ISTANBUL - Four heavily made-up, peroxide blondes are sitting on a talk show set. In broken German, they’re trying to prove that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is wrong.
It’s a particularly bizarre bit of religious propaganda – but since 2011 creationist theories have been packaged this way for Western viewers and broadcast by the Turkish satellite television station A9 TV in Turkish but also English, French, German, Russian and Azerbaijani.
The ladies sit in front of walls covered with flashy wallpaper and paintings of Turkish port cities and read their “conversation” from the teleprompter. Thus, moderator Merve – pink lipstick, black and yellow eye shadow – may explain for example that "we all know that there are people who say that every living thing on this earth, in the universe, the stars, mountains, trees, fish, insects, birds, just happen to be here by chance." Her colleagues then kick in with monologues about “deceitful Darwinists” whose lies inshallah (“God willing”) shall be revealed for what they are.
Now it’s Merve’s turn again: "And when we think about it even more carefully then inshallah we understand that – without the nucleus of a cell – protein can’t be created." This has Didem reading: "Everybody who gives the matter sensible and conscientious thought without letting themselves be influenced by preconceived opinions will immediately recognize that humans and other living things cannot have come about by mere random coincidence."
By way of proof she offers a Koranic verse: "He is Allah the Creator, the Maker, the Fashioner; His are the most excellent names; whatever is in the heavens and the earth declares His glory; and He is the Mighty, the Wise." Now Gülsah – very blonde, very long hair, estimated cup size D – chimes in: "Darwinists also began to understand that the theory of evolution is a gigantic fraud." The sequence takes 40 minutes.
This is one of eight "Conversations about the Creation" that tries using sex appeal to sell fundamentalism – an Islamic version of a favorite tack of American Christian creationists. In the U.S., their followers add up to 46% of the population, and they put concepts like this out there: "The creation world view says dinosaurs have always lived with man and there might still be a few alive today" – this from born-again Christian Kent Hovind currently serving time for tax and other offenses.
The person behind A9 TV and its texts and theories is Adnan Oktar who was born in Ankara, Turkey in 1956. Along with his television broadcasts he has also published numerous books using the pseudonym Harun Yahya. One of his Turkish language videos with simultaneous translation into English shows him at work. He sits in a modern-looking studio and after a woman moderator has introduced him as “beautiful Master and Sultan” and referred to his appearance – salt and pepper beard, striking eyebrows and grey-green eyes – as “amazing,” and sings a religious song.
Then comes a half-hour monologue in which he demonizes Darwinism and prophesizes that the end of time is nigh. In between he flirts with women in the studio and reads fan mail: "Master, we love you like crazy. Since we’ve started loving you, our lives have taken on great meaning." The blonde moderators nod and smile. Sometimes he talks about the CIA, sometimes the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and sometimes about why one should pray. Oktar is almost always the only one doing the talking.
The charismatic man’s books sell successfully in the whole Islamic world. Oktar once wrote that Jews and Nazis collaborated successfully to conquer Palestine, but he has since distanced himself from that statement. Instead he has conversations with rabbis about the coming of the Messiah, and claims that the Koran describes high tech like robots, computers and the transmission of images. He regularly makes remarks that appear to link himself and the redeemer of Islam, the Mahdi. He claims that – like the Mahdi – he is descended from the Prophet Mohammed.
Oktar’s greatest work is his book “Atlas of Creation” that weighs 6 kilograms (over 13 pounds) and juxtaposes pictures of fossils with what the author claims are their living equivalents by way of proving that evolution never took place.
Drawing from Christian sources
German intelligence services have monitored Oktar in the past. A security report from 2003 says that Oktar "is characterized by his anti-secular, anti-enlightenment attitude. One of his goals is uncovering the alleged common denominators of "Zionism" and "Freemasonry" that supposedly seek to take over the world." His written work draws “heavily on existing writings by American Christian fundamentalists known as creationists."
According to security sources, the evaluation still holds and Oktar’s "approach aims to polarize people into a world of believers and disbelievers. According to him salvation can only come if humanity converts to Islam."
Media and Islam expert Asiem El Difraoui, from the Gerda Henkel Foundation, doesn’t think Oktar is dangerous but rather "has high entertainment value and shows the diversity of voices within Islam. But it might be better of the ladies talked about hair dye and Botox, rather than how protein is made. That for sure wouldn’t reach the ears of radicals like the Salafists."
Ghaffar Hussain, who runs a British anti-extremism think-tank, doesn’t take Oktar seriously either even though Oktar is well known by Muslims the world over. "He’s a con man. He wants to make money and he hoodwinks people. He and his people don’t have a clue about even the basics of the theory of evolution – they don’t understand what it is they are trying to discredit. All in all he’s a joke. Just a very famous and rich joke.”
This view is shared by editors of the Turkish-language daily paper Hürriyet. They say that Oktar became known through his writing in the 1990s in Turkey. Members of the upper classes in Istanbul were particularly taken with him at first, but he has since become a laughing stock and in 2008 faced charges of fraud and blackmail.
Wild rumors abound about how female members of his sect are kept obedient with threats that sex tapes will be released if they don’t stay in line. And Oktar was condemned to three years in prison for founding an illegal association for the purposes of self-enrichment, but this was reversed in 2010 on appeal. It was after this that he founded A9 TV.
Derek Bok, former president of Harvard University, once said: "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance." Adnan Oktar’s followers should take this to heart. The guru himself however appears to prefer Winston Churchill’s advice: "Never laugh at the stupidity of others, it’s your chance." A chance to make himself very rich. Is he dangerous? Probably not.