Welcome to the Hotel Islamia!
While Pope Benedict XVI is visiting Turkey to promote dialogue, tolerance, and interfaith understanding, Turkey is busy making sure that Muslims within its borders don’t get any ideas about converting out of the One True Faith.
The door of Islam swings in one direction only. Once you’re in, you’re in. The only exit is via the grave.
Turan Topal and Hakan Tastan are two Turkish men who had the effrontery to convert out of Islam into Christianity. Turkey is a secular state, but it has a way of dealing with people like Mssrs. Topal and Tastan. Read the story from today’s Times Online:
Protestant missionaries face nine years for insult to Islam
Suna Erdem, Istanbul
When Hakan Tastan wanted to amend the religion on his Turkish identity card, his enthusiastic championing of Christianity exasperated the official barring his way. Eventually, the official gave up trying to oppose the controversial change. “Change this heathen’s religion and make him go away,” the devout Muslim told his clerks.
More than ten years later, the missionary zeal of Mr Tastan and his fellow Christian convert, Turan Topal, has led to much graver things than being called names.
They face up to nine years’ jail after going on trial last week for “insulting Turkishness” during their religious work, under the notorious Article 301 of the Turkish penal code. It is the same law that put Orhan Pamuk, the Nobel literature laureate, in the dock, and which the European Union wants amended.
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The case against two members of the tiny Turkish Protestant community has attracted criticism from the EUand cast a shadow over Pope Benedict XVI’s visit this week.
Mr Topal and Mr Tastan, who are charged with illegally gathering information on people and “insulting Islam”, have faced public anger in Turkey, where a mistrust of Christians has been growing, fuelled by the Iraq war, the EU’s critical attitude, the Pope’s comments linking Islam with violence and the Danish cartoons row.
Turkey has about a hundred thousand Christians, but most of them are from traditional Christian communities such as the Greek Orthodox Church. Those are descendents of the dhimmi Christian minorities from Ottoman times, and have been tolerated so long as they recognize their place.
But these two converts are from an exotic sect: they’re Protestants:
For Turkish Protestants, a community of about 4,000, that came into existence 20 years ago, there is no recognisable role. Mr Topal was one of the first converts 17 years ago. Mr Tastan, the son of an atheist and grandson of an Alevi Muslim, said that he read the Koran and then was given the Bible by a friend.
He converted during his mandatory military service. The pair and their lawyer, Haydar Polat, think that their indictment is part of a plot.
The three plaintiffs, young men aged 16, 17 and 23, contacted them through a friend saying that they wanted to find out more about Christianity. After two meetings, charges were filed.
The two missionaries were accused of calling Islam a backward religion and claiming that Turks would never become civilised unless they converted. They were also accused of trying to sell women and of possessing guns.
Selling women and possessing guns? Is that projection, or what?
A final word:
Mr Topal and Mr Tastan have forgiven their accusers. “We have a woman in our group who puts up with so much from her husband who is a Muslim. But even she has to love him because the Bible says so,” Mr Tastan says.
Now, once again, Turkey is a secular country. It’s ready to join the European Union and thus commit itself to human rights, equality under the law, religious freedom, yada yada yada.
But insulting Turkishness — that’s another matter entirely…
We’re all prisoners here, of our own device.
Hat tip: Jack Wheeler