PBS Wide Angle: 'Turkey's Tigers'
Wednesday, August 23, 2006; 11:00 AM
Producer Nina Chaudry and producer/director Mathew O'Neill were online Wednesday, Aug. 23, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the PBS Wide Angle film " Turkey's Tigers ," about a group of successful Muslim businessmen in Turkey. The country has long leaned toward Western-style capitalism, with a secular political and business scene at the forefront of its growth. Now a new breed of entrepreneur is rising in prominence. These so-called "Anatolian Tigers," such as Mustafa Karaduman , who runs a fashion line that conforms to the standards of Islam, are blending tradition and modernism and gaining ground in the marketplace and on the political scene.
A transcript follows.
Nina Chaudry: Hello everyone.
Welcome to The Washington Post's Web chat about the Wide Angle program, "Turkey's Tigers," which aired yesterday evening on PBS. Matthew O'Neill and I will be answering your questions on this film and the Wide Angle series. While you're online, please feel free to check out our Web site (http:/
Boulder, Colo.: How did you gain access to the people in the film? Did these guys see this film as a marketing tool or great PR for their businesses?
Mathew O'Neill: Mustafa Karaduman definitely saw this film as an opportunity to spread awareness of Tek-bir (the conservative fashion company). He is trying to expand across central Asia and in Europe (one son is in London hoping to open a store there). And the businessmen in Kayseri are hoping to raise the profile of their city - both around turkey and around the world.
Wilmington, Del.: I really enjoyed the film last night, but I was wondering why you didn't feature any Christian businessmen in Turkey as well. Isn't there a large Christian population there as well?
Mathew O'Neill: Although there are Christian communities in Turkey that have existed for centuries, more than 95% of the population is Muslim.
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Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: Have your subjects the little tigers of the Middle East- attempted to work with "The Other Iraq?" Kurdistan? If so, what? Joint ventures? Reciprocal investment?
After all, the Kurds are going places. With the help of the West or without. It would be forward looking and progressive-minded to get on board with them.
Thanks much. Professional Engineer
Mathew O'Neill: Actually, just before we started filming in June, there was a biq "Iraq" business expo in the south eastern city of Diyarbakir - my understanding is that there is a lot of business back and forth over the border (legal and blackmarket). Erdogan Aslan (the Kayseri businessman from the film who runs the executive assistant training for women) actually has a contract with the Iraqi government to provide mattreses.
New York, N.Y.: I saw your film on Turkey last night. It was good to see something on the Islamic world that didn't show fanatics, just regular, religious people. But why were there no women CEOs profiled, just the model and the sales staff? Is that still largely a man's world or just for the religious Muslims?
Nina Chaudry: The employment rate among men in Kayseri is just as high as in Europe (74 percent). However, the employment rate of women is only 37 percent. Things did appear to be slowly changing. Many of the businessmen in Kayseri whose wives wore the head scarf and stayed at home had daughters whom they hoped would get involved in business - regardless of whether they wore the head scarf or not.
Goshen, N.Y.: Very Interesting program. Is this a very fragile balance, secular Turkey and the fundamentalist side of Turkey? Or was my view skewed, and perhaps the fundamentalist side of Islam is not actually as great a segment of the population as it appeared in the cities profiled by the film? And how are world events affecting this balance in Turkish society?
Nina Chaudry: While religious expression and piety may be on the rise in Turkey, fundamentalism in Turkey is still marginal, with experts saying it represents less than 5 percent of the population.
Reston, Va.: Thanks for the fascinating film on Turkey and business. I always think that business is a great way to keep a society stable -- be it that the people are employed or that the employers have an investment in a stable workforce. But how did the businessmen react to you as Americans (assuming that you are)? Did they discuss their thoughts about recent events -- Iraq, Iran, Israel/Lebanon -- with you? Do they see Americans as attacking Islam or are they more interested in the nation as a possible future business partner or market? Thank you.
Mathew O'Neill: To a person, the businessmen we met in Turkey were friendly with us and enthusiastic about the attention we were bringing to their businesses - professionally they all saw America as a potential market, a trading partner and a source of capital.
