August 31, 2006

Making Pinocchio, Huckleberry Finn, and Heidi into Muslims

In Turkey, they're giving schoolkids a book full of Western stories touched up to make characters like Pinocchio, Huckleberry Finn, and Heidi into Muslims. (Via Memeorandum.) I don't think there's anything wrong with taking a traditional story from one culture and rewriting it putting the characters into a different culture. It can be confusing and bad art if you just slap on a few details and don't change the whole context, but there's a long tradition of passing around folk tales.

The bigger problem is bringing religion into government-run schools. Turkey "has been a strongly secular state since the 1920s." But before you get upset about depicting Heidi praying to Allah, you should consider whether you accept American public schools giving kids the Heidi story without expunging her praying. (I'm assuming Heidi prays in the original.) Should religion be censored from works of fiction used in public schools in the United States? If you think not, will you argue that the rule should be different in Turkey, because the state has a historical tradition and a real threat to ward off?

25 comments:

Goesh said...

Turkey is as turkey does, the operative word being "turkey".
I always wonder what Turks think of us using them to name a dumb bird and eating said dumb bird on a national holiday? Let's talk turkey - who made that expression up and why? Remember when it was popular to call a nit-wit a turkey? Then there is the character turkey-lurky in that fable. Maybe the sky is falling when we dawdle and muse over what another country is doing with fictional characters.

Ron said...

Seeing "The Turkish Wizard of Oz" is a special treat...

Dave said...

Kemal Ataturk founded the modern Turkey on the premise that modernization was key. His assumption was that the secular west accomplished what it accomplished because it freed man from religion. Ataturk's particular genius* was his insistence on secularism and his adoption of roman letters for the Turkish language as opposed to its traditional Cyrillic alphabet. He sought to integrate Turkey with Europe; Turkey's initial talks to accede to the E.U. are the logical extension of Ataturk's legacy.

That said, there is obviously an undercurrent of Islamism in modern Turkey, especially in its rural and agrarian Anatolian frontier.

*Armenians will not consider Ataturk a genius, given Turkey's slaughter of ethnic Armenians.

Balfegor said...

to its traditional Cyrillic alphabet

I'm pretty sure it was traditionally Arabic script. I didn't see a whole lot of Cyrillic when I was last in Constantinople.

Dave said...

Balfegor: History of Turkey's alphabet.

charlotte said...

Oh, boy. Turkey's sliding into fundamentalism.

I must be missing something about the other issues, though. Why in the world should our schools expunge religious references in lit that were originally written in? Why is it OK for another country to take famous works and transmogrify their characters and context to suit their religion or some other cultural whim?

Classic works of art, lit and music should stand alone without being retouched and edited long after the fact. Creating loose adaptations of myths and other cultural stories is different than taking established classics, rewriting them, and presenting them as either the original or a new and improved version. Some years ago I bought the silly "Complete Nancy Drew" stories for my young daughter, only to get home and see that they had been completely rewritten for today's "tastes and experiences." Bleh, they were no longer stories of their time and had been dumbed down to boot. Homer simplified for young kids is fine, as long as it clearly stated on the jacket, and especially if students are exposed to the real deal (OK, only translations!) later on.

Great music most often gets riffed upon, but the listening audience knows (should know) when it's a take-off. But presenting Beethoven's 7th and deleting or jazzing up the ethereal second movement and then presenting this symphony as Ludwig's would be sacrilege. Censoring (now) offensive words and plot devices from Huck Finn is as wrong as putting a hijab on the Mona Lisa. Art, lit and music are products of history and their makers' imaginations; they are our past and future legacy to knowing who a people were/are and in particular who the creator was. Let's keep created, creative works intact, please!

Balfegor said...

Dave:

Uh yes. Cyrillic is there for "Turkic languages" in general. E.g. Kazakh and Uighur have been written in Cyrillic at times, I think.

But the relevant traditional orthography here, given that we are speaking of Turkey, is probably here, the Ottoman script, which was, as you can see, Arabic.

