Usually moments of silence are solemn and dignified events that can help heal wounds left in the aftermath of tragedies. Two such occasions this week however show how they can leave troubled feelings in their wake. The first blown event was G-20 Moment of Silence for the victims in Paris. The problem is that it turned out to be a G-19 Moment of Silence because President Obama walked in late. While one would hope that this deeply symbolic moment would be sufficiently important to get the President there on time, problems can occur. Yet, this President has been criticized for years for being consistently late to events, which shows a lack of respect as well as organization. This is one of the worst such failures in a long line of delayed arrivals. The second incident was far more disturbing in Turkey.
Before the soccer game between Turkey and Greece, the officials called for a moment of silence for the Paris victims. The response from Turkish fans was to start yelling “Allahu Akbar” in Istanbul and booing the expression of sympathy for the hundreds of dead and wounded victims of the attack by Muslim extremists.
The scene at the Basaksehir Fatih Terim Stadium in Istanbul was deeply disturbing and Turkey manager Fatih Terim was quoted as saying: “Our fans should have behaved during the one minute silence.” That is an understatement.
I understand that, like American football games, fans at soccer games are not necessarily the best behaved crowd. However, this raises more obvious concerns for many who have watched changes in Turkey under the current government. The attacks have been widely condemned by Islamic scholars and groups — making this response even more disconcerting.
It is deeply concerning that, even with a disgusting massacre of innocent people like the one in Paris, many fans would still see their allegiance with the murderers due to religion. It also deepens the concern of the impact of the disastrous tenure of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has fueled the rise of Islamic parties in that country. We have been following the gradual erosion of Turkey as a symbol of secularism in the Islamic world under Erdogan. Erdogan was elected by Muslim parties and has steadily broken down secular traditions and introduced more and more Islamic influences in government.
I often write about my great love for Turkey and Istanbul, a city that defies description for its beauty and history. I have been fortunate to visit Turkey and I have met many Muslim civil libertarians and secularists who have bravely resisted the encroachment of religion into their government. Erdogan has destroyed the one major Muslim country that showed that it was possible to have separation of mosque and state in a Muslim nation. The result seems to be a rise in extremists like those seen at the game. We have seen the same trend in countries like Pakistan where the government seeks to encourage but control religious parties despite rising extremist elements.
Unfortunately, this moment of silence spoke loudly about the direction of Turkey under Erdogan.