Jan 27th 2011 | ISTANBUL | from PRINT EDITION
SULTAN Suleiman the Magnificent, who earned his moniker for taking the Ottoman empire to the apogee of its glory in the mid-16th century, is widely regarded as sacred in Turkey. No matter that he had his own son murdered, among several dastardly deeds. Modern Turks like to boast of his armies reaching the gates of Vienna and to refer to him as the “lawgiver”. A British historian, Jason Goodwin, writes that Suleiman was “majestic enough to stock his court with an unusual number of buffoons, dwarves, mutes, astrologers, and silent janissaries” and that he ruled so long “that he became something of an Ottoman Queen Victoria.”
In recent weeks Suleiman has been at the centre of a new row that pits secular Turks against Muslim conservatives. The cause was a televised drama series, replete with scenes from the royal baths and the harem, which chronicled Suleiman’s military and sexual exploits. Pious Turks were incensed by scenes of Suleiman lusting over his most coveted queen, Roxelana, and drinking goblets of wine.
Bulent Arinc, deputy prime minister in the mildly Islamist Justice and Development (AK) government, called for the series to be scrapped. “It shows him in his harem, fond of drinking and in certain scenes that I cannot find words to express,” Mr Arinc complained. Halit Ergenc, who played Suleiman, was inundated with hate mail and death threats.
The state media watchdog, RTUK, says that it has received a record number of complaints about the series. It even issued a warning to the channel responsible, Show TV, that it was clashing with the “national and moral values of our society”. Members of the overtly Islamist Saadet party, chanting Allahu akbar (“Allah is great”), staged protests outside Show TV’s headquarters in Istanbul. Yet, as Meral Okay, one of the scriptwriters, commented, “the children of the Sultan were not conceived by pollination…he did have a sex life and a family.” At least the controversy boosted the show’s ratings to record heights.
Fervent Islamists tout the Ottomans as the antithesis of Ataturk, who abolished both the Sultan and the caliphate. Moreover, in his last years Suleiman turned religious. Mr Goodwin writes that Suleiman “dined off earthenware platters, and fostered the triumph of Orthodox Islam…but when the Austrian ambassador took leave…it was scarcely a living being he described but a metaphor of empire rotting and majestic, fat, made up, and suffering from an ulcerous leg.”