Turkey: Artists, Free Press Under Fire

Turkish PM Erdogan greets Syrian refugees with his wife Emine on the Turkish/ Syrian border near Akcakale. (Photo: Reuters)

Turkish PM Erdogan greets Syrian refugees with his wife Emine on the Turkish/ Syrian border near Akcakale. (Photo: Reuters)

by: Abigail R. Esman

Islamofascism, a controversial buzzword among the pundits and commentators since the attacks of 9/11. The term poses any number of questions, particularly for governments of Muslim countries: Is Political Islam a fascist ideology? Can Islam coexist with democracy? What is the difference between Nationalism and Islamism in an Islamic state?

These are precisely the issues that now rear their heads in the face of a series of arrests, lawsuits, and most recently, allegations of a state-sponsored assassination in Turkey over the past several months, and which have captured the attentions not only of the international media, but of human rights organizations worldwide.

Fazil Say

Fazil Say

Moves that elicit accusations of Islamism and fascist dictatorships are not new to the governing style of Turkey’s current government, led by the Islamist AKP, or Freedom and Development party.   Ongoing imprisonment of journalists, coupled with the arrest of world renowned pianist/composer Fazil Say last April on charges of insulting Islam, as well as the filing of charges earlier this month against the Turkish chapter of PEN for their defense of Mr. Say and “denigration of the state,” have particularly alarmed human rights activists abroad and pro democracy advocates at home.The charges against Say were brought after the 42-year-old musician joked on Twitter about a call to prayer lasting less than a minute. Sending out the message to his thousands of subscribers, the openly atheist Say wrote, “Why such haste? Have you got a mistress waiting or a raki on the table?”

Fundamentalist Muslims were not amused. The references to a mistress and to raki, an alcoholic drink, were inappropriate and insulting, they said, leading prosecutors to charge him with “public enmity” and “denigration of Islam.” If found guilty when his case comes to trial next month, Say could face a prison term of 18 months.

But the joke was not Say’s only misdeed.  Charges were also brought against him for another tweet, in which he quoted Omar Khayyam: “You say rivers of wine flow in heaven, is heaven a tavern for you? You say two houris [virgins] await each believer there, is heaven a brothel to you?”

What is significant about this is that Say’s tweet was, in fact, a “retweet” – the reposting of a twitter comment someone else had initiated. Moreover, hundreds, if not thousands, of others had also tweeted the same text.  Why, then, was Say singled out?

The case made headlines worldwide.  In an interview with Newsweek last June, Say defended himself, saying, “I did not insult Islam. I just retweeted a verse that I thought was funny. One hundred and 65 others retweeted that verse the same night, but I am the only one being tried.”

Neither Say and nor his manager responded to my requests for further comment on the case. It is said that he is no longer speaking to the press on this issue – an understandable position, if true.

But supporters of the 42-year-old pianist – who has performed with the New York Philharmonic, among others – continue to speak out. In June, the Turkish chapter of PEN issued a statement condemning the prosecution of Say: “The international community has been put on alert in the face of fascist developments in Turkey,”

Read more at Radical Islam

Abigail R. Esman, an award-winning writer based in New York and the Netherlands, is the author, most recently, of Radical State: How Jihad Is Winning Over Democracy in the West

This Week, Turkey Went a Long Way Toward Becoming an Islamic Republic

by Barry Rubin

“My people are going to learn the principles of democracy, the dictates of truth, and the teachings of science. Superstition must go. Let them worship as they will, every man can follow his own conscience provided it does not interfere with sane reason or bid him act against the liberty of his fellow men.” — Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

Fazil Say

Fazil SayHardly surprising, deeply upsetting, and geostrategically catastrophic, it’s official. Turkey has now passed over towards being an Islamist state. That turning point is marked by a tiny event of gigantic importance.

Fazil Say is an internationally acclaimed Turkish classical pianist. He has performed with prestigious symphony orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic, Berlin, Israel Philharmonic, France, and Tokyo, and is a European Union cultural ambassador. The Turkish state is now going to put him on trial, as an Istanbul court has accepted the prosecutor’s charge, which amounts to heresy. Specifically: he is accused of insulting Islam because of tweets he sent.

Say suggested that since the Koran says there are rivers of drinks in heaven, that makes it sound like a pub, while the beautiful women available there make it sound like a brothel. A number of his tweets are quoted here. That’s his crime — writing a couple of sentences to describe his thoughts.

We are not talking of someone criticizing Say or disagreeing with him. We are talking about the power of the Turkish state being used to charge a man with a crime and to send him to prison for exercising free speech. True, they are only asking for a sentence of eighteen months in prison, but once the precedent is set their ambitions will expand.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

There are already hundreds of political prisoners in Turkey today who have been in prison for over three years without any trial. Now, if criticizing Islam in Turkey is a crime, Turkey is not a secular state. And with all of those innocent people already thrown in jail by the regime on trumped-up charges of treason and terrorism, Turkey is no longer a democratic state, either. (For a study of the conspiracy charges — actually a wave of repression and intimidation seeking to quell opposition to Turkey’s fundamental transformation — see this detailed article by Gareth Jenkins in MERIA Journal.)

This is the country that the Obama administration views as a role model for other Muslim-majority countries. In fact, though, Turkey is going down the same road of repression. In Saudi Arabia, a young man was recently indicted, extradited back from Malaysia, and put on trial for a similar offense. But we know where Saudi Arabia stands. Islamists in Egypt wanted to do the same to a leading Christian businessman for posting a picture of Mickey and Minnie Mouse in “Islamic” garb.

They acted too soon, while the military is still in power. Let them try it again in a few months.

In Kuwait, Hamad al-Naqi received a 10-year sentence, the maximum, for allegedly insulting Muhammad, his wife, and their friends. Al-Naqi claimed his Twitter account was hacked and someone else sent the messages. If true, that would be a very deadly way of getting someone else into trouble, right? Elsewhere, on the “Arab Spring” front, the Tunisian minister of religious affairs has sought indictment on blasphemy charges of Jelil Brick, a longtime dissident fighter against the former dictatorship who lives in Paris and makes YouTube videos. Brick previously survived an Islamist assassination attempt.

But unlike those Arab countries, Turkey has been a secular republic for decades. Its “progress” toward Islamization could not have been more obvious for the last few years, but the Western mass media generally ignores the evidence. The only thing that would save Turkey is if the current regime gets voted out of office before things go beyond a point of no return, and such an electoral defeat is not on the horizon.

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