Open and unafraid

JinAtOrdinationIn his first piece for The Atlantic, Adam Minter has written an in-depth and sympathetic profile of Aloysius Jin Luxian, bishop of Shanghai, who was approved by the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association but not appointed by the Vatican. Minter begins the piece with an extended description of Jin’s return, after years of imprisonment, to the cathedral where he had been ordained:

On a June day in 1982, Father Aloysius Jin Luxian, a 66-year-old Jesuit just released from prison, walked into Shanghai’s St. Ignatius Cathedral for the first time in 27 years. In his youth, the building had been one of the great churches in East Asia, celebrated for its delicate Gothic arches and colorful stained glass. Now the color was gone, replaced by clear glass and harsh sunlight that bleached the cracked columns and tiled floor. The steeples, once among the tallest in Shanghai, were missing, as was the altar beneath which he’d been ordained, in 1945. Jin had spent nearly three decades under house arrest, in reeducation camps, and in prison, so he had few illusions about the Chinese Communist Party’s attitude toward religion. But the damage to the church was still hard to bear. St. Ignatius, he learned, had been converted to a grain warehouse during the Cultural Revolution, and the authorities had spent three days burning most of the diocese’s Catholic books in front of the church.

Minter’s report describes the difficult choices Jin had to make in the years since his return to that cathedral, especially in striving for an enculturated Catholicism. Minter explains that struggle well in an interview with Abigail Cutler of The Atlantic Online:

I think you’d be hard pressed to find any Catholic in the world who would say they thought Mao was good for Chinese Catholicism. But on the other hand, the fact that China threw out the missionaries and allowed Chinese Catholics to assume authority over Chinese dioceses was very important and remains, to this day, a matter of pride for many Chinese. So when Jin talks about the identity crisis he felt in 1949 and in the decades that followed, he’s also talking about the tension he and his peers felt under European control — the idea that if you were a Catholic, you had to be part of the European colonial enterprise. Come 1949, I think many Chinese Catholics — especially those of Jin’s generation — desperately wanted a way to assert themselves.

Minter tells a complicated story that eventually includes the Vatican’s recognition of Jin as a bishop. The high quality of Minter’s coverage is perhaps best explained in how he answers when Cutler asks whether he has a particular interest in reporting on religion:

I find it to be an interesting topic. My specific interest in Catholicism in China comes from my seeing it as the perfect laboratory through which to examine how Chinese civilization interacts with Western civilization. I think there’s probably no institution that epitomizes the West more perfectly than the Catholic Church. Certainly, it’s the oldest Western institution. The role it’s played in China — as far back as the sixteenth century — and the role it continues to play today is just fascinating to me. In addition to that, I find religion interesting in its own right; I also like talking to religious people — especially religious leaders — because they tend to be thoughtful people.

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How big is CAIR?

CAIRAudrey Hudson’s very long story in Tuesday’s Washington Times takes the Council on American-Islamic Relations to task for its alleged falling membership. The civil liberties organization struck back in a strongly worded press release the same day that says the Times is a “right-wing” newspaper that publishes “agenda-driven reporting.”

For starters, it is pretty well established that the Times is a right-leaning newspaper. But that doesn’t mean everything it publishes is right-leaning or even falls into right-left categories. And what does the right-leaning reputation of the Times have to do with its reporting on an Islamic civil rights group’s membership levels? Is it conservative to investigate an Islamic organization or to dig into its background in the Muslim Brotherhood?

Here is the nut of the story, which is harsh:

Critics of the organization say they are not surprised that membership is sagging, and that a recent decision by the Justice Department to name CAIR as “unindicted co-conspirators” in a federal case against another foundation charged with providing funds to a terrorist group could discourage new members.

M. Zuhdi Jasser, director of American Islamic Forum for Democracy, says the sharp decline in membership calls into question whether the organization speaks for American Muslims, as the group has claimed.

“This is the untold story in the myth that CAIR represents the American Muslim population. They only represent their membership and donors,” Mr. Jasser said.

CAIR barred Hudson from a recent news conference “because of her history of sloppy and agenda-driven reporting. It is unfortunate that her apparent bias leads her to ‘cook’ CAIR’s membership figures and to tarnish the journalistic reputation of the Washington Times.”

As a journalist, I do not think there is ever a reason to bar anyone from a news conference as long as they are being civil. Disagreeing or disliking a publication’s coverage of your group is not a good excuse, and if the reporter’s stories have been sloppy, CAIR should highlight those errors and explain why Hudson should be taken off the beat. It has not done this.

