Ataturk shows Muslims can accept Western values

Opinion section
Valley News - Opinion

Let me explain something to the Muslim politicians who believe that their practice of Islam includes erasing American values.

After Turkey was on the losing side of World War I, the position of sultan was abolished, Turkey became a republic and Kemal Ataturk became the first president of Turkey. As the president whose duties included foreign relations, Ataturk was familiar with Turkey’s neighbors. Turkey shares borders with European nations, and Turkey also shares borders with the Middle East.

Ataturk felt that Turkey would be better off taking after Europe rather than taking after the Middle East. He maintained the Turkish language but replaced the Arabic alphabet with the Latin alphabet. He also converted Turkey’s calendar from the Islamic system to the European calendar and changed the focus of the weekend from the Islamic Sabbath to the Christian Sabbath. Although he adopted Western culture and values that did not preclude citizens’ practice of Islam, Ataturk showed that Islamic and Western culture and values are not incompatible.

Turkey and Germany were allies during World War I, and since Ataturk was a World War I veteran, he was aware of that fact. The defeat of Turkey in World War I led to England taking over lands which had previously been under the control of the Ottoman Empire, so England was not Ataturk’s favorite European nation. There was speculation that Ataturk would side with Germany during World War II. That issue became moot when Ataturk died in 1938. Had Turkey become part of the Axis Powers during World War II, the nation would have fought against America, but since Turkey would have been on the same side as Germany and Italy such a scenario wouldn’t have made Turkey anti-Western.

Ataturk’s political party remained in power after his death, and eventually Celal Bayar became Turkey’s first president from another party. In 1960, Bayar was removed from office by a military coup.

The reason America has not experienced a military coup as has been the case with many other republics throughout the world is that the U.S. has an armed populace which would not tolerate the replacement of a legitimately elected government. Americans have not used the Second Amendment against a tyrant since Huey Long was shot in 1935, but the Second Amendment protects against tyranny not only in the case of an elected official who becomes corrupt but also in the scenario of an elected leader overthrown by a holdover military. We are not afraid of the president of the United States becoming the next King George III; we are afraid of the president becoming the next Celal Bayar. Any claims that Islam is not compatible with American values and culture will be countered by the example of Kemal Ataturk, and if Ataturk is invoked, Celal Bayar will also be noted as an example of what would happen if the American tradition of an armed citizenry is reversed.

Muslims are welcome to practice their religion in the United States, but in doing so they should respect American values. Kemal Ataturk proved that Western values and culture need not be at the expense of Islam. America’s Muslims do not need to give up their religion, but they should use Kemal Ataturk as an example of not letting Islam interfere with Western traditions.

Joe Naiman can be reached by email at