— The Erimtan Angle —

