Last Friday my Turkish professor showed us a Youtube video that is the rage now among Turkish students at Columbia. It deals with the “cultural revolution” of the young Turkish Republic that sought to erase all Ottoman and Islamic influences and replace them with a version of the French republic cooked up by Mustafa Kemal. It is no accident that both Turkey and France have been going through battles lately over the right of Muslim female students to wear headscarves to public school classes. This kind of overzealous secularism was at the core of constitutional thinking in both countries. Of course, in Turkey it was much more of a Western import.
In the image from the video below, you can see Turkish soldiers on orders to arrest anybody who was playing native Turkish music as was being done when the video begins. They then order the cowed villagers to “be happy” (mutlu ol). Just before the soldiers arrive, there are some Turkish words that provide a set-up. Loosely translated (which is all I am capable of at this point), they mean: “The Turkish government declared that Turkish music was to be banned from the radio. The goal was the widespread dissemination of Western music. It wanted to replace the Turkish musical style with French as part of forcing ‘Western culture’ on society.” The soldiers proceed to read off a list of acceptable Western composers, whose names they all butcher.
Although I think everybody understands the joke, let me spell it out. When the soldiers order them to play some Mozart and Beethoven, the saz player responds with an excerpt from Mozart’s Symphony Number 40, accentuating its affinities with native Turkish music. Mozart was very enthusiastic about Turkish music and wrote a famous “Rondo alla Turca” in his piano sonata number 11 as well as the finale to the “Turkish” violin concerto number five that incorporated the same types of harmonies. He follows up with the “Ode to Joy”, whose melody Beethoven lifted from Janissary marching bands.
The very day I saw this video, I read a wonderful story from Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis” titled “Kim Wilde”. It revolved around the efforts of Marjane’s parents to smuggle in an Iron Maiden poster from Turkey into Iran in the early 1980s, when the Iranian “cultural revolution” was in its most virulent stage. Everything Western was banned, including rock music. As urbane and educated Iranians, the Satrapis resented this kind of forced acculturation just as much as the Anatolian villagers in the Youtube video.
Understandably, the Islamic Republic was seeking to overthrow the kind of vicious Western “modernization” norms of the Shah who made the 1934 Turkish assault on Turkish music look tame by comparison. But in making it a crime to bring Iron Maiden posters into the country, clearly it was just as mad in its own way as the Westernizers. The bottom line is that cultural change must not be enforced. That is the main lesson that is found in the Youtube video and in “Persepolis” and clearly one that socialists should embrace.