But I also think it was wrong of the Times to exclude a statement from CAIR executive director Nihad Awad that was sent before the article was published. All voices should be heard. Hudson, unfortunately, has been made part of the story, and that needs to be reported.

Both sides are behaving badly in this case, but ultimately, after reviewing the article and the press release, I do not see CAIR challenging any of the facts presented in the story, just the context. CAIR claims that Hudson is comparing apples and oranges in her figures, but that doesn’t counter Hudson’s report that the group is funded primarily by about “two dozen donors a year” who “contribute the majority of the money for CAIR’s budget, which reached nearly $3 million last year.”

Another problem I have with CAIR’s response is that it indirectly compares Hudson’s reporting to McCarthyism without citing any specific evidence. The head of the group cites a recent front-page article in The New York Times that quoted government officials as saying CAIR’s critics engage in McCarthyism. They don’t come out and say it, but insinuate that critics of the organization “engage in McCarthyite tactics.” So any critic of this group or anyone who attempts to look into the background of a civil rights group is a McCarthyite? Please.

The Times will continue to bear the burden of being known as a conservative newspaper, but that does not mean its articles on CAIR are automatically off the mark. For example, check this story in Friday’s Times that gives a pretty straightforward account of a report from the group citing an increase in anti-Muslim bias, which CAIR says is at an all-time high.

I don’t see how this article could fall into CAIR’s description of the paper’s McCarthite tactics. Rather than making broad generalizations about the Times‘ coverage, CAIR should address the facts in the story.

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Gracia Burnham’s hands-free Vulcan mind meld

BurnhamsOne of the pleasures of contemporary journalism is that it brings together a writer and subject who at first seem an unlikely pair. In this case the pairing is of poet and journalist Eliza Griswold with Gracia Burnham, missionary to the Philippines and former captive of Abu Sayyaf rebels, whose husband was shot to death during a rescue that saved Gracia.

Griswold’s article for The New Republic is less of a surprise considering that she has written about war and terrorism for National Geographic, The Nation, The New York Times, Slate and Smithsonian.

Other than describing Gracia Burnham as a “48-year-old pixie with blonde highlights” who was “dreamily eating cereal in front of the early-morning news,” Griswold mostly stays out of the way and lets Burnham’s pathos-laden story speak for itself. Here’s a passage that touches on the indignities of being kidnapped and on Burnham’s efforts to live by Jesus’ teaching of “Love your enemies”:

Gracia attended a senior-citizen Bible study at the First Baptist Church in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, where she’d been invited to speak.

Fifteen frosted-haired ladies, some wearing sweaters decorated with hollyhocks, gasped as Gracia pulled a piece of stiff batik fabric from a Voice of the Martyrs white plastic shopping bag. Using her teeth, Gracia showed the class how she’d wrapped the fabric, called a malong, around her to make a changing room and a bathroom. The toilet was a theme of the weekend. “The first few times I made a mess of it and had to wait until I got to the next river to wash it,” she said.

“You’ve washed it since you’ve come out of the jungle,” one woman said firmly. Gracia shook her head. “If I did, it might fall apart.” There was another gasp.

She then showed the ladies how the fabric served as a blanket, a backpack, and even, on one occasion, a stretcher for a 14-year-old Abu Sayyaf member named Ahmed. At first, she had loathed Ahmed for hoarding food when she had none, throwing stones at her while she bathed — fully clothed — in the river, and pushing her along the trail saying “faster, faster.” As she and Martin slowly starved, Gracia prayed to find a way to love Ahmed.

One day, he was injured in a firefight and soiled himself. Gracia could see he was mortified. Thinking of her own son, Zach, who was about the same age, she took Ahmed’s clothes to the river to wash them. There, she was filled with love. The last time Gracia saw Ahmed, who had been carried wounded through the jungle in the malong, like a sling, he had gone stark raving mad and was tied by the hands and feet to the walls of a hut in the southern Philippines. Someone had stuffed a sock in his mouth to keep him from screaming. She wondered aloud to the Bible study class where Ahmed was now — still crazy, perhaps, or pushing another hostage up another steep mountain path. Or, most likely, he had died and gone to hell.

Two minor style matters: Few evangelical Christians would describe themselves as “deciding at an early age to become an evangelical Christian,” but simply deciding to give their hearts to Jesus or to become Christians. And I think it would be news to George W. Bush that Franklin Graham is his personal pastor.

