A Sacred Right To Celebrate? 7 Questions After Istanbul New Year’s Attack

Protestors took to the streets of Istanbul to rally against the referendum results on April 17.
Mourners after the attack at Istanbul's Reina nightclub.
Ahmet Hakan

ISTANBUL — The New Year's Eve terrorist attack at a popular nightclub in an upscale neighborhood of Istanbul has left 39 dead and dozens wounded. As Turkish authorities continue their search for the suspect, the terror group ISIS claimed responsibility Monday for the attack at the Reina nightclub, which some have noted came after loud public debates about the celebration of Western secular holidays. Here are seven questions and answers to better understand what happened, as well as the broader context in Turkey, and beyond.

1. What is the symbolic meaning of the nightclub Reina?

Reina may be out of fashion for the locals of Istanbul, but the club is quite well-known outside of Turkey, which is what would make it a target with immediate recognition and importance.

2. What was the ultimate goal of the Reina massacre?

Even if there may be dozens of explanations for what happened, the most basic objective is to provoke hostility among the people of Turkey, by dividing them into camps of those who celebrate the (Western) New Year and those who do not. In other words, no matter who is behind it, this was a way to simply plant the seeds of hate.

3. With all the warnings we've had, how could this massacre have happened?

After all the alarms and so much law enforcement and intelligence devoted to averting such attacks, there was exactly one single police officer outside of Reina.

4. Are we supposed to not discuss the failure of security this time around?

I guess we will have to skip it again: so many of us are just too busy banning discussion of another security failure to have time enough to figure out how not to cause the next security failure.

5. What if these Western holidays make you want to punch Santa Claus or put a gun to his head?

You may not want to celebrate the New Year. You even may have criticism towards those who do. But it is hate crime territory after you start to express yourself with guns and violence.

6. What can we learn from the message from the head of the Turkish Office of Religious Affairs?

The statement from Office of Religious Affairs President Mehmet Gormez after the massacre is very important. He said: "There is no difference between an inhuman attack on an entertainment venue or a marketplace or a sacred temple." If only he would have said this before the New Year celebration, and tell his imams at mosques to pass on the message stop with the language of hatred and violence towards those who celebrate the New Year.

7. Will those who praise terrorism on social media be prosecuted?

Let us see what will happen to those who say things like "it is a good thing that the infidels are dead" in this era of detaining everybody because they said this or that on the social media.

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Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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