In Turkey, Obama Pleases Both Secular and Religious
By Liz Heron and Utku Cakirozer
President Barack Obama used his visit to Turkey to reach out to the Islamic world, reassuring Muslims that the U.S. is not at war with Islam. But Turkey is a country being pulled in two directions, where a powerful old guard that wants it to be a model of secular democracy bitterly is struggling for dominance with a new political elite that embraces the Muslim faith. A scan of the major Turkish newspapers suggests that Obama was able to please both factions, and improve Turks' opinion of the United States overall.
The top story in Milliyet, a pro-Western newspaper, underlined Obama's statements at the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, an army general credited with founding modern, secular Turkey in the 1920s: "I will support Ataturk's modern and democratic Turkey vision."
Milliyet columnist Fikret Bila thinks Obama is moving away from the United States' tendency to see Turkey as a model for moderate Islam. "Obama's stress on Ataturk's legacy of a democratic, secular and powerful Turkey is important evidence that the discourse of moderate Islam has been left behind in the relationship," between the U.S. and Turkey, Bila writes.
In contrast,Islamist newspaper Yeni Safak quotes Obama saying, "I have Muslims in my family" in their top front page headline, and highlights his promise that he will not make war with the Muslim world.
Yeni Safak's prominent columnist Fehmi Koru referred to him proudly as "Barack Hussein Obama," and says the new U.S. president's attitude toward Muslims "seems to give the whole world the opportunity to take a deep breath."
Though the press may not agree on Obama's main message, all say that his presence is going a long way toward improving the average Turk's opinion of America.
Popular Milliyet columnist, Can Dundar, says deep anti-American sentiments in Turkish society are on the wane. "The tide of sympathy toward Obama has shown that Turks don't hold grudges, and that these sentiments were not anti-American, they were anti-Bush."
And in Hurriyet, a mainstream newspaper that appeals to both pro-Western and religious readers, columnist Oktay Eksi thinks, "Obama was successful in maintaining what George W. Bush has destroyed." Noting Obama's pledge that the United States never has and will never make war with the Muslim world, Eksi says, "These words are a sign of the difference, like black and white, between [Obama] and George Bush, who always said 'You are either with us or against us'."
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