BrianOfAtlanta said...

This is just payback for Disney's 'Aladdin'.

Icepick said...

Catherine, thanks for the mention of Beethoven's 7th, second movement. I popped it right in, and the day is much improved.

Ken said...

Aren't you missing a key point -- falsification? I don't object to the religion in Shakespeare or the language in Huck Finn -- part of the value of reading old books is the perspective one gains. But I would object if Lear prayed to Gaia in a bowdlerized version for schools.

Dave said...

Balfegor: fair point.

I do think, however, there are Turks who speak Cyrillic-based languages, such as the people who live closer to central Asia.

Joan said...

It has been years since I read Heidi but it's one of my mom's favorites, and we read it together more than once when I was tiny. One of the themes of the story is the grandfather's estrangement from everyone and everything, including God. That's why he's up on that mountain in the first place. It's a hugely emotional moment when he walks back into church for the first time at the end of the book. In all honesty, I can't see that story making the translation from Christianity to Islam. Nor can I imagine Huck Finn, or anyone along the Mississippi River in that era, praying to Mecca five times a day. It makes no sense to me. If you want to riff on a famous story, go right ahead -- Clueless was a great take on Emma, but they didn't call it Emma, did they? -- but don't sell something as Heidi or Huckleberry Finn when it clearly is not.

Sol said...

Fiddling with the culture and settings of stories is as old as time, I have no real problem with that.

What really caught my attention, though, is the notion of making Huck Muslim. I can't imagine the sort of people who'd insist on changing Huck's religon being very enthused about Huck's climatic “All right, then, I’ll go to hell” moment. But if they could translate that well and faithfully, I think it would still be an important book.

S.T. Steiner said...

But isn't that the point with film adaptations. Books are converted into films, at times, with completely new plots. Even American films are dubbed for foreign distribution, at times, changing the words in translation, and creating new titles, ie. "Finding Neverland" or in German, "Wenn Träume fliegen lernen" or [When dreams learn how to fly]; ie. "Bridget Jones' Diary" or in German, "Schokolade zum Frühstück" or [Chocolate for Breakfast].

If we have a chance of marketing our American literature to foreign markets, especially those of Muslim culture, which already, in some cases, censor literature of the Western World, we can be pleased to at least make an impression in foreign cultures, which may, in the end, make us some friends . . . . which in today's world, we really need, especially of the Muslim culture, whose population dominates and whose influence in foreign affairs challenges us and our future.

And what better way is there to teach our American children tolerance, than by first introducing Heidi in its original, and then in its Muslim adaptation; how quickly our children could develop positive feelings of the Muslim culture, as they learn about the differences of the cultures and why each should be respected for its differences, yet also taking note to its obvious similarities. (Language may present a problem ie. Arabic, but I bet there would be some bilingual editions, or English-only editions, in line with the Muslim themes.)

re: Million Dollar Website . . . . Why didn't I think of that?

$$

tjl said...

S.T. Steiner writes,
"Our children could develop positive feelings of the Muslim culture, as they learn about the differences of the cultures and why each should be respected for its differences."

Yes, imagine the delightful playground games as the children play at "beheading" each other, or as the boys force the girls to wear black sacks and throw rocks at those who refuse.

Ataturk knew what he was doing when he chose secularism as the basis for the modern Turkish state. As Turkey is now a democracy, they may choose to regress if they wish. However, by falsely portraying Western literary characters as Muslims, they lose an opportunity to educate Turkish students that non-Muslims may also be seen in a positive way. This is essential if Turkey is ever to join the EU.

S.T. Steiner said...

tjl,

EU Membership for Turkey is a long way off: shared borders with aggressive nations, a non-Christian culture, human rights violations, complicated politics with Cyprus, probably not in my working years.