Griswold does not follow through on two interesting threads in her narrative. First she mentions Mercy Grace, one of three Mennonite teenagers who have traveled from Kentucky to meet Burnham, whose story has inspired Mercy Grace to pursue a missionary calling. Mercy Grace provides two endearing remarks:

I asked Mercy Grace what she thought of dying for Christ and becoming a martyr. “It would be neat!” she said, grinning widely enough to show her braces. Her mother nudged her. She closed her mouth. “It would be a privilege,” she corrected herself.

Then she’s gone. We never see a description of her meeting her role model. Did she ask for an autograph? Kiss Burnham’s cheek? How did Burnham respond to her?

Just as baffling is this passage, which follows on Burnham’s description of her young tormentor, Ahmed:

After Gracia finished speaking, she and I went out into the church’s hallway. “You know I don’t only think that Abu Sayyaf is going to hell,” she said, fixing me with her fierce and loving dark blue eyes. I understood that she was talking about me. For Gracia, absolute salvation is just that: absolute.

After a narrative free of any conflict between Burnham and Griswold, suddenly this appears? Further, from being fixed by Burnham’s “fierce and loving dark blue eyes,” Griswold is able to discern what Burnham was thinking, and even gain absolute insight into her steel-trap absolutist worldview? I’ve been on the receiving end of glares and menacing looks over the years, but if someone I was interviewing suddenly alluded to where I was likely to spend eternity, I would consider a few follow-up questions in order.

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A bodyguard during the liturgy?

ayasofya sultanahmetHome again, home again.

I am back at my desk in Washington, D.C., but my mind is still in Istanbul (and, as you would expect, my confused body does not know exactly where it is).

Several of you have written to ask why I was over there in the first place. I was at an Oxford Centre for Religion & Public Life conference, “Fact vs. Rumor: Journalism in the 21st Century.”

I didn’t mention this in advance because of security concerns in that remarkable, yet tense, city and land. While the Oxford Centre website is very thin at this time, eventually the texts of all of the presentations will be online — including speeches by the likes of Zeyno Baran, Hasain Haqqani, Lamin Sasseh, Nevra Necipoglu, Jung Chang, Jon Halliday, George Gilder, Paul Marshall, Michael Gerson and others. Put any of those names in Google and you’ll find interesting material. There were also regional reports on press-freedom issues around the world, similar to the Oxford Centre seminar last summer in England.

The discussion sessions were all off the record, because there were journalists in the room from every imaginable media environment around the world. But it is safe to say that there were many large issues looming in the background of all our conversations, from the Armenian genocide to the war in Iraq, from the impact of the Web on newsrooms to global tensions over, yes, the mainstream media failing to “get religion.”

We also talked quite a bit about religious freedom, a subject that is often closely linked — think First Amendment, here — to freedom of the press.

While I was in Istanbul, the GetReligionistas received a reader email pointing us toward a post at Amy Welborn’s open book weblog titled “Where’s the coverage? / Of anti-Christian violence in Iraq?” This is a good question, and Welborn’s post includes links to some recent tragedies that demonstrate that there is more to the sectarian bloodshed in Iraq than clashes between Sunnis and Shiites. Yet, I also have to admit that my GetReligion Guilt file contains links to more than a few important stories about the impact of persecution on Christians in the Middle East. In fact, Google the words “Christians fleeing Iraq” and you will find quite a bit to read.

There is no question that this is a religion story. I mean, consider this recent example:

Pope Benedict XVI and President Mary McAleese yesterday led tributes to an Irish-trained priest who was shot dead in Iraq. Fr Ragheed Ganni, 35, was killed by unidentified gunmen as he returned from celebrating Mass in his native city of Mosul on Sunday.

… He and three deacons, one of whom was his cousin, were shot dead when the gunmen stopped their car on Sunday morning.

Fr Ganni, who was a frequent visitor to Ireland, was also an engineer and a member of the Chaldean Rite, Christianity’s most ancient branch. Pope Benedict XVI yesterday sent a blessing of consolation to the families of the dead men. He hoped their “costly sacrifice” would bring about peace and reconciliation in Iraq.

