740.00119 European War 1939/285

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs (Murray)

During a call from the Turkish Ambassador this morning I discussed with him further, in confidence, the suggestion that an emissary might be sent to confer with Mohammedan leaders in Turkey and in other Islamic countries in the cause of world peace.

The Ambassador referred to the discussion which had taken place on this subject on April 5 in Mr. Berle’s office, and said that he had given considerable thought to the matter since that time. He said he trusted that he had made himself clear on the above-mentioned occasion that, in view of the entire absence of any clergy in Islam, there is in fact no spiritual head of the Mohammedan religion in Turkey. He referred again to the Turkish official attached to the Prime Ministry and bearing the title of Director of the Bureau of Religious Affairs, and left with me informally the attached statement16 regarding the functions of this official, but he emphasized at the same time that this official did not and could not exercise any religious leadership. From what the Ambassador had to say in this connection it would seem that the Director of the Bureau of Religious Affairs performs to some degree the functions of the former Sheikh Ul Islam, who was, of course, always a member of the Cabinet and played a considerable political role in the old Ottoman Empire. The Bureau of Religious Affairs, on the other hand, appears to have been set up for the purpose of eliminating religion altogether from politics in Turkey and in order to exercise a very careful censorship and control over any sermons or statements that might be made in the mosques. The Ambassador made it clear that the Director of this Bureau would not be in a position to deal independently with any foreign representative.

Turning then to the larger question at issue, the Ambassador said he felt certain that, while President Inönü, who had great admiration and high regard for President Roosevelt, would of course be disposed to give sympathetic consideration to any suggestion that the President might make, the Ambassador nevertheless felt certain that President Inönü would feel embarrassed if the present suggestion was put to him personally by President Roosevelt. In this connection the Ambassador told me in strict confidence that a leading peace organization in the United States had recently made an almost identical proposal in a letter addressed personally to President Inönü, who, in view of the delicacy of the matter, had decided that it would be inadvisable to make any reply whatever, even an acknowledgment.

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The Ambassador then pointed out that in view of the fact that most of the Mohammedan world was pro-Ally in its sentiments and felt that its best interests would be served by an Allied victory, it might be a delicate matter, particularly in Turkey, to endeavor to bring about a discussion in religious circles of ways and means to accomplish world peace. In the first place religious circles in Turkey would consider that any such discussion could only be carried on by the Government itself, and the Government, on the other hand, having carefully excluded religious leaders from any participation in political affairs, would be most reluctant to permit any exception in the present instance. The Ambassador mentioned also a further point which he thought important, namely, that since Turkey might be drawn into the war despite all efforts to remain at peace, the Government would probably not welcome any undue emphasis on the desirability of peace in times like these.

In conclusion the Ambassador stated that in view of the confidential character of this whole matter he was refraining from reporting it to his Government pending further possible developments.

  1. Not printed.