Interesting how our German students primarily learn German until the age of 10, when they are introduced to English, and by age 14, Latin, and Italian, French or Spanish. L1 is emphasized in the primary years to establish identity, and when L1 and its grammar is convincing, then our students are trained in foreign languages. So once the young Muslims know their origins, their culture, their customs and their parents are confident of their children's identity, then it is appropriate to introduce new concepts, as foreign as they may be. Given the aggressions of Muslim nations with the Western World, it is critical to take baby steps in establishing the groundwork for peace. And we must start with our youth, who will emerge as our future leaders. Just the mere discussion of introducing Western literature, into the Muslim culture is a step forward. And then it's just a matter of time, when the originals will also be welcomed. I believe many Americans live on the defensive. They constantly feel victimized. When Americans stop being so self-absorbed with their issues, and start looking into the needs of others, then it is very possible that they will trade their role as victim for the role of diplomat. Why does America have so many enemies in the world? And little Germany, with maybe a military budget of 250,000 Euros, has friends in every nation, including, surprisingly, IRAN. We are still paying reparations for WWII, and for the first time since WWII, Germans feel a sense of pride in being German, as evident at the FIFA Soccer World Cup, where every nation waved its flag in peace and friendship, including that of Germany. First time since WWII. The FIFA Logo is "zu Gast bei Freunden" [Guest with friends]. So popular was FIFA, that foreign soccer players were asking to immigrate to Germany, although that transition is a bit more complicated.

With respect and patience, new communiqué will emerge between Muslim nations and the Western World. Chancellor Angie Merkel is making progress by leaps and bounds, and she is not pushy. She's elegant and honorable in a sphere of trust and loyalty. She has a program for success, follow her lead.

tjl said...

S.T. Steiner,

After seeing your last post I must say that my comment was sharper than it should have been. I failed to distinguish between fundamentalist Muslims and moderate Muslims, with whom cultural bridges can be built in the ways that you suggest.

However, we Americans are not as insular as you seem to think. I studied French and German in school and my life has been greatly enriched by reading in both languages, as well as by a lifelong love for the operas of Wagner and Strauss.

You write, "I believe many Americans live on the defensive. They constantly feel victimized." Some of us may have very good reasons for feeling defensive. For example, I am a gay man. If I found myself in Saudi Arabia, I would be subject to execution because of who I am. It is not easy to build cultural understanding under those circumstances.

Revenant said...

I believe many Americans live on the defensive. They constantly feel victimized. When Americans stop being so self-absorbed with their issues, and start looking into the needs of others, then it is very possible that they will trade their role as victim for the role of diplomat.

I think "victimized" is the wrong word to use -- "wrongly criticized" would be a much more accurate term to use. "Victimized" implies a level of concern for international opinion that quite frankly few Americans actually feel. It is a bit galling to be lectured by a citizen of a country that would be a totaltarian Communist state today if we hadn't spent about a gojillion dollars maintaining an international military presence for the last sixty years, of course -- but at the end of the day, the lecture just gets filed in the "ungrateful jerks" file and we go back to worrying about important stuff like the price of gas and who's getting fired on "The Apprentice".

Why does America have so many enemies in the world?

We have lots of enemies of the "like to complain about us" variety, but they don't really matter since all they do is talk. We have very few enemies of the "actually want us dead" variety -- basically just the Kim and Castro regimes and various nutty Muslims. The latter group hate us because we've been the de facto leaders of the free world for the last 65 years and keep messing with them. The former dislike us for a mix of reasons mostly stemming from the fact that we're big and powerful and can do pretty much whatever we want without asking for permission first.

And little Germany, with maybe a military budget of 250,000 Euros, has friends in every nation, including, surprisingly, IRAN.

Personally, if I were a German I'd hesitate to brag about being friends with a nation whose leader keeps calling for the annihilation of the world's Jews.

S.T. Steiner said...

