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Wag the dog – The context of xenophobia

Written by Sabine Küper on . Posted in Explore, Feed the Sense, The Passenger


Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Angela Merkel as “Brothers in Arms” is only a reality in the xenophobic polemics of German and Turkish media realities. 

Both countries have a long history of political and economical ties. Interestingly “Germans” and “Turks” define each other as “the other” from time to times mainly framed by daily political moods. A reflection of the context of xenophobia is a necessary step for both countries to liberate their own discourse on racism.

Sexist polemics are a widespread tool for propaganda and bad satire as well. When German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited a camp for war refugees from Syria in 2016 near the southeastern Anatolian city of Gaziantep, everyone was talking about the so-called Jan-Böhmermann Affair. The German comedian caused a diplomatic crisis insulting President Erdoğan in his show massively using lots of sexist connotations in an unsuccessful attempt to question borders of tolerance. As a German TV-Crew we caused controversial emotional reactions in a Teahouse. The Erdoğan Followers screamed the grudge of the soul. Where in the world is there such a thing that a comedian may personally insult a president? The government opponents took over the defense. The propaganda of Turkish media would be much worst; no one could bear the daily sermon of the president any more. The German TV team was already out of sight. Unobtrusively, we cleared the field. The debate about raison d’état, freedom and Europe continued.

Why do people sometimes react so irrationally and corporately in the collective? The example of the football fan is almost universal. The crowd passionately identifies with their own crew and automatically knows that the opponent is doing the same with his own. Psychologically, each person projects positive emotions on his or her group, negative on the opponent. If it comes to riots later all will have seen something different. Perception is contextual; a certain perspective determines what is seen.

After moving to Istanbul in the early nineties I first lived in an almost entirely Turkish environment. As a German I was usually given spontaneous cordiality. However, when people gushed appreciatively at the German-Turkish arms brotherhood or downplayed German fascism as a lapidary episode, a sense of strangeness deepened. “My Struggle” was sold openly in the store. A neighbor of mine was happy about his “Gestapo motorcycle” and loves it to this day. What kind of movie was that? I did not know this context. The perception of the common section of German-Turkish history in the First World War has been replaced in the collective memory of my generation by the processing of German fascism, while in Turkey it is exactly the other way around for lots of people.

  • "Unified in Combat". The Austrian, Ottoman and German Emperors were allies during WWI
  • One Turkish edition of "My Struggle". Three main translations were published. They are introduced as an "ideological frame against Communism and the hegemony of the Jews" in one. None of the publications is problematized as the main pamphlet of Fashist Nazi-Propaganda.
  • The novel was published in 1943 in Istanbul. It was translated into German in 2008, 60 years later.
  • A Turkish Girl in Germany. Gerta has fallen in love with Murat, who is actually married in Turkey. One of the spectacular scenes is Gerta dancing in a Bikini on the beach with a group of men applauding around her. Stupid, easy to have Gerta or Helga and Hans, the uncharismatic, funny German man are types of the stereotypes on Germans in Turkish cinema in the 1960's and 1970's.
  • Ankara Express was produced 1970, a film about the love story of Hilda, a Nazi agent, and Seyfi, a Turkish secret service agent
  • You don't need toys in the Middle East! They are only for people in the West. Hohoho.
  • Angela Merkel as "female Hitler" alias "ugly aunt" in the Daily Güneş
  • Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as Hitler on German Social Media sources

I started reading literature and watching movies. Sabahattin Ali’s novel, The Madonna in a Fur Coat, is a portrayal of the unfortunate life of a young Turkish intellectual who falls in love with a young artist while studying in Berlin. The novel is a tribute to the Berlin of the twenties. At the same time, in the figure of the half-Jewish Maria Puder, he transfigures German society as purely modern and enlightened and contrasts the Istanbul reality of the first-person narrator as exclusively old-fashioned and backward. Amazingly the novel appeared in 1943 at a time when fascism flourished in Germany. The book reflects the memories of the left-wing author Ali, who had studied in Berlin in the Twenties. In the Turkey of the late 1930’s he mainly met with German dissident fleeing the Nazi’s regime. In Ankara and Istanbul, there were pro-regime diplomats or dissidents awaiting the end of the war or a passage to Palestine. The film “Ankara Express” is orchestrated around a hidden plan of the Nazi’s to invade Turkey by an army of Spies. One of them is Hilda living a passionate love story with Turkish major Seyfi from the Turkish Secret Forces. While the Nazi’s get defeated Hilda even sings love songs a la Turca. The movie won 5 Tulips on the Antalya Film Festival in 1971.

Different phases in German Turkish relations involuntarily shape one another’s gaze. In the 1970s, when labor migration to Germany tore up many Turkish families, the so-called “Helga” and “Gerta films” were created. Turkish actresses dressed in blond wigs and over-sexualizing outfit incorporated German women who turn the head of Turkish men. The highlight of such films is the visit to the Turkish hometown. The Gerta’s and Helga’s impress with their stupidity, their broken Turkish, their lack of manners and their Fable for the Murat’s and Ahmet’s. http://senseoftime.inenart.eu/?p=5437

In 1993 the Genç family fell victim to a xenophobic fire attack in the German city of Solingen. My interviewees for the German News in an Istanbul café emphasized that they did not confuse this terrible event with all Germans and that there were bad people everywhere. That was at a time when Turkish politics were very Europe-oriented. Meanwhile, that has changed. Shortly before the attack on the Club Reina for New Year 2017, Santa Claus became a symbol of the diabolically evil West in nationalist, government-related media. He threw bombs at Aleppo and grinned with blood-dripping grimaces from various medial illustrations. That reminded me of the discussion about Mohammed cartoons from ten years ago. The prophet connected with bombs had been so funny for some part of the Western audience. Cartoonists in Turkey I spoke to in those days, all of them non-religious, feared the reactions of the religious crowd. This is not about religion but about contextually and the orchestration of xenophobia. Attacks in Turkey most of the times hits locals that are seen as the “allies of the West”. The xenophobic projections are including scapegoats formed from the potential opponents in the country. The Turkish satire magazine LeMan was threatened several times to get the same punishment like the Cartoonists from Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

Symbolic goals are currently victims of attacks. The St.Antoine Church on Istiklal Boulevard has been under police surveillance since the 2016 Paris attacks. At Christmas my Turkish friends go there to listen to sacred chorales like visiting a concert. The more the discussion about freedom and Europe are part of an interconnected power struggle the more dangerous it will be for all those people who are not on the side of those who struggle for power. In politically fanatical disputes, unlike the brawls between football fans, mostly the uninvolved get hurt. In this sense, it is very important not to stop fighting the root of xenophobia. At the moment, this debate is being conducted group-related in Germany as well as in Turkey. Germans, Turks, Muslims, Easteners, Westerners, Migrants, Autochthones. This is a dead end, the debate has to soften towards common goals, Anti-racism should not stay group-related but should become contextual.

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