EU Criticizes Turkish Law on “Insulting Turkishness”

EU Enlargment commissioner Olli Rehn demands that Turkey amend its laws on curbing free expression, in particular Article 301 of its penal code. Recently, Turkish courts upheld a prison sentence against a Turkish editor, Hrant Dink. The Turkish citizen, Elif Shafak – author of Father and Bastard – also faces renewed charges of “insulting Turkishness” under the notorious Article 301 of the Turkish Criminal Code, despite the earlier dismissal of the case.

Shafak’s case has already been fraught with complications. The original trial in June of Elif Shafak and her publisher (Semih Sokmen of Metis Publishing House) declared that, after the publication of her bestseller Father and Bastard, there was no evidence to prosecute her on the charges of “publicly insulting Turkishness.”

A subsequent trial brought by The Unity of Jurists – led by the lawyer, Kemal Kerincsiz – overturned the dismissal. It was in Istanbul’s Seventh High Criminal Court that the original decision to dismiss the case was reversed. After that ruling, the case file was passed back to the original court of prosecution, Beyoglu Republic Prosecutors’ Office.

The charges of “publicly insulting Turkishness” stem from the notorious Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code. After previously reviewing the trial of Orhan Pamuk, it is clear that there is now an extensive list of journalists and writers whose freedom of expression continues to be intimidated and suppressed.

In a reaction to an earlier article of mine, comparing the Pamuk trial to that of Italian writer Oriana Fallaci, who is being prosecuted in Italy because she “defamed Islam,” the weblog Parenthetical Remarks writes:

What’s curious about McConalogue’s article is the way in which he couches Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk’s famous battle with the government over charges that he had “insulted Turkishness” by public ally mentioning the Armenian genocide and Turkey’s treatment of the Kurds.
McConalogue would like to draw a parallel between Pamuk and Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, who has been charged with defaming Islam in Italy. To this end, he chooses to see Pamuk as somehow having run afoul of a Muslim status quo in Turkey.
The only problem is that Pamuk’s case doesn’t demonstrate this in the least. Article 301 of the Turkish penal code, which prohibits insulting Turkishness and the Turkish military, was dreamed up not by Muslim extremists, but by the militant secularist diciples of Kemal Atatürk. The people behind the prosecutions of Pamuk and other writers are nationalists who adhere to a vision of the Turkish state that is anathema to radical Islamists in Turkey and beyond.
I agree with McConalogue on the importance of free expression, but there is absolutely no connection between Pamuk and Fallaci. The juxtaposition appears to be based on a rather lazy assumption that because Turkey is a Muslim country, to run afoul of its government must be to run afoul of Islam. Nothing could be further from the case.

I disagree with the blogger’s critique since in my view, the cases of both author’s are trials of intimidating/suppressing free expression through religious forces. I am in agreement with the critic’s issue of defending free expression and I must apologise for where I did not clarify the points I made on the Turkish problem in my article.
The basic contention of the criticism seems to be this: Fallaci’s case concerns the suppression of free expression based on religion following the author’s vehement attacks on Islam, whereas Pamuk’s case concerns the suppression of free expression based on nationalists in the political sphere following his claims of past atrocities by the Turkish state and its military power. This leads my critic to suggest that “there is absolutely no connection between Pamuk and Fallaci.”
I attempt to keep myself aware of lazy assumptions that I am likely to make of cultures that I do not belong to. However, Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country and in assessing its government’s policy to literary cases, I would assess the geo-political culture in which its laws are conceived. That is to say, I take a step back from the immediate legislative developments since June 2005 i.e. Article 301. (Certainly, I would agree, I may have taken too many steps back in this article). I am aware that Pamuk is being prosecuted under the banner of Article 301 and Fallaci is being prosecuted for the rather odd charge of defaming Islam – both of which are very different charges and circumstances – but they are essentially a part of the same trend. They are both concerned with free expression and Islam. More to the point, both sets of recourse to the law are nothing more than quick-fix efficient methods of intimidating author’s on matters relating to religion.
At the centre of my critic’s remark is a passion for intricate historical divisions in the Turkish political topography at the cost of forgetting the generalized patterns of social and political analysis (although I can appreciate that it is important to examine this immediate evidence before approaching more generalized patterns). My own analytical framework, for quite some time, has been based upon Michael Mann’s legendary three volumes of The Sources of Social Power, which assesses the inter-related historical developments of ideological, economic, military and political spheres in modern social and political powers. So when I took to analysing Pamuk’s case, it was not limited to the military/political divisions in modern Turkey – I understood religion to play a significant part in underpinning the nationalist instinct in Turkish society. In short, I believe something deeper underpins that free-floating secular nationalism. Of course, this certainly remains a debatable issue.
Yet, Article 301, should we forget, refers to “publicly insulting Turkishness.” Are we then assuming that Turkishness, for Turks, is now a non-Islamic concept? I can’t help but think that “Turkishness” in Pamuk’s claims was devoted to a provocation over two issues irrevocably related to Islamic politics: a discomfort over the Armenian genocide and the persecution of the Kurds. Thus, a case on the Turkish nationalist-military-political framework overreaching into the private realm is very likely to signify a general case of religious intrusion into free expression. As for the claims of “secularists” and “secularism”, this is a difficult concept to talk of in all cultures, including in my home country of parochial Christian-centric islanders. Accordingly, I find it difficult to think of the Turkish state as “anathema” to the Islamic culture (radical or non-radical) it is responsible for governing.

