[Originally published in Hürriyet Daily News, with readers' comments]
AUBURN, Alabama – Unfortunately, I missed the 50th anniversary party of our paper, the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. For I am here, a college town named Auburn, to give a talk at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, a libertarian think-tank, on “The Commercial Heritage and Contribution of Islam.”
I actually can’t complain at all from my short visit here: I learned a lot in just a day, from lovely terms such as “warfare state” – a pun on the “welfare” one – to the pacifist outlook of the American libertarian movement, which is not much known to the outside world. (Turkish leftists, who see “capitalism” behind almost every war in recent history, should certainly meet the passionately pro-capitalist and similarly anti-war thinkers here.)
A free paper
Yet being in Istanbul and joining my colleagues in celebrating the fifth decade of Turkey’s oldest English paper would also have been great. For this is a great paper that I feel privileged to be a part of.
My story with the Daily News began some five years ago, when David Judson, who had just become the new editor-in-chief, invited me to join the new team that he was assembling to reform the paper. I happily accepted his offer to become the opinion editor, only asking for a column for my self as well. David said yes, opening a new career for me, and granting an opportunity that I will always appreciate.
After more than a year of extremely busy office work, which included work days that extended until midnight, I had to abandon my editorial role, for I needed to create time for myself for a book on Islam and liberty that I decided to write. (It is coming out this July.) But I kept writing my column – a decision which made some readers happy, others unhappy, and kept me always engaged.
Over the years, I have realized that the Daily News is unique in various ways. First of all, its team is unique. I know a bit about the rest of the Turkish media as well, and I can confidently say that the small team assembled here is one of the most sophisticated and the most diverse. I in fact don’t know any other Turkish paper whose team includes Marxists (both Trotskyites and Stalinists!), liberals, secularists, Kurds, Alevis, Armenians, and the Islamic-minded at the same time. The same diversity is reflected in our editorial pages, in which you can find totally opposing views in neighboring columns. You can, alas, even read rebuttals and counter-rebuttals between the columnists.
That is the case, for the Daily News is indeed a truly free paper. I have been writing whatever I want since 2006, and no one ever told me to write or not to write anything. (Word has it that some other papers in Turkey do not offer the exact same freedom to its writers and reporters.) It is no secret that I have often been more lenient to the incumbent Justice and Development Party, or AKP, than most others in the opinion pages – for visions of my own – but this has never been a problem, even at times when the government showed an erroneous hostility toward the Doğan Media Group, of which the Daily News is a part. (This should have been one of the many indications that there is in fact no homogenous, centrally-planned and controlled Doğan Media Group, as many liberals and conservatives believe. But myths are really hard to refute in Turkey.)
The true story
The Daily News is also great thanks to its informed and responsive audience. The Internet takes us to the four corners of the world and brings back extremely rich feedback. Comments from our readers are often as interesting as the stories and pieces we publish. They also show how diverse our readership is. Personally speaking, I have received comments accusing me of being a crypto-Islamist who wants to take Turkey “back to the Middle Ages,” along with other ones that blamed me for being too much of a reformist of the Islamist tradition. I have appreciated all.
The strength of the Daily News, I think, also comes from the complex drama that it tries to cover – that of Turkey. Unfortunately, this has been a poorly and superficially understood theme for a long time. That’s why David Judson said five years ago that the mission of the paper would be to go beyond the “token Turkey issues,” and tell the country’s “true story.”
I believe we have made real progress on that front – progress of which the whole Daily News team can be proud.
I am sorry that I could not share their pride in person, by having my slice from the 50th anniversary cake that I bet they had in Istanbul. I am rather enjoying a delicacy they call “grits” here – corn cooked in butter, basically – and packing to head to Atlanta for another talk. But I am sending my congratulations from 6,000 miles away: “Long Live the Hürriyet Daily News!”