Chanting Islamist slogans and brandishing banners against Western intervention in the Middle East, thousands of people rallied here Sunday to denounce the visit to Turkey by Pope Benedict XVI, which starts on Tuesday.
The demonstration, organized by the Islamist Felicity Party (SP) and entitled "The pope is not welcome", attracted about 15,000 people, far below the 300,000 to one million that activists had predicted.
Hundreds of security forces, including riot police, were on watch at the Caglayan square in central Istanbul.
The mix of religious and political slogans the protestors shouted reflected widespread suspicions among nationalists and Islamists here that the landmark four-day visit is part of Western designs to subdue the Muslim world, rather than an effort to reconcile religions.
The rally highlighted another sensitivity the pope's program has touched here -- his planned visit to Hagia Sophia, a sixth century Byzantine church which was converted to a mosque in 1453 when the Ottomans conquered Istanbul, then called Constantinople. It was transformed into a museum in 1935.
"Break the chains, open Hagia Sophia," the protestors chanted, echoing Islamist desire for the edifice to be re-opened as a mosque.
Opponents believe the pope's planned visit to the building, one of Istanbul's architectural landmarks and a major tourist attraction, is an indication of Christian ambitions to reclaim it as a church.
On Wednesday, police detained 39 nationalist Islamist militants at a wildcat demonstration at Hagia Sophia after they held evening prayers inside the building in defiance of its status as a museum.
The Turks remain an intractable, insoluble problem for the West; little wonder that the European Union is throwing up every roadblock it can to Turkey's entry. Beneath the veneer of Kemalist secular modernism lies the old Ottoman attitude of conquest and subjection of the dhimmi.
If and when Turkey turns officially Islamist, the West will be that much less safer.
Source: Ottawa Citizen