Turkey hasn’t Evolved Freedom of Speech

Michael van der Galien, a blogger over at The Moderate Voice, has a post up praising Turkey for movement towards freedom of speech after a Turkish court acquitted Elif Shafak, a best-selling novelist, of insulting the national identity.

He points to an article at the BBC that starts:

Ms Shafak, 35, had faced charges for comments made by her characters on the mass killings of Armenians in the final years of the Ottoman Empire in 1915.

Turkey rejects Armenia’s claim that the killings constituted “genocide”.

The EU welcomed the court ruling, but urged Turkey to scrap a law that makes it a crime to insult “Turkishness”.

It is important to note a couple of things at this juncture.

Whether Turkey chooses to agree to the term ‘genocide’ or not, it still, after over 90 years, hasn’t accepted any responsibility for the acts carried out against a civilian population during the First World War. Indeed merely a fictional account depicting the events is enough to get reactionary forces to bring the writer to trial. This is not freedom of speech.

Perhaps even worse is, while there is a law protecting its national identity, the government seems to have no problem with openly anti-American and anti-Israeli material (The Valley of the Wolves). When complaints were heard in Germany, Turkey and the producers held up freedom of speech rights to defend the film. Freedom of speech or no, the film was the run away box-office hit in Turkey the summer it was released.

I would argue there are two Turkeys. One is progressive and EU oriented. The other seems more like a slice of the medieval Ottoman Empire projected into the twenty-first century. I would agree that the progressive EU, the urban and tourist areas, is indeed ready to join the EU. But the bulk of the country and the bulk of the population is still much too reactionary.

One measure of this backward thinking can be seen in a recent comparison of European and world feelings about evolution. The only country that scored lower than the US was Turkey. Turkey wasn’t even close to European feelings on this issue. Until Turkey can find a way to ‘intellectualize’ the villages and back country, it remains and should remain on the outside looking in.

Turkey should be a part of the EU, a bridge between the occident and the orient, but only after it has evolved into the twenty-first century.

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2 comments so far

  1. Michael van der Galien on

    Turkey should be a part of the EU, a bridge between the occident and the orient, but only after it has evolved into the twenty-first century.

    I agree completely with that. As I wrote in the post you linked to:

    I believe that it would be great thing to let Turkey join the EU. By allowing Turkey to join us, we prove that we are not afraid or opposed to Islam as such, we are simply in favor of freedom and, as the Pope underlined, reason. If Turkey is willing to embrace these values, they are most welcome to join as far as I am concerned.

    I say if Turkey is willing to embrace these values, because Turkey is not ready to join the EU yet. Turkey is going towards the right direction, but it surely is not at the point required to join the EU yet

  2. blc303 on

    The problem is that Turkey is already involved in the EU entry negotiations. This limits the political leeway available to European nations. I disagree with those that say the negotiations allow the Europe to put more pressure on Turkey for things like human rights (Kurdistan, Armenia) or freedom of speech (your post).

    Since entry discussions have started, anything but entry in the 2011,2012 time period will be seen as an affront to Islam.


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