Hire an imam, not a lawyer!

Hire an imam, not a lawyer!

Turkish courtrooms are becoming like theaters staging medieval screenplays full of black humor. “Ottomania” is not only popular in soap operas, films and books but in courtrooms too, reminding one of well-known jokes from the Ottoman era such that “qadis” (judges ruling in line with the Islamic law and appointed by the sultan) could be back soon!

It came to my attention a few years ago when an officer standing trial on charges of plotting against the government defended himself in a bizarre way. Later I understood that his defense was logical. “My whole family is made of pious people,” the defendant said in the courtroom. “My sister even wears the Islamic headscarf.” Ostensibly, it was odd since the man was not being accused of having an atheist family (that will probably come to theaters soon). What was the relevance of that defense?

Apparently, that courtroom defense strategy is becoming more popular. Last week, this time another defendant, on trial for conspiring for the Feb. 28 “post-modern coup,” declared at the courtroom that “he prays five times a day.” So, we have another very pious defendant. Also in detention as part of the Feb. 28 investigation, a retired general, Çevik Bir, has revealed that he now prays five times a day in his prison cell.

But none of that perhaps reflects the “new judiciary” in the “new Turkey” as realistically as a notice sent by a lawyer to a car dealer. The attorney, Tahsin Yaşar Öztürk, claims that the car his client bought on the understanding that it was brand new had actually had a previous accident and had merely been resprayed. “How dare you – the ummah of the Prophet Muhammad – do that when the Prophet declared ‘The deceivers cannot be one of us,’” the notice sent by a notary public read. “In the Quranic language this act is strife.”

The attorney then warns the car dealer that “even if this act had not been discovered it has already been added to your book of sins for which you will pay since Allah knows all.” And Mr. Öztürk cites a Quranic verse that says “nothing can be hidden from God and that men will be held responsible for their wrongdoings in the afterlife.”

To commit such dishonesty, the attorney says, one should be ignorant of Islam and the Quran or not fear God. Finally, the man of law requests that the dealer deliver to his client a brand-new car within 10 days.

The notice, no doubt, is extremely original in its language. But Mr. Öztürk has an explanation: “I have been a lawyer for 35 years. When you speak to people about honesty and honor, you hardly get anywhere. But they have a different [positive] approach when you remind them of God’s commandments and verses.”

Apparently there is a widespread thinking that a touch of religion may earn one a courtroom victory. It may be too little and too late for the coup defendants for even if they recited all the verses at the next hearing this may not earn them a release. But with the courts now slowly turning into a qadi’s chamber, it would be advisable to potential criminals to memorize a few verses in case they get caught. A mother or sister or wife wearing the Islamic headscarf could score one more points.

And the attorneys should make more Quranic citations rather than referring to useless and boring articles in the penal code. Unless attorneys adapt to the “new judiciary,” it might be wiser for clients to hire imams instead.

Last October, conservative Yeni Safak columnist Cevdet Akçalı wrote: “When injustice has reached a peak people fabricate jokes. … Today we have complaints and rumors [about injustice]. … The next phase will be fabricating qadi jokes.”

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Defense: “You Honor, may I remind you that my client is a God-fearing devout Muslim and he must be pardoned according to verses 3:89 and 4:99, for God is merciful.”
Judge: “Does he drink alcohol?
Defense: “Certainly not, Your Honor!”
Judge: “The defendant has been acquitted!”