“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!