By ORHAN KEMAL CENGİZ (Cihan/Today's Zaman), Turkey
For the first time we have witnessed protests against New Year celebrations in the streets (of Turkey). Before, some Islamist media would denounce the celebrations as non-Turkish and un-Islamic, but I do not remember people protesting in the streets.
Everything began when posters depicting a devout-looking Muslim man punching Santa Claus were hung up in different parts of İstanbul. “No to New Year's and Christmas celebrations” was written on the posters. The campaign was conducted by the Anatolian Youth Association, a youth branch of the Islamist Felicity Party (SP).
The Santa-punching posters were followed by a Dec. 26 demonstration at İstanbul's Beyazıt Square, which raised further alarm. Members of the same association performed a “circumcision” on an inflatable Santa Claus and then stabbed the doll, while shouting chants against New Year and Christmas celebrations.
Interviews with Turkish Christians, published after the incident in the bilingual Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos, illustrate the serious worries sparked by the demonstrations.
Bishop Sahag Mashalyan, for instance, voiced fears that the stabbing of dolls could turn into real attacks. “A handful of Christians are left in this country, and such incidents naturally cause fear. The demonstrations are worrisome. The people who stage them today may attack a person clad in a Santa Claus costume tomorrow. It's like a rehearsal,” he said. “Many people dress in Santa Claus costumes at shopping malls and amusement centers. Some deranged types or fanatics may attack them. The savage murders of missionaries took place in the wake of similar hate campaigns.”
Kirkor Agabaloğlu, pastor of the Gedikpaşa Armenian Protestant Church, suggested that Christianity as a whole was the target: “They circumcise and stab Santa Claus. Who do they have in mind when they stab Santa? That's the first question to be asked. What we celebrate as the Christmas holiday is the birth of Jesus Christ. If they have Jesus in mind when they stab the Santa effigy, that's truly thought-provoking.”
And this is how İhsan Özbek, a Protestant, described the demonstration's impact on him: “To see people circumcise and stab an inflatable Santa Claus doll in 21st-century Turkey out of enmity for Christianity is terrible and horrifying. I hope their future demonstrations will be carried out with higher morals.”
Given the history of Turkey, considering all the attacks against non-Muslims in Turkey and the fact that most of these attacks followed hate speech targeting non-Muslims, I do not think any of the people I quoted above are exaggerating the situation associated with this weird event of a circumcision of Santa Claus.
While many in Turkey are put on trial for “insulting religious feelings” after allegedly ridiculing Muslim values, no judicial action is being taken against acts of open incitement against Christians, and a blind eye is being turned to hate speech targeting Christians.
Once again, Turkey fails to understand that hate speech is forbidden in order to protect especially those who are vulnerable. We should not forget that Father Santoro, Hrant Dink and three missionary Christians in Malatya were all killed following the free flow of hate speech targeting them. We have apparently not learned any lessons from the past!