Turkish Movie Renews Free-Speech Debate

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A new Turkish movie, The Valley of the Wolves, is attracting large audiences among the Turkish immigrant community in Germany. It has been condemned by some German politicians for its anti-American tone. Some have called for the film to be banned, renewing the debate about freedom of speech.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Anti-Western, anti-Semitic and dangerously provocative. In Germany, those are just some of the terms being used to describe a Turkish film that's just started showing. The film is set during the war in Iraq and as NPR's Rachel Martin reports from Berlin, some German politicians want it banned from theaters.

RACHEL MARTIN reporting:

On a recent night at the El Hombre Theatre in the Berlin neighborhood of Vetting( ph), dozens of people line up an hour in advance to buy tickets for THE VALLEY OF THE WOLVES. The film was released in Germany less then three weeks ago and has drawn hundreds of thousands of moviegoers, in part because of it's controversial depiction of American and Jewish characters. A major part of the plot evolves from a brutal scene in which American soldiers open fire on a Muslim wedding.

While the movie is largely seen as a secular nationalistic Turkish film, many in Germany say it is anti-Western propaganda that could exacerbate the divide in Europe between Muslims and non-Muslims. Members of the Christian Social Union, part of the governing coalition in Germany, have been lobbying movie theaters to ban the film and this week one major chain said it would remove the movie from its 46 multiplex centers because of the controversy. Joachim Herrmann is the leader of the Christian Social Union in Bavaria.

Mr. JOACHIM HERRMANN (Bavaria Christian Social Union Leader): (Through translator) In this situation right now it's very important that we don't increase the tension between Muslims and Christians and this film is dangerous because it distorts perceptions and could lead to even stronger divisions.

MARTIN: Other German leaders say banning the film would be counter-productive and a violation of freedom of speech laws. Silvana Kock-Mehrin is a German member of the European Parliament who's proposing showing the film in schools as a tool to improve cross-cultural dialogue.

Ms. SILVANA KOCK-MEHRIN (German Member of European Parliament): One has to tackle it in a way that it unveils the propaganda and all the clich├ęs and prejudices which are used in it in order to create the west as the enemy.

MARTIN: The film has illuminated fears that Germany, with its substantially unintegrated Turkish population, might experience the kind of cultural and religious tensions felt in other European countries, most recently in Denmark. Gunter Piening the Commissioner for Integration and Migration in Berlin, says that won't happen because the climate in Germany is different.

Mr. GUNTER PIENING (Commissioner for Integration and Migration, Berlin): In Germany, especially in Berlin there are no provocations from the newspapers, from public opinion, no provocation from the political side. On the other side, there are no groups who are interested in polarization.

MARTIN: Turkish communities in Germany may not be as polarized as Muslim immigrant groups in other European countries, but they still share some of the same frustrations about discrimination and intolerance.

(Soundbite of Turkish radio)

John Dalaman is the host of a daily Turkish radio show on the Berlin radio station MultiCulti (ph). Earlier this week on his show he defended the Turkish film as an expression of free speech that should be supported in the same manner as the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed published in the Danish newspaper.

Dalaman says for decades Germany has marginalized its Turkish immigrants who have in turn created their own separate and distinct societies that operate well outside mainstream German society, an isolation that he says breeds misunderstanding and intolerance.

Mr. JOHN DALAMAN (Host, Turkish radio station): (Through translator): There are no partners for dialogue. It's like a valley where the two sides stand on the hills and don't know how to build a bridge. In some ways it's nearly too late. The cultural gaps are so large and have developed over such a long period of time that they cannot be closed.

MARTIN: Dalaman says he hopes the film can help open a public dialogue in Germany about integration and unspoken fears about Islamic cultures, a dialogue he says is long overdue.

Rachel Martin, NPR News, Berlin.

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