Freedom of provocateur
In the wake of the attack and blatant en masse murder of journalists and a security guard at the office of the French satirical magazine Charles Hebdo, Turkey’s prime minister jumping on a plane, traveling to Paris and participating in an unprecedented show of international solidarity and condemnation of religious terrorism was great. Was it an effort to fool the world, as if His Majesty Almighty Angry Tall Man’s Islamist government chaired by the Pinocchio with the almond moustache cared about freedom of the press and condemned the murder of Charlie Hebdo editors, staff and the security guard without “ifs,” “ands” or “buts?”
Alas, soon it became clear that everything was just for the cameras, solely aimed at public relations when, as the dust was still on his shoes, the premier condemned a Turkish newspaper as a “provocateur” for republishing the cover and a “non-hazardous” selection of cartoons from Charlie Hebdo to demonstrate solidarity against an Islamo-carnivorous attack on press freedom. Why?
Because if any media outlet dared to insult in any manner the holy values, particularly the prophet of Islam, such an action was tantamount to encouraging Muslims to launch an attack against it.
Is this hypocrisy at work, or typical ruling Justice and Development Party-style deception? “He confesses truth at a police interrogation but errs while testifying in court” says a famous Turkish song.
Do we have a situation like that? Was the premier correct in Paris but in error in Ankara - and there was no political hypocrisy attempt? Of course press freedom was perfectly safeguarded in Turkey; no journalists were ever detained or subjected to torturous deprivation of freedom behind bars for years.
Criticizing the prime minister or the almighty sole sovereign of the Palace of the Circus and “escaping with it” was routine in this country. It is of course a joke that a former parliamentarian and a young female anchorwoman are facing up to five years in prison because they dared to point out via twitter messages allegations of corruption or political manipulation of justice to cover up graft probes?
The average 30-page monthly reports of the Association of Journalists Press for Freedom project - that this writer is chairing - have been highlighting rampant violations of freedom of expression and freedom of media elsewhere, not in Turkey because this is a land where such rights were safeguarded if not by the tall man, then by his short man with the almond moustache. The premier should perhaps try to read at least the December report issued on Saturday to see the “advanced democracy” and “advanced free justice system” his government has established and what serious challenges the Turkish media has been trying to sail through.
Since there are no such problems in Turkey, please allow me to remind others, perhaps Parisians where the world witnessed an attack by Islamo-carnivorous beasts, that in a free society, people have the right to express views even when they are offensive and wrong. It is the individual exercise of freedom of expression for a writer, painter, cartoonist, film-maker or whosoever to produce an intellectual product to his liking. Others may appreciate and give that intellectual product a standing ovation; may not approve it; or may even consider it disgusting.
Taboos and freedoms are totally incompatible. In democratic societies, discussion on any issue must be possible and people must be mature enough to accept that people might have different evaluations, perceptions and even attachments regarding certain matters. Some people may hug others and enrage an entire society; some may sketch oddities depicting a religious leader and trigger global storms and sometimes an idiot may just want to test the limits of the patience of “the other people,” against whom he might have an exhausting relationship.
Naturally, a writer, journalist, cartoonist or film-maker must understand that with full respect to their freedom of expression, freedom doesn’t just give anyone the right to aggravate religions, prophets or holy books. Values must be listened to. Of course, freedom of expression should exist everywhere, but people’s values should also be respected. There is a need, in that framework, for fine-tuning of not the concept of freedom of expression, but rather in the way it is applied. But, in no way should the sensitivity to protect the “sacred” of the people make a premier condemn as a “provocateur” a newspaper which reproduced a set of selected cartoons to demonstrate professional solidarity, as well as a determination to not allow being held hostage by religious zealots.
Let me repeat again, people have the right to dislike an intellectual product and to demonstrate their dislike of it. That is, while the right to protect religious values does not entail the freedom to stage acts of brute force or carnage, nor does the right to free expression entail the liberty to commit blasphemy.
What is blasphemous for one might fit perfectly well for some others as an example to an act of freedom of expression. The duty of a premier courageous enough to go to Paris and declare to the world he condemned religious terrorism and stood high for the freedom of expression must be able to at least shut up at home if he cannot take adequate measures to prevent Islamist mobs from besieging a newspaper off-and-on for the past few days.