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BURAK BEKDİL

burak.bekdil@hurriyet.com.tr

BURAK BEKDİL > Do we want ‘American freedoms’ or not?

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A quick search will produce dozens of speeches in which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan praises religious and other freedoms in the United States, citing, most venerably, the freedom to wear the Islamic headscarf at American campuses.

Most recently, at his party’s historic congress, the prime minister lamented once again that his daughters had to study in the U.S. because they had not been admitted to a Turkish university due to the now defunct headscarf ban on campuses. Similarly, a small Chinese-army-size army of his cheerleaders in the media have invariably hailed American democratic culture and civil liberties in the hope that these freedoms would one day blossom in Turkey too. They have glorified American freedoms and exemplified American secularism over French laicite. In short, “we wanted American freedoms in Turkey!”

Did we? Really? Why, then, was Mr. Erdogan “saddened by President Barack Obama’s remarks” that a ban on the unworthy film mocking Prophet Mohammed would violate free speech? Simple. Because the prime minister and his chorus of willing devotees adore American freedoms when American freedoms do not ban the headscarf, but hate American freedoms when American freedoms do not ban an anti-Islamic blasphemous video either. Sorry, gentlemen, you cannot have an a la carte freedoms menu. And the First Amendment is not in the American Constitution to defend the rights of offended Muslims only.

It is not a secret that Islamists always defend pluralism and minority rights in lands where Muslims are a minority and strictly practice majoritarianism where they constitute the majority. Looks like a smart strategy, but fails to impress.

A decade ago, the same strategy, if put in a nice gift wrap, could have found buyers among the West’s “useful idiots,” but these days there are only a few enthusiasts and many who shrug it off, thinking it is too obviously childish and selfish.

A world map showing the locations of protests and attacks after the anti-Islam film highlights red dots with the names of over 50 cities in four continents, with a side bar info box telling that these protests have resulted in nearly 100 deaths, including that of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and over 900 injuries. It’s a nice list of cities: London, Paris, Bern, Copenhagen, Antwerp, Athens, Sydney, Istanbul, Tokyo, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Benghazi, and Cairo, as well as Jos, Zinder, Male, Ipoh, Marawi, Nouakchott and Batu Caves.

But let’s assume that there is truth in what Prime Minister Erdogan has loudly advocated since the beginning of the crisis over the U.S. film and the French humor magazine Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons: There must be global bans on cultural produce like films and books when the adherents of a faith deem these offending and insulting. Good point. But sometimes events can take unexpected turns.

A few days ago, Orthodox crowds in Lebanon protested a Turkish film, “Conquest 1453,” on the grounds that the Turks’ most favored film insulted Christianity in general and the Greek civilization in particular. A statement at the protest said: “This film depicts the murderer as savior and the victim as murderer … It indirectly mocks Christian sanctity and rituals.” A spokesman for the protestors said that “Conquest 1453” insulted Christian civilization, and vowed to step up incidents if the film was released in Lebanon.

Will the Turks burn down the film spool because Christians think “Conquest 1453” offends them and insults their faith? Will Mr. Erdogan keep on arguing that “there must be global bans on cultural produce when the adherents of a faith deem it offending and insulting?” Will he agree to a ban on “Conquest 1453?” We all know the answers to these silly questions.

“Conquest 1453” is the darling of Turks - and of Mr. Erdogan. Its release is an inevitable part of right to free speech. A ban? “No, that would be nonsense. We must stand by democracy. We must advocate freedoms. Besides, it does not insult anyone, any faith.” But there are people who say they are offended. “We cannot forsake democracy and freedom of speech just because a few people attempt to provoke tension.”

Speaking of President Obama, this must be the “Muslim democracy” which he so passionately hailed a few years earlier with an open reference to Turkey. Enjoy it, President!

October/10/2012

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