“It is good to share” is the message that the head of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate, Ali Bardakoglu, delivered to mark the beginning of Ramadan. He wants us to “erase the concept of the Other from our dictionaries and see everyone just like us”. This message specifically addresses the “Kurdish problem” and terror. It is a meaningful message indeed delivered during this very week that Turks have been resistant to AKP initiatives aimed at solving the “Kurdish problem”. However, I doubt anyone in Turkey believes that religion could help overcome the differences that have become deeply-seated as a result of decades long, wrong political and economic policies and systematic erasure of Kurdish identity.
What caught my attention was that while covering the Directorate’s Ramadan message, Turkish media mainly focused on the poster designed for the occasion and rightfully so. The above picture from the poster depicts a young man in a black Iron Maiden shirt hugging an older guy with a religious cap; both smiling at each other and apparently leaving their differences aside(!). The young man represents a modern, urban, heavy metal music fan and thus a person who emulates Western life and culture. The old one represents a devout, muslim, traditional Turkish guy. I wish we could interpret this as the Religious Affairs Directorate coming to grips with the fact that while some Turks are secular and enjoy Western music, they are still spiritual and embrace Ramadan side by side with their traditional uncles. However, with this picture, the Directorate is making a direct reference to the many Rock concerts that took place in Istanbul this summer and even attracted the Prime Minister Erdogan’s attention along with his strong disapproval. The poster illustrates how heavy metal is seen as a symbol of Western capitalist culture where materialism is believed to be valued over spirituality. There is clearly a desire to rescue the Western-music-and-clothing-worshipping youth with the help of Ramadan. The Directorate, just like the prime minister, operates under the fallacy that when you consume Western cultural goods, you lose your own identity and acquire the values of the West, which are believed to be “degenerate”! Even if they don’t completely believe it, they still use it whenever they have a chance as a great scare tactic to further their Islamist agenda!
As I was reading the new ONI OpenNet Initiative Report on internet filtering in the Middle East and North Africa, I ran into an old post by them, which I thought explained why I did not have any access to my own website from Turkey this past July. Turkey has blocked access to some sites such as Youtube for a while and now apparently google sites also, which is what I used to create my own website. I know I should have gone with a better option than google for my personal website, since google has become a monopolistic media mogul, but this incident drew my attention closer to the issues of internet content monitoring in Turkey. The posts below illustrate how easy it is to file a complaint about a site and get it blocked. It wasn’t my site that they wanted to block, but blocking the whole sites.google.com disabled any access to my site as well. For a long time, it seemed (at least to me) like the secular Kemalist state authorities were the only ones who blocked websites, such as Kurdish propaganda sites and sites that badmouth Ataturk. Apparently, even Islamist creationists such as Adnan Oktar, who was sentenced by a Turkish court to three years in prison for “creating an illegal organization for personal gain” in 2008, have power to appeal to authorities to block access to websites, popular ones like eksi sozluk and even prestigious newspapers like Vatan. Apparently, the Turkish authorities are trying to shift the burden of monitoring the internet content to citizens by allowing them to report suspicious/objectionable content with the new law that passed in May. Until Turkish authorities realize this is creating more problems and burden on the judicial system, Turkish net users will continue to enjoy using proxyservers to bypass the block. And that’s exactly how I accessed both my site and youtube while I was in Turkey this summer.
The Guardian published a cute story (below is the link) about the staging of Hamlet in a Turkish village. The article’s argument of social change seems to be well-placed though I believe some caution is necessary when discussing the social transformative power of any media. I get uneasy whenever a reporter (or a scholar, including myself) makes a quick judgement of how media, whether it is cell phones or theater –Hamlet was CNN and West Wing combined plus better back in the day!–, are causing social change. The fact that theater is used as a vehicle to discuss larger social issues reminds me of Dwight Conquergood’s work. I wonder how much the villagers’ interpretation of Hamlet opens up a space for them to address those issues though or if this is merely a novel experience that they didn’t get to do when they were at school. I know a lot of westerners would like their classics to magically heal those of us who are in the east. This is certainly a feel-good story for a Brit and one that needs more answers for me!
The article suggests that there is also a documentary about this called Oyun by Pelin Esmer in 2005 that I just ordered and am very curious about watching it!
This new Turkish reality show will supposedly convert atheists to religion in September 09; I will be looking forward to the discussions on belief and religion in Turkey.