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> Prserving culture by dance
> The Palestinian love affair with Turkey
> THE FIFTEENTH ANNUAL ARTAS LETTUCE FESTIVAL
> The Movie Lemon Tree
> Reem Kalani, singer
> An Artist from Palestine: Sliman Mansour
> Al Zaytouna: dabke
> The Virtual Gallery at Birzeit University
> Open air concert across Walls at Rachel's Tomb,...
> Popular Songs and Dances of the Artas Folklore Troupe
> Thirteenth Annual Artas Lettuce Festival April...
> The Fourteenth Annual Artas Lettuce Festival,...
> Palestinian Cinema – An Example for the Region?
> Making a Feature Film in Palestine
> Shibat, Rocking Christmas
By Dr. Ali Qleibo
“She gave birth to a baby girl!” Aida screamed overjoyed relating the happy news as I climbed up the staircase to the house.
“Who gave birth?” None of our relations, friends, or acquaintances, as far I knew, was pregnant.
“Maram, of course. And Husam is much nicer to her now.”
It took me a few minutes to realise that my 13-year-old daughter’s social news had no bearing on reality. Rather she was relating the latest developments in the turbulent relations between Soad, Ali, Najla, Maram, Husam, and a host of Turkish characters with Turkish setups dubbed into Syrian Arabic and bearing Arab names. The daily televised episode of this social drama carries the wonderful Arabic title, Qasr el Hob, The Palace of Love.
The love affair with Turkey sparked last year with the serialised soap opera Nour. In both Jordan and Palestine, all activities ceased as people gathered to view the televised serial. Cafés, restaurants, shops, and clubs set up huge screens to entice the clients to leave their homes and not miss any episode. The repeats in the afternoon allowed double enjoyment.
Overnight Istanbul became the dream place. Tour agencies had the poster of Muhannad and Nour embracing against the background of the Bosporus Bridge as the advertisement for the package tours to Turkey.
As the Royal Jordanian plane landed in Istanbul, most of the girls on board gasped, sighed, screamed, and even cried. “We are in the city of Nour and Muhannad.”
The tour of Istanbul includes the house of Muhannad, the bridge of Muhannad, the Bosporus of Muhannad, the street he drove past in one episode, the café where he met with Nour in another episode….
Historic Istanbul fades into the background. Topkapi Palace, the Bayazid Mosque, the Yeni Mosque, the Egyptian Bazaar, etc., all shrink to secondary importance since they don’t figure in the daily dramas of the Turkish heroes. Occasionally they may emerge within the silhouette of the city landscape. The domes and minarets of Ottoman Istanbul appear briefly in the far distance at a moment of sunset enveloped in deep red as the general setup for the special scene when the heroes indulge in a romantic encounter on the European side of Istanbul. On the other hand, the grandiose and extremely elegant three-generation family villa of Muhannad, decorated along Arabic aesthetics, assumes great importance. It ranks top on the visiting list.
In fact, setting up the scenery in historically neutral contexts and moving the action into secular modern but conservative homes, cafés, offices, or university campuses allows for the possibility of the greater Syrians (Lebanese, Syrians, Jordanians, and Palestinians) to identify with the humanity of the contemporary Turks. The dubbing helps. Turkish names become Arab names. Syrian dialect helps bridge the language barrier. It must be borne in mind that the original Turkish drama series bears a different Turkish name that has no relationship with the translated title.
What survives in the translation is a style of life, a mode of being, a temperament liberated from the more austere aspect of the Arab sense of religion. The photograph of Kemal Ataturk hanging on the walls appears often and serves as a subtle reminder of the moment of rupture with Arabic culture dominated by Islam. Turkey is a secular modern state where Islam survives as a culture and as a blueprint that serves as an optional point of departure for the Turkish customs, manners, morals, and values but that is not compulsory. Turks are Muslims like us but in a country where Islam has been liberated from state control. They live modernity. The individual relationship to God and Sunni tradition is personal, optional, rational, and free from coercive punitive measures. Their value system and morality are informed by social rules of proper conduct and not enforced by divine ordinance. Individuals are free to love, to feel, and to err but they must bear the individual responsibility of their choices. They act within a rational social system whose moral parameters are not dissimilar from ours.
