Two days before Christmas, the UK network Sky News reported, the Islamic State released a video in Turkey purporting to show two Turkish soldiers captured in Syria being burned alive. A statement that accompanied the video release said the radical Islamist group warned foreigners in Istanbul to leave the country because further terror attacks would follow.
True enough, shortly after clocks chimed the midnight hour, marking the arrival of a New Year, a gunman barged into the packed Reina Club, said to be a popular venue for revelers in Istanbul, and opened fire. The assailant wielding a long firearm killed 39 club-goers and wounded 69 more before fleeing the scene.
Of those killed, 25 were reportedly foreigners, including an Israeli teenager, three Indians, three Lebanese, a woman with dual French-Tunisian citizenship and her Tunisian husband, three Jordanians, a Belgian, a Kuwaiti and a Canadian. Philippine authorities have already said that no Filipino was among the casualties.
Terrorist attacks have been on the rise in Turkey, which plays an important role in the campaign against the IS incursion in neighboring Iraq and provides sanctuary to hundreds of Syrian refugees. Reports say Turkish police are investigating whether the lone gunman, dressed in an all-white outfit that resembled a hazmat suit, was part of the same terror cell that carried out a deadly suicide bomb-and-gun attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport last June.
The IS has claimed responsibility for the nightclub attack, clearly part of a campaign of terror escalation that could possibly be aimed at holding Turkey hostage and too preoccupied to take an active role in liberating Iraq from the Islamist rampage.
Turkey, but especially Istanbul, is recognized for its secularism even as critics claim a growing wave of conservatism, encouraged by embattled President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has taken over the country.
Reina Club stands on the banks of the Bosphorus, the waterway that divides Istanbul between an Asian and European portion, a popular locale not just for clubs and entertainment places but also for restaurants, parks and posh homes. On a trip to Istanbul a few years back, our group of Filipino journalists was at a port on one side of the Bosphorus waiting to board a ferry to cross to a restaurant on the other bank. We watched fascinated as a group of wedding guests boarded ahead of us, all of them dressed in their finest evening wear including sexy, backless outfits. Indeed,
Istanbul is not just a fine example of a secularist society but also a most sophisticated, cosmopolitan city, combining the trappings of Western allure with a solid footing in Islamic culture.
I had thought this mingling of a populace equally comfortable in the latest in Western wear as well as with Islamic robes and veils was a testament to the possibilities of tolerance and openness. But these seemed to be values meaningless, if not indeed offensive, to the murderous militants of the Islamic State. I can only pray their agenda doesn’t succeed despite the steady march toward conservatism in Turkey, which stands on the crossroads of history and traditions of both the East and the West.
Clearly, intimidating the people of Turkey so that they raise an outcry against the government’s alliance with anti-IS forces is the point of this campaign of terror. A cowed populace is a populace without voice and direction, terrorized into silence and acceptance of abuse.
Maybe this, too, is the point of the relentless extrajudicial killings in our own isles and cities: to keep us scared and silent, as well as tolerant of the increasingly abusive shootings and operations being carried out even on sacred occasions and in hallowed spaces.
They say that crabs in a pot of water that is slowly brought to a boil get so used to the increasing heat that they’re no longer aware that they’re being boiled to death. Is this the scenario we now face? If so, then we must raise our voices and make our sentiments known, if only to say we will not be lulled to accept even the most egregious of abuses.
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