January 27, 2005: RPCV Diana Pearce writes an open letter to the "West Wing"

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Turkey: Peace Corps Turkey : The Peace Corps in Turkey: March 28, 2005: Headlines: COS - Turkey: Muslim Issues: Steroeotypes: Television: Turkish Press: NBC apologizes to Turkey for West Wing episode : January 27, 2005: RPCV Diana Pearce writes an open letter to the "West Wing"

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RPCV Diana Pearce writes an open letter to the "West Wing"

RPCV Diana Pearce writes an open letter to the West Wing

RPCV Diana Pearce writes an open letter to the "West Wing"

From: Diana Pearce
To: TheWestWing@nbc.com
Date: Thursday, January 27, 2005 6:52 PM
Subject: WW Episode 1/26/05 - Turkey and adultery

Dear all at West Wing,

As a devoted fan of West Wing, I was completely dismayed at your misrepresentation of Turkey on last night's episode. I have been much impressed with the sensitivity with which you tried to portray the highly volatile issues of Palestine and Israel (in the depiction of the Camp David talks), with each side shown observing their religion, respectfully, and with nuance (I cannot speak to the accuracy, but can see the balance, at least in that episode). When you have shown "bad guys", you have often chosen to use a fictious country (e.g., Kumar), which gives you more latitude in terms of plot. Last night, however, you failed on both counts, with your insensitive and inaccurate portrayal of Turkey. For a series that can usually be expected to be thoughtful, nuanced and thought-provoking, this was way below your usual standard of excellence.

The problem is, is that the premise is wrong, and reinforces Americans' prejudices and simplistic views of the Muslim world, making it seem homogeneous when in fact the countries are very different. Here are some of the basic facts about Turkey*:

1. Turkey has abolished the death penalty, and there has not been an execution since 1984.

2. Even when they did have it, they did not do so by "beheading."

3. Turkey has been a secular democracy for over 80 years, having been created out of the shambles of the Ottoman empire, post World War I, lead by their "George Washington", Kemal Ataturk.

4. Turkey does not have laws based on the sharia, but rather on western legal system models. It does have lively debates, a multiplicity of political parties, each with their own newspaper, with a much more truly competitive and open system than ours in many respects (not all of course.)

5. Turkey has had a woman prime minister, and many political leaders have been women, and the status of women is much more like that of European women than in many Muslim countries. (Again, it is very hard to generalize).

6. There are countries in which women may be sentenced to death for adultery; the most recent celebrated case was in northern Nigeria, but I believe that public pressure has led to a commutation of that sentence. Or, under the Taliban. But it seems gratitutous to link Turkey, a modern country fast on the way to becoming a first world country, with Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

In a sense, you were scoring some "cheap shots", by showing that the (American) women characters related to the issue, while the men (campaign managers, candidates) were silent, or in the case of the President, weighed in with the importance of Turkey as an ally. But you "scored" these at great cost.

In times like these, when people are prone to jump to conclusions that all Muslim nations and peoples are "bad", potential terrorists, it is important to counter those stereotypes, and not reinforce them. Only by people understanding that no religion is the source of all evil, and none that is the source of all good, can we begin to break down the prejudices and misunderstandings that underlay violence and war...

I would ask that you please issue a statement of apology to Turkey, Turkish-Americans, and all Americans, correcting the gross misrepresentations you perpetuated on the air. In addition, you need to redo the next episode to correct this misrepresentation within the story line. (Maybe take a leaf from real life, from all the problems journalists have had in the last year or two, reporting the truth on Iraq, by taking the word of those who had an ax to grind, or accepting false documents, or simply fabricating altogether. So this becomes a story about someone/some group that wants to denigrate Turkey...or maybe just a journalist who wants to get credit for a sensationalist story, so there is a meeting with the Turkish ambassador...)

On a personal note, I went to Turkey as a young woman, as a Peace Corps volunteer, serving in the most eastern part of Turkey (Van), which is very conservative, and largely Kurdish. Nevertheless, I was always treated with the utmost respect and hospitality, unlike anything we have to offer in the West, and treasure those years. We have returned several times, and have also travelled and lived in Central Asia, continue to celebrate Turkey and its many accomplishments and rich culture and arts, and count Turks among our best friends.

I look forward to hearing from you, and to your putting right this wrong, for myself and thousands of your fans (who may not have been Peace Corps, but have travelled in Turkey or worked there, or are Turks/Turkish Americans.)

Diana M. Pearce
Former Peace Corps Volunteer, Turkey, 1965-67
Senior Lecturer, School of Social Work
University of Washington
Seattle, Washington

When this story was posted in January 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Arkadaslar listserv

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Turkey; Speaking Out; Television; Islamic Issues; Crime; Adultery



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