Turkish Pianist Convicted of Blasphemy


A pianist and composer has been convicted of blasphemy and inciting religious hatred for a series of tweets criticizing Islam by the government of Turkey, allegedly the most liberal of the Muslim-dominated countries. Fazil Say was charged and convicted after quoting Persian poet Omar Khayyám:

A Turkish court has convicted pianist and composer Fazil Say of blasphemy and inciting hatred over a series of comments he had made on Twitter last year…

Say who was not present at the hearing, issued a statement describing the verdict “a sad one for Turkey”. He denied the charges, saying they were politically motivated.

The 43-year-old went on trial in October accused of denigrating Islam in a series of tweets earlier last year. In one message he retweeted a verse from a poem by Omar Khayyám in which the 11th-century Persian poet attacks pious hypocrisy: “You say rivers of wine flow in heaven, is heaven a tavern to you? You say two huris [companions] await each believer there, is heaven a brothel to you?” In other tweets, he had made fun of a muezzin (a caller to prayer) and certain religious practices.

He was given a suspended sentence, which is almost liberal compared to what happens in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or most other Muslim countries when convicted of blasphemy, but it means that if he does anything similar in the next five years he would have to serve a prison term. Free speech? Oh, that’s just a Western concept and you wouldn’t want to impose your cultural norms on others, would you? Hell yes, I would. It’s a basic human right. And if your religion and your culture says it’s okay to violate that right to appease authoritarian fundamentalists, fuck your religion and your culture.

Comments

  1. says

    It’s not a “phobia” if there is something legitimate to fear.

    Phobias are irrational fears. Seems to me there’s plenty of genuine fears about Islam that the irrational ones hardly matter.

  2. Olav says

    If you have never heard/seen Fazil Say play, look him up on Youtube. He is really great.

    As for this conviction, Ed has already said what needed to be said.

  3. Sastra says

    Religion isn’t sacred anymore. The Enlightenment caught up to it. Welcome to the modern world, o honor culture.

  4. gingerbaker says

    Let me guess – the government of Turkey was elected by a tiny minority of Muslim conservative radicals, right, and in no way should this ruling be interpreted as indicative of the true feelings of moderate Turkish Muslims?

  5. Doug Little says

    Every time someone is accused of blasphemy in these countries we should offer amnesty to them. They could then continue their blasphemy from afar without fear of imprisonment or death.

  6. twincats says

    I spent about a year in Turkey in the mid 80’s in the USAF and they treated us quite well, so I have a soft spot for the Turks.

    That being said, we had to sit through a briefing about how to behave while we were there and no one pretended that there was any thing like freedom of speech; in fact there were insult laws that would get one landed in jail for things like defacing money, defaming the government or even just insulting a Turkish national.

    Looking up Turkish insult laws on Wikipedia shows things have changed a *teensy* bit because they want to join the EU, but not very much. As I understand it, Turkey is also in the grip of a swing toward fundamentalism much like the US (except of course, the religion is Islam) which is making things difficult for secularists there.

    Back OT, Mr. Say certainly knows all of this and it seems to me must be pushing the limits he knows all too much about and good on him for it. I’m sure the fundamentalists would like to see him remain in jail, but are hampered by how that would look to the rest of the world (okay, mainly Europe) since he’s an international celebrity.

  7. chrisdevries says

    It is occasions like this that, to me, differentiate modern-day Islam from modern-day Christianity. Yes, Christianity used to have a great deal of power which was used by Christian leaders in exactly the same way that Muslim extremists use it today: they suppressed free speech, marginalized non-Christians, spread like a virus over the entire world, and even started civil wars to defend and promote their faith. But nowadays, that power has been seriously diluted by the secularist trend in the Western world (it has even been diluted in places like Ireland, where Catholicism still retains some political power). The fundamentalist versions of Islam, however, are gaining adherents left, right and center in places like Turkey and some of the the countries “liberated” by the Arab Spring (not to mention the fact that Muslims have maintained political control over more than a dozen countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East – not counting Islamic majority non-theocracies). Fundamentalist Christians are still persecuting people, but it is worth noting that a guy like Richard Dawkins can say:

    “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully”

    in any secular (or mostly secular) Western country with a Christian heritage without being charged with blasphemy. Do the same thing in an Islamic theocracy using Allah and Mohammed as the targets of your vitriol, and you risk prison time or worse (that is, if the angry mob doesn’t find you first). Even individuals living in Western, secular countries risk sparking violent, reactionary behavior in Muslim theocracies if they insult Allah or draw a stupid caricature of Mohammed. Those who engage in violent actions feel such actions are justified in the supposed defense of their faith; conversely, there are few Catholics who will try to kill or imprison you if you speak ill of the Pope or the Virgin Mary.

    People sometimes argue that Islamic fundamentalists are using Islam for their own gain, that they stir up violence and hatred for political reasons, that they engage in practices like honor killing and acid attacks against women who have dishonored them for purely cultural reasons. But the ideology of Islam is behind the abhorrent things Islamic fundamentalists engage in and condone. Their holy texts really do call for the murder of apostates and the subjugation of women. It is the liberal Muslims who are cherry-picking their religion to make it more appealing to modern sensibilities.

    Fundamentalist Christians scare me a lot, especially in the USA where they hold considerable power and are therefore able to pass laws that violate peoples’ human rights (like all of the ridiculous abortion laws). There is a significant minority in the Christian community that advocates for Biblical authority as the primary means of governance (i.e. society is structured according to Biblical rules). These people would really stone their neighbors to death for working on the Sabbath, if they lived in such a country. And their beliefs greatly influence the behavior and rhetoric of leading Republicans trying to solidify a base of reliable voters. But these dangerous ideologues are not very successful at passing on their insanity to the next generation. The internet has opened the world up to everyone who wants to learn about ideologies to which they were not exposed in their youth. Xenophobia, while still rampant amongst baby boomers (and older individuals) is not appealing to people who have been exposed to other cultures, people who have friends all over the world with whom they have much in common. Fundamentalist Islam, on the other hand is growing rapidly in many countries. Now even Turkey, a beacon of secularism in the dark void of theocracy, is seeing a resurgence of Islamism. It is clear that while all fundamentalism is abhorrent, the danger posed by a resurgent Islamism is less than that posed by a waning Christian dominionism.

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