Four words and a number in the indictment…

Four words and a number in the indictment…

Just four words in Turkish. Five in English, depending on the translation. Not less, not more. They make the opening of a line in an indictment. Those four words tell more than any other four words coming one after the other could. In the sequence they were put one after the other by the honorable prosecutor, they unwillingly portray the unpleasant – and well-known – facts about Turkey. They forcefully remind everyone what Turkish democracy is and is not. 

“In our Muslim-majority country…” 

A Turkish prosecutor is seeking prison terms of up to four-and-a-half years for columnists Ceyda Karan and Hikmet Çetinkaya of daily Cumhuriyet.

Ms. Karan and Mr. Çetinkaya are accused of “insulting people’s religious values” for reprinting the caricature of Islam’s prophet following the Jan. 7 attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris that killed 12 people. The prosecutor opened the investigation into the journalists after His Majesty’s prime minister accused Cumhuriyet of “incitement” for publishing the Charlie Hebdo excerpts.

The petitions and signatures of the 1,280 plaintiffs in the Cumhuriyet case are attached to the prosecutor’s 38-page indictment. A total of 1,280 Turks “in our Muslim-majority country” of nearly 80 million people complained that their religious values had been humiliated by the reprinted Charlie Hebdo excerpts. They have every liberty to feel so and to complain. It’s always better to have 1,280 plaintiffs than one angry assassin.

Thus the honorable prosecutor sat at his desk and started to type on his keyboard: 

“In our Muslim-majority country, it would be impossible not to foresee the consequences of reprinting the same caricatures…

“It is obvious even at first sight that the suspects reprinted the cartoons with the aim of humiliating the religious values embraced by a large part of society…”

The indictment also mentions, in legal jargon, “discrimination against Muslims and their faith,” and “deliberate attempts to violate social peace and public order.” The words “social peace” and “public order” may sound amusing when mentioned in a Turkish official text. But a Turkish indictment is always a serious text, regardless of its contents – especially for the suspect(s). 

The indictment against the Cumhuriyet journalists reveal bitter open secrets that are increasingly more open than secret. Take those four words: In our Muslim-majority country…”

Here, the honorable prosecutor reluctantly confesses, simply by highlighting the predominant religion in Turkey, that he may not have indicted persons who reprinted cartoons that were deemed insulting to other (minority) faiths, or to atheism. Which, by the way, is an everyday triviality in Turkey where, practically, there is unlimited freedom of expression to insult all faiths except one. 

Only a few months ago, a schoolteacher was caught hanging a sign at the gate of the Neve Salom synagogue in Istanbul that read: “Building to be destroyed.” The man was not prosecuted. 

The rich Wikipedia page on “Racism in Turkey” features one photo with the slogan “Long Live Racist Turkey” spray-painted by unidentified people on the walls of an Armenian church in Istanbul. Another reads, “You Are Either a Turk, or a Bastard,” near the wall of another Armenian church in Istanbul. In February, banners “celebrating” the Armenian genocide were spotted in several cities throughout Turkey. They declared: “We celebrate the 100th anniversary of our country being cleansed of Armenians. We are proud of our glorious ancestors.”

And the number in the indictment: 1,280. So many plaintiffs – enough to make legal ground to put two journalists in jail for four-and-a-half years. Would any honorable Turkish prosecutor dare to indict a Muslim for insulting other religions if 128,000 (or 1,280,000) Turks from any or no faith complained? It’s not too hard to guess.

The Islamist mind is both liberal/pluralistic and draconian/majoritarian at the same time. It just depends on where: We can insult but cannot be insulted in Muslim-majority lands, and we demand equal rights with the adherents of other faiths in Muslim-minority lands. 

What a curse on humanity Islamophobia is!