A new TV series that debuted on ATV makes waves for all the wrong reasons. "Kertenkele" (Lizard), whose first episode was aired on Oct. 25, drew the ire of the opposition for what a lawmaker termed its depiction of an imam "hurting."
The show follows the adventures of a con artist, a master of disguise. Looking to escape from prison, the lead character slips into the garb of an elderly imam he meets in the hospital where he was transferred. To dodge authorities, he hides out in a small neighborhood under the guise of a newly arrived imam for the neighborhood's mosque.
It tells the story of how religion changes a criminal who accidentally stumbled into the life of a professional imam from whom he stole his new identity.
For İhsan Özkes, a former mufti who currently serves as a lawmaker from the secular Republican People's Party (CHP), "Kertenkele" is hurting those in the profession. "The imamate is a profession of our Prophet and is a sacred job. Giving a character the name reptile for an imam is wrong. It is unacceptable to portray an imam as someone who is corrupt and steals," Özkes said at a press conference yesterday. He said he watched one episode and found it "inappropriate." Özkes called upon the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), a state-run body regulating TV programming, to take the show off the air, contradicting the CHP's overall policy advocating media freedoms. At the same press conference, Özkes adopted a more democratic approach for alleged plans to close down a fellow opposition party. He voiced his opposition to the alleged attempts to close down a party whose leaders' called for riots that ended up killing nearly 40 people.
Imams used to be typecast as extremists opposing everything not conforming to their worldview in Turkish films and TV series of yesteryear or as con artists out to swindle people by promising "miracles." "Kertenkele" looks to turn this concept upside down by putting a genuine swindler in the shoes of an ordinary imam portrayed as a man churning out advice on moral values.
The TV show's producers say their story focuses on the transformation of a good-hearted character with the undertones of Robin Hood who took the criminal path in his childhood. They depict the character as a criminal personality and point out that it was clearly indicated from the first episode that he is not a religious type. The producers deny that the character is denigrating to imams, and he is a different type of character with his own journey from evil to good.