Monday, Mar. 31, 2003

Turkey Forced Westward

Oct. 29, 1923
General Mustafa Kemal, who had repelled the British at Gallipoli in 1915 and had just recently done likewise to invading Greeks, now planned a civil takeover of his own country. Just hours before he did it, Kemal was telling a journalist that popular Islam had become a morass of superstitions that would destroy those who professed it. He declared, "We will save them," according to biographer Andrew Mango. A 101-gun salute greeted the announcement: Turkey had ceased to be an Islamic empire. It was a republic, and its leader, Kemal, became President—not Sultan, not Caliph, the titles that Ottoman monarchs paraded for 600 years, the first as despots who once made Europe cower, the second as "Commanders of the Faithful," leaders of Sunni Muslims everywhere. Soon Western clothing was enforced and Roman letters replaced the Arabic-based script. The man who would adopt the name Atatürk ("father of the Turks") inaugurated an era in which nationalism, not Islam, would be seen as the solution to the troubles of Muslim peoples. But by the 1980s, a reaction would set in, and the cause of the caliphate eventually would be taken up by, among others, Osama bin Laden.