Not for 15 years had Turkey, an officially secular state but predominantly Muslim, experienced such a violent upheaval as a result of fundamentalist Muslim activism. In December, 1978, in the southeastern Turkish city of Kahramanmaras, 117 people died in sectarian clashes. Then, late last week, a crowd of fundamentalists rampaged through the central Turkish city of Sivas to protest the presence of a prominent critic, writer Aziz Nesin, at a cultural festival, and set fire to a hotel where he and other festival participants were staying. The official toll at week’s
end: 35 people killed and about 60 injured in the blaze.
The violence in Sivas broke out as the fundamentalists, angered over a Nesin speech published in local newspapers, began demonstrating and then attacked the hotel. Nesin had earlier aroused the ire of strict Muslims by publishing translated excerpts from Indian-born Salman Rushdie’s 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses, which prompted the then-fundamentalist Muslim leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, to proclaim a death sentence against the author. The book is banned in Turkey.
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