Last Updated: Sun Oct 17, 2010 00:13 am (KSA) 21:13 pm (GMT)

Turkey: bringing together soap opera fans and religious figures

Abdul Rahman al-Rashed

Last summer, airplanes traveling to Turkey were filled with young man and women who were fans of the Arabic-dubbed Turkish soap opera "Noor." Record number of Arab tourists paid a visit to Turkey last summer, holidaying in the land of "Noor."

As for this summer, it is preachers, imams, and religious figures who are rushing to Turkey, with preachers appearing on television screens calling for viewers to support Turkey and spend their summer holidays there.

Therefore this summer soap opera fans and religious people have – unusually – joined in their love of Turkey, which has become a common ground between them whereas previously it was a source of dispute between the two groups. This was after Imams last year attacked Turkey's "shameless" soap operas, and called for the Arab public to boycott them. In contrast, merely mentioning Turkey this year elicits praise and support from everybody for the first time since the collapse of the Turkish Ottoman Caliphate.

Is the Arab's unexpected love for the Turks – for conflicting reasons – a blessing or a curse?

that their promotion and support of Turkey for its stance against Israel annoys the moderate Arab camp, however this is not true, and in fact Turkey is a extremely suitable model that should be studied and followed [by the Arabs]. Turkey is certainly no Iran, and Edrdogan's Islamic-oriented [Justice and Development] party is no Hamas or Muslim Brotherhood; the Turks are not Salafist or Shiite extremists, they do not wear burqas or turbans. There is a high degree of liberalism in Turkey which is ahead of the Arab world by numerous decades.

Since the extremists are happy with Turkey today, let us hope that maybe they can learn something new from the Turks. The extremists are currently forgiving, or at least turning a blind eye to, the Turkish spirit of liberalism and the Turkish [political] secularism, however we are aware that their position towards Turkey is a temporary and selective one. They are raising Turkey's red crescent flag because Ankara took up a courageous political position against Israel, and these extremists are therefore trying to shame the Arab regimes by pointing to Turkey's example. In other words, they do not truly care what is happening to Israel so much as they want to embarrass their own governments.

Our region is in a state of witnessing continual protests, and those who are protesting or complaining were obliged to raise images of Hassan Nasrallah, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Osama Bin Laden, and Ayman al-Zawahiri, until their popularity waned because of their failure to confront Israel and the West in general. Now, there is support for Turkey, and this is most reassuring, for Turkey is one of the most politically moderate, scientifically advanced, and liberal, countries in the region.

The average Arab citizen needs a leader that he can follow and imitate. The Arabs are in a continual state of searching for a hero, and we have today raised the figure of [Turkish PM] Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This searching for a hero is a constant Arab characteristic, but it is also something that everybody does.

The Arabs can be excused for their ongoing search for heroes beyond their borders, from Iran to Afghanistan to Turkey, because this is something that has been enforced upon them due to the sense of defeat that has persisted over the previous decades, and particularly with regards to the conflict with Israel. There were defeats in 1947, 1948 [Arab – Israeli war], 1956 [Suez Crisis], 1967 [Six Day War], and 1973 [Yom Kippur War], not to mention the scenes of refugees living in refugee camps for half a century and counting, and the daily humiliation of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories. The Arabs need heroes from abroad, or to resurrect dead heroes from the past, whether this is Saddam Hussein or Jamal Abdul-Nasser; forgiving their mistakes, their inflammatory rhetoric, and their authoritarianism in the face of their need to confront the enemy.

However I hope that Turkey will now become our role model, not just in combating Israel, but also in how to reconcile the past with the past; this is due to Turkey's long experience following the collapse of the Ottoman empire and the country's transition into the new world.

*Published in the London-based ASHARQ ALAWSAT on July 26, 2010.

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