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From the Bosphorus: Straight - The case of Village Idiot vs. Prickly PM

HDN | 3/10/2010 12:00:00 AM |

While Brit Michael Dickinson's caricature of the Turkish PM on the body of a dog could be seen as tasteless, bringing him to trial for the cartoon was a supreme waste of time.

With apologies to the late sage Marshall McLuhan, we must argue today that if the world has become his famed “global village,” it has also become a place that must cope with the rise of the global “village idiot.” We think this best sums up the now concluded case of Michael Dickinson, convicted as we reported yesterday of insulting our prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, with a caricature.

British Dickinson is certainly a marginal character. Part-time English teacher, part-time peace activist and part-time artist with all the grace and skill of a portraitist/hawker atop Florence’s Ponte Vecchio or below Paris’ Eiffel Tower. Dickinson now makes his living reading fortunes. A lot of such intellectual loose change tends to show up in Istanbul, the price we must pay for being a city of intrigue and mystery that also conveniently has a Starbucks or two. Do we wish that the Dickinsons of the world would just keep moving? Might we be willing to pass the hat to come up with bus fare for he and his ilk to leave town? Absolutely.

But even village idiots have the fundamental right to speak their piece. This right has been denied Dickinson. This is wrong. That Turkey is being caricatured around the world as a bastion of authoritarianism is just one result of the case of Village Idiot vs. Prickly PM.

This supremely dumb waste of prosecutorial resources began in 2006 at a Kadıköy tent show protesting the war in Iraq. When authorities began looking into the themes, the publicity-seeking Dickinson had to work pretty hard. On his second or third try, he finally succeeded after unveiling in a courtroom his portrait of Erdoğan’s head atop the body of a dog. Tasteless? Of course. A crime? Hardly.

But at Erdoğan’s behest, a prosecutor took the bait. The rest is now history. Dickinson was finally given a suspended sentence Tuesday of a 7,080 lira fine for insulting the prime minister. He was also placed on five year’s probation.

Let’s skip our own freedom of the press beef with Erdoğan. Let’s ignore his call just the other day for columnists “raising national tensions” to be fired. Let’s pretend we didn’t hear the proposal last week by his women’s minister to create a board to clip kissing scenes from Turkish soap operas (quickly followed by her diagnosis of homosexuality as a disease). Let’s just focus on this one small and very dumb case.

Can one imagine George Bush or Tony Blair or Nicolas Sarkozy or even Silvio Berlusconi going after every artist who made an offensive cartoon? Of course not. For they live under a system of principle. We’d like to be confident we are living under the same system of rules. That the likes of a Dickinson has demonstrated we do not only adds insult to the injury endured by our democracy.

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