If there was peace and tranquility in Israel, I don’t think that the Iranian leadership would be so against Jewish people, in general. I think their animosity stems more from the unrest in Israel, where Palestinians and Israelis are burning each other at the stake. I personally met an Iranian man living in the USA and married to an American Jewish woman with their beautiful daughter who speaks English, Hebrew, Farsi, and French. And this scenario is not all that uncommon within the USA. And it is true, that Iranians residing in the USA are also adamant about the Iranian leadership's hatred toward Israel's Jewish population, as they are also adamant about many of the traditional mores of the homeland. Even Iranians who live in Iran, challenge this proclamation of hatred, and try to escape the oppression.

Additionally, I do not want to advertise about the 9/11 terrorists, because it was the most horrific catastrophe I have ever experienced: via tv; my friends: in person; however, some of these members were educated in Germany. So it’s Russian Roulette, sometimes our German diplomacy is a win, and other times it can be a devastating loss, and in the case of 9/11, of devil proportions.

Apparently, Germany seems more open-minded to the Arabic region, and in the same reference, to Iran. Believe it or not, Germans actually travel to Iran, which houses extraordinarily beautiful art, modernism, academia, and a rich history. I’m not on the bus heading to Iran, as they too represent things in life that contradict with my American/European/Religious culture, such as polygamy, among the upper class, and obvious hatred towards America and Israel. And again, I am not a historian nor a politician, but Germany, has a pretty good business relationship with Iran, whereby, the Bush-camp is dependent on our ties to this region.

Additionally, Bush is claiming “WMD” and according to the February 2005 issue of the Foreign Affairs journal, there were none, which presents entirely new questions of trust and integrity.

I could rant about Bush ~ but honestly, there’s a net-gain of zero.

Just one more note: Martin Luther King gave his “I Have A Dream" speech, on August 28, 1963, whereby he talks about America giving the Negro people a bad check, a check that has come back marked “insufficient funds” : Tell me what has changed in the last 40 years? America still has insufficient funds for its people who are still without housing, food, employment, transportation, and communications, in the 21st Century ~ just reread Mayor Ray Nagin’s transcript referring to Katrina in New Orleans.

Bush says, “Help is on the way.”

And Mayor Ray Nagin says, "I'm at the point now where it don't matter. People are dying. They don't have homes. They don't have jobs. The city of New Orleans will never be the same in this time.

http://www.cnn.com/2005/US/09/02/nagin.transcript/

America is in a state of crisis, nationally and internationally, and only America can be held accountable.

Revenant said...

If there was peace and tranquility in Israel, I don’t think that the Iranian leadership would be so against Jewish people, in general.

Given that the stated policy of the Iranian leadership is that Israel must be completely annihilated, regardless of the cost in Muslim life, that's a shockingly ignorant thing for you to believe.

So it’s Russian Roulette, sometimes our German diplomacy is a win, and other times it can be a devastating loss, and in the case of 9/11, of devil proportions.

It sounds to me like you've simply altered the definition of "win" to a point where you can declare yourself as having achieved it. You haven't managed to get any terrorist-sponsoring nations to reject terrorism, you haven't converted any dictatorships to democracies -- what are these "wins", exactly? Where terrorism is concerned, things got steadily worse until the United States invaded Afghanistan. Diplomacy failed, unless you define "success" as "generating lots of treaties nobody adheres to".

Believe it or not, Germans actually travel to Iran

Um, yeah... and so do Americans.

Additionally, Bush is claiming “WMD” and according to the February 2005 issue of the Foreign Affairs journal, there were none, which presents entirely new questions of trust and integrity.

The Bush Administration is claiming that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, not that they already have WMDs (although there are fears that they might).

Martin Luther King gave his “I Have A Dream" speech, on August 28, 1963, whereby he talks about America giving the Negro people a bad check, a check that has come back marked “insufficient funds” : Tell me what has changed in the last 40 years?

Sheesh, that's like asking a German what's changed since Hitler was in power. It makes the person asking the question sound completely ignorant of the country they're asking about.

First of all, here is the section of the speech in question:

When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men — yes, black men as well as white men — would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check that has come back marked "insufficient funds."

