Whenever 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."
Does 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.