Vuslat Doǧan Sabanci, SIPA ’96 and the chairwoman of the Turkish news giant Hürriyet, came to Columbia as part of the World Leader’s Forum to discuss the connection between Islam and the media, and her personal experience as a self-proclaimed moderate Muslim.
“I am a Muslim woman,” Vuslat Doǧan Sabanci proclaimed to start her address in Low Library. After President Bollinger gave the introduction to “Fostering a Better Conversation and Understanding of Islam: The Vital Role of Media,” Doǧan Sabanci spoke about her view of the responsibilities of the East and West to combat Islamophobia and its effects. The event ended with a (relatively hostile) Q&A session with Doǧan Sabanci and Bollinger.
(Before I begin actual coverage, I would like to highlight the very first stumbling words out of PrezBo’s mouth at the event: “The Columbia Worlds Forum- World Forum… World Leaders Forum.”)
The most important thing in Doǧan Sabanci’s CV, according to her on Tuesday, was not her feminist activism or media accomplishments, but, “Of course, it is being a Columbia graduate.” When she graduated 21 years ago, she was convinced that globalism would lead to the world’s nations becoming one happy family. However, countries have instead retreated, becoming “hostile villages.” The new media led to accelerated polarization, and “attention became the new currency” for the media. Digital media did not fulfill its promise of promoting communication. Doǧan Sabanci targeted communication, between individuals and civilizations, as the key to successful Globalization. Her keys for better conversations included listening attentively, acknowledging each other, and displaying compassion.
On the topic of Islam, she referred to Islamophobia as a “vicious circle,” where the West’s demonization of the Middle East becomes propaganda material for extremist groups and fails to engender compassion. But, she claims, there is “responsibility on the part of Muslims, too.” The onus for better conversation falls on all parties. It falls upon moderate Muslims, she argues, to share their stories, and it especially falls on the media in all countries to present those stories and change the narratives around Muslims. For the sake of refugees, and for the larger goal of pluralism, the media must not channel “hatred and fear, but wisdom and reasoning.”
The questions for Doǧan Sabanci asked her questions in her capacity as the chairwoman of Hürriyet, a publication whose editors are mostly against an authoritarian amendment to the Turkish constitution presented by President Erdogan which will soon go to public referendum. Audience members brought up the choice not to publish an interview with a Nobel Prize laureate who spoke out against Erdogan. Another questioner wondered why, when two Hürriyet members presented their political opinions, only the anti-Erdogan anchor was silenced. Doǧan Sabanci had answers for both scenarios, referring to a miscommunication on the original purpose of the interview in the first instance, and a difference in editorial license in the second. Doǧan Sabanci’s paper, which has opposed Erdogan at times, faces pressure from the government to tone down its negative opinions.
Other questions brought up fake news, the first amendment rights of Facebook and Google, and the role of humor in Muslim media after Charlie Hebdo. The final audience statement came from another “moderate Muslim,” who found that “it’s not my job to constantly communicate that I’m not dangerous.” “You’re free to think that way,” responded Doǧan Sabanci. “I’m going to be responsible.”
The nicest stock portrait via Wikimedia Commons