Clearly, Turkey is not Iraq — as Gerson noted in a Washington Post op-ed column written during our conference. Yet, as I found during my first Istanbul visit three years ago, there are plenty of reasons to be concerned — including shocking acts of terrorism. Gerson notes:

… (Even) in Turkey, religious liberty is the most disputed and troublesome of freedoms. The secular establishment, fearful of accumulated sectarian power, has traditionally denied minority religious groups the right to own property, to provide religious education beyond high school or to train their own clergy. As a result, the Armenian and Greek Orthodox churches are slowly being asphyxiated for lack of priests — and the government has sometimes hastened the process by expropriating church property without compensation. The nationalist yellow press whips up resentment against religious minorities by repeating popular conspiracy theories: that Christian missionaries run prostitution rings or bribe Muslims into converting.

… But even as the legal environment for religion improves in Turkey, rising Islamist influence has caused sudden storms of violence. Seven weeks ago, two Turkish Christian converts and a German citizen were ritually murdered in the southern city of Malatya by killers spouting nationalist and Islamist slogans. Pastors around the country have begun hiring professional security. The Armenian patriarch is followed by a bodyguard even during his procession to the altar — an unsettling liturgy of fear.

Try to picture that last scene in your mind. Now try to forget it. Good luck.

The irony, at this point, is that the Turkish media are finally beginning to cover these kinds of stories, in large part because the tensions between legal secularism and public faith have been raised by debates over Turkey entering the European Union.

I hope that American media continue to be interested in issues of human rights and religious liberty. If you see good, or bad, examples of coverage that you want us to know about, by all means send in the URLs for us to chase. I also hope that many of the journalists who gathered in Istanbul last week will help GetReligion deal with these issues as well. This is a life and death matter.

Photo: The “Blue Mosque” (left) and Hagia Sophia.

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Hollywood idealism, in brief

portada1 01Ah, Hollywood.

It is good when the rich, the powerful and the attractive decide to do some good in the world.

But there is a part of me that wants to ask a question. It is very, very good that the horrors of Darfur in the western Sudan are attracting so much attention. Any good that can be done there must be done.

However, I have to admit that, as I read this page one piece (“Hollywood Stars Find an Audience For Social Causes”) in The Washington Post, I could not help but ask a question or two or three. Where were all these people a decade ago, while thousands were being massacred in South Sudan? Was that even larger and more hellish confict not as worthy? Or was there something wrong with that political and social cause, some reason that it was harder to embrace?

What think ye, readers?

The late Abe Rosenthal of The New York Times certainly had an opinion or two on that matter.

However, I must say I was happy that reporter Nora Boustany did include one gentle stab when dealing with this issue. I daresay that we, as a culture, deserved it:

While commending celebrity activism, Payam Akhavan, a scholar on genocide at McGill University, said, “The fact that it takes movie stars to make people care about pressing human rights struggles reflects a self-absorbed culture where compassion and empathy is awakened through glamour rather than human conscience and duty.”

And all the people said, “Amen.”

Although, I must say, religious activists — left and right — have had a more consistent record as of late when it comes to pouring time, money, prayers and tears into these causes. But you knew I would say that, didn’t you?

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The elephant in the room in Istanbul

armenia 447 genocidememorial4There is no way to come to Turkey to talk about issues of journalism and religious freedom without realizing that, the whole time you are here, there is a very large elephant in the room, a subject that is hard to talk about openly.

This issue has a name — Hrant Dink.

Who was this man? Reporters Without Borders tells us this:

Turkey’s journalists are mourning the death of Hrant Dink, 52, a newspaper editor of Armenian origin who was gunned down on 19 January. The barbaric action of Ogun Samast, a 17-year-old Turkish ultra-nationalist, silenced an advocate of peace and democracy. Throughout his career, Dink fought passionately for acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide, and was awarded the Henri Nannen Press Freedom Prize in recognition of his efforts. His death has exacerbated the divisions between nationalists and the more progressive sectors of Turkish society. Tirelessly committed and always controversial, Dink never lost faith in the possibility of national reconciliation.

“I have the right to die in the country where I was born.”

I cannot begin to even hint at all the layers in this story. It is, of course, a story about religious freedom for a minority here in Turkey. It is, of course, a story about the freedom of the press. It is a story about the tensions here between a global tide of Islamist power and Turkey’s unique, fragile and flawed (ask the Armenians) concept of a “secular Muslim state.” It is a story about those who deny that the Armenian genocide took place.

But, more than anything else, the death of Dink is the headline on another story — the fact that there are still people, Muslims and Christians and Jews, who dream that they can all be Turks, that this can be one nation.

