Turkish Film Uproar Attacking the American Enemy on Screen

The Turkish film "Valley of the Wolves" is drawing hundreds of thousands of viewers in both Turkey and Germany. It's also drawing harsh criticism. The movie is racist, anti-American and anti-Semitic say detractors.

It's tempting to discount the flick as nothing more than Chuck Norris gone ethnic. A group of 11 Turkish officers are arrested by US soldiers, bags are pulled over their heads, and the men are dragged off. Seeing the officers' honor besmirched, a Turkish intelligence agent goes postal and -- reminiscent of a long Hollywood tradition -- heroically puts his life on the line as he goes after the godless Americans. Not terribly compelling from an artistic point of view.

From a cultural -- or rather culture clash -- point of view, however, the film, called "Valley of the Wolves," could hardly be more explosive. It's Turkey's most expensive production ever and a box office smash, but critics charge that the movie is also racist, bitterly anti-American and blatantly anti-Semitic.  Scenes show American troops torturing prisoners a la Abu Ghraib; US soldier Sam is shown gunning down a wedding party; a Jewish doctor is depicted cutting kidneys out of his victims in a scene reminiscent of Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. Cinema-goers in Turkey and in Germany -- particularly among the country's Turkish immigrant population -- are eating it up.

Politicians are worried. Given that nerves are already raw from the publishing of the Muhammad caricatures in a number of European newspapers, and the subsequent violent protests in many Muslim countries, many see "Valley of the Wolves" as little more than pouring oil on the fire. The head of a child-protection agency in the south-east Turkish city of Diyarbakir has called for the film to be banned due to its "Hitler-like and racist point of view." And according to the influential daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung -- quoting diplomats in Ankara -- US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice even delayed an early February trip to Turkey because of the film.

In Germany, Bavaria's governor Edmund Stoiber was joined early this week by a number of politicians in calling on cinema operators to remove the "racist and anti-Western hate film" from their programs. Green Party head Reinhard Bütikofer has also appealed to theaters to "earn your money elsewhere." European parliamentarian Cem Özdemir, likewise of the Green Party, writes in an essay for SPIEGEL ONLINE that the filmmakers "are trying to echo and bolster racist ideals while clouding dialogue." 

The film's opponents have had some success, at least in Germany.  On Wednesday, the country's largest movie theater chain Cinemaxx ceased showing the film. But others are urging caution in how officialdom approaches this movie. The head of Germany's Turkish community Kenan Kolat is vehemently opposed to a ban on "Valley of the Wolves," insisting it would "raise the level of identification with the film even more…. A democracy must be able to endure even those films it doesn't approve of."

The film's distributor in Germany, Anil Sahin, responded to Stoiber's vocal criticisms against the film on Tuesday. "Mr. Stoiber is playing into the hands of the right wing," Sahin told the Rheinische Post. "Something is wrong when a cartoonist insulting 2 billion Muslims is considered freedom of opinion, but when an action film takes on the Americans it is considered demagoguery."


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