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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Classical Pianist must be a Massive Threat

So my good friend Tayyip has done it again. This time his cronies in the judiciary have convicted Fazil Say - perhaps contemporary Turkey's most famous classical musician - of 'insulting Islam'. Since when is it a crime to insult Islam in Turkey? Oh right, since however long Erdoğan has been in power. I thought Ergenekon (and other military witch hunts) marked an insurmountable level of ridiculousness. Apparently I was wrong.

To be fair, Fazil Say must be a massive threat to national security. The pianist and composer - who has garnered worldwide acclaim working with the New York Philharmonic, Berlin Symphony and others - must be a bad, bad man. A felon. A breaker of laws. The uni-bomber!

Why, you ask?

Twitter.

His most egregious tweet, you ask?

A link to Ömer Hayyam's "Quatrain". Though I'm not familiar with the piece myself, apparently it discusses sex, wine and... you guessed it - the Garden of Eden. Blasphemous. Fazil also tweet-joked about Imams and the call to prayer. Double and triple blasphemous.

Joking aside, Istanbul's 19th criminal court just convicted Say of 'inciting hatred' and 'insulting Islam'... on Twitter. Fortunately he won't serve any jail time... unless he 'commits a similar crime' within 5 years. Whether or not you agree with his views or style, jailing someone for crassness is a bit much.

But the whole episode brings up a broader, more subtle issue with Erdoğan's Turkey, one that further reinforces my image of him as a shrewd political operator above all else.

As has been pointed out by others, using the courts to silence critics is sadly nothing new in Turkey. Communists, comedians, journalists and Lord-knows-who-else have been put in jail for lesser things than 140 characters of 'blasphemy'. Erdoğan has continued this tradition, simply re-focusing it not only on those critical to him but on those perceived to be critical of Islam in general. Whereas Atatürk and/or the Armenian Genocide were (and arguably still are) off limits, Turkey's taboo of the day is the Prophet. Don't give Lord Tayyip too much credit for this bit of judicial ingenuity.

My heart goes out to Fazil Say. Turkey is a beautiful country with so much to offer; but the 'insult' laws are a continuing thorn in its, and Mr. Say's, side. Article 301, the law against insulting "Turkishness" (which now includes Islam perhaps?) is absolutely Byzantine. Pun intended.

Say is simply the latest public figure to be caught up in Erdoğan's campaign to integrate radical Islam even more into the fabric of Turkish society, using whatever tactics - old and new, tried and true - he possibly can.

(Hat tip goes to Marc Champion for his excellent article in Bloomberg.)