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Turkey wrestles with Islam's place

Turkey's prime minister must build trust in issues of mosque and state.

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Imagine trying to ban a fairly elected ruling party, which won in a landslide only last year. Ludicrous. Yet such an attempt is now before Turkey's highest court on the grounds that secular government should not push Islam on society.

It is not out of the realm of possibility that the court will decide to hear this case, which was brought March 14 by Turkey's chief prosecutor. And if it does, it may favor the prosecutor, who charges the Islamic Party of Justice, or AKP, with subverting the country's secular Constitution. Since the 1970s, the court has shuttered four pro-Islamic parties.

The separation of mosque and state is an existential issue for this NATO member that bridges Europe and the Middle East. Although a mostly Muslim country, modern Turkey is built on the secularist model of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who introduced the Roman alphabet and women's suffrage after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I.

Turkey stands as proof that democracy and Islam can coexist, and do so in a vibrant economy. Were that not of note in the region, Iran's theocracy would not have tried to stem a flood of Iranian visitors to Turkey by limiting Turkish tourism advertising last year.

But the indictment accuses the ruling party of "taking gradual steps" toward a society that "takes religion as its reference."


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