Wednesday, April 8, 2009

‘Welcome, Mr. Obama’

In a 24/7 world, it’s not surprising when the disturbingly weird jumps the shark and the oceans at the same time.

President Obama’s just-ended trip to Ankara and Istanbul, Turkey, elicited positive reactions from the Muslim press and the American punditburo alike. But after Obama left, one news report surfaced that, uh, pushes the boundaries of taste, and more than a little.

On one broadcast, Turkish news anchor Gökhan Taşkın, a man with a history of over-the-top commentary, wore dark face paint while offering a commentary on President Obama's trip to Turkey and what it means, an act that seemed to feature Taşkın ridiculing Obama.

One rough translation of part of Taşkın’s commentary was provided on HuffPost: “Welcome, Mr. Obama. You took our hearts with your hospitality. We appreciate your kindness. We will do whatever America asks of us, as friends. Now, we ask the same of you.”

The stunt has since been explained away as a spoof or a display of Turkish humor; Taşkın apparently did an earlier commentary dressed in a woman’s headdress. Law professor Jonathan Turley, via his blog, may have come up with the most literate take on the anchor’s intent in the Obama incident:
”On this occasion, it seems he was trying to ‘visualize’ a play on words in order to make his point. It is based on a Turkish proverb “Isteyenin bir yüzü kara, vermeyenin iki yüzü” (roughly translated: “The one who asks [for something] has one side of his face dark [i.e. black]; the one who refuses [to give] has both sides”). From what I understand, it means asking for something will make you feel ashamed but refusing to give something that you are able to is even more shameful.”

But this was bewildering just the same, at more than one level. Besides the basic weirdness of the act itself, it sends a signal that even as Turkey vies eagerly for a place in the European Union, there are some aspects of Turkish culture that aren’t ready for the wider range of people, and the necessarily greater sensitivity to racial and ethnic tolerance, that will come as responsibilities along with the right to join the EU.

Gr8whit, in the HuffPost comments section, had this reaction: “Trust me … Arabic people don't have a lot of love for darker skinned people. You can find unsavory examples in the Sudanese treatment of the Darfurians, the marginal existence of blacks in the Basra region of Iraq, and the secondary pay status of African operatives in Al Qaeda. The elaborate prevaricating explanation given for the black face doesn't hold up with the absence of the anchor expressing his 'blackened face' feelings during Bush's eight years. This just shows White people hold no monopoly on racism.”

Who knows. Maybe Taşkın just had a bad day, or he’s gearing up for a run at a spot on “Saturday Night Live.” We’re left to chalk it up to a slightly bizarre coda on a foreign trip by an American president seemingly eager to engage the world in planning a future, despite some who’d live in the past. Way in the past.

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