However, when American actions in Iraq were discussed (again, practically to a person) the businessmen expressed regret and trepidation. Teh feeling I got from most Turks I spoke with was that the war in Iraq had greatly dampened any enthusiasm they might have for the United States and the U.S. Government - but not their feelings about the American people. Traveling as an American journalist, I consistently felt welcome and safe.
As for Iran, Turkey really does serve as a bridge between East and West here. Around the same time we were filming with Foreign Minister Gul, he was shuttling between Tehran, Washington and Moscow - presumably discussing the nuclear issue in Iran.
We had finished filming before the Israel/Lebanon war began - so it wasn't a hot topic of discussion - but Turkey traditionally has closer ties with Israel than its middle eastern neighbors.
Washington, D.C.: How many Muslim women do not wear the head scarf and dress in a Western style fashion? And the women that do ... are they looked won upon? Do they marry, have families?
Mathew O'Neill: In Istanbul most women do not wear the head scarf. Since the founding of the Turkish republic after WWI, traditional religious attire has been discouraged by the gov't. "Uncovered" women are more common than "covered" women - and they fully participate in all aspects of Turkish life - especially in urban areas. Even in a conservative city like Kayseri from what I saw on the streets it would appear that only about half of the women wear the head scarf every time they go out in public. As you see in the film, the Mayor of Kayseri's daughter does not choose to wear a head scarf - and she is a successful small business owner and recently got married - even though her mother wears the head scarf and her father is a high-profile politician of a conservative party with Islamic roots.
New York, N.Y.: What do you think caused the relatively recent surge of Muslim fundamentalism in Turkey? Up until 5/6 years ago, there were virtually no "covered" women in major cities like Istanbul and Ankara. Where did this sudden piety come from?
Nina Chaudry: I wouldn't say that there is a rise in Muslim fundamentalism in Turkey, but a rise of piety. Even five or six years ago, there were covered women in the major cities, there are just more now -- as people have migrated from villages to cities looking for jobs.
Rockville, Md.: I have wondered how modern technology and business methods could be transferred to the Middle East. Perhaps Turkey can do this. What do you think? How many cultural barriers will prevent it? I expect a more developed Middle East would use its oil wealth for industry rather than sell it to others.
Mathew O'Neill: One of the reasons we were interested to make this film was because of the western business practices we saw being adopted by more traditional conservative businessmen in Kayseri. They are combining their pious lifestyle with modern business practices. In many Turkish companies western business practices have long been the norm. In Kayseri we saw a conservative community embracing modern business techniques.
Turkey is often referred to as a model for a successful democracy in the Muslim world - we were interested in focusing on these conservative businessmen because in a way they seemed to be a model of a successful market economy in the Muslim world. Unlike the oil rich states to its south, Turkey's economy is based on creation, not extraction. And the pious businessmen are finding personal, financial and political success as they embrace the global economy and modern business practices.
New York, N.Y.: Are blue jeans sold in Turkey and if so do women wear them?
Mathew O'Neill: Women absolutely wear blues jeans in Turkey - and in Istanbul jeans are as common as mini-skirts and halter tops (or head scarfs). The pious and the secular exist side by side.
Though Tekbir did not sell any denim outfits, I did see conservative clothing made completely from denim in both Kayseri and Istanbul.
Cleveland, Ohio: To be accurate, 99.8 percent of Turks are Muslim (some agnostic or atheist, for sure), 0.2 percent are Christians and Jews.
Mathew O'Neill: Thanks Cleveland.
Harrisburg, Pa.: Have there been any strong religious objections voiced over these new fashions or are religious groups tolerate of them?
Nina Chaudry: Some people have criticized Tekbir for having women model his clothing and for exploiting his faith for the purpose of his business. Though Tekbir clearly has strong customer support that allows the company to expand.
Erie, Pa.: Did you have any scary moments while you were there? I haven't heard of any terrorist acts in Turkey for quite a while -- since that big one against the two synagogues a few years ago. Does there seem to be a noticeable radical Islamic group functioning there that we don't hear about?
