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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Progress Must Not Be Shunned

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In our globalized world, one would assume awareness about other peoples in various nations or ways of life would be easily accessible. However, this is not always the case. Depending on the reporting agency and the publishers, bias arises. In an ideal world, free press would allow an informed person from any part of the globe to make a judgment call about the material. Sadly, when we look deeper into most news there tends to be an agenda, from the tone to the language to the connotation of certain words. Why pick a specific quote from a certain person? What motive is behind the report? In terms of awareness about news in the Muslim world, rarely do Western media report positive news. One reason is because sometimes there is a clash of interests: what is positive to Muslims is negative to certain media sources. Not to mention a clash in politics, but that’s a whole other story.

One clash of interests concerns secularism. Generally, anything that is not pro-secularism is shunned. Why must religion always be seen as antagonistic of modern society? Recent news of Turkish lawmakers voting in high numbers to lift the headscarf ban in Turkish universities illustrates my point.

This is positive news in many respects. Democracy entails freedom of religion, allowing one to practice the religion of their individual choice. Debate over the hijab in Turkey for more than twenty years is heated. Secularists in Turkey fear pro-Islamists will pressure secularist women to wear the hijab. On the contrary, Muslim Turkish women who wear the hijab believe they are not imposing their own choices upon secular women but asking for the simple right to wear the hijab in public and not be shunned. Hijab-wearing women understand the perspective of secularists and want secularists to try to understand their stance too. Islam states there is no compulsion in religion, meaning anyone who follows or doesn’t follow Islam should not be forced into anything. Subsequently, if a Muslim woman wants to wear the hijab she should have freedom to decide. This connects to how the Western media portrays Islam as not giving Muslim women the choice to wear the hijab. Back to the exciting news in Turkey:

On February 9th, Turkish parliament conducted a session and voted 403-107 in favor of an amendment to insert a paragraph into the Constitution allowing the hijab. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party are going about the process democratically. Turkey’s population is 98% Muslim, but only recently were pro-Islamists voted into power to represent the masses of devout Muslims.

In 1923, Mustafa Ataturk altered the Muslim makeup of Turkey. In the name of modernization and secularization he changed the language, the roles of women and society, the social structure. He banned the hijab from state institutions. This forced a Muslim woman to give up her choice of wearing the hijab if she wanted to be educated. In effect, either Muslim women left the country to study elsewhere (i.e., the U.S.) or were stuck not being educated. Such actions are undemocratic. Stomping on a woman’s right to practice her religion freely is a violation of her individual rights impacting her right to an education or the right to a job in any state institutions as well as limiting a hijab-wearing woman’s life choices. By allowing these women the right to wear hijab in state institutions, they are not forcing Islam upon the secularists. However, the latest political insights about Turkey on MSNBC (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23081329) beg critical analysis.

With all the negative hype against the hijab already in Western media, it does not help Westerners to read negativistic quotes. Church and State are put on the hot plate once again. Here are some prime examples that add fuel to the secularist fire.

“The headscarf is a political symbol,” Canan Aritman, of the Republican People’s Party claimed. “We will never allow our country to be dragged back into the dark ages,” while Kamer Genc, an independent lawmaker, said the law would amount to “the death of the secular republic.” Genc continued: “This law will create chaos in universities and will lead to the disintegration of the nation.”

Analysis is crucial. If one is not given a clear picture to understand both sides of a debate, a reader may be misguided to a biased perspective. Either way, it is important to allow understanding about the hijab and the West from pro-hijab camps. People know the secularist perspective; do they know the pro-hijab, Islamist perspective? Not negative stereotypes bombarding the media of so-called fundamentalist Islam, but the Islam that is peaceful and allows choices. If progress is to be made for Muslim women, the world must not shun baby steps that allow democratic processes to occur. We cannot pick and choose what is democratic or not. Allowing Turkish women to both wear hijab and be educated and hold jobs at home is a steppingstone of democracy.