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    Sunday, November 19, 2006

    Turk land

    Although modest, sales of a Turkish novel subtitled Who Will Kill the Pope in Istanbul? (the book fingers everyone but Islamists) have increased as his trip approaches. The country is expected to place about 22,000 policemen on the streets of Istanbul while he is there. "This is a very high-risk visit," says Cengiz Aktar, a Turkish political scientist. "There is a vocal nationalist movement here, and there is the Pope, a man who likes to play with fire."


    If the test of a new act is to see how well it plays in a tough room, Benedict has certainly booked himself into a doozy. In the racial memory of Western Europe, the Turks were the face of militant Islam, besieging Vienna in 1529 and 1683 and for centuries thereafter representing a kind of stock bogeyman. In 2002, after nearly a century of determinedly secularist rule, the country elected a moderate Islamist party. For many in the West, that makes Turkey simultaneously a symbol of hope (of moderation) and fear (of Islamism). The Pope's original invitation came in 2005, from the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church, which represents a nervous 0.01% of the country's population. The Turkish government, miffed that as a Cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger had opposed Turkey's urgent bid to join the European Union, finally issued its own belated offer for 2006. But even now, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has discovered a previous engagement that will take him out of the country while Benedict is in it.

    If he does get killed in Turkey, let us decide now to remain calm. It is
    his life, and he knows what he is doing.

    Something tells me he is in his own way walking up to calvery.


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