On Turkish television, these are dangerous times to be a historical figure or a cartoon character. In recent weeks, Turkey's state television regulatory body has accused The Simpsons of blasphemy, while Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested prosecutors take a look at a hit soap opera loosely based on the life of sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, accusing the show of denigrating the country's Ottoman past.
In the case of The Simpsons, the Supreme Board of Radio and Television (RTUK) fined private broadcaster CNBC-e $30,000 for showing in September an episode of the long-running animated series that the agency determined was "making fun of God." Writing in The Telegraph, Justin Vela reports:
The episode in question was the Halloween special 'Treehouse of Horrors XXII,' that originally aired in the US in October last year. In one segment of the episode, titled "Dial D for Diddly", the religiously-devout character Ned Flanders goes on a killing rampage after being given orders by what he thinks is the voice of God. Later in the episode, the Devil demands God bring him a cup of coffee. "Yes sir," God responds, revealing it is actually the Devil that runs the world.
RTUK stated that the episode shows "one of the characters is abusing another one's religious beliefs to make him commit murders.
The Bible is publicly burned in one scene and God and the Devil are shown in human bodies."
RTUK also said that God serving the Devil coffee can be considered an insult to religious beliefs.
Homer and Marge's legal troubles come in the midst of a swirling debate in Turkey, one that was ignited by PM Erdogan, over the fate of "The Magnificent Century," a soap operatic and lightly sexed up reimagining of the goings on in the court of Suleiman the Magnificent. On the air since early 2011, the show has become a massive hit -- not only in Turkey, but across the globe, reportedly reaching 150 million viewers in 76 different countries. But as Andrew Finkel points out in another wonderful column in the International Herald Tribune, the show is getting negative reviews from Turkey's most consequential critic: the Prime Minister. Writes Finkel:
Erdogan took time off at a ribbon-snipping ceremony for a provincial airport recently to describe the series as a travesty. It was wrong, he suggested, to reduce an illustrious history to a saga of household intrigues.
Suleyman spent “30 years on a horse,” he said, implying that the sultan would have had little time left to rip off so many bodices.
“We alerted the authorities,” Erdogan added. “We wait for a judicial decision on it,” he said. “Those who toy with these values should be taught a lesson within the remit of law.”
As some observers have suggested, Erdogan's foray into television criticism may be part of an effort by the PM to divert attention away from bigger problems, especially still unresolved Kurdish issue. But this should not mean that Erdogan's words are inconsequential. Take the example of the "Monument to Humanity," a large concrete sculpture that was built in the eastern province of Kars, near the border with Armenia, as a gesture towards Turkish-Armenian reconciliation. Described by Erdogan as "freakish" during an early 2011 trip the PM took to Kars, the sculpture found itself reduced to rubble only a few months later.
Will the saucy sultans of "The Magnificent Century" find that Erdogan's displeasure will lead them to same fate as the statue in Kars? The show's high ratings may yet save it, but as the fine against The Simpsons shows, in Turkey these days, even the most revered figures are not safe from censure.