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Patrick White

Published: 9 March 2012shoah

Region: Middle East

By Patrick White

Anyone hoping to see a wind of change across the Muslim world after the ground-breaking decision by Turkish television to air French director Claude Lanzmann’s film about the Holocaust in January may have been disappointed by the response.


As expected, there was clear opposition to the broadcast from some Muslims. Iranian state news network Press TV reported that many would consider it ‘controversial and unacceptable,’ referring to the belief held by some that the Holocaust was exaggerated so as to engender support for Israel and its treatment of Palestinians.

But under the media radar the broadcast – the first time Shoah has been screened by a state broadcaster in any Muslim country – may have played a part in the very tentative thaw in relations with Israel in recent months. In February, representatives from the Israeli Defence Ministry attended the inauguration of a village in eastern Turkey built with Israeli donations for victims of the earthquake that devastated the region last October, while ongoing academic cooperation between the two countries has proved fruitful in a number of fields.

Naturally a film could never work political miracles, even if it does signal the possibility of more cultural risk-taking by media leaders on all sides in the region.  But obstacles remain, including the outstanding Turkish demand for an Israeli apology following the botched flotilla raid in 2009 that left 9 Turkish activists dead and dozens more injured. And it is unlikely that many hard-line Israelis will be convinced that acts of cultural ingratiation are enough to quieten perceived Turkish anti-Semitism in the aftermath of the raid.

At the same time controversy over free speech rights remain in the media spotlight. Turkey has elected to maintain sanctions imposed on France since the appearance of a contentious French law criminalising denial of the Armenian Genocide, even after the law, which Lanzmann described as ‘absolutely stupid,’ was rejected and deemed unconstitutional by the French Constitutional Council.

In late December, an Israeli parliamentary committee also deliberated inconclusively over recognising the Armenian genocide, despite assertions from the foreign ministry and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that it would be better for Israel’s diplomatic standing if such a debate did not take place.

Nevertheless Lanzmann’s film has opened up a new chapter that could strengthen the role of media in helping both Muslims and Israelis to be more open in their affairs.  With Turkish regional influence on the rise in the wake of the Arab Spring, Turkey’s long-overdue acknowledgement of an ugly period in world history should encourage other countries to consider changing their perspectives of the past.

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