaped a government attempt to force him back to Turkey after his passport was abruptly invalidated during a multination charity tour that included stops at schools affiliated with Mr. Gulen’s movement.
The NBA player, a 25-year-old legal U.S. resident, has been outspoken in his support for Mr. Gulen and criticism of Mr. Erdogan. Mr. Kanter was allowed to return following the intervention of U.S. and NBA officials.

What is Turkey's problem with Gulen? More from the WSJ:

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Future story watch: Should a Muslim state gain a permanent UN Security Council seat?

Future story watch: Should a Muslim state gain a permanent UN Security Council seat?

Let's' play with some hypotheticals, courtesy of an idea floated by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

But first some necessary background. A columnist for Turkey's English-language Hurriyet Daily News, wrote recently that Erdogan thinks the makeup of the United Nations Security Council's permanent members should be revamped along religious lines. His reason?

To end the Christian world's UN dominance over the globe's non-Christian nations.

Never mind, for now, as columnist Burak Bekdil, a prominent and frequent Erdogan critic, pointed out with more than a hint of sarcasm, that China, one of the Security Council's five permanent members, is hardly a Christian nation. That, is, unless you stretch the meaning of "Christian nation" to mean any nation in which Christians live, no matter how tightly controlled they are by a repressive government, such as the one in Beijing.

Still, Erdogan makes a point. The Security Council has no permanent member whose dominant religion is Islam, the world's second largest after ChrIstianity.

Journalists take note: This issue is likely to become an active debate, sooner or later. And when it does, it will not be easily resolved.

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Role of religion in clashes between the Islamic State and Turkey?

Role of religion in clashes between the Islamic State and Turkey?

Day after day, the news keeps flooding into major media about the victories of the Islamic State and the long-range implications of this movement for the Middle East and surrounding regions. Like I said the other day, it's frustrating to try to keep track of it all.

But the coverage does seem to be improving, especially if your goal is to find clues as to the role religion is playing in this historic drama. Here at GetReligion, we continue to be interested in mainstream-news coverage of several fronts, especially the impact of ISIS rule on religious minorities, including Christians, and the violence that is rising between warring Islamic camps.

On that second issue, The Washington Post foreign desk just turned its attention to strife on the Turkish border in a solid news feature that ran under the headline, "In Turkey, a late crackdown on Islamist fighters."

Note the word "late" in that headline. 

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Got news? Did Erdogan lead prayers in Hagia Sophia or not?

Eastern Orthodox Christians who follow events in the ancient homelands of the Eastern church have had May 29th marked on their calendars for several weeks now. Why is that? Because of the following news, or potential news (this particular story is care of a mainstream news site in Finland). Note the time element at the end of this passage:

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government plans to turn Istanbul’s Hagia Sofia Basilica into a mosque in the afternoon and evening and a museum in the morning.

The historical monument, which draws millions of tourists every year, will have the Byzantine frescoes covering its walls cast into shadow by “dark light” so as to avoid offending Islam. The government would thus like to turn what is today seen as a symbol of Christianity back into a place of worship for Muslims, as it was after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.

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Hurrah: CNN names some of the ghosts in Gezi Park

The coverage of events in Turkey roll on and on and the mainstream press continues to treat this as a simple clash between the moderate Islamic stance (whatever that means) of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a hip, young, urban secular vision of at Turkey looking toward Europe and the future.

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Secular and religious symbols lost in many Turkey reports

I have been reading the mainstream coverage of the events unfolding in Turkey from the get go, in large part because of my interest — after two visits to Istanbul — in the nation’s complex blend of European secularism (think France) and a variety of approaches to Islam. In the midst of all that, religious minorities have not fared well at all, including the tiny remnant of Eastern Orthodox believers who huddle in what was once the New Rome.

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