The nefarious parts we play

Do the caricatures of Americans and Jews in a popular Turkish film point to a dangerous trend in Turkey?

By TOM TUGEND
February 15, 2006 13:56
valley movie 88 298

valley movie 88 298. (photo credit: )

A Turkish movie featuring American actor Gary Busey as a Jewish U.S. army doctor who cuts out the organs of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib and sells them to wealthy foreign clients is breaking all box office records in Turkey. Valley of the Wolves: Iraq (Kurtlar Vadisi: Irak in Turkish) is set for release in a dozen Arab and European countries and the producer is at the current Berlin International Film Festival to find distributors for the United States and additional markets. The film's arch villain is a rogue American officer, played by Billy Zane, who is a self-professed "peacekeeper sent by God." He and his men shoot up an Iraqi wedding party, killing the groom in the presence of the bride and a little boy in front of his mother. Since few people in the United States have heard of the movie, and none have seen it, Jewish organizations have not commented so far. But some conservative columnists, including Debbie Schlussel of FrontPageMagazine.com, have urged Jewish doctors to refuse medical treatment for Busey or Zane, should the occasion arise. An op-ed in the New York Sun characterized the storyline as "Rambo as written by Jane Fonda and Michael Moore." JTA correspondent Toby Axelrod was shown the film at a private screening in Berlin on Sunday by the executive and associate producers, who expressed considerable concern about the reaction of Jewish viewers. Axelrod said that she found the movie somewhat chaotic and with lots of rough edges, though some of the acting was quite good. The Busey character, listed only as The Doctor, is far removed from the Jewish stereotype in both appearance and manner, but hardly a credit to his heritage. At one point, he scolds American soldiers for shooting up the wedding guests "because it ruins their organs." In another scene, a group of apparent organ buyers includes a man clearly dressed as an Orthodox Jew. Even worse is the depiction of Zane's character, Sam William Marshall, as a psychopathic Christian fundamentalist, who can be kind to an Iraqi one moment and then kill him instantly. The two producers emphasized that they were against all forms of extremism, regardless of religion, and that most of film's script was based on fact. Axelrod noted that the film's characters did include both extreme and moderate Muslims and Christians, but no sympathetic Jew to counter-balance the despicable doctor. The film was made well before the current furor in the Muslim world over Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. However, Valley of the Wolves raises the question whether its screen caricatures of Americans and Jews reflect a rise in nationalistic and radical Islamic feelings, even in Turkey, the one Muslim nation considered a friend of both the United States and Israel. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, noted that the cutting out of organs from innocent people "wasn't created out of thin air. It is a revival of the ancient blood libel against the Jews." But a Turkish diplomat, while noting opposition to the war in Iraq and rising nationalism on his country's streets, made a strong case for a more benign interpretation of the film's plot and popularity. The diplomat, who spoke unofficially and did not wish to be identified, mentioned two incidents deeply insulting to patriotic Turks, though unknown or long forgotten by Americans. One is the 1978 film Midnight Express in which some Americans and Britons are caught trying to leave Turkey with a stash of hashish, thrown into a hellish prison and viciously mistreated. One Turkish newspaper wrote that Valley of the Wolves' is our revenge for Midnight Express." More recently and more serious is an actual incident which occurred on July 4, 2003 in northern Iraq. Troops from an U.S. airborne brigade raided and ransacked a Turkish special forces headquarters, threw hoods over the heads of 11 officers and held them for two days. Turkish public opinion, which idolizes the nation's soldiers, was outraged and did not buy the American explanation that the 11 officers were mistaken for insurgents because they did not wear uniforms. Valley of the Wolves opens with this historical incident and then veers into fiction. One of the Turkish officers, unable to bear the shame of the hooding, commits suicide. His farewell letter reaches Polat Alemdar, a legendary Turkish intelligence officer and James Bond-like character, who sets out to avenge the suicide. In the end, Alemdar and his men track down Zane and his soldiers, and with the help of Iraqi fighters wipe out the Americans in a bloody battle. At the film's opening gala in Istanbul, Mayor Kadir Topbas told the Associated Press that the movie "was very successful…a soldier's honor must never be damaged." Beyond these factors, the movie owes most of its instant success to the fact that it is a spinoff from a television series of the same name, which has been Turkey's top-rated show for the past three years, the diplomat said. The TV hero is the same as in the movie, but instead of pursuing Americans he battles the Turkish mafia and its links with ultra-nationalist militants and the state intelligence service. "What makes the film so popular is not the anti-American or anti-Semitic slant, but the hugely successful TV series," said the diplomat. "Even if the protagonist were fighting against radical Islamic terrorists, the movie would have the same success. If there is a Valley of the Wolves II, you shouldn't be surprised if the hero fights against Al Qaeda or hunts down Osama bin Laden." Busey, who plays the Jewish doctor selling the harvested organs to rich people in New York, London and Tel Aviv, is a veteran Hollywood actor. His career high was an Academy Award nomination for the title role in the 1978 film, The Buddy Holly Story. Vickie Roberts, Busey's attorney for the past six years, said that the actor was not giving any interviews but defended her client on constitutional grounds. " There is something in this country called the First Amendment that protects freedom of expression," she said, "I hope we are not returning to the McCarthy era." Roberts added, "If Gary played a rapist in a movie, would anyone believe him to be an actual rapist? He is an actor, not a politician." When asked about the moral and ethical implications of portraying an anti-Semitic stereotype in a foreign movie, Roberts declined to comment.


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