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OccupyGezi: How not to play into the hands of the Anti-Muslim Right

Domenic Powell • Jun 03, 2013

Confronted by constant coverage of massive street protests in Istanbul, sympathizers of what has been described as a largely secular anti-government youth movement should be wary of playing into the hands of right-wing American activists that hope to use the protests as an opportunity to further their anti-Muslim agenda.

In the background of the protests lies Turkey’s bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. The country’s prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan, in part to support Turkey’s bid, has pushed forward with large development plans for the city, including a third bridge across the Bosphorous River, a large mosque, and, as we have come to know, demolishing a central park area to make way for a shopping mall.  Empowered by electoral popularity, Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have also promoted socially conservative policies including limiting the sale, advertisement, and film depictions of alcohol. While some in the media have called the policies a form of “prohibition,” the new policies only go as far as to limit its sale to people under the age of 18 and between the hours of 10PM and 6AM, as well as restrict its advertising and depiction in film.

“Thousands of secularists protest Islamization in Turkey, as they also have recently in Egypt,” Robert Spencer wrote on Jihad Watch. Pamela Geller later re-posted Spencer on Jihad Watch’s sister blog, Atlas Shrugs. “Why doesn’t the mainstream media call them racist, bigoted Islamophobes for resisting Islamization?”

While one could assume that at least some of the protesters oppose Erdogan’s social conservative agenda, just as many if not more are there to oppose the reinvention of their city for the benefit of Western tourists. To cast this movement wholesale as a protest against ‘Islamization,’ or as the anti-Muslim American right would have it, as a movement against Islam, is an opportunistic endeavor to co-opt a people’s movement for their own bigoted purposes.

Turkey’s three-year dispute with Israel after the Freedom Flotilla incident, and being the only predominantly Muslim NATO member state, made the country a target of the anti-Muslim right some time ago, as well as a means by which to criticize the Obama administration. “How is this any different than Islamic law in, say, Turkey (Obama’s favorite and most trusted ally)?” Pamela Geller said on Atlas Shrugs last Friday.

As the protests continue, we can expect even more derision of Islam from these vitriol-laden corners of the Internet. There are plenty of reasons to support the protests in Turkey without the influence of right-wing opportunists hoping to use the protests to justify their fear-mongering in the United States.

As USA Today reports, the causes and beliefs that are bringing Turks into the streets are far more nuanced than agents of prejudice like Spencer would have you believe:

“Aysegul Atesdagli, 25, a master’s degree student at Istanbul University, had been at Taksim two nights before and couldn’t go to work Saturday because she was sickened by the tear gas. “Right now, there’s no right wing or left wing in Turkey, no religious or non-religious,” she said. “I have seen some (religious) women in (head scarves) in the protests. It’s beyond any ideology right now.”

If you stand in solidarity with those in Taksim Square, respect the agency of the people there. Resist those who hope to hijack their cause to promote an agenda against Muslims, in the United States and everywhere.

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