Monday, October 22, 2012

The Islamisation of Turkey: the case of Fazil Say

by Elizabeth Kendal

For background on the Islamisation of Turkey see my earlier post:
Erodgan, Ergenekon, Europe and the Islamisation of Turkey
Religious Liberty Monitoring, 13 Oct 2012

The Case of Fazil Say

Energetic, world renowned virtuoso classical and jazz pianist Fazil Say (42) has filled concert halls around the world, performing with the philharmonic orchestras of Berlin, New York, Tokyo and Israel. He has also served as a cultural ambassador for the European Union.

In April, in the course of a Twitter conversation, Say retweeted a verse by the 11th-century Persian poet Omar Khayyam which mocks pious Islamic hypocrisy by asking believers: "You say rivers of wine flow in heaven: is heaven a tavern to you? / You say two houris [beautiful virgins] await each believer there: is heaven a brothel to you?"

Other tweets to have caused "offense" include one where Say joked about a call to prayer that lasted only 22 seconds. "Why such haste?" Say tweeted. "Have you got a mistress waiting or a raki [alcoholic drink] on the table?"

And another: "I am not sure if you have also realised it, but if there's a louse, a non-entity, a lowlife, a thief or a fool, it's always an Islamist."

Three people filed complaints, and on 1 June, prosecutors charged Say with inciting hatred and public enmity, and with insulting "religious values". He faces a maximum 18 months prison term, although any sentence is likely to be suspended.

On Tuesday 16 Oct, Say sent a note to a gathering of artists in which he said he was "amazed" he was having to appear in the dock. "All my life, I have represented the modern face of Turkey to the world through my art," he said. "I feel weird because I am facing the threat of being punished with a case like this."

AFP reports: "Say has also often criticised the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), accusing it of having a secret agenda to Islamise Turkey.

"In April, Say told the Hurriyet newspaper that he felt completely ostracised by Turkish society since he declared that he was an atheist, an experience that for him highlighted a growing culture of intolerance."

At a concert performance the night before his 18 October court appearance, Say read out a prepared statement: "Many intellectual friends, journalists are behind bars for reasons we can't know or understand.

"I can't even begin to explain this era. Believe me this reminds me of Nazi Germany the most.

"It is perhaps an honor to be tried because of retweeting a verse of Khayyam in an era like this. . . I have committed no crime. . . We are modern individuals, not a flock.

"If this is a dark era, then let us enlighten it."

On 18 October, "a visibly upset Say" told the Istanbul court, " I reject all the accusations."

AFP reports: "In a written defence submitted to the court, Say said he did not seek to insult anybody, but was merely expressing his uneasiness with people who were abusing religion for their own benefits. 'What I have done as an artist is to share my thoughts with my followers. . .  It is clear that I haven’t invited anybody to spread violence, or jeopardised public peace.'"

Say's lawyers requested an immediate acquittal; however this was rejected. The court adjourned the case to 18 February 2013.

Turkey -- a model of Islamic democracy?

See:
Tweeting Turkish pianist Fazil Say denies religious insult charge
By Nick Tattersall, Reuters, 19  October 2012 

Turkish pianist on trial for insulting Islam
Reuters, Thursday Oct 18, 2012

Turkish pianist ‘insulted Islam’
AFP, October 19, 2012

Turkish musician accused of Islam insults
By Daniel Dombey in Istanbul October 18, 2012