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BURAK BEKDİL > How to produce fact-based fiction

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I was surprised that Turkish liberals were surprised by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s condemnation of a popular TV series that the prime minister, in his speech, said was a documentary misinterpreting Ottoman history. How bizarre that everyone, including Mr. Erdoğan’s “liberal” supporters, seems to be “shocked.” You are really cute and funny, lads!

About two years ago, I wrote in this column: “The AKP chaps and their conservative supporters should be able to understand the difference between documentary and fiction,” (“Where Islamists and secularists unite – and where they don’t,” Hürriyet Daily News, Jan. 12, 2011). Apparently, they still do not understand. Or they prefer not to.

My column went on to ask: “The alarming fact is that conservative Turks do not have tolerance even for fiction when their ancestors are at stake, not even religious figures… For God’s sake, can you not just change the channel that’s airing the soap you dislike?” The answer was simple: No, because we don’t want others to watch them either.

The prime minister is angry because the soap “The Magnificent Century,” which has 150 million viewers in 76 countries, portrays Ottoman ruler Süleyman the Magnificent as “Süleyman the Hedonist.” Mr. Erdoğan thinks that Süleyman spent his whole life on horseback conquering foreign lands, or, in his original wording, “traveling.”

Turks, the prime minister preached, should follow their ancestors’ footsteps and go everywhere they traveled. But, go? “Go” as their ancestors “went?” Or “go” as a tourist would? Did our ancestors “go” to lands in three continents to sightsee? Or does the prime minister want the Turks to go to the same lands with the same motives their ancestors went with?

Does the prime minister’s wish that Turks should follow their ancestors’ footsteps also include “doing” what they “did” in the lands they “went to?” Conquest? Marry multiple and mostly non-Muslim wives, have their own sons and grandchildren murdered (two sons and four grandchildren in Süleyman’s case)? Beheading, strangling and hanging?

How interesting, the prime minister objects to one fiction production because it misinterprets history but has no objection to another fiction production, and probably privately – and deeply – likes it. Could it be because the fiction he has not condemned is not misinterpreting history and facts? Let’s see.

The “Valley of the Wolves: Palestine” features Polat Alemdar, the Turkish James-Bond-plus-Rambo-plus-every-other-hero character, which debuted, coincidentally, on Jan. 28, 2011, the day after International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In the film, Alemdar emerges from a series of bloody clashes to track down and kill the Israeli commander who ordered the storming of the Mavi Marmara.

In one particularly heart-wrenching scene, an Israeli soldier asks Alemdar why he came to Israel, and he replies: “I didn’t come to Israel, I came to Palestine!” Eventually, Alemdar manages to destroy a whole battalion of Israeli soldiers with a team of three men and returns to Turkey victoriously. At one point, the hero tells an Israeli officer: “I don’t know what part of these lands was promised to you, but I promise you the part that’s six feet under.”

Even before the film’s debut, the actor who played Alemdar, Necati Şaşmaz, told reporters who inquired if he was afraid to act in the film, “I don’t fear those who don’t fear God.” Thunderous applause.

Since the prime minister likes fiction based on facts, perhaps the prime minister should give orders to his master spies to send a team of four special agents to Israel to take revenge for the killing of nine Turks aboard the Mavi Marmara.

Mr. Erdoğan should make sure that the team members declare to the Israeli airport authorities that they have actually come to Palestine, not Israel. I am sure they will safely return home after having destroyed a whole battalion and punished the Israeli commanders who ordered the storming of the Mavi Marmara. That way, the “Valley of the Wolves” will metamorphose into a perfect fiction which accurately reflects facts and history.

Good luck, Alemdar! Remember to follow in your ancestors’ footsteps.

November/30/2012

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