You mean to tell me that Erdoğan is still mad about the video? Let us re-hash … first there was the song/video “Erdowie, Erdowo, Erdoğan” that aired on Germany’s NDR, a regional television channel, as I reported in my post of 9 April 2016.
Left there, it might have been well and fine, as although Erdoğan complained to the German Ambassador and “demanded” it be removed, the German government stood firm in their country’s freedom of speech laws, thus it might have died there. But no, along came German comedian Jan Böhmermann with a poem on ZDF, a German public-service television broadcaster (I had hoped to provide the text of this poem, but I have been thus far unsuccessful in finding it). The poem contained numerous sexual innuendos, accusing Erdoğan of repressing minorities, including Kurds and Christians. The opening scene was particularly witty. Jan Böhmermann introduced the poem with a warning: What he was about to do, he said, actually wasn’t allowed and that such slanderous statements could be punished and removed from the TV program. And that’s exactly what happened. ZDF did indeed remove the controversial portion of the show from its online media center.
Thereafter, Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a telephone call with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, agreed that Böhmermann had recited a “deliberately abusive text.” She also reiterated the “high value” the German government placed on freedoms of the press and public opinion, however ZDF ultimately removed the video. Böhmermann admitted that the earlier video was protected under German free speech laws but that the new one, which purposely mocked the foreign leader, would not be. Under German law, “whosoever insults a foreign head of state … shall be liable to imprisonment not exceeding three years or a fine.” At Turkey’s request, German prosecutors have launched a preliminary inquiry into Böhmermann’s work.
But the story doesn’t even end there. A Turkish doctor, Bilgin Ciftci, is looking at two years in prison for daring to suggest that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan looks like Gollum, the ruined hobbit-like character from The Lord of the Rings.
A court in the Aydin province took the matter seriously enough to bring in a group of experts – “two academics, two psychologists, and one movie expert” – to testify about whether the comparison was an insult. The judge admitted he had not seen Peter Jackson’s blockbuster films based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy classic, which would seem to be a problem easily rectified when two years of a man’s life are on the line, but instead they brought in a crew of Tolkienologists and gave them until February to “analyze Gollum.” Dr. Ciftci has already been fired from his job at a hospital over the image he posted online, and was briefly detained in October.
The Jerusalem Post reports that the court’s challenge is not to rule on the physical resemblance between President Erdoğan and the creature formerly known as Smeagol, but rather to determine if the comparison is insulting. The defendant is arguing that Gollum is a tragic figure ultimately redeemed by his fate in the story. This is not really funny, because it is a grim example of repression in a country whose membership in NATO could pull the Western world into a conflict with Russia, but it is virtually impossible to read any report about the case without laughing.
Unfortunately for Erdoğan, he has unwittingly exposed his Achilles Heel and the masses are standing in line waiting for a chance to help bring about his downfall. Former Miss Turkey, Merve Buyuksarac, became the subject of scrutiny for posting a satirical poem on Instagram. Two teenage boys were charged with a crime for tearing down posters of Erdoğan earlier this year, freed when they admitted they did not know whose posters they had vandalized. In March, police arrested a 13-year-old in the middle of class for having posted something deemed “insulting” of Erdoğan on Facebook. Nor are publications immune; the magazine Nokta faced a legal probe after publishing a cartoon depicting Erdoğan taking a selfie next to the coffin of a Turkish soldier.
And then there was the case I mentioned in my post of 24 February 2016 of the Polish truck driver who sued his wife for insulting Erdoğan. “Even if it is my father who swears against or insults the president, I would not forgive and I would complain,” he said. Filosofa has no comment. Filosofa is speechless.
Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has much on his plate, as president of Turkey, at the moment. He is trying to figure out what to do with the thousands of migrants it will be taking back from Europe, thwart terrorist attacks in major tourist hubs like Istanbul and Ankara, and stem the flow of refugees from Syria. Yet, it would appear that he is most concerned with those who would mock him, even those who do not live under, and are not subject to his rule. Mr. Erdoğan has no sense of humour, at least when the joke is on him. Though he has left himself open to this type of criticism and mockery, he lacks the ability to laugh at himself. Where does this end? Does this whole ordeal compromise Turkey’s much-desired membership in the EU? How will this affect the Turkey-EU immigration deal? I do not know the answers to these questions, but I do know that I expect better things from a leader of a nation than the pettiness shown by Mr. Erdoğan. And closer to home, it reminds me very much of at least one presidential wanna-be who has already threatened to change the landscape of our constitution, starting with freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and who also lacks the ability to laugh at himself, or to tolerate those who do.
You may wonder why I am making a big deal of this in my post(s). My initial post was because I heard about the song from a friend/fellow-blogger, and I thought it was funny! But now, my purpose has evolved into a statement on freedom of speech. We in the U.S. have been blessed with a foundation for government, the U.S. Constitution, that provides and protects our rights to freely criticize our leaders. Granted, many have abused the privilege, but it has not been taken away from us. Think about this as you head to the primaries in the coming two months, and to the polls in November. Remember Erdoğan and ask yourself if that is the world you want to be living in a year from now.