King wasn't talking about money. He was saying that America had failed to honor its promise to protect the fundamental human rights of its black citizens as it had for its white citizens. So the simplest answer to your question of "what's changed" is simply this: that promise is now being honored. Black Americans now enjoy the same rights as white Americans.

America still has insufficient funds for its people who are still without housing, food, employment, transportation, and communications, in the 21st Century

Even if that were true, which it certainly is not, that isn't what King was talking about. He was talking about people being denied their rights -- among which are NOT "the right to a government-provided housing, food, employment, and communications".

just reread Mayor Ray Nagin’s transcript referring to Katrina in New Orleans

Ray Nagin was trying to cover for the fact that he was completely incompetent in his handling of the Katrina crisis. He failed to develop an adequate plan and failed to properly implement the plan he DID have. He then skipped down and left people to die, in spite of the fact that there had been plenty of time to make sure that everyone was evacuated. Afterwards he tried pinning the blame on Bush, despite the fact that (a) the President has no role in managing natural disasters and (b) the federal government is supposed to be the *third* line of defense against natural disasters, after local and state -- not the first.

Katrina was a fiasco not due to lack of money or poor federal government planning, but because the governments of New Orlenas and Louisiana were hopelessly corrupt and incompetent.

America is in a state of crisis, nationally and internationally, and only America can be held accountable.

There's a national crisis? Must be an east-coast thing; there's no sign of it here in California. :)

S.T. Steiner said...

"America still has insufficient funds for its people who are still without housing, food, employment, transportation, and communications, in the 21st Century"

"Even if that were true, which it certainly is not, that isn't what King was talking about. He was talking about people being denied their rights -- among which are NOT 'the right to a government-provided housing, food, employment, and communications'."


Expand your horizon.

Our children here in Germany have the right to an education, and our students do not pay a penny for tuition. To be even clearer, our students may study from grammar school to a PhD for one penny.

http://www.boston.com/news/education/higher/articles/2006/03/10/tuition_at_some_nyc_high_schools_over_30k/?p1=email_to_a_friend


Our poor people are on "unlimited" welfare, if they are unemployed or unable to work, which might explain why our taxes are high.

Our grocery bill in Germany is a fraction of what we pay in the USA. For example, in the USA: $1200+; in Germany 400 Euros.

Communications in Germany for us is about 100 Euros per month, which includes a home phone, fax, DSL (internet), Web hosting, Cable tv, and 2 cell phones. Check your bills again . . . . 100 Euros?

There are other issues, indeed, but I'll end this thread at that.

We cherish our quality of life, here in Germany, and we will do what we can to help others in need.

tjl said...

S.T. Steiner said that in Germany
"Our poor people are on "unlimited" welfare."

Encouraging idleness doesn't seem to be in the German tradition. It's a good thing Nietzsche never lived to see this.

S.T. Steiner said...

S.T. Steiner said that in Germany
"Our poor people are on "unlimited welfare."

tjl said: "Encouraging idleness doesn't seem to be in the German tradition. It's a good thing Nietzsche never lived to see this."


S.T. Steiner: There can be many reasons why people are unemployed or unable to work and our people are provided with unlimited housing, food, communications, public transportation, and even education, as needed. Most of us have an inner desire to be independent, but sometimes there are extenuating circumstances.

In the same breath, our country provides "apprenticeship" programs for those who are not necessarily "college bound"; whereby everyone in Germany is accounted for.

I can only speak for Munich and Passau Germany, but from what I know, we do not have homeless people living in the streets; we do not have people with AIDS sleeping on the sidewalks that you see in San Francisco; we do not have people living in cardboard boxes that you see on lower Wacker Drive in Chicago; we do not have people who are intoxicated causing mayhem as you see at the steps of brownstones in Manhattan.

It is pretty obvious that Germany takes care of its people, and many of us are involved in volunteer work and charity to help those who are less advantaged.

