Pink Panther vs. the Inspector
The stakes of amusement are now higher in the show. When I wrote “Egemen Bağış vs. Barry Madlener” a year and a half ago (Hürriyet Daily News, May 27, 2010), the two men had just turned an otherwise boring meeting of the European Union-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee into pure entertainment.
In last year’s meeting, the Dutch far-right deputy and a member of European Parliament requested that the Turkish EU minister comment on his speech, which included the line, “as Atatürk wished, Turkey should stay away from political Islam.”
Mr. Madlener also claimed that “the Turkish government’s real friend was the Iranian dictator President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.” Obviously, a year and a half ago, Mr. Madlener ignored Bashar al-Assad, Khaled Mashaal, Hassan Nasrallah and Omar al-Bashir, some of whom today may not be feeling too friendly toward Ankara.
In return, Mr. Bağış reminded Mr. Madlener that “racism is a disease” and generously offered “treatment” for the MEP. It was not clear whether Mr. Bağış thought the advice to “stay away from political Islam” amounted to racism, or “the Turkish government’s best friend was President Ahmadinejad.”
The second act of the show at this year’s meeting was even more colorful. Mr. Madlener stood up to present Minister Bağış with a framed copy of a caricature drawn by a Turkish cartoonist, found by Turkish prosecutors to be offensive because “it constituted blasphemy against Islam.” Naturally, the cartoonist must stand trial and apparently Mr. Madlener had thought this was a violation of freedom of expression and wished to express his protest.
But Mr. Bağış refused to take the “gift” and, as Mr. Madlener moved to present it to the Turkish co-chairman of the committee, the minister ordered his fellow Turk not to accept it either. That was not all. Just when the spectators thought this year’s show would end with a boring “take this gift/no I won’t” scene, a jewel of a line from the minister’s mouth filled the air: “And you can put it in your appropriate place.” Curtains down, thunderous applause.
That line is a direct and poor translation into English which comes from a Turkish phrase that is known too well and may even cost you a prison sentence if you address it to an important man like, say, Minister Bağış.
Ironically, Mr. Bağış’s resort to suburban argot came only a week after one of his party’s prominent MPs, who was also a deputy parliament speaker and former minister of education (minister of education!), told opposition MPs to “f*ck off” during a parliamentary session aired live on TV! The cursing pious...
To add more color to the show, Mr. Bağış also pointed out that Mr. Madlener was not “fit enough to challenge him physically,” an invitation to a fistfight in the same suburban argot.
Luckily, the Dutchman ignored that challenge. No one would wish Turkey’s half-century-long march into the heart of Europe to end with a Turkish minister knocking out an MEP. And Mr. Bağış must have recalled last year’s diagnosis as he offered Mr. Madlener psychological treatment in Anatolia. If Mr. Madlener resided in Turkey he might have had to undergo “treatment” in a prison ward.
In a better world one would expect, though with excessive naivety, Minister Bağış to politely receive the MEP’s “gift,” to put it aside and explain to European friends of Turkey why a caricature could still earn its cartoonist a prison sentence in EU-candidate Turkey.
Or whether the Turkish justice system prosecuted intellectual material mocking other religions.
Or why Turkish, or other, Muslims might just not ignore any art work which they deem blasphemous and protest it in civilized ways like boycotting.
The audience is curious. Turkish suburban argot may be passé by next year, but will Episode 3 feature a demonstration of whether the MEP is fit enough to physically challenge the Turkish minister?