Böhmermann case likely to backfire on Erdoğan

Böhmermann case likely to backfire on Erdoğan

The offensive poem by German comedian Jan Böhmermann about President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is puerile and asinine. There is a thin line between biting even scathing political humor and downright insults. 

Turkey is no stranger to political humor with a sharp edge. The late Levent Kırca – who is a household name in this country - was famous for his stinging parodies of politicians. They can still be watched on YouTube.

Some of his funniest gags - and he had many about Erdoğan going back to when Erdoğan was mayor of Istanbul - hit below the belt. 

Kırca’s parodies often contained sexual innuendoes too, which Turks also enjoy. Kırca was not unique by any means. This tradition of political lampooning goes back to Ottoman times and includes such famous names as Şair Eşref (The Poet Eşref), the bane of Sultan Abdulhamid and corrupt Ottoman officials.

Accusing a politician of being a zoophile or sodomite, however, without any subtle political punch line, and with no aim in mind other than causing shock, seems to cross a line and can hardly count as political humor of a higher standard. One has to also question the intellectual capacity of anyone who finds Böhmermann’s poem funny.

I don’t know if any European leader would have disregarded Böhmermann’s poem if he or she was its target. At any rate, whether they personally would want to go down that path or not, it is clear they would have the right to initiate a slander case. 

The most likely scenario would be that they would shrug it off because they know sensible people are capable of discerning between good and bad taste. It’s not in Erdoğan’s character to do so, of course. Not when he has hundreds and thousands of Turkish followers in Germany alone, let alone the rest of Europe. 

He has, after all, built his political career on populism. But by pursuing this matter he has also ensured that it became international news. The main reason for that happening, however, is not his case against Böhmermann, but his own appalling record with regard to freedom of expression and a press freedom. 

He is known today in the West as the enemy of both. This has ensured that few are concerned with the contents of Böhmermann’s poem. Most are concerned with what they see as Erdoğan’s attempt to carry his restrictive policies to the heart of Europe. 

One has to also recall that the Böhmermann case comes on the heels of Ankara’s diplomatic demarche to have a video on German television, which parodied Erdoğan as a basher of journalists who likes to build big palaces for himself, banned. 

Unlike Böhmermann’s poem, that parody was close to the sort of gag Kırca would have done and which Turks are familiar with. Many Turks also found the “Erdowie, Erdowo, Erdoğan” video funny, even if Erdoğan did not.

The point is that Erdoğan’s total lack of tolerance for such parodies and for caricatures of him is what has ensured that the overwhelming bulk of the European media, not to mention press watchdog groups, are on Böhmermann’s side. 

Few observers believe the German legal establishment will allow him to enjoy the benefit of the verdict he expects from this case. In other words, he is unlikely to win this case against Böhmermann because both official and public opinion are stacked against him. 

No one in Europe is willing to provide Erdoğan with any advantage that would give him added justification to pursue his authoritarian ways in Turkey. In fact, many believe that this case will backfire and turn from being a case against Böhmermann into becoming a case against Erdoğan, who will have provided a platform in Europe for his critics to rail against him.

Put another way, Erdoğan could have managed this case more sensibly, but expecting that from him at this stage is simply not realistic.