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How Istanbul nightclub attack was linked to Turkey’s culture war

Did the Islamic State target “the apostate Turkish government” or New Year's Eve? The answer is complex.
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On New Year’s Eve, many Turks, including myself, were hoping to begin a less bloody and less depressing year than 2016. It took only one hour and 15 minutes, however, for 2017 to present its first carnage. A lone gunman, later identified as a militant of the Islamic State (IS), entered Reina, one of Istanbul’s top nightclubs, and killed 39 people who were celebrating the New Year. He also triggered a deep fault line in Turkish society between the more secular, Westernized Turks, and more traditional Islamic ones.

What related the attack to Turkey’s culture war was the campaign against Christmas and New Year's Eve, which are often confused and conflated by Islamists. As in previous years, some Islamist groups came out with the slogan “Muslims do not celebrate Christmas!” An ugly poster showing an Islamist punching Santa Claus showed up in the streets, and a group of ultranationalists staged a scary protest where they pointed guns to the head of Santa Claus. Besides these extreme voices, the official Directorate of Religious Affairs released an intolerant statement defining New Year's Eve celebrations as a tradition of other worlds, other cultures and even as "illicit.”

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