I will respond...

James, Pete Blackwell of here. I will respond to your response in due course. Small problem: I live in St. Louis in the US and have been without power for 5 days and counting. Once I'm back up and not on a borrowed internet connection, I'll pick up the conversation.

In the mean time, Bart is basically right, although there's a lot of tension between secular and Islamist forces in Turkey (the subject of Pamuk's latest novel, Snow, incidentally). Even the nominally Islamist ruling party in Ankara bans headscarves for national holidays and at universities in deference to this secular idea of "Turkishness".

More to come, soon I hope.

@ Jari

If it is the wish of the democratic majority of Turkey to form a state based on muslim traditions and Islamic law, they should do so. However, per definition, democracy will be lost. Free speech will be lost. But hell, what is the difference with Belgium? None.

On a Turkish matter

After my reply has been removed from the blog to the digital dumpyards - twice - i feel an urge to explain my case somewhat.

The contribution i made to the comments of James and Bart, was

'thanks to mr. Ataturk, the great colloq of Turkey.'

Ataturk (1881-1938) - a very influencial figure in the history Turkey - embraced western civilisation to a high degree.

He even promoted the idea that 1930's Turkey had already made the transition into a western society. Several campagnes were performed with the aim to convince Europe that Turkey might as well be part of the European plan that was unfolding.

One of such a campagnes was filmed in the Netherlands. A boat full of Turkish musicians and artists, dressed like westerners, playing western music, toured along the European countries, to show their good will.

Very striking however is the observation that untill today, the idea's of Ataturk represent only a fraction of the population of Turkey. It may therefore not be a surprise that many of the Turkish people feel their (muslim) identities being neglected and treated as dirt.

Comparisons pop into my mind ...

Paul Belien - Hero

Take it from someone who has lived under some seriously debased government (Jersey City, NJ, USA) what Mr. Belien has done by exposing these frauds is magnificent. Ya know, it's starting to look like a lot of these countries that hatched after WW1 they need some SERIOUS rethinking. These Saxe-Coburgs seem like some bad bad people, and it would be in Europe's overall interest to knock these weenies down about five thousand pegs, into the dregs. Bad bad people. If that's the future of Europe, boy do you folks got problems. Never mind the terrorists already in your midst, you people be DONE FOR. Thanks for reading if you made it this far. Long Live Paul Belien. Takea a lot of guts to go after the King, you keep going, pard. Dick Laresch, Jersey City, NJ USA

Turkey is not fit fot the EU

Until Turkey owns up to its genocidal past it is not fit to join a club of civilised nations, if that is what the EU is. Christians continue to be presecuted there as in any country where the dominant culture is Islamic.
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Yes, Turkishness as understood in the political context of Turkey is "being secular and separation of church and state", contrary to what you seem to think.