I’ve recently reached my limit for complaints from Islamists about how Westerners are corrupting their countries. I’m tired of hearing that Americans in particular are shipping in pornographic and erotic materials that undermine a Quranic worldview. I’m tired of the message that we’re naturally pure, and if only we didn’t face your cultural imperialism, we’d live happily ever after.
Such statements are bad theology and inaccurate sociology. While spending a month in Turkey in 2004, I saw made-in-Istanbul television shows with as much skin as the products of Hollywood. A newspaper rack on the street in the conservative southern Turkish city of Mardin displayed both hardcore Islamic papers and Turkish-published pornography. No American soldiers were forcing Turkish men to peruse the porn. Sin comes from within.
Turkey (at least the western part of it) is more liberal than the other Muslim countries that lie south and east of it, but journalists and novelists testify that impulses to adultery and promiscuity come from within. For example, in "Palace Walk," the powerful Cairo-based novel by Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz, one of the main male characters spends many of his waking and walking moments imagining in lush detail what lies beneath the robes of the women he passes by.
Women’s clothing in Turkey goes all the way from black charshafs (that cover everything but the eyes) to blouses and skirts. Popular Turkish shows that I watched revealed much more: "Akademi Turkiye" displayed a platinum blonde hostess in a microskirt, and "TurkStar" showed off two hostesses, one blonde in miniskirt and the other with long, blonde hair, deep cleavage and a virtually see-through dress. Sure, they were imitations of "American Idol," but they were popular because of human nature, not U.S. pressure.
Turkey’s most popular situation comedies in 2004 showed other Turkish-produced assaults on traditional Muslim values. For example, women regularly said "no" to husbands in ways that Mohammad would not like. One episode of the hit comedy "The Sweet Life" had a businessman and his wife about to repeat their wedding vows in a public ceremony after many years of marriage — but the wife said she wouldn’t go ahead unless she and her husband lived as equal partners. He reluctantly agreed. Then, as they were sitting in front of all their guests, she demanded a half-say in the business — and he gave in.
That’s remarkable in a Muslim country where women have generally been viewed as servants, not partners — let alone equal ones. Yet three consecutive times in one episode of "The Sweet Life," the wife, in response to her husband’s words, firmly said "hayir" (no) — and each time she got her way. You can see why Islamists dislike democracy, including the rule by ratings that is the essence of television democracy.
Another of Turkey’s most popular shows, "Don’t Let the Children Hear," starred a man who argued with his wife in the kitchen barely out of their two children’s earshot (thus the name of the show). The husband thought he should make all the family decisions, but in the episodes I saw he always backed away from his initial autocracy by the end of each program.
Soft-core erotic commercials also undermined Turkish family values: three commercials in a row for suntan lotion lingered lovingly on parts of bikinied bodies that Islamists say should not be visible. A fourth commercial lingered lovingly on a woman taking a shower, with private parts barely private.
Again, that’s democracy in action — companies use commercials that are the most effective in selling products. Some Muslims hate political democracy and its economic variant, as well, believing that they should patronize only candidates and products pre-approved by mullahs. Perhaps if they have many choices, including some viewed as immoral, they won’t be able to convince themselves so easily of their own righteousness.
Our freedom in the United States should have that effect on us, as well.