Who am I to try to talk about that?

So, as I pack up to leave the old city in Istanbul, let me point you to a remarkable column by Orhan Kemal Cengiz in the Turkish Daily News that ran with the headline “We Cannot Afford to Lose Our Armenians!”

You must read all of this column. But here is a long, long quote, one that is very hard to edit. You have to read it to believe it.

I would like to bring to your attention a new kind of threat especially directed towards Armenian schools, which evidently aims at scaring away Armenians from Turkey. I would like to quote from a recent threat letter received by Armenian schools.

The following text was on the first page of the message: “This was sent to all institutions concerned with the matter. This movement was started for the sake of Turkey’s future and its unity.”

The following pages featured a long text, entitled “The Last Warning and Ultimatum,” accusing Turkish Armenians of separatism and efforts to ruin the Turkish state.

The message also mentioned the murder of Hrant Dink: “… exclamations saying ‘We are all Armenians, we are all Hrant Dink’ are examples of extreme chauvinism and summons for revolution. Do not forget that besides the Armenian citizens of Turkey, there are also Armenians from Armenia in our land, and they number over one hundred thousand. Both their addresses and their workplaces are well known. Henceforth we hope to see our Armenian citizens as advocates of truth, concerning the Armenian genocide or any other matter, and as defenders of the Turkish statehood.

“We shall keep an eye on how the Armenians are playing this role. Otherwise, the Armenians shall be those to lie in the grave and count how many Armenians and how many Turks there were in the ‘ages long past’. This land has never pardoned treachery and shall not. Who does not stand for our paradise homeland is against us and shall be vanquished.”

The text ends with the following words: “There is no defense line. That line is the entire territory. Anything else is just a trifle when the fate of the homeland is concerned. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk … This is the last ultimatum. It is not to be repeated.”

… It is also quite thought provoking, isn’t it, that this racist letter threatens Armenians with a total extinction if they talk about the Armenian genocide — “Do not talk about genocide or you may be the victim of a new one!”

What can you say after that?

Photo: Rites at the Armenian genocide memorial.

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Canterbury’s Time diplomacy

ArchbishopWilliams2Time‘s profile of Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is a well-timed and mutually beneficial piece. Time has landed the in-depth “get” interview that religion writers will envy, especially since Williams withheld a few invitations to the Lambeth Conference. Williams has taken another opportunity to telegraph signals to his fellow Anglican bishops — especially those who would prefer that he take sides in the conflicts about homosexuality and church order.

Time reporters David Van Biema and Catherine Mayer efficiently describe how Williams’ past writings were in clear sympathy with Britain’s Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement and how he has “banked down” those convictions as he strives to keep all parties at the Anglican table.

Williams comes across as emboldened by his decision to withhold Lambeth Conference invitations from Bishop Gene Robinson of The Episcopal Church and Bishop Martyn Minns of Convocation of Anglicans in North America. Minns was consecrated by Nigeria’s Peter Akinola after being elected by that church’s bishops as a missionary bishop to the United States.

Time does a fine job of interpreting where those withheld invitations, which provoked much criticism from both the left and right, now leave Williams:

It was, of course, a gamble. Akinola threatened to pull his country’s 90-some bishops out of Lambeth. Robinson said he hoped that the U.S. church as a whole (with its 111 dioceses) would “respond” to his exclusion. But the act of self-assertion seems to have energized Williams. As his hearth logs crackled, it became clear that he saw himself, the U.S. Episcopalians and Akinola as facing the same broad challenge: in the absence of bright guidelines, to subsume their more extreme philosophical impulses to the preservation of Anglicanism’s unique assets. As for their real differences, Williams cited a theology he says springs from the Apostle Paul’s reference to the church as the “body of Christ”: God intends that people in one church “have something to learn even from the people we most dislike or instinctively mistrust. ‘Here they are. In an ideal world, no doubt I’d have chosen differently, but it wasn’t up to me.’”

In a sidebar Q&A, Williams says this about those bishops (left and right) who say they may not attend the Lambeth Conference because Williams withheld invitations from Robinson and Minns:

I don’t particularly want to be — I wouldn’t say blackmailed but pressured by either extreme on this. I think they’d lose by not coming. I think they need to talk to each other and listen to each other without prejudice.”

