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Is the Daily Beast, a news and opinion website published by British-born Tina Brown in conjunction with Newsweek magazine, being over-generous in defending Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan — who has broken off relations with Israel and says the Turkish navy will escort the next “peace flotilla” attempting to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip?

Perhaps, writes George Conger writing on Get Religion, a website dedicated to helping journalists be a tad more fair when covering religion.

Conger looks at the Daily Beast‘s article “The Erdogan Doctrine,” in which columnist Owen Matthews argues that Erdogan and his ruling party have been unfairly characterized as villainous Islamist thugs. They have actually sought to build bridges with Turkey’s minority faiths, Matthews argues:

Yet the notion of Erdogan as a Jew-hating jihadi doesn’t really fit. Just before the current standoff, Erdogan sat down to dinner with the leaders of Turkey’s religious minorities, including the Chief Rabbi of Istanbul, and promised to return thousands of properties the Turkish state had confiscated from Christians and Jews in the past century. He also made a point of praising the “vast diversity of the people that have peacefully coexisted” in Istanbul. “In this city the [Muslim] call to prayer and church bells sound together,” said Erdogan. “Mosques, churches, and synagogues have stood side by side on the same street for centuries.”

The Daily Beast is also somewhat over-generous in describing what Erdogan has offered,” notes Conger — only the properties of Christian and Jewish institutions seized since 1936 are under discussion.

“Neither the property of individual Christians and Jews confiscated by the state nor the wholesale expropriations of the 1920’s are being reviewed.

“The Daily Beast also uncritically relates Erdogan’s words of religious peace and harmony,” observes Conger, “without offering context. The prime minister is able to speak of religious harmony because Turkey’s religious minorities are all but extinct. In the home city of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, it would have been just as easy for Erdogan to sit down to dine with all of the city’s remaining Orthodox Christians as with its minority religious leaders.

“An op-ed in the Hill, ‘Religious Freedom for Turkey?’ penned by members of U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is less sanguine about the prospects for Christians, Jews, and members of minority Muslim sects, especially the Alawites, than the Daily Beast,” writes Conger”

Turkey’s Christian minority has dwindled to just 0.15 percent of the country. In the words of one church leader, it is an “endangered species.” In past centuries, violence exacted a horrific toll on Turkey’s Christians and their churches. This provides a frightening context and familiar continuity to a number of recent high-profile murders by ultranationalists.

Turkey’s Jewish community also fears a reprise of past violence, such as the 2003 al Qaeda-linked Istanbul synagogue bombings. Societal anti-Semitism has been fueled in recent years by Erdogan’s rhetoric against Israel’s activity in the Middle East and by negative portrayals in Turkey’s state-run media.

Today, however, it is the state’s dense web of regulations that most threatens Turkey’s religious minorities.

“Journalism is a craft,” notes Conger, “a learned trade that has a pragmatic and moral end. It informs while also educates. If the press does not speak the truth about the past, no matter how unpalatable this past may be to nationalistic or religious sensibilities, it fails in its mission.”

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