Freedom of speech missing from Turkish rhetoric over Paris killings

Freedom of speech missing from Turkish rhetoric over Paris killings

“I am Charlie Hebdo; because I, like many members of my generation, grew up reading and admiring satire, which, by definition, attacks sacred cows – the powerful, the pious, the seemingly pure. Otherwise it is not satire,” a very dear friend of mine wrote on her Facebook account.

The former colleague and friend, who is unfortunately no longer active in journalism, touched very acutely on the gist of the debate that has gone around the world since the deadly assault on Charlie Hebdo: "In the debate that centers on the question ‘Ah, but shouldn’t they have been less offensive?’ one important item is missing: The difference between satire and political rhetoric. A Charlie Hebdo cartoon where Muhammad hides his face and says ‘it is so difficult to be worshipped by fools’ is NOT the same as Ayaan Hirsi Ali describing the world’s Muslims as violent and pursuing a policy that would discriminate against Muslims in terms of immigration/citizenship rights in the Netherlands. Offensive humor (satire?) is not identical to racist rhetoric/policies. Most of the time, our world is a humorless place where the powerful bear little criticism ... In many countries, including my own, satirical magazines do a better job of opposing oppression than most of the serious papers.”

The international discussions that have followed the Paris massacres have put freedom of expression on center stage. Even among Western circles there seems to be a disagreement about the characterization of Charlie Hebdo. David Brooks, whose article “I am not Charlie Hebdo” in the New York Times prompted my friend to pen her thoughts on Facebook, is critical of the magazine. For Jordan Wiesmann who writes for Slate, Charlie Hebdo is racist.

Olivier Tonneau, on the other hand, reacted in his article against the criticism in the British press about Charlie Hebdo, saying, “It might be worth knowing that the main target of Charlie Hebdo was the Front National and the Le Pen family. Next came crooks of all sorts, including bosses and politicians.”

However, even those who have been critical of Charlie Hebdo have fervently condemned the killings, and none have advocated any ban on the magazine.

“Had the killers chosen to attack a far-right publication whose rhetoric is anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim, let’s say with the name ‘XYZ,’ you would not have seen people carrying banners saying “I am XYZ,” an expert who has worked for years on the issue of discrimination against Muslims in Europe told me.

At least there is a debate going on about the limits of freedom of expression in Western circles. Unfortunately, in our part of the world the discussion is centered on Islamophobia. It is a pity that the initial reaction from the Turkish leadership was to evoke the issue of Islamophobia, while also condemning the killings in Paris.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who speaks on nearly every occasion about anything, has interestingly kept silent on the matter, for at least five days, limiting himself to a written statement. However, in neither his statement, nor in those of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu can you see a word about freedom of expression. The concept is also non-existent in a written statement from the Foreign Ministry. The same goes for oral statements from Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.

“In Europe, you can mock religion, everything; this has nothing to do with racism or xenophobia. But Muslims in Europe think that mocking Islam equals Islamophobia. But those organizations fighting against Islamophobia and racism in Europe will expect a strict condemnation, without an ambivalent stance, from Muslim organizations,” the Turkish expert told me.

What is expected from France and other European countries is to make a clear distinction between Islam and terrorism, and to reject Islamophobia. So far, the reaction from Europe has been one of serenity. France has done an especially good job of making this distinction.

What is expected of countries like Turkey is to lead Muslim countries and Muslims in general to uphold the concept of freedom of expression. Unfortunately, this seems to be mission impossible with this government. It's a pity, Turkey is losing a historic chance to be a true bridge between East and West.