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Afghan Star in Istanbul

Afghan Star in Istanbul

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I have always wanted to go to Turkey, and Istanbul in particular. I have read various Orhun Pamuk books that describe both the melancholic beauty and deep history of the city. I have heard that Istanbul is the “most romantic city in the world,” that it is the bridge between east and west, that it straddles old and new, and that it manages to balance the secular and religious with ease, style and grace.

And as much as I have always wanted to see the Blue Mosque, sail the Bosphorus, and pray in the Hagia Sofia I have always wanted to meet and get to know the Turks. I live in a Turkish area of East London (although this being London there are also people of Vietnamese, Bengali, East African, every European nationality, and of course British descent.) and know that the tradition of hospitality, delicious food and good times lives on. But I also wanted to understand how such a people with such a fascinating history can combine so many influences and make them their own. I have always felt the world could learn a lot from a Turkey and its people.

When Film Forward asked me to be part of their program I was honoured but when they invited me to Turkey I was thrilled. I once imagined that I would go to Turkey on my honeymoon but frankly this seemed more fun with more opportunities to meet and interact with Turks. In fact the whole purpose was to meet and interact with Turks.  I jumped at the chance.

So now we have just finished the Istanbul section and am writing this from a train to Eskisehir. The last few days have been brilliant  - I had three screenings of my film Afghan Star at various cinemas as part of the !f Film Festival. The screenings were well attended, and the best thing was how mixed the audiences were. You can often find film festival audiences are just of a “type” (each festival has its own type) but here there were young and old, trendy and traditional and I was pleased to say they seemed to enjoy the film.

I love Q&As. There is usually one question that surprises you or makes you think in unexpected ways however many times you have shown the same film. My Q&As in Turkey were better than that – there were loads of questions that led to answers I hadn’t given before: “Is the talent contest music show the best way to export democracy?” “Is democracy a ‘western’ concept?” And “is it explicitly linked to capitalism?” We discussed Afghan history and the role of communism – actually a great deal of freedoms and rights were instilled in Afghanistan under the communist government before the Soviet invasion.

And our conclusions? Well I can’t speak for the whole room, but I can say my conclusions were this:

  1. That it may not be the best way, but a music contest is a way to show the concepts of democracy, but that it suffers from the same contemporary pitfalls of sound bite media culture that politics does. That sometimes people who take a good picture beat the true talent because people have to make up their minds in seconds. We musn’t sacrifice the in depth analysis for easy headlines.
  2. Democray is not a western concept any more, and hasn’t been for a very long time now. Afghans don’t look to the U.S. or the U.K. for a working example, but to India (the also watch the Indian music show “Voice of India”  - no one watches American Idol or X-Factor). If there were specifically different geographical models i.e. eastern democracy, or tropical democracy or polar democracy then it would be right say western. But as one man one vote is the same globally  - lets just drop the term.
  3. What is capitalism? Is it simply the satisfaction of demand with supply or is it a banking system to big to fail? People have been trading with each for millennia and it didn’t need a philosopher to allow them to do it. Freedom to trade and freedom to move are fundamental parts of democratic theory but as Turkey has proved, it is very possible to have a highly socialised state and a working democracy. Every country must find its own way.

Phew! It seems quite early in the morning to be relating these conversations but they were fascinating. I can only look forward to more with the students of Eskeshir.