The report appears as the cover story for Time‘s European and South Pacific editions. In the U.S. edition it’s not mentioned on the cover, which is devoted to the immigration debate. (Time also offers a fuller audio version of Van Biema and Mayer’s interview with Williams at Lambeth Palace. It’s well worth a lesson for those who have not heard Williams’ Welsh baritone.)

Time notes wryly that Williams will spend the next three months “engaged in a little light recreation, working on a book about Fyodor Dostoevsky at Georgetown University in Washington.” He will meet with the bishops of The Episcopal Church in late September, as they provide a formal response to the primates of Anglicanism’s 38 provinces.

At the end of Time‘s main story, Williams sounds a note that isn’t heard much these days:

He is “hopeful,” he told Time, but not “absolutely confident” that the whole structure of Anglicanism can be kept together. And if it should fall apart around his shoulders, leaving him standing in the rubble of his calling? Would he be able to sustain the blow? “Well, yes,” Williams said, and then took a long pause. “Yes. Because I trust my God and I believe that whatever mistakes I make and whatever disasters may occur, there is always grace.”

Time has done an exceptional job of moving beyond the one-note samba of “Anglicans on brink of schism.” There’s a much more complex song to be heard, and the Archbishop of Canterbury is singing it.

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The view from behind the veil

turkey12 enlargeI spent most of today walking around in Istanbul, or riding a bus from one part of the city to another. It is impossible to do this without thinking about Islam, secularism, modernity and the paradoxes of this tense nation.

This leads, of course, to meditations on the meaning of the various forms of head coverings chosen, or rejected, by Muslim women.

There is no way around this. There is no way for a journalist to avoid this issue here.

Washington Post op-ed columnist Michael Gerson — yes, that Gerson — is attending the same conference here in Istanbul that I am and he used some gripping language on this subject in the piece that he filed from here a day or so ago. Check this out for a strong metaphor:

ISTANBUL – Here in Turkey, the matter of headgear is taken seriously. An edict in 1925 forbade the wearing of the fez, causing millions of Turkish men to don bowlers, which were seen as more Western and secular. In 1982, the government of Turkey banned the wearing of headscarves by women in university classrooms — a symbolic statement that Turkey would not be taking the route of the Iranian revolution across the border, which mandated the veil. But colorful headscarves are common on the streets here, worn in piety and protest. And the resulting headscarf debate is the Turkish equivalent of the American abortion controversy — heated, culturally defining, admitting no compromise.

I am not sure I would go quite that far. But it is certainly true that this topic seems to come up every time that you talk to a moderate Muslim in Istanbul, whether they live here or are just visiting. The topic is in the air and everyone knows that it is a symbolic issue that stands for larger questions looming in the background.

Secularists care about it. Devout Muslims care about it. Political “secularists” who are also devout Muslims care about it.

To step into this subject even deeper, check out an edgy first-person piece in the Los Angeles Times by reporter Megan K. Stack titled “In Saudi Arabia, a view from behind the veil.” Here is the we-warned-you subtitle: “As a woman in the male-dominated kingdom, Times reporter Megan Stack quietly fumed beneath her abaya. Even beyond its borders, her experience taints her perception of the sexes.” So there.

Obviously, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is not Istanbul, Turkey.

VeilsMcDonaldsStill there are sections of this story that show — from behind this Western set of eyes — why this is such a hot-button subject. Here, she talks about her arrival a few years ago:

I was ready to cope, or so I thought. I arrived with a protective smirk in tow, planning to thicken the walls around myself. I’d report a few stories, and go home. I had no inkling that Saudi Arabia, the experience of being a woman there, would stick to me, follow me home on the plane and shadow me through my days, tainting the way I perceived men and women everywhere.

I’m leaving the Middle East now, closing up years spent covering the fighting and fallout that have swept the region since Sept. 11. Of all the strange, scary and joyful experiences of the past years, my time covering Saudi Arabia remains among the most jarring.

I spent my days in Saudi Arabia struggling unhappily between a lifetime of being taught to respect foreign cultures and the realization that this culture judged me a lesser being. I tried to draw parallels: If I went to South Africa during apartheid, would I feel compelled to be polite?

Ah, so some cultural values are right and some are wrong? Is that a moral absolute? Does this doctrine apply to other moral, cultural and religious beliefs, in America or abroad?

Read this Times piece and let me know what you think. This issue will come to America, as it has to Great Britain and France. You know that.

How will the press cope? Will multiculturalism apply to this issue and others that grow out of it?

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