Saturday, April 21, 2007

Attacks Must Not Be Swept Under the Turkish Rug

Now is the time to press the Turkish government to make the changes that are long overdue to its approach to religious minorities. Last week's brutal killings in Malatya mark the third fatal attack on Christians since February 2006. These are not exceptional cases; they are becoming a part of a pattern that the government cannot be allowed to sweep under the Turkish rug.

Officially, Turkey is a secular state. Its constitution provides for a strict separation of church and state, which includes freedom of religion. At the same time, Turkey still forbids missionary activity. This is simply hypocritical. Religious freedom of necessity includes the right to change one's religion without hindrance or threat to one's life or liberty. This is not the case in today's secular Turkey.

The suspects that have so far been arrested in the Malatya attack have stated that their actions were motivated by the desire to protect Islam from Christianity. The Turkish government has taken the same position as it and other officials in Turkey have criticized Christian missionary work in the past. Is it any wonder that we are seeing the blood of Christians spilled? The Turkish government must assume some of the responsibility for the killings and take actions to insure that Turkish Christians are recognized as possessing the same rights and privileges as Turkish Muslims, including the right to worship and practice all aspects of their faith (including evangelism) without fear. Turkish politicians must renounce past anti-missionary and anti-Christians statements that they and others have publicly made and support the rights of all religions to operate openly in a truly secular state. They must provide the legislative climate that no longer provides Islam with special protection and privileges, but recognizes that all religions have an equal standing in Turkish society.

Such actions may not stop attacks on Christians by Islamic militants. But at least the knifes and bullets won't have the smudged fingerprints of their own political leaders on them.

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