by Barry Rubin
“My people are going to learn the principles of democracy, the dictates of truth, and the teachings of science. Superstition must go. Let them worship as they will, every man can follow his own conscience provided it does not interfere with sane reason or bid him act against the liberty of his fellow men.” — Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
Hardly surprising, deeply upsetting, and geostrategically catastrophic, it’s official. Turkey has now passed over towards being an Islamist state. That turning point is marked by a tiny event of gigantic importance.
Fazil Say is an internationally acclaimed Turkish classical pianist. He has performed with prestigious symphony orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic, Berlin, Israel Philharmonic, France, and Tokyo, and is a European Union cultural ambassador. The Turkish state is now going to put him on trial, as an Istanbul court has accepted the prosecutor’s charge, which amounts to heresy. Specifically: he is accused of insulting Islam because of tweets he sent.
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Say suggested that since the Koran says there are rivers of drinks in heaven, that makes it sound like a pub, while the beautiful women available there make it sound like a brothel. A number of his tweets are quoted here. That’s his crime — writing a couple of sentences to describe his thoughts.
We are not talking of someone criticizing Say or disagreeing with him. We are talking about the power of the Turkish state being used to charge a man with a crime and to send him to prison for exercising free speech. True, they are only asking for a sentence of eighteen months in prison, but once the precedent is set their ambitions will expand.
There are already hundreds of political prisoners in Turkey today who have been in prison for over three years without any trial. Now, if criticizing Islam in Turkey is a crime, Turkey is not a secular state. And with all of those innocent people already thrown in jail by the regime on trumped-up charges of treason and terrorism, Turkey is no longer a democratic state, either. (For a study of the conspiracy charges — actually a wave of repression and intimidation seeking to quell opposition to Turkey’s fundamental transformation — see this detailed article by Gareth Jenkins in MERIA Journal.)
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This is the country that the Obama administration views as a role model for other Muslim-majority countries. In fact, though, Turkey is going down the same road of repression. In Saudi Arabia, a young man was recently indicted, extradited back from Malaysia, and put on trial for a similar offense. But we know where Saudi Arabia stands. Islamists in Egypt wanted to do the same to a leading Christian businessman for posting a picture of Mickey and Minnie Mouse in “Islamic” garb.
They acted too soon, while the military is still in power. Let them try it again in a few months.
In Kuwait, Hamad al-Naqi received a 10-year sentence, the maximum, for allegedly insulting Muhammad, his wife, and their friends. Al-Naqi claimed his Twitter account was hacked and someone else sent the messages. If true, that would be a very deadly way of getting someone else into trouble, right? Elsewhere, on the “Arab Spring” front, the Tunisian minister of religious affairs has sought indictment on blasphemy charges of Jelil Brick, a longtime dissident fighter against the former dictatorship who lives in Paris and makes YouTube videos. Brick previously survived an Islamist assassination attempt.
But unlike those Arab countries, Turkey has been a secular republic for decades. Its “progress” toward Islamization could not have been more obvious for the last few years, but the Western mass media generally ignores the evidence. The only thing that would save Turkey is if the current regime gets voted out of office before things go beyond a point of no return, and such an electoral defeat is not on the horizon.
I’d address this issue in my regular column in a Turkish newspaper — but I can’t since that was cancelled within a few minutes of my sending in an article (not published) that criticized the government.
I’d have a correspondent in Turkey write about this for you, but my Turkish friends — even ones who have historically been courageous — are now all too afraid to do so. I could possibly publish something about it in the journal I edit, Turkish Studies, but only because a Turkish government-inspired effort to get me removed as editor failed miserably.
Meanwhile, the court system in Turkey is — as you can see, above — being undermined. Tens of thousands of graduates of Islamic madrassas are now recognized as holding the equivalent of a college degree so they can be put into high civil service posts from which they will administer the state with as much Shariah as they dare implement this week.
For a decade now the Justice and Development Party has been in power, marching toward Islamism with far greater patience than the Muslim Brotherhood could ever muster. It has now crossed the point of no return. I could provide scores of other examples. Here’s one: a liberal Turk who was extolling the ruling party not long ago explained that his family’s babysitter wears “Islamic” garb, even though she isn’t a believer. Why? Because if she didn’t wear those clothes in her Istanbul neighborhood when she’s walking to work at his house, she’d be beaten.
Ponder on what Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish republic, warned:
Those who use religion for their own benefit are detestable. We are against such a situation and will not allow it. Those who use religion in such a manner have fooled our people; it is against just such people that we have fought and will continue to fight.
But now in Turkey that fight is a distinctly uphill one.
Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs
(GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International
Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.