The Guardian has reported this week, in its online version, on the conviction of Turkish pianist and composer Fazil Say for blasphemy on Twitter. The ‘crime’ involved posts allegedly denigrating Islam. In some posts he was repeating poetry penned by Omar Khayyám.
Say is not the only artist to suffer at the hands of Islam in Turkey and, as the Guardian piece points out, the country’s current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was imprisoned in 1998 for ‘inciting religious hatred’.
Turkey is, unusually, an Islamic country with a secular constitution. Inevitably, this creates tension as the religious fundamentalists, who happen to be Islamic in this case, have a clear, burning need to turn the country into a theocracy. This is the agenda of fundies across the world, so it would be a mistake to see this as simply a problem unique to Islam. Religion, more accurately, organised religion, sees itself as the moral arbiter within, and indeed, outside the borders of the particular state in question.
There has been a campaign over recent years at United Nations level to introduce a worldwide ‘protection’ against the denigration of religion generally. This has been promulgated by various Islamic states but it reflects a cross-religious view that it is somehow wrong, ‘disrespectful’ even, to be critical of religion. Amongst various tactics used in this process is the promotion of the idea that to castigate Islam, for example, is somehow ‘Islamaphobic’. Islamaphobia is an invention with no real substance. It is an attempt to accord an ‘idea’, Islam, the benefit accorded to individuals who are subjected to hatred and intolerance.
It is people who need protection in hate-filled circumstances, not ideas. The right to criticise, denigrate, ridicule or disrespect an idea, including a religious one, is fundamental to the concept of freedom of speech and freedom of thought. Ironically, it is those who shout the loudest about disrespect to religion that support, tolerate or participate in heinous acts of hatred. It isn’t atheists and free-thinkers, generally, who fly planes into skyscrapers, bomb marathons, murder doctors who carry out abortions or demand the beheading of infidels.
A state that is willing to allow individuals to be prosecuted for being disrespectful to ideas, religious or otherwise, is not one that should be allowed at the European table.
© The Dolphin’s Brain 2013