The Turkish Fog of Morality

Published in Turkish Daily News, 9 August 2008

In Thailand, I am told, bits of the movies which are deemed too sexual or immoral are not cut out as in other countries, but only blurred. Thus the viewer stares at a misty screen for the duration of the "improper" scenes. This interesting form of censorship, some sort of a fog of morality, ironically mystifies what the viewer cannot watch and eroticizes even the most common and boring expressions of sexuality we have grown accustomed to seeing on the big screen.

A European friend living in Bangkok recently expressed her displeasure of having to watch some scenes of the movie "Sex and the City" blurred. It is quite interesting that although "Sex and the City" has a quite low age certification in Europe, in Thailand, the country that serves as the capital of sex tourism and most crooked sensualities, relatively mild scenes of the movie are deemed "improper"

Coverage of dark rumors:

This disparity between what goes on in broad day light and shown in public, as well as blurring of a scene as a form of censorship, provides us with a quite helpful metaphor in conceptualizing the bizarre show Turkish politics have performed for the last two years.

These have indeed been confusing, polarizing and intense times. Yet, after all that has been said and done, what is new or unheard of with shady political and militant organizations, men in uniforms dreaming of a comeback to direct power, different classes and elites fighting for the upper hand, saucy theories involving foreign intelligence agencies and doomsday scenarios? The only difference is that this time around the battles have been fought in front of Turkish society and the international media. For the first time, perhaps, the dirtiest elements of the futile dynamics of Turkish politics have been exhibited in public and debated ad nauseam. What we always knew but never spoke and named became spoken and named out loud.

There are two reasons why age-old diseases became such public sensations. First of all, freedoms of expression and press have come a long way in this country and led to the unprecedented coverage of dark rumors, which would have meant the end of media outlets and journalists just six or eight years ago. Thus, perhaps for the first time in Turkey, the media has become so fragmented and independent that no particular group could claim absolute control over what was to be made public or what kind of interpretation would be the mainstream or official one.

This positive development has led to the second reason. The same inevitable information outpouring has created an imperative for interest groups to manipulate what is being shown on the screen. If one cannot stop the leak, one might as well try to control the flow or spin the reports towards the desired direction. Enigmatic statements by retired officers, allusions and indirect messages from the politicians, off record and quite broad information given by state officials, leaked memos and phone conversations have completely blurred the scene with a cacophony of partial or misinformation.

Different domestic media outlets have continued to cover Ergenekon and AK Party trials and Laicism versus Islam debates through their own political inclinations and what little "special information" has been given to them by their big brothers. Foreign media have read Turkey through their own domestic lenses of integration of Muslim immigrants, EU accession and unknown future of political and militant Islam.

Just like in the Thai one, the Turkish fog of morality has only resulted in mystifying the mundane power games and political pressures. Both domestic and foreign observers have been captivated and fixated with the blurred colors on the screens. Although the scene that has been censured was nothing sexier than what we have always seen, the viewers' sensuality has been aroused by the showing of a tiny bit of political skin - enough to catch our attention but not enough to satisfy our curiosity.

Just as a brief glimpse of a bra in a business meeting can excite a man more than seeing topless beach goers, the limited information we had access to provided enough sensuality for commentators to imagine wild fantasies.

Mundane and boring:

Turkey was becoming Iran. The same people who were concerned about a sneaky shari'a imposition declared Islam and the Turkish nation to be under attack from Western missionaries, who were after a sneaky mass conversion of Turkey into a Christian nation. President Gul and Prime Minister Erdogan were ‘exposed' to be Jews, not "Islamists" as they look to be. "Learned" foreign observers foresaw civil war or an imminent military show down, and declared the notion of a Muslim majority democratic country a myth. In the middle of all of this, we have become children lost in a "forest of symbols,” as Baudelaire put it.

The current episode in the unfolding Chronicles of Türkiye is neither the last battle nor the most dramatic twist we have witnessed in the story of our adolescent Republic thus far. When the current fog of morality is lifted, our arousals cool off and we are able to reconstruct what we have not been allowed to see, we might all be quite disappointed with how mundane and boring the blurred scenes actually were.