Mathew O'Neill: The "scariest" moment might have been the excess of food and hospitality we were offered in every Turkish home (whether secular or pious, conservative or liberal).
Though some experts believe there are radical Islamic groups operating in Turkey - fundamentalist believers are a fringe element of the society.
Arlington, Va.: "Are blue jeans sold in Turkey"
What an ignorant statement. So if a person wears blue jeans and a tight tank, does that make them modern? One can wear that AND be a Muslim!
I continually get asked that question, as a Muslim, by very ignorant, biased people. With that said, I enjoyed your program.
Mathew O'Neill: I the think the jury is out on whether denim is the definition of modernism...
But seriously - better that people ask the question, than assume that Muslims don't wear blue jeans.
Thanks for your comment.
Short Hills, N.J.: Congratulations to both of you on a well-made program.
The dichotomy of a devoutly Muslim textile entrepreneur and a secular one was very interesting and tactfully handled.
I am a native of Turkey and seeing Kayseri, after 30 years, with its panorama of Mount Erciyes in the background was an added bonus for me.
Now that you've gotten a taste and a perspective of my beautiful native land and it's hospitable people, any other projects for your team involving Turkey?
Nina Chaudry: Thanks for your comment. There are only three more episodes of Wide Angle this season. We'll start up again next July and are always looking for human stories uncovering global issues throughout the world. Send us an email if you have any other story ideas for Turkey. We have nothing planned yet.
New York, N.Y.: I am a Muslim woman living in New York, and chose not to cover myself. The whole point behind the hijab/chadoor is to make yourself "unattractive" to the opposite sex; i.e., help men control their urges. Did the Tekbir owner ever address the fact that his line of clothing is actually very oxymoronic? It seems to me that trying to beautify women with his savvy clothes is contrary to his belief.
Mathew O'Neill: Philosophically Karaduman and Tekbir are full of contradictions - he believes that all women should be "covered" but at the same time is selling more form-fitting, stylish conservative clothing - and he is happy to sell outfits that work well with or without the veil - even designing an outfit that has a hood of sorts that can be taken down and replaced easily. And he will shake women's hands while most of his brothers will not (some strict interpretations of Islamic law say there cannot be direct physical contact between men and women). Tekbir's ambitions are a combination of compromises and contradictions - and right now its quite a lucrative combination.
Madison, Wisc.: I missed the first part of the program last night, so forgive me if this was discussed early on. Did the two business owners profiled (for Tekbir and the other one) know each other? Do they see each other as competition -- are there women who might shop at either store?
It was a fascinating program.
Nina Chaudry: The two owners do know each other, though they do not see each other as competition. They cater to a different clientele, selling very different clothing. Though I imagine some women would at least stop in both stores.
Munich, Germany: Did you get into any discussions regarding Turkey's admittance into the European Union?
I think that the European hardliners who intrinsically oppose a Turkish membership are in the minority. However, many Europeans are worried that the cost of bringing the majority of Turks to a European living standard will overwhelm the European Union.
What are the opinions of Turkish businessmen?
Mathew O'Neill: Strangely there was a lot of apathy. I assumed all the businessmen would be really gung-ho for EU membership. But given the "Lucy and the football" relationship it seems the EU and Turkey have, enthusiasm for EU membership in turkey is waning. And all the businessmen (conservative and secular, big and small) said the EU membership seemed so distant the process was not affecting their plans. Ipekyol is already in Europe - and many of the businessmen see central Asia and the middle east as important markets as well - generally they want to eliminate barriers to trade - but don't care if that comes from EU membership of other border deals.
Hackensack, N.J.: What were some of your most memorable experiences while researching and filming this program?
Mathew O'Neill: I will never forget the variety of the mosques in Istanbul and Kayseri. My only previous travel in the Middle East was in Kuwait and Iraq and I never had the opportunity to enjoy such stunning architecture.
If anyone is interested in asking more questions, please feel free to get in contact with me through DCTV or Wide Angle. www.dctvny.org or www.pbs.org/wideangle
Thanks so much for coming to the Washington Post today to chat with us.
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