The Islamization of Turkish penguins

The Islamization of Turkish penguins

About a week ago, the Turkish daily Hürriyet published an interesting story about the creeping process of “conservativization” in Turkey. This was no mere opinion and subjective blah-blah though, for Hürriyet had caught a tell-tale fact. Timaş, an Istanbul-based publishing house with a conservative take, had printed a colorful book for school children, including several cartoons of a penguin family. But the mother penguin had a surprising feature: She was wearing a headscarf!

The Hürriyet reporter who discovered this curious detail in a textbook recommended by the Turkish Ministry of National Education soon figured out the conspiracy. Timaş’s book was a translation of an American book prepared for American kids. Surely, this Western original could not have included a headscarf. So then, in order to “Islamize” the cartoons, Timaş must have distorted them by using computer technology. And imagine what this mentality, so antagonizing even against the uncovered penguins, would do to uncovered Turkish women.

The Hürriyet news story sent all these messages, and also included a comment by a psychologist who warned of the dangers of such “brainwashing” of school children with religious doctrine. All in all, it looked like an additional alarm bell to all those who already fear where Turkey’s been heading under the now decade-old incumbency of the conservative Justice and Development Party, the AKP.

Nevertheless, things changed dramatically in just a few days. Timaş, the alleged culprit of the halal-penguin scheme, released a statement that refuted Hürriyet’s story. The publisher showed that its own artists did not add the headscarf, which Hürriyet’s journalist fussed about, but that it was in the original American story to begin with. Hence, no attempt to “Islamizen” the Turkish penguins had taken place.

The facts, which Hürriyet’s journalist had gotten wrong, were too obvious. So, soon Hürriyet’s editors did the right thing, by accepting the mistake and apologizing to Timaş. The paper deserves credit for that honest acknowledgement of its error, which is unfortunately not a standard behavior in Turkish media.

However, this story still begs some consideration, for it reflects the deep-seated yet often grossly exaggerated Turkish secularists’ fears of their more religious compatriots.

We’ve already witnessed numerous situations based on the same fear, with outcomes that have repeatedly turned out to be false. The furious campaign to exclude headscarved women from universities, for example, was based on the fear that “they” would enter the campus and force all other female students to dress like them. This madness went on for years, but since the ban was lifted about two years ago, Turkish universities have only become freer. No wonder even the main opposition CHP, which used to be the vanguard of the anti-headscarf hysteria, is now silently admitting that there was nothing to fear.

This does not mean that there are no authoritarian conservatives in Turkey who are prone to impose their lifestyle on others. Yet there are such secularists too, and that is why we have had all the impositions on the religious. The truth is that there are fanatics in all the camps, living off fear of the opposing camp. Consequently, they do their best to keep these fears alive. They should be taken not as the interpreters, but the misinterpreters of Turkey’s reality.