US reporter fires back at Turkish secular politician

Turkish secular politician suggested that Muslim head scarves in Turkey were akin to Nazi Brownshirts in Germany or fascist Blackshirts in World War II Italy."

US reporter fires back at Turkish secular politician

American reporter Dion Nissenbaum, who found himself the subject of criticism earlier this week following a report that cited an interview with a Turkish politician, fired back at critics yesterday by disclosing a recording and transcript of the interview segment in question.

Contacted by Today's Zaman, Nissenbaum, who also heads the McClatchy Company's Jerusalem bureau, said, "At this point, I think I'll just say that the words speak for themselves and leave it at that." McClatchy also posted audio bytes from the taped interview on its Web site to discredit allegations by the politician quoted -- Republican People's Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Onur Öymen -- that the reporter twisted the story and misquoted him.

In a Tuesday posting at Jerusalem Checkpoint, McClatchy's blog site, Nissenbaum reiterated that "in the course of our talk, Öymen suggested that Muslim head scarves in Turkey were akin to Nazi Brownshirts in Germany or fascist Blackshirts in World War II Italy."

Nissenbaum's original report, published on April 18 in the McClatchy Web site's world section, referenced his interview of the Turkish lawmaker, saying that "Öymen compared the Muslim head scarf to Nazi Brownshirts and Italian fascist Blackshirts."

The story was then picked up in Turkish national media and created significant resentment of Öymen in public circles, compelling him to issue several statements explaining his position on Turkey's headscarf issue.

When he first criticized the national media for misreporting the article, Turkish daily Hürriyet reaffirmed the report and stood by its story. Öymen then shifted the blame to his interviewer, Nissenbaum, accusing him of inserting his own impressions into the story and misquoting Öymen. In a phone interview with Today's Zaman, Öymen said "Nissenbaum used his own impressions in what he wrote, not [Öymen's] exact words." Asked whether or not he thought the Muslim headscarf was a political symbol Öymen replied, "No."

But the veteran reporter and Jerusalem-based bureau chief begs to differ. In defense of his article, Nissenbaum posed the same question on April 22 that he did in the original article: "Are Muslim headscarves fascist symbols?" He said regarding his original report: "The question came up during a recent interview I did with Onur Öymen, a veteran Turkish lawmaker who served as the nation's ambassador to NATO. Öymen, a leader in Turkey's Republican People's Party (a.k.a. the CHP), suggested just that during our talk about the rising influence of the nation's ruling Justice and Development Party [AK Party]." He continued on to say: "The comparison struck me as stark, so I asked Öymen to explain what he meant. ... Now Öymen is denying that he made the comparison and is apparently preparing to demand a correction of some sort."

Ahmet Kekeç, a columnist for Turkish daily Star, asked, "Who is the liar who twisted the truth here?" in his column yesterday. "Seems to me like it's Onur Öymen," he answered his own question, adding, "If you [Öymen] gave the examples of Hitler's Nazi Germany and Mussolini's fascist Italy, they [the McClatchy Company] were correct in putting as the headline that Öymen likened the headscarf to a fascist shirt." In an attempt to clarify the controversy over who said what, Nissenbaum posted the full transcript of the relevant section from the interview on his blog as follows, asking readers to make their own judgment.

"Here is the full transcript of the relevant section of the interview, conducted in English. I interviewed Öymen in his Ankara office at the CHP headquarters. Judge for yourself.

Question: 'Under the American Constitution if the nation or a state were to prevent women from wearing head scarves in universities it would actually be seen as an infringement on their religious freedom.'

ÖYMEN: 'Of course, because you don't have the danger of Islamization of American society or Sharia governments in America. You don't have such a threat. If some Indian students put their special traditional clothing in universities we don't mind because we don't see them as a threat to our society. But if in Turkey you use it as a symbol of religious state, then it's different. For instance, why Nazi clothings, uniforms, are prohibited in Germany? Isn't it a democracy, Germany? Why you prohibit such uniforms? Because they feel that there's a threat of a revival of Nazi tradition. You see the difference.'

Question: 'So you would equate head scarves with Nazi...'

ÖYMEN: 'Of course, yes. Anything, not only head scarf, but anything, any uniform that will be used as a symbol of a political belief or religious belief is a sort of identification of a religious or national symbols to dominate the society. For instance, in the Hitler time, Hitler youth were put in black shirts, so they called themselves Blackshirts. So it was a symbol of Nazi ideology. In Mussolini time, in Italy, they were wearing brown shirts, so those who carry brown shirts are by definition supporters of Mussolini. So only in authoritarian regimes do you have such things. Not in democracies. In a Western society you cannot identify the political philosophy or belief of persons while looking to their clothing only. It's what they are trying to do in Turkey. Not only putting the head scarf, but they put it in such a special way that only the believers of this party ideology do it. It's not a traditional head cover of Anatolian woman. It has nothing to do, it completely, never seen such a thing until 20-30 years ago in Turkey. There was not one single person covering their head in this format. So it is the symbol of the ruling party or, to say the truth, symbol of a certain political-religious ideology. And it is imported from Lebanon. It was originally used in Lebanon and they imported it to Turkey as a symbol. And the prime minister said, if it's a symbol what's wrong with that? So he accepts that it is used as a political symbol.'

Question: 'But to sort of equate Blackshirts or Brownshirts with a head scarf of billions of people with a religious party seems to be rather...'

ÖYMEN: 'Well you may believe that it's exaggerated. It may. It may be. But in the beginning, Hitler was elected as a political party. He got 44 percent of the vote, he got the support of any number of Germans who are not by definition Nazis. But by time he turned the country into an authoritarian system, totalitarian system and he created a mess who was responsible for, let's say, sufferings of millions of people. I cannot compare today our ruling party with Hitler. Of course not. But the matter, the fact that the party is elected does not mean that they would always observe the rules of democracy. So this is the difference. So Hitler did it for political ideology or nationalist ideology. Now, in our country, they use their political backing in elections for an Islamic society. So, you cannot find one single week, look at the newspapers, you cannot find one single week in the last five years of more where one of the members of the government has not raised a religious issue.'

Please click on the interview to listen

Last Mod: 24 Nisan 2008, 12:26
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