Secular group files complaint against Turkey’s top imam for targeting New Year’s celebrations

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Head of the Religious Affairs Directorate Mehmet Gormez (L) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attend the opening ceremony of 9th Eurasian Islamic Council in Istanbul on October 11, 2016. / AFP PHOTO

A group of civil society representatives organized under the name the Union for the Call to Secularism on Monday filed a criminal complaint against Mehmet Görmez, president of the Directorate of Religious Affairs (DİB), for issuing a sermon to be given in mosques across Turkey against New Year’s celebrations.

The group, which submitted the complaint to the Ankara Public Prosecutor’s Office, argued that the religious institution violated the constitution and caused the emergence of a threat to public security, in reference to the deadly nightclub attack in İstanbul during New Year’s celebrations.

The group said that by means of a Friday sermon that criticized New Year’s festivities as belonging to other cultures, Turkey’s imam and the institution he leads targeted people celebrating the coming of the new year.

After an attack on the Reina nightclub during New Year’s celebrations early on Sunday that killed at least 39 and wounded 69, a campaign against New Year’s festivities among pro-government circles has been under heavy criticism in Turkey as the possible trigger for the terrorist attack.

Prior to the end of the year, a municipality in İstanbul hung a banner targeting Santa Claus and New Year’s celebrations; pro-government media ran stories against festivities often mixing them up with Christmas; and Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (DİB) issued a Friday sermon to be preached in all mosques in Turkey on Dec. 30 declaring such celebrations “illegitimate” since such festivities belong to “other cultures.”

Staunchly pro-government papers published cartoons and headlines that criticized Santa Claus and New Year’s celebrations.

After the attack perpetrated by a gunman reportedly dressed as Santa Claus, renowned author Elif Şafak condemned the massacre and the “fanatics who have been spreading hate speech against New Year celebrations” on her Twitter account.

Several Twitter users also directed attention to messages in pro-government media disseminating hatred against those who celebrate the coming of the new year.

Political scientist Umut Özkırımlı shared a Twitter message from pro-government Yeni Şafak reporter Yılmaz Bilgen, who targeted Christmas celebrations. In Turkey, many often confuse Christmas with New Year’s celebrations and perceive the latter as a ritual belonging to Christianity.

A few days before New Year’s Eve, a banner believed to have been hung on a street in İstanbul’s İkitelli district that shows a man with a Muslim cap and beard punching Santa and suggesting Muslims not take part in Christmas and New Year’s celebrations had drawn ire among Twitter users.

A Twitter account under the pseudonym of TurkeyUntold said: “[Turkish President] Erdoğan’s policy of intolerance in one banner that has been seen in İstanbul: We are Muslims. No to Christmas & New Year’s Eve celebrations.”

Following the nightclub attack that killed at least 39 including 24 foreign nationals, DİB President Görmez condemned the attack, saying that there is no difference between targeting an entertainment venue or a temple and that no terrorist attack is acceptable.

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