A mob self-identifying as outraged Muslims attacked a Turkish street band in Istanbul this week for playing the Italian left-wing fight song “Bella Ciao,” complaining that the song was a “Jewish march” and that bands should not be allowed to play “Israeli music” freely in Turkey.
The band, Group Letter, was playing in public in Avcılar, Istanbul, apparently too close to a nearby mosque. A mob approached, with large pit bull dogs in tow, and chased them out of the area. “You can’t play Jewish marches here, you can’t play Israeli music here,” one man yelled, though Hurriyet reports witnesses identified the song they were playing as “Bella Ciao,” a staple in left-wing protests popularized in Turkey during 2013’s Taksim Square protests against the Islamist government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Muslims cannot allow stolen Jewish music. … I cannot let it happen,” one protester said.
A man identified as a member of Group Letter, Ozcan Arslan, said after the incident that the band would continue to play in public, as it believed it has more support than opponents. “Music does not know religion, language, race, no denomination,” he says, blaming “a mindset of intolerance and criticism” for the attack. Arslan did say they would prefer to perform with local government help should they do so in public again, but that they have no plans to retire.
The band has posted many videos on Facebook, including one of their performance of “Bella Ciao” on another occasion:
Posted by Grup Mektup on Sunday, April 19, 2015
Turkish nationalists and Muslim extremists–often one in the same, as nationalists parties support political Islam–have caused significant problems throughout Turkey in the past few years, attacking individuals on the street and often targeting innocents. Most recently, as an attempt to protest China’s crackdown on Islam in Western Uyghur provinces, a gang of Turkish nationalists attacked a group of Korean tourists and destroyed a restaurant owned by a Muslim Uyghur. A Turkish nationalist leader excused the attacks by arguing that people with “slanted eyes” are too difficult to tell apart for young people.
In 2014, Turkish nationalists attacked American soldiers at a dock in Istanbul, calling them “murderers” for an incident in which they believed American soldiers had attacked a Turkish brigade in Iraq. Less than a year later, Turkish soldiers are conducting airstrikes alongside American planes in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).