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!


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Notice on comments


10/11/2012 2:33:50 PM

BB, another gem, thank you!! Love the comments posted by many. This is indeed an interesting group of people who follow BBs writings. As for American democracy, its foundations rest on the belief that majority shall rule, but minority rights are to be protected above all else. The biggest right that the minority needs is the right to free speech. Thanks to the founding fathers. Give me the Declaration of Independence any day to live by, rather than the books that the billions follow unthinkingly

Köksüz Kosmopolit

10/11/2012 12:45:21 PM

@Mara, let's hope you're right about RTE's swiftly-approaching stop (and that he is wrong about what happens when the train reaches it). @USO, I'm not sure there's censorship. A few of my comments don't make it to the page, but some of the ones that do are, emm, less than polite about AKP/Gülen. So missing comments might be more a matter of technical cock-up than of political silencing.

Rimon Tree

10/10/2012 6:30:04 PM

@ Brian I must disappoint you, for the moment Turkey is not learning to be democratic, she is being taught how to get rid of democracy in the name of ideology and Neo-Ottomanism and Sultanish mentality. If Turkey is to learn democracy - and there are some people around who know about it - she has to implement a secular political and jurisdiction system without any connections or references to religous and socalled "revelation". No chance though within the current government and future seems dark

US Observer

10/10/2012 5:32:33 PM

@ Prisoner..I've had comments conesored too but I admit they may have been a bit inflamatory. "If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all. – Noam Chomsky"

US Observer

10/10/2012 5:03:57 PM

Great articl Burak Bey and accurate on all accounts. "The evils of tyranny are rarely seen but by him who resists it. – John Hay (1872)"

mara mcglothin

10/10/2012 4:13:40 PM

BRIAN Blasphemy! Football not important? Great wriring Burak Bey. The esteemed PM cannot have his cake and eat it too! But again, he is not eating dessert he is riding on a train....and his stop is nearing.

Brian Irlanda

10/10/2012 3:22:03 PM

Very good article, but we should allow that after many years of undemocratic politics, the political system in Turkey is still learning HOW to be democratic. This will come with time. As far as Alex is concerned, every sports commentator everywhere in the world is completely undemocratic and will protect their own people! :-) But this is just a football game, it is not very important.

Köksüz Kosmopolit

10/10/2012 3:14:57 PM

At US universities, female students may wear headscarves -- HOORAY! But, what's this: at US universities, students may drink alcohol -- OH NO! Let us propose a most Ottoman solution to this problem: in Turkey, people may enjoy such freedoms (and only such freedoms) as the Sultan in Ankara and the Caliph in exile decide they may enjoy. And any people who don't like that can enjoy all the freedom Silivri has to offer.

Rimon Tree

10/10/2012 2:57:57 PM

@ Prisoner Lots of comments are censored now, mine too, maybe too much agreement with BB, it might be necessary for his protection though against the claim of incitement. I don't care so much, main thing they have read it and know about the opinions of the contributers.

The Prisoner

10/10/2012 12:49:03 PM

Nice read BB but perhaps you also ought to direct your criticisms towards the HDN too? I've noticed that all comments regarding the 'Alex' fiasco which aren't complimentary to Aziz Yidirim and his pet cat have been censored or not published at all. Again many comments against the escalation of hostilities with Syria are now being censored out too. A piece by you on the hypocrisy of the HDN would be welcome too.
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