Freedom of speech and thought according to Erdoğan

Erdoğan has big plans. Erdoğan wants to make it globally illegal to say anything critical of Islam. Erdoğan calls saying anything critical of Islam “Islamophobia” and then demands that “Islamophobia” be made a crime against humanity.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has stated that Turkey recognizes anti-semitism as a crime, while not a single Western country recognizes Islamophobia as such.

That’s because the two are not comparable, and they’re not comparable because “Islamophobia” is the wrong word for hatred of Muslims. The “semitism” in anti-semitism picks out a set of people, even though it’s a clumsy way of doing it. “Islamophobia” picks out a religion, not its followers.

Erdoğan commented on the 14-minute trailer for “Innocence of Muslims,” an obscure film that mocks the Prophet Muhammad, which sparked violent riots across various Muslim nations.

There’s that lazy journalistic trope again, that a film or book or cartoon “sparked” violent riots, thus making the film or book or cartoon guilty along with its creator. It’s not that simple.

Erdoğan said he will continue to give messages at the next UN General Assembly meeting about adopting international legislation against insulting religion. “I am the prime minister of a nation, of which most are Muslims and that has declared anti-semitism a crime against humanity. But the West hasn’t recognized Islamophobia as a crime against humanity — it has encouraged it. [The film director] is saying he did this to provoke the fundamentalists among Muslims. When it is in the form of a provocation, there should be international legal regulations against attacks on what people deem sacred, on religion. As much as it is possible to adopt international regulations, it should be possible to do something in terms of domestic law.”

No, there shouldn’t; no, it shouldn’t. What people deem sacred is very often also what allows them to impose horrible rules and limitations on women, other races, “polluted” people, and the like. The deeming sacred is what makes the horrible rules and limitations immune from criticism and even laws. People in Virginia can deny their children education on religious grounds and no other. The concept of “sacred” is not such a great thing.

He further noted, “Freedom of thought and belief ends where the freedom of thought and belief of others start. You can say anything about your thoughts and beliefs, but you will have to stop when you are at the border of others’ freedoms. I was able to include Islamophobia as a hate crime in the final statement of an international meeting in Warsaw.”

Erdoğan said the government will immediately start working on legislation against blasphemous and offensive remarks. “Turkey could be a leading example for the rest of the world on this.”

No. I can say anything about my thoughts and beliefs, and I can say anything about yours, too.

That’s really a staggeringly benighted thing to say, when you look at it. “Freedom of thought and belief ends where the freedom of thought and belief of others start.” So freedom of thought and belief doesn’t include discussing any thought and belief other than your own! You can’t discuss Mill if you’re not a Millian, Plato if you’re not a Platonist, Freud if you’re not a Freudian – in short, you can’t discuss at all.

No wonder people tend to be critical of Islam, if this is the mindset it fosters.



  1. davidhart says

    “You can’t discuss Mill if you’re not a Millian, Plato if you’re not a Platonist …”

    As I read it, it’s even worse than that: you can’t discuss Mill unless you are Mill.

    Of course, by the same token, you can’t discuss Islam unless you are Mohammad :-)

  2. says

    That’s because the two are not comparable…

    Anti-semitism per se isn’t a crime either. Certain forms of anti-semitic expression are prohibited but if someone wants to quietly believe that the blood of children is a much-loved Jewish condiment no one is going to arrest them.

  3. says

    Well what about dissent or criticism from believers themselves? Mere ‘interpretive’ differences could be hailed as insults. Do they really not see that?

  4. footface says

    How does my saying, “Here’s what I think” infringe upon your right to think and believe anything?

    I know I’m not alone, but this makes Muslims look like a bunch of babies who need to be protected from, well, everything. Even people having differing opinions.

  5. F says

    Surprise, anti-semitism isn’t a crime, either. (Not a legal crime.) Sure, some countries do have idiotic blasphemy laws, but they cover everyone.

    But how about this: If I we’re to make some loud publicized statement about, say, how “the Torah is gay”, does Erdoğan imagine for a minute that the gay community and Jews would be rioting and murdering people unconnected with such a stupid statement, or would they mock and rebuke me?


  6. jose says

    First criticism will be illegal, next disagreement will be made illegal too, and finally the lack of adherence to islam will be punished by death.

