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Scandalwatch! American cartoon conflates Turkey, al-Qaeda

October 19, 2010

(Hat tip to Asher for his Tweet mentioning HaberTurk’s coverage of the South Park flap)

October 13’s episode of South Park, America’s favorite fairly offensive adult cable cartoon show, made headlines around America for its skewering of the reality stars of Jersey Shore and Real Housewives of New Jersey. That’s … not exactly why that episode (Season 14, episode 9, look it up!) has inspired headlines across Turkey generally including the words “Şok,” “skandal,” or “hakaret” (offense/insult). Far from it (I’m not sure how well Jersey Shore would translate here, really). Rather, what has sparked nascent outrage across the country is a scene towards the end of the episode, where, to quote my good friend wikipedia, “a fleet of al-Qaeda suicide pilots flies in and crashes into the ground, killing them [New Jersey-ites/Americans] all.”

“But Rebecca,” you may be asking, “what does that have to do with Turkey?” Oh, not much, except that the planes’ tail sections had the Turkish flag emblazoned on them.

Oh boy.

And, to make things even better, this news is being reported on as one half of an “Americans associating Turkey with al-Qaeda” doublepack of fun along with a Christian Action Network (back-translated from a Turkish source, name may be slightly different) documentary about 9/11, “Sacrificed Survivors,” featuring – you guessed it – a Turkish flag superimposed over the smoldering ruins of Ground Zero. The video was produced as part of opposition to the Ground Zero mosque.

There seems to be very little English-language information about this so far, but a quick Turkish-language trip through Google shows that there is rapidly growing outrage. It’ll be interesting to see whether this blows by quickly in the wake of some other outrage-fueled news story or takes hold, but I think it’s the kind of incident that will linger for awhile and inspire protests that perhaps foreigners, especially Americans, should watch on TV rather than in person. I remember the first time I moved to Turkey, in 2006, was right when the Danish cartoon controversy was blowing up and not coincidentally also the first time I got tear-gassed, after wandering into the tail side of a demonstration on Istiklal.

The thing I think will be a particular sticking point here is that in both incidents (More South Park though, because the DVD cover’s flag is dimly lit, so it could potentially be another color background other than red. It’s definitely the star and crescent, though.) the Turkish flag is associated with al-Qaeda terrorists. Turks in general are not too fond of being lumped in with Arabs, other non-Turkish Muslims, and especially not Muslim terrorists. Not fond at all. And these come after Merkel’s comments over the weekend that German integration has failed, and Turkey’s ongoing frustration with the perceived image of Turkey in the West as not Westernized or “shifting axis Eastward.” I doubt there’ll be much effect on government relations, but I do think if the story catches and holds the view of America by Turks will begin to drop again. Since Turkey has been anchoring the bottom spot in the Pew Global Attitudes’ ranking of countries by favorable view of the US from 2006 to the present (it shares the honor this year, at 17 percent with a favorable view of the US, with Egypt and Pakistan), this would be worrisome.

South Park has always been a controversial program; it’s what they’re famous for. And vitriolic anti-Ground Zero Mosque campaigners thrive on making a clear division of “us” – the patriotic “real American” Christians – and “them” –Muslims. Neither usually involve or target Turkey though, so it’s a bit jarring to see the Turkish flag used as an Islamic-linked terrorism signifier by both at virtually the same time. We’ll see what reactions the week brings.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Asher permalink
    October 19, 2010 2:20 pm

    Man…speaking of flags. Turkey should be well aware of this history and all of the issues transpiring from it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_and_crescent#Flags_depicting_star_and_crescent

    That said, Tunisia, before the current Turkey-esque flag, had a couple of awesome ones:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Flag_of_Tunis_Bey-fr.svg

    And in a sight that will burn the eyes of any good secularist, here’s the Seykulislam declaring a Jihad against the Triple Entente during The Great War: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ottoman_Empire_declaration_of_war_during_WWI.png

    And I bet you were all “hey, what finials were used on Ottoman-Era flags?” Well now you don’t have to ask: http://www.flaginstitute.org/pdfs/Jaroslav%20Martykan.pdf

    That said, um, well, I don’t think South Park really cares…and can you IMAGINE the outrage if they used the “correct” dar-ul-Harb flag with “La illa hu ila allah” on it?

  2. Rebecca permalink*
    October 20, 2010 5:39 pm

    And an update on the second part of the story: http://www.christianaction.org/node/111 The Christian Action Network has, in recognition that Turkey is not representative of the Islamic world, updated their promotional materials for their DVD to include “the flags of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Sudan and Syria” as well. Not exactly the solution Turkey was hoping for, I bet.

    • Asher permalink
      October 21, 2010 12:27 am

      hm, was just talking about that retraction today.

      In related news, Stealth Jihad is totally my new rapper name.

  3. roclafamilia permalink
    October 21, 2010 4:00 pm

    Helpful blog, bookmarked the website with hopes to read more!

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