I have noticed Turkey's mosques become fuller and a more confident Islamic identity emerge since I started visiting the country in 2000. This transition has dismayed Turkey's hardcore secularists. The recent protests are a result of this deeper tension between a center-right Muslim democrat -- Prime Minister Erdogan -- and a secular, divided left-wing opposition that cannot win at the ballot box.
Tear gassing environmental activists does not ordinarily trigger national protests. But the combination of recent restrictions on alcohol sales, debates about dress codes and restrictions on free speech, with the government's unabashed capitalism -- not to mention opposition leaders comparing Erdogan to Syria's Assad -- makes for a pretty strong recipe for rioting. And yes, the police response could have been different.
All that said, these are Turkish domestic political challenges. It is for Turks to steer those debates, not the United States government.