In Turkey, “The Simpsons” and “Game of Thrones” are blasphemy

American TV shows anger Turkish government

Ben Taub By Ben Taub

Guests line up at the opening of The Simpsons Ride in May, 2008 at Universal Studios Hollywood in Universal City, California. (Reuters)

Editor’s Note: The Turkish government has no love for American television series. Monday Turkey’s Supreme Board of Radio and Television fined a Turkish broadcaster for showing “The Simpsons'” Halloween special “Tree of Horror XXII.” The board criticized the show for depicting the public burning of the Bible and for a scene in which Homer’s annoyingly cheerful neighbor Ned Flanders goes on a killing spree after hearing what he believes to be the voice of God (it’s actually Satan).

This is only the latest in a series of reactionary moves against American TV in Turkey, as our reporter Ben Taub discovered in July when he wrote about the government’s attempt to charge Turkish army officers with the crime of “insulting Turkishness.” Their mistake? Showing the racy HBO show “Game of Thrones” to students at a Turkish military high school.

It’s a plot twist worthy of American fantasy writer George R.R. Martin: Turkish politicians and generals  feuding over using “A Game of Thrones” to teach English.

This summer a Turkish military high school showed episodes of HBO’s racy “Game of Thrones,” which adapts Martin’s series of novels, A Song of Ice and Fire. (Of course, everyone learns a foreign language better when their attention is fully engaged.) The course, open to 16- to 19-year-olds, ran for 10 weeks. At the course’s end — good timing, eh? — someone (allegedly a parent) sent an anonymous letter to academy administration asserting that the show featured “corrupted and perverted” sex and portrayed Turks as “a barbarian tribe with perverted religious rituals,” according to the Turkish daily Hurriyet.

The show is known for its occasional sex scenes. Hurriyet noted that an investigating committee determined that “Game of Thrones” could “damage the evolving individual in ways extremely difficult to amend in the future.”

But apparently the main legal issue was the show’s blatant anti-Turkishness.

A scene from “A Game of Thrones.” (HBO)

You heard right.

Hurriyet reported that the nine officers who showed the series in class are now facing charges for “insulting Turkishness,” a crime punishable under section 301 of the Turkish Penal Code. Never mind that neither HBO’s series nor the fantasy novels it dramatizes make mention of any people that ever populated the Earth, and the plot includes dragons, magic and other elements of the supernatural.

The military prosecutor dismissed all charges against the nine. But the Minister of Defense, perhaps a scheming Lannister-type (a particularly devious clan in Martin’s novels) forced the case to be reopened.

In September four of the officer teachers were dismissed from the military for showing the video (we’re not sure what happened to the other five) which the prosecutor deemed to “cause grave consequences such as the weakening of the national feelings of students, and even alienating them from the profession.” Hurriyet columnist Mehmet Ali Birand put it this way:


I also [have watched] this series and not even for one moment [have] such evil thoughts crossed my mind…To claim that cadets will become alienated from the military profession because of the series is…impossible to understand. In this case…[the] Terminator and Rambo films should especially be banned.

What a pity.

Was this another move by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to curb the power of the military? Perhaps. In April, 30 army officers were detained for their roles in the 1997 military coup that overthrew the government and imprisoned the Mayor of Istanbul. That mayor? Erdogan himself.

His Justice and Development Party (AKP) has now won three straight national elections and plans to rewrite the constitution so that he can run for president. In Turkey, at least, it’s quite clear who’s won the game of thrones.

This story is an updated version of one that originally ran on July 2nd, 2012.