Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The media coverage of Harun Yahya

Adnan Oktar (aka Harun Yahya - see his Miami Vice pic on the right) interviews show up regularly in western newspapers. The content doesn't matter, Yahya loves any publicity in the western press and these articles show up as a centerpiece on his website (click here for his website that spins these article in positive light. The picture above is from his website). He presents this as evidence that he is important enough to be covered by all these newspapers. He frames the criticism of his crude creationism, his fascination with free masons, and his talk of end-of-days & the return of Mahdi as simply standing up to the West. The problem is that many of these articles present his ideas as the only version of Islamic Creationism - and this further legitimizes Yahya's position. Here are some reasons why Yahya's brand of creationism is more accessible to journalists from the West: Yahya has borrowed heavily from US creationists (with modifications for the Muslim world), his books and his website are available in english, and Istanbul, where he resides, may not even seem much different from other European cities [Not to mention that Yahya also offers to fly western journalists if they will interview him].

The problem is that it oversimplifies the complex reaction to evolution in the larger Muslim world. The picture is by no means rosy. But, to isolate the reaction to Yahya is like creating a profile of a typical Muslim by spending all of your time in Istanbul. Sure, you will get a profile - but it will be a mistake to call it the profile. [Nothing wrong with Istanbul - I love it! I'm making a different point here :) ]

Here are two examples where Yahya is covered. While they both mention his legal troubles, neither brought up the egregious errors in his Atlas of Creation. The specific are not important. What is important to highlight is the nature of these mistakes - mistakes that even a high school kid will be ashamed to make. In any here is a report from Australia:

And here is an article by Steve Paulson in Slate. In fact, Steve is aware of some of the pitfalls associated with covering Yahya:

By now my head was spinning—just where could I take this interview?—but I kept wondering why Oktar would bother doing interviews with Western journalists like me. Just how would he benefit from this coverage? I got the answer once I asked him to assess his own influence. With the publication of Atlas of Creation, Oktar claimed that "Darwinism had come to an impasse for the first time in history." He then pulled out a loose-leaf notebook filled with clippings from major European newspapers and magazines and proceeded to quote from them: Liberation had referred to "the book that created a great panic", Stern had likened his book to thunder, and La Stampa had run the headline "Farewell Darwin." The lesson was clear, according to Oktar; most Europeans had lost their belief in Darwinism.

So this was it: Any publicity, no matter how bad, would confirm Harun Yahya's status as a global player in the evolution wars. Taner Edis, a Turkish-American physicist who tracks Islamic creationism, told me later: "Anything you write about Harun Yahya will eventually be quoted in Harun Yahya's own literature and his own Web site. Whether it's distorted or not, inevitably, it will be presented as 'hey, the Darwinists are on the run.' "

No doubt the same will happen with this article. So would we be better off simply ignoring Harun Yahya? Probably not. Yahya has already grabbed the spotlight, not just in Turkey but in Muslim communities around the world. His organization is adept at filling the vacuum where support for evolution is weak, and many scientists in Islamic countries are now wary of defending evolution.
Yes, and articles like this may be helping them fill this vacuum (ok - this may be a bit too harsh - but this is indeed how Yahya spins this coverage). If we do cover Yahya, it is important that we focus on how really bad his science is (Dawkins did this wonderfully here) - and that he only represents a particular context in the larger Muslim world [to be fair, Paulson did bring up Turkish politics when addressing Yahya's creationism]. What is important is to highlight that there are varieties of responses to evolution in the Muslim world - some accept evolution, many reject it. One may have to travel a bit farther than Istanbul to see the full spectrum of Muslim reactions to evolution.

Also see earlier posts:
Yahya still desperately seeking attention
The evolution of Harun Yahya's "Atlas of Creation"
Dawkins shreds Yahya's Atlas of Creation
Internet and the spread of Islamic Creationism
Harun Yahya and the arts


Anonymous said...

MashaAllah....the INFLUENCE of Harun Yahya is growing day by day, Because of this INFLUENCE only you wrote "THIS ARTICLE", thanks Mr. Salman Hameed...thank you so much..keep writing and seek attention!!!

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

You're spot on about Istanbul (and many cities in Turkey). They are hardly typical of anything, even Turkey as a whole.

I also agree that Harun Yahya's 'science' needs to be challenged but I think the apparent fact that he gets followers can be and ought to be analyzed to get a sense of what how the general public is doing wrt. science (as a process). You cannot do this in to a large extent in the (non-US) West because (as we talked about before) many people do say the 'right things' about evolution w/o necessarily understanding them. I don't think this is simply a Muslim problem, it is just more apparent in predominantly Muslim societies. I also don't think it is necessarily a big deal that people don't 'believe' evolution, but it is the manner in which they reject it that's important. Same goes for the ID crowd, the methods through which they get convinced of their case are flawed and that such methods would appear convincing should be more troublesome than the conclusions they lead to.

Here is a video of Leon Lederman making a similar point.

Salman Hameed said...


You are absolutely right about the process issue. I think there are two parallel tracks that we are talking about: One is about science education (Leon Lederman video is excellent!) and how people misunderstand the process of science. I share your concern about the way of rejection - rather than the rejection itself. The second track, which may or may not interact with the first track, is about the social factors leading people to reject ideas like evolution, or the global warming issues. It would indeed be useful to see which factor is dominant in the Muslim response to evolution (we are currently working on a survey instrument and are trying to address the two tracks together - but it can get tricky without making it too long).

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