The extended family plays an important role in this cultural identification. No Turkish hero lives independently; he/she is caught up in the network of family relationships. Apart from the few friends at work or at the university, almost everyone belongs to a three-generation household that is dominated by the highly revered figure of the grandfather or grandmother, uncle or aunt. In Qaser el Hob Suad reigns supreme. Her power is uncontested and she commands equally the respect of her family members, their wives and her servants. Ali reigns supreme in his house and looks after his separated sister and adult male children. The great deference with which the heads of the family are treated is matched by the great love and adoration both their children and the audience feel for them. The matriarchs are invariably presented as self-sacrificing widows, spinsters, or divorcees in their late fifties. They are at an age beyond child-bearing but have reached their emotional prime. Theirs is the voice of wisdom in the world of youthful turbulence of their children and spouses who are in their late twenties and early thirties. As heads of the family they are embroiled in putting into order the lives of their dependents having had to learn to navigate their way through their own great passion. Age, maturity, and experience have made them masterful at advancing reason above emotions and duty above personal convenience.
Turned off by the over-dramatic often vulgar brawls, with all the unrestrained scenes of screaming sessions (radeh) and fighting scenes in the action-packed Egyptian drama series, the audience finds in the Turkish series emotional restraint, rational self-control, and well-crafted dialogues in which opposing points of view are advanced in a civil manner and escape from Arabic chaos.
Class and social Turkish refinement remain an important aspect of this love affair. The clothes, costumes, interior decorations (despite various economic conditions) bespeak order, good taste, elegance, and a great culture; a common culture, which not so long ago we had shared together. All the characters are impeccably dressed. Stylish yet modest costumes are designed for women. Soad is extremely elegant but always modest and though not veiled her hair is discreetly tucked away underneath elegant silk scarves. Incidentally, scarves in Turkish social dramas appear in a variety of forms as “foulards,” “echarpes,” shawls, and wraps.
Men are usually very well dressed with elegant pullovers, colourful shirts, and smart haircuts. In fact, most male and female actors, apart from their beauty (which bears great similarity to the “looks” of the greater Syrians) are exquisitely dressed.
As we move with the characters inside the rooms of the extended family house, we feel at home. The Turkish home is, aesthetically speaking, an Arabic home. In the sumptuous living rooms, the carved-wood closets and beds of the bedrooms, the kitchen, we share their common ideas of furniture. What they eat looks like our food, they wear what we wear, and they live in our dream houses. We are the same, but they live and conduct their lives with great panache.
We look up to ourselves as we see the Turkish dramas unfold. The Turkish soap operas export an idealised image of us in Istanbul or even in the small Anatolian village. It does not require great imagination to identify with the individual and the culture; we could have been born there. The characters on the screen reflect our inner identity.
After almost a century of a literature of hate, the “oppressive Ottomans” have regained their humanity. “Could these wonderful people be as bad as portrayed in the history books?” The question is rhetorical. We have been captivated by the contemporary Turkish Delight. Eight decades after Ataturk the millions of Arab fans of Turkish social dramas have reconciled in the silence of their hearts with the Turks. It is to the credit of the Turkish social dramas that the hiatus that separates “us” and “them” has been bridged. With the excellent Syrian dubbing, it is common sense to conclude that the Turks are us.
On my way back from Petra, many years ago, I missed the bus that I had taken with the tour group. Instead, I returned to Amman with the local “service” from Ma’an. In Al-Qatraneh, the mandatory rest area, I entered the local ethnic café as opposed to the fancier one for tourists. Whereas the Western one had tables for the clients I was surprised that in the balady café, mattresses, cushions, and floor matting was provided for the local customers and very few optional chairs and tables. My attention was drawn to a group of local Bedouins who had huddled around the TV. I drew closer expecting them to be following the then popular Egyptian social drama, Bein el Qasreen. To my surprise, I saw them watching an English-language videotape of Macbeth. They smoked their local tobacco pipes as they sat on the ground mesmerised following the incantation of the three witches.
In retrospect, I realise that Shakespeare’s tragedy: the rise and fall of a chivalrous hero, the battles between the clans, the intrigue of Lady Macbeth, the witches … all had to do much more with a Bedouin life than the serialised novel of Naguib Mahfouz whose urbane characters and events take place in sophisticated Cairo.
One last aside: there was no translation; the film was neither dubbed nor subtitled. I do not think they missed much. The image survives the translation.
We may credit the Syrian dubbing for the sweeping love affair with Turkish social dramas, but under no condition can we undervalue the genius of the Turkish dramaturge. To the inarticulate existential questions of the Arab individual caught between tradition and modernism, individualism and collectivism, Puritanism and rationalism, the Turkish social dramas provide a reasoned way of life. The modern-day Turkish Delight enchants and stimulates, charms and inspires, entertains and provides dreams of a better life.
Dr. Ali Qleibo is an anthropologist, author, and artist. A specialist in the social history of Jerusalem and Palestinian peasant culture, he is the author of Before the Mountains Disappear and Jerusalem in the Heart. Forthcoming is Surviving the Wall, an ethnographic chronicle of contemporary Palestinians. Dr. Qleibo lectures at Al-Quds University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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