It's time, once again, to take a mirror-image look at a story (click here for some earlier examples) that is in the news right now.
Well, it's sort of in the news. That's the whole point of this post.
Let's imagine that during a symbolic moment on the calendar -- perhaps a papal visit to Turkey, or the days leading up to a historic Pan-Orthodox Council -- a Christian leader entered the great Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and took out a prayer book and began chanting the ancient prayers of Great Vespers in Greek or even Arabic.
Turkish officials would be infuriated. Muslim leaders would be outraged. After all, this would violate agreements surrounding the status of this massive building -- once the greatest cathedral in Christendom, then a mosque after the fall of Constantinople -- as neutral territory, as a secular museum and a UNESCO world heritage site.
This would, in short, be a major news story and a threat to shatter Muslim-majority Turkey's status -- in the eyes of Europe, especially -- as a secular state that is dedicated to some protection for religious minorities.
Would this draw mainstream media coverage?
Now the mirror-image story, care of The Turkish Sun:
An angry war of words has broken out between Turkey and Greece after Athens protested a decision to allow a daily Quranic reading in İstanbul’s famous Hagia Sophia during Ramadan. The museum was for almost 1,000 years the biggest Greek Orthodox Christian church in the world.
The sahur, or pre-dawn meal, is to be broadcast each morning from the Hagia Sophia by Turkish national broadcaster TRT Diyanet along with daily readings from the Quran during the Islamic holy month, which began on Monday (June 6).
In one of the toughest diplomatic rebukes from Athens to Ankara in recent years, the Greek foreign ministry called the decision to allow the religious readings at the world heritage site, which is officially designated as a museum, “regressive”, “verging on bigotry” and “not compatible with modern, democratic and secular societies”.
“Muslim rituals in a monument of world cultural heritage are incomprehensible and reveal a lack of respect for and connection with reality,” the statement said.
As you would expect, Turkey officials think this highly symbolic and historic act is being blown out of proportion by Eastern Orthodox Christians (yes, like me, I guess). Greek officials, however, are taking this matter up with the European powers that be.
But here is the crucial background material, included in this newspaper account:
The Hagia Sophia, famous around the world for its iconic dome was originally built as a Christian basilica in the 6th century in what was then Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. When the army of the Ottoman Empire sacked the city in the 15th century, the church was turned into a mosque.
In 1935, during the time of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the building was converted into a museum and is mostly kept standing through funding as such.
But why now? What has pushed this issue onto the public-policy front burner for Turkish leaders?
Supporters of a secular Turkey fear that under the Islamist reign of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Hagia Sophia could be transformed back into a mosque. Last month, thousands of Muslim worshipers gathered at the Hagia Sophia ... demanding the right to pray there. “Let the chains break, open Hagia Sophia,” chanted the crowds who gathered on the plaza, according to Turkey’s Dogan news agency.
Actually, these tensions have been building for several years now.
So what kind of coverage is this getting from mainstream news outlets here in the West? Here are the results of a typical online search.
Surf around in these headlines and what do you see? As expected, this is primarily (a) a story of interest to alternative "conservative" and (b) religious websites.
If you turned this story around, would that be different? What kind of coverage would the mirror-image story I proposed receive from, oh, CNN or the Associated Press? What if Turkish officials were screaming in protest, backed by major Muslim leaders? Would this story draw coverage if Pope Francis issued a protest?
THUMBNAIL IMAGE: A painting of Hagia Sophia, as it would have appeared in the 12th century.