  7. smrnda says

    I’m not sure what laws exist prohibiting anti-semitism, but there’s a difference between laws protecting people from actual violence (like hate crimes) or from discrimination in employment, housing, etc., and silencing all criticism of a person’s beliefs or ideas.

    By this guy’s own logic, if I believe Islam to be a bunch of idiotic superstitions and fascist social control, can I demand that I must never encounter anything that might portray Islam in a positive light since that would be intruding on my own mental space?

  8. Rodney Nelson says

    Belief in gods is hateful to me. Therefore Mr. Erdoğan should not say anything promoting Islam or any religion. That would be a hate crime.

  9. says

    I deem it sacred to ridicule and insult others’ beliefs. And I say this in all honesty. I’m not being ironic or contrarian. The circle can’t be squared.

  10. Kiwi Dave says

    smrnda, hate crime laws don’t protect people from violence any more than ordinary laws do.

    Hate crime laws criminalise people for having wrong thoughts. They make no difference to the victim’s injury, invite juries to judge perpetrators’ minds rather than their actions, are readily extended into penalising the public expression of some viewpoints, and are sometimes highly selective in practice as to who can be a victim of such a crime.

  11. dirigible. says

    “Hate crime laws criminalise people for having wrong thoughts.”

    No, they criminalise people for acting on them.

  12. davidhart says

    Perhaps more accurately, they criminalise people for having some wrong thoughts. If you beat up a guy because you took offense at something he said, and the guy happens to be gay, that’s just assault, but you’re still acting on the thought: “My injured pride entitles me to beat this guy up”. If you beat up a guy because he is gay, you’re acting on the thought “My hatred of gays entitles me to beat this guy up” – and in some places that would actually get you a stiffer sentence, even though it’s not immediately obvious that visceral hatred of gays is worse than visceral hatred of people who disagree with you. That is to say, they extra punishment you’d get relative to the penalty for simple assault, is the punishment for having the wrong thoughts.

    I can understand the argument that ‘hate crimes’ laws punish people who have declared theemselves to be a danger to a wider class of people than those one has a merely personal dispute with, but I’m not entirely comfortable with it.

  13. Dunc says

    They … invite juries to judge perpetrators’ minds rather than their actions

    This is not a good argument. Do you recognise a different between murder and culpable homicide? Then you are judging the perpetrators’ mind rather than their actions. Mens rea is a well established legal concept in every jurisdiction (as far as I know).

    it’s not immediately obvious that visceral hatred of gays is worse than visceral hatred of people who disagree with you

    It should be obvious. How about if we make it visceral hatred of straight white guys? Does that help you see the problem? Can you imagine having to live, day in, day out, with the knowledge that you might get beaten up at any moment, simply because of who and what you are? (Or rather, who and what other people perceive you as…)

  14. Select says

    People here who think this is to far out to ever become reality should think again.

    Europe’s elites are so fearful of islamist inspired violence, that they WILL agree to this censorship…and more.

    And as for America, it doesn’t matter who wins in November. I’M confident that no matter the party affiliation of the occupant of the White House next January, they will also agree to censorship and the accompanying legal sanctions.

    The islamic world is not given full credit for its skill at manipulation.

    It has been playing a game of good-cop/bad-cop for 11 years now and the strategy is bearing fruit.

    We are now well conditioned to accept these token accommodations to Islam’s “sanctity”.

    And there’s no end to the number of shallow,superficial and clueless do-gooders ready to endorse them.

    And these aren’t Erdogan’s plans per se. Erdogan is the “Good Cop” part of the equation because he’s ‘moderate’ and ‘secular’ and so therefore his calls for censorship most reasonable… considering the options, all of which seem to consist of violence, murder and mayhem.

  15. mnb0 says

    “Islamophobia” picks out a religion, not its followers”
    Wrong, it doesn’t. Islamophobia refers to things like:
    – holding every single muslim all over the world responsible for every fart some extremist produced in Farawaystan;
    – arguing that islam is a monolithic organization;
    – arguing that every single muslim obeys the orders coming from that organization;
    – arguing that every single muslim rather obeys the most extreme fatwah from the most extreme imam in Farawaystan than the laws of the western country he/she lives in;
    – using the whole list of logical fallacies to be found on Wikipedia to “back up” these arguments, like the No True Muslim, which has been applied to my female counterpart, a member of the board of a local mosque;
    in short, islamophobia applies to people like Robert Spencer, Geert Wilders and of course Anders Breivik. And it should be well remembered that they pick people just because of their religion indeed. I don’t have to remind you of my compatriot advocating the deportation of millions of muslims out of Europe, do I?
    Also thinking that muslim rioting is essentially different from orthodox jew rioting in Jerusalem or The Troubles in Ulster/Northern Ireland is a clear sign of islamophobia.
    So is neglecting this:

    I can give you two quotes from Trinidadian islamic authorities too, who specifically and clearly condemn the violence against the movie. Not wanting to know that is islamophobia.
    All this doesn’t imply Erdogan should be backed though. I don’t.