And I watched Mayor Ray Nagin live on London's CNN and we saw that there were no military soldiers in New Orleans for a period of days, nor were there Greyhound buses dispatched from around the nation to help bus people out of New Orleans, at the critical time, and the emergency shelters were less than adequate to manage the crisis. And you're blaming the Mayor of New Orleans, a relatively small city, in the entire nation, claiming his incompetency ~ you've got to be kidding me.

We have floods over here, as well, especially near the Alps and in Austria, and every viable source of help is immediately dispatched, and you may see, live on tv, people on the roofs of their 4-story homes for maybe 2 hours, at max, and of course there's property damage, and people get through it, but they are not stranded. But days, weeks, months, and even at the one-year anniversary of Katrina, people are still displaced, many of whom, were bused to Illinois and Wisconsin, and guess what they are being told: "time's up, there's no more cash."

And then what happens to the victims of Katrina? The thought brings tears to my eyes. Don't they have rights to housing, food, communications, public transportation, and even education?

Thank You Mr. President, it's a "bad check" marked "insufficient funds". Would MLK wish to live to see this?

"was du nicht willst was man dir tut, das füg auch keinem andern zu"

Revenant said...

Expand your horizon.

As the saying goes, there's no point in having a mind so open that your brains fall out of your head.

Our children here in Germany have the right to an education, and our students do not pay a penny for tuition. To be even clearer, our students may study from grammar school to a PhD for one penny.

Using magic money that grows on trees!

Oh, wait... using tax money. German taxes are much higher than those in the United States, and most Germans pay through the
nose for a college education -- they just do so indirectly, after the government has taken a cut. The only Germans who attend college for free are those whose parents never made more than the US equivalent of $10,000 a year -- about half the US poverty line. Everyone else has to pay through the nose to fund that "free" education.

In addition to that, of course, it makes no sense for college to be free, because college has an enormous value as an income source -- a person who obtains a college degree ends up making a good half-million dollars more over the course of their lifetime than a person without one. That's why we prefer to use the college loan system, instead -- you borrow
the money to fund your education, then pay it back later using your higher earned income. Of course, this doesn't help people who turn out to not be intelligent or determined enough to get a degree, but why should we have paid to send such people to college in the first place?

Our poor people are on "unlimited" welfare, if they are unemployed or unable to work

People who are unable to work are taken care of here, too. We just don't follow the German model of providing unlimited funding to people *unwilling* to work. It is also worth noting that German unemployment is over twice ours, and relative German purchasing power is so low compared to that of America that nearly a quarter of your population would fall below our poverty line.

Our grocery bill in Germany is a fraction of what we pay in the USA.

German purchasing power parity per capita: $30,100
American purchasing power parity per capita: $41,800

So let's have none of this nonsense about how German cost of living is lower -- you make up for it by being a lot poorer, with the end result that the average German is a lot less able to buy what he or she needs than the average American is. The average German barely has more purchasing power than the average African-American, and African-Americans are our poorest demographic group.

We cherish our quality of life, here in Germany, and we will do what we can to help others in need

I'm glad you cherish it, but that doesn't change the fact that it is inferior to ours by quite a large factor -- and that, despite the fact that we've been stuck picking up the tab for your national defense for the last sixty years.

tjl said...

S.T.Steiner writes,
"And then what happens to the victims of Katrina? The thought brings tears to my eyes. Don't they have rights to housing, food, communications, public transportation, and even education?"

Here in Houston, a year after Katrina we still have 150,000 people from New Orleans living with us. During this time, city and state authorities have provided them with housing at no cost, in addition to education, health services, job placement assistance, and so on. Many Katrina refugees have found jobs and become productive members of the community.
There are a large number of refugees, however, who are able to work but have made little or no effort to do so despite the strong job market. Why? New Orleans before Katrina had many serious problems, and one of them was a local political tradition of buying votes with government handouts. The result was a local economy burdened by many who were content to subsist on handouts rather than support themselves.

If you are going to shed tears, shed them for those who traded handouts for their self-reliance and self-respect.