Turkish Army Ponders Protestant Missionaries

From Islam Online (linked snagged from CultNews.net)

Protestant missionaries are planning to proselytize some 10 per cent of Turkey’s 70 million population by 2020, the Turkish army warned in a report published Friday, December 31.

Erm…what, in a secular democracy, has that got to do with the army?

Up to one million gospels are planned to be distributed among the Turkish people during this period, Turkish daily Zaman reported Friday, citing the “Proselytizing Activities in Turkey and the World” report.

Gosh! The report covers both Turkey and the rest of the world. Is the Turkish army stuffed with scholars of world Christianity, then?

The missionaries are trying to fill the “spiritual void” left by the youths’ ignorance about the basic tenets and rituals of Islam, according to the report.

The proselytizers are playing on pitting the Sunnis and the ‘Alawiyyin against one another to preach about the Christian faith, the report added.

How sinister! But Islam Online was whinging about the subject back in November:

Altin Tonsh, a key researcher into religious affairs said that proselytizing groups exploit Turkey’s request to be a member of the 15-member European Union.

(Altin Tonsh appears to have absolutely no other internet presence)

“As 39 churches have been built in Istanbul alone during the last five years, the missionaries seek to revive the ancient Christian ‘Bontos State’ that had existed along the Black Sea coast in the 11th Century,” said Tonish.

A report presented to the Turkish government, also carried by Zaman, said Christian missionaries were sent to areas hit by the 1999 shuddering earthquake that left hundreds dead and many others displaced.

“These groups target Alawiya Muslim followers, benefiting from their claims of persecution at the hands of the Sunni majority,” read the report.

Yes, I’m sure the “Bontos State” is foremost in the minds of all the missionaries working in Turkey (I think he means the Empire of Trebizond, which was set up by Greeks on the Black Sea coast after Constantinople was conquered by the Latins in 1204. In Latin, the Black Sea is the Euxeinos Pontos, and “B” and “P” are interchangable in Turkish. The Turks defeated it 250 years later).

But what’s that bizarre last line – “benefiting from their claims of persecution”? If there really is persecution, why is it just a “claim”? And if there isn’t any real persecution, how can missionaries “benefit” from it?

Ugar Akinci’s Turkish Torque blog adds some political context (emphases in original):

Freedom to worship” was one of the electoral slogans that have helped AKP [Justice and Development Party] come to power in 2002…AKP wanted to remove the ban on turban in public domain and open up the universities to imam-hatip school graduates as well.

…Now as a result of AKP’s argument of “universalism,” (that they were asking for such freedoms not only for the Sunni Muslims but for all Turkish citizens) Christians in Turkey are also raising their voices to expand their existing religious freedoms as well – like to open new churches, for example.

Take the case of Rev. James Bultema, the Presbyterian pastor from Muskegon, Michigan, who took AKP’s promise literally and has been trying to open a new church in Antalya. The Wall Street Journal front-page story devoted to the “trials and tribulations” of opening a new church in Turkey suggests that although the AKP cannot go back on its promise of “more religious freedoms for all,” it cannot afford to be in a position of openly encouraging the spread of Christianity in Turkey either due its very conservative base. So, from what I gathered from the WSJ story, Rev. Bultema’s church project keeps getting postponed for one bureaucratic reason after another.

…On the surface, AKP cannot go back on its own universalistic promise of “more religious freedoms for all citizens.”

But under the surface, the AKP rank and file’s fear of “missionaries are coming to convert us!” will lead to a clash between the AKP leadership and its very conservative base, on the one hand, and between the same base and people like Rev. Bultema who are taking AKP at its word.

The whole European Union is watching the developments that concern some AKP loyalists as well as the secular old-school Kemalists for whom the anti-Turkish activities of the Protestant missionaries in Anatolia during the years of the National War of Liberation is still an important historical reference.

Here’s a bit of sensible advice to Turks and Muslims worried about Christian missionaries: a) if you don’t want to be converted by them, try saying “no thank you” when they come to the door; b) if you want to lessen the number of people leaving your religion, try making it more attractive. But I suppose getting the military and ultra-nationalist “scholars” to churn out hysterical and threatening reports requires less effort…