Here’s a really good story — so there

2622160 550x550 mb art R0Whenever your GetReligionistas get together — face to face, as opposed to cyberspace — one of the things we bemoan is that our readers — that would be you guys — really don’t seem to respond much whenever we go out of our way to praises stories in the mainstream press.

You can add to that the fact that readers — that might be you — seem to much more interested in domestic issues than foreign issues (which is normal for American readers, alas).

Thus, if one of us wants to make sure that a post is totally ignored by readers — that might be you — then all one has to do is write a post praising a story about religion coverage in some other part of the world. Got that?

But I don’t care.

This Washington Post story by Ellen Knickmeyer ran back on A-14 and I didn’t see it until I was headed home on the train at the end of a long day. But the minute I saw it, I said to myself, “Duh! Now there is a great hook for a story!” I realize that I am really interested in stories about Turkey, after my second trip there last summer, but this is a really important story linked to modernity and Islamic faith.

It focuses, of course, on head scarves (yet again).

But the story has a strategic twist this time, a kind of “Wag the Dog” angle. The key question: Why did Turkish troops cross into Iraq the other day?

Did the Islamic-oriented government, some Turks ask, use the start of the largest offensive into northern Iraq in more than a decade to divert attention from its controversial decision to legalize head scarves in universities?

“There’s an obvious connection,” said retired Gen. Haldun Solmazturk, an administrator at Ahmet Yesevi University in Ankara, the capital.

In founding modern Turkey in the 1920s, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk encouraged Western attire and restricted religious dress in public as principles of the republic. Turkey’s military, which has long viewed itself as the enforcer of Ataturk’s secular vision, was angered by recent legislation aimed at lifting the long-standing head scarf ban at public colleges. But the religiously observant president, Abdullah Gul, signed the amendments into law late last Friday, the first full day of the military’s strike into northern Iraq.

At the time, “the attention of the Turkish public was firmly focused on the operation,” Solmazturk said. For the observant Muslims who lead Turkey’s government, “it was a very clear and very successful strategy.”

TurkeyScarvesIIDoes the story prove that this is what happened? I don’t know how it could do that, other than getting a BCC of a secret Turkish government email confessing all.

But there are suspicions in Turkey and they have, of course, shown up in the national media.

On the front pages and in opinion columns of Turkish newspapers this week, the two battles were linked.

A cartoon in the national daily Milliyet depicted Gul rallying ground troops rushing into northern Iraq. “Onward!” he shouts, thrusting an arm into the air. Another panel of the cartoon showed the president rallying legions of female Islamic activists in head scarves to storm Turkey’s universities. “Onward!” he shouts again.

Read it all.

It’s really hard for us, here in America, to understand just how emotional this issue is in Turkey. You risk a war in order to distract attention from head coverings? In Turkey, maybe.

By the way, for more info on the scarves offensive, check out this Reuters blog item with lots of links.

Feel free to leave a comment on this. I dare you.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Jerry

    The Reuters blog item is one I had suggested because it as well as the main story shows how something can be so symbolic and such a big deal to another culture and how big an issue this is from many perspectives. Just one:

    It started as a women’s protest for the right to wear Muslim headscarves at university… Then the men showed up with their banners and megaphones, lined up in front of the cameras and began speaking in place of the women…

  • tmatt

    And, thus, semi-threatening the women who do not wear them?

    Thus, the cycle begins. Will the army act? Again.

  • Undergroundpewster

    This does sound like a wag the dog tail tale. Perhaps Turkish politicians have been watching too many western movies, or maybe they have been studying American politics.

  • keith

    Feel free to leave a comment on this. I dare you.

    The scarf in the second photo is pretty. I like the bright colors.

  • tmatt


    Thanks! Any other opinions about the pretty scarves?

  • Kevin P. Edgecomb

    If women will be permitted to wear scarves to university, will Christian and other clerics be permitted to wear clerical attire in public?

    Don’t hold you breath….

  • Joe Miller

    I wish I had more time to read and respond to your story, but I am far too busy reading stories that criticize the press here in America.

  • tmatt


    And your point?

  • Herb Brasher

    This whole issue should be seen in the context of this article about a “modern translation/application” of the Hadith that is being worked on in Turkey. Whither Islam? It will be interesting to see, and if the press will be able to understand the general direction.

  • Pingback: Going To War - Over Head Scarves? « In Other Words

  • Stephen A.

    I think Joe and Keith were being snarky, Terry. I think it’s funny that you took the sarcasm so seriously.

    I don’t know why this is so unbelievable (if one thinks it is.) Bill Clinton bombed an asprin factory in Sudan just to distract us from the Lewinsky scandal. Why not this?

    It also may be a coincidence. The PKK surely didn’t wait until this issue was about to come up to increase their cross-border attacks inside Turkey, after all.

    Has any reporting gone on about how this latest act in the Muslimisation of Turkey will affect its standing in the EU? (note the Euro spelling. See, I’m an internationalist, not just a couch-hugging Yank!)

  • tmatt

    Oh, I was joking back with Keith. Joe sounded serious.

    Joe, and your point?

  • John L. Hoh, Jr.

    You know, head scarves can be quite stylish!

    Watched Penelope with Christine Ricci. Now there was a lady who could have worn a burka!

    It’s really hard for us, here in America, to understand just how emotional this issue is in Turkey. You risk a war in order to distract attention from head coverings? In Turkey, maybe.

    Hmmm, ONLY in Turkey? Does William Jefferson Clinton, Monica Lewinsky, and the bombing of a Sudanese aspirin factory (or a poor farmer’s mule) ring a bell?

    Has anyone ever done a historical treatment of Turkey? I’m guessing the formation of a secular state may not have been all to smooth. Or was Ataturk one who used despotic means to force a democratic system?

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  • bethany

    I don’t comment on this blog much ever, but I *really* don’t comment on the non-US stories, not because they aren’t good, but because it’s not my area of knowledge. I don’t have anything useful to add, usually.
    However, Kevin should be careful about his accusations. For one thing, clerical collar wearing isn’t a symbol of piety, it’s a marker of status. Taking off your collar isn’t a compromise, it’s a choice. For another, how do you know those things are disallowed now?

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  • Dennis Colby

    In my experience as a journalist, the lack of comments on positive stories parallels the lack of comments on stories that readers like. How rarely do journalists get notes or phone calls saying “good job”?

  • Julia

    FWIW Two comments on good journalism:

    1) I checked out The Turkish Daily News reporter named Mustafa Akyol, “a young Istanbul journalist with a knack for explaining Turkish Islam clearly” mentioned above at #14 and #16. He is truly outstanding. His articles are collected at a blog The White Path where you can check out what he has to report about various happenings and issues in Turkey. I learned a lot. Here’s his article on the 84 Islamic scholars who are re-evaluating the Hadiths with a great explanation of the background history.

    2) I sent the recent GR positive review of an article in the Memphis Commercial Appeal to my brother who is also a reporter at the paper. He intended to call it to the attention of the writer. My bro says reporters are rarely complimented on their stories and he’s sure the guy will appreciate knowing some peers thought he did good.