  16. Select says

    This is what he said.

    “If you commit a crime, if you start thinking about jihad or sharia, then it’s very clear, we will send you away, we will send you packing, we will strip you of the Dutch or Danish nationality. Abide by the rules, you are welcome to stay, and if you don’t we will send you away the same day.”

    Telling immigrants to abide by the rules and to integrate is a positive, productive and constructive thing to do, and is in no way akin to bigotry.

    I once debated a dutch, liberal atheist with nothing but apologetics for islam and an inveterate hatred for christians.

    He said he felt that Theo Van Gogh was the author of his own misfortune because his film had promoted bigotry and islamophobia.

    The guy is now a Muslim.

    But is his female counterpart a member of the board of his local mosque?

  17. says

    mnbo – but “Islamophobia” is the wrong word for that, and it misleads people.

    There’s no need to have a one-word label for such things, after all. And if there is, that one isn’t the right one. It means simply hatred of Islam, and that’s the wrong target.

  18. Dunc says

    Can we also have a tedious discussion about how “anti-semitism” doesn’t really mean hatred of Jews, because lots of non-Jews are technically Semites, or can we just accept that the link between etymology and meaning in current usage is often tenuous at best? It’s just a word, I don’t understand why you object to it so much.

  19. says

    Are you kidding?

    “It’s just a word” is fundamentally meaningless.

    And the reason I object to the word so much – I think this is blindingly obvious – is because it treats dislike of Islam as comparable to dislike of large categories of people. It makes dislike of Islam taboo. I think dislike of Islam should not be taboo.

  20. Dunc says

    Yes, I get that that’s what you think it means, but I’m really not sure that that ties up with actual usage (although there’s obviously a lot of people out there deliberately blurring that boundary) and I’m not sure what qualifies you as the sole arbiter of the actual meaning of the word. I mean, we don’t let men define “feminism” or “misogyny”, do we? Pretty much the first thing I had to learn, as someone who’s privileged on almost every axis, is that I don’t get to tell less privileged people how to describe their experiences, or how to define the terms they use to do so. I don’t see why this is any different. Your argument here seems to be a blend of argument from the dictionary and argument from etymology, and those arguments don’t normally seem to fair too well in other contexts. It’s too similar to the old “dictionary atheism” or “it’s not really misogyny” gambits for my liking…

    I get that you think it’s the wrong word, and I even agree with your argument there in principle, but at the end of the day, it’s the word we’re stuck with, and as non-Muslims, I don’t think we get to tell Muslims that they’re using the wrong word to describe discrimination and violence against them. And we certainly don’t get to tell them that they don’t even need such a word, as you seem to be doing here.

    Sure, it would be lovely if everybody could use language with absolutely no ambiguity, and where etymology mapped neatly to meaning, but as long as we’re speaking something vaguely related to English, that’s simply never going to happen.

  21. says

    One, I didn’t claim to be the sole arbiter.

    Two, “actual usage” is not as obvious as you seem to think. Lots of people avoid using the word at all, for the kinds of reasons I cited.

    Three, not all people who are less privileged than I am on this axis use the word or think it’s the right word (see two).

    Four, no it’s not the word we’re stuck with. We can reject it; we can avoid it; we can say why it’s the wrong word.

    Five, it’s not all Muslims who use the word and it’s not just non-Muslims who object to it.

    Go ask Maryam what she thinks of the word, for instance. Maryam is an ex-Muslim, which is different from being a non-Muslim.

    Final point: the word was coined by people who wanted and intended to make criticism of Islam taboo.

  22. Dunc says

    Yes, I have read what Maryam has to say on the matter. There are reasonable people on both sides of the argument. Anyway, you’ve given me more to think about, thank you.


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