Turkish Film Pulled by German Theaters

By Michael Levitin

Published February 24, 2006, issue of February 24, 2006.
  • Print
  • Share Share

BERLIN — In Europe’s latest entanglement over free speech, German officials and Jewish leaders are calling for a ban on a Turkish action film that demonizes Americans and Jews. On Wednesday, Cinemaxx, Germany’s largest theater chain, was the first movie house to respond, announcing that it would strike the film from its program immediately.

Following a smash success in Turkey earlier this month, “Kurtlar Vadisi Irak” (“Valley of the Wolves — Iraq”) has sold more than 200,000 tickets and climbed to fifth place in the German box office since it hit theaters here last week. With its bitterly anti-American and anti-Jewish depiction of the Iraq War, some say that the film is stoking hatred and sending the wrong — and an unacceptable — message to Germany’s large Turkish population.

“I urge the cinema owners in Germany to pull this racist and anti-Western hate film immediately,” said Edmund Stoiber, Bavaria’s conservative premier and one of Germany’s most recognized politicians, in an interview with the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag last weekend.

Stoiber’s statement followed the initial one made late last week by Charlotte Knobloch, vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, who said that the movie “supports hatred of Jewish people and attacks Western civilization.” Alluding to the country’s Nazi past, she said, “Germany can’t be a place for [this kind of] propaganda.”

The film comes at a time when the integration of Turks into German society is lagging due to high levels of crime, unemployment and failures in education — and critics say that the movie offers little to improve the dialogue. In fact, they argue, by presenting a young movie-going audience with anti-American and antisemitic clichés, the film is likely to widen the cultural divide between Islam and the West, in the lead-up to Germany’s discussions about Turkey entering the European Union.

“These kinds of hate messages aren’t what we need in a society filled with immigrants and mixed ethnic and religious groups,” said Michael Kohlstruck, doctor of political science at Berlin’s Technical University. Kohlstruck is a specialist in right-wing extremism and youth violence. “All it takes is a few people mobilized by the film to become a danger by carrying out attacks.”

Still, Kohlstruck added: “It’s not right for a liberal society to forbid these films. It’s better to leave them open and to discuss them.”

In order to ban the film, German law says that authorities would have to determine that it violates Criminal Code 130, which outlaws hate speech, or Code 131, calling against the “exhibition or glorification of intensely violent acts.” Given that the film has been running here for nearly two weeks — and isn’t any more violent than an average action film — it seems unlikely that the government would move to block the movie.

But some German politicians and Jewish leaders would like movie theaters to stop running it.

“Whether it’s cartoons against Muslims or antisemitic propositions in a movie,” said Michael May, executive director of Berlin’s Jewish community, “I’m generally a proponent of free speech. But not at the cost of riots and clashes. I’d like this to be a self-imposed censorship based on a commercial decision.”

The film starts off by retelling an actual event that happened in Sulaymaniyah, northern Iraq, in July 2003; American forces arrested and held in captivity 11 Turkish soldiers, who were later released. The film then quickly turns to its fictional action hero, Turkish intelligence officer Polat Alemdar. He sets out to avenge his humiliated countrymen. In the process, American troops massacre civilians at a wedding party, firebomb a mosque during evening prayer and carry out summary executions — not to mention the abuses depicted at the Abu Ghraib prison. But perhaps the film’s most evil villain is the American Jewish military doctor (played by Gary Busey), who extracts Iraqi prisoners’ organs to sell to rich buyers in New York, London and Tel Aviv.

Made on a $10 million budget, the film, which is a spin-off of a popular Turkish TV series, is Turkey’s most expensive movie to date. Seen by some as a cinematic backlash to “Midnight Express”the 1978 American film depicting the ruthless way of life in a Turkish prison — a number of Turks are nonetheless questioning its artistic value.

“I prefer a Turkish Michael Moore to a Turkish Rambo in Iraq,” Baris Sanli wrote in the Ankara-based Turkish Weekly. Middle East expert Cengiz Candar told the BBC in Turkey, “This film poisons the climate in a way that it enhances jingoistic nationalism among Turks.”

That does not appear to be the view held by Turkish Parliament speaker Bulent Arinc, president of the Turkish National Assembly, who attended the movie’s gala opener with the wife of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “It is an extraordinary film that will go down in history,” Arinc raved to the Anatolia press agency.






Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.