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The return of Kemal Ataturk — on celluloid

BY NADWA ARAR (Middle East)


8 August 2008


The Turkish drama series Nour, which has been dubbed into the Syrian Arabic dialect, has rapidly captured the attention of many Arab and Muslim viewers in Asia and the Middle East. The series reminds me a bit of the US soap Dynasty, that was a great hit back in the Eighties. Today, everyone in the region seems to be watching "Nour".


You cannot help but love that Turkish soap since it has a good intriguing storyline with excellent characters. Compared to the monotonous plots of Egyptian dramas, Nour is very entertaining since it deals with social issues such as poverty, greed, unemployment, love, crime and family values. Arab viewers love it more than anything else. It has as well become a huge success in the region because it portrays the Eastern attitude towards family life and traditions.


The soap is about an extremely rich Turkish family that lives in a huge villa in the heart of Istanbul. The head of the family is grandpa Fekre, a man, everyone in the family seems to have great respect for, since he seems to be the one making most decisions and setting the rules for all members of the family. We are presented with attractive actors and actresses and a great love story between the leading characters Nour and Mohannad. The show deals with taboo subjects in Eastern societies and it seems that Arabs are craving for such drama soaps because of the similarities between the Turkish and the Arab culture. Arabs love to identify themselves with the Turks. Turkey is after all a Muslim country with a huge Muslim population. According to the CIA World factbook more that 99% of the Turks are Muslims. But whoever watches that soap must have noticed that religion is almost non-existent. None of the characters in that series seem to practice Islam. Now critics might argue, that this show is pure entertainment and that religion should be left out of it, but one wonders whether such addictive Turkish soaps are having a negative influence on Arab and Muslim societies.  Watching shows where unIslamic practices and immoral acts, such as alcohol abuse and adultery are encouraged, may influence our behaviour. That Turkish series is portraying bad ideas to the Muslim Arab culture.  I've watched episodes where alcohol is drunk during the holy month of Ramadan and where pre-marital sex seems to be highly encouraged. Every single lady in that series is either involved in a love affair or pregnant with an illegitimate child. The main character Mohannad has fathered an illegitimate son called Mohannad junior. His ex-girlfriend Nihal is the mother of that little boy.  Dana was not even married when she had her daughter Alma and Bana had an abortion before she married her lover Kamel. Riham, we are shown, spends her nights freely with Fajr, before they decide to tie the knots.


Turkey as it seems, has been a completely modified country. Thanks to Kemal Ataturk, who has a strong presence in Turkey, it is no longer a Muslim country. We see him on the walls of every public building in Turkey and also statues of him dominate the country. Ataturk's blue-eyed stare seems everywhere, even in the Turkish drama Nour. They call him the founder of Modern Turkey, but that Turkish leader has done an extremely great job in destroying what is left of the Muslim culture, the tradition or even history. And sadly enough the Turks still don't seem to get it! Arabs, it seems, are in terms of the strength of their religion, different from the Turks. The Arab culture is based more on conservativeness and moral behaviour. In my native Damascus, even among Christian communities, it would be considered a scandal if a woman would bear an illegitimate child by her lover, as is the case with Mohannad and Nihal. Ataturk, that can certainly not be denied, has destroyed Islam in a country that was for five centuries the centre of the Muslim world. In 1924 Ataturk abolished the Caliphate and introduced reforms to demolish the Islamic state and convert it into the Modern State of Turkey, and he did his task extremely well. The political power of Islam was removed. The whole country regained a new identity. It turned to Westernized values. Ataturk set aside religious laws and established a Western system of justice. Muslim courts were completely banned.


That is also the reason why in the Turkish soap Nour, we saw Bana or Maysoon going through a civil marriage and not through the ceremony of a Muslim Sharia marriage, as is the common practice in Muslim countries. Many other things that Ataturk did was to change the Arabic letters to Latin, so that the new Muslims would be lost and have no connection to Islamic roots. He cancelled all Islamic holidays, replaced the Islamic Calendar with the Gregorian calendar and the Christian Sunday was adopted as the day of rest. Ataturk abolished Islamic religious institutions and took over the country's 70,000 mosques. Moreover, he disallowed the building of new mosques. All Muftis and Imams were now appointed by the government and instead of teaching Islam they were now instructed to spread the Kemalist ideology. Ataturk forbade as well the Turkish people to wear fezzes or other traditional clothing. And women were discouraged from wearing the veil. Those who continued to wear traditional clothing were arrested and imprisoned. Ataturk did not allow people to disagree with his policies. Those who opposed his reforms were silenced with prison.


Sources even claim, that Ataturk had Jewish ancestors. He was said to be a "doenmeh", a false convert planted in the Muslim Empire to demolish it. Outwardly, it is said, he behaved like Muslims but secretly he believed in Judaism. There are differing claims on this. Up until today it is not known whether there is any truth to the claim that Ataturk had Jewish ancestry, but what can certainly not be denied is that Ataturk made Turkey a prisoner of Europe. The Turks, who were once the conquerors of Europe, are begging today for EU-membership.  Turkey, everyone knows, has been striving for decades to get EU membership, but potentially it is the last country expected to gain membership. According to many European politicians the Turks are too Muslim to qualify.


Nour, however, gives me the impression that there is nothing left of Islam. Kemal Ataturk is until today considered a national hero in Turkey. So far the Kemalist model of modernity is dominant. Not because everyone accepts it, but because the Turkish military and the state bureaucracy are infiltrated with Ataturk supporters that have managed to successfully suppress the Islamic revival of Turkey. Every now and then we witness signs of an Islamic revival in Turkey and it is just a matter of time when Ataturk's policies will come under challenge again. Europe, as it seems, has rejected the Modern State of Turkey. The Turks would be well advised to go back to Islam and put it on their political agenda again.


Nadwa Arar is an Alumni of SOAS, London University and author of the book: A Reunion in Damascus - East-West Dialogue.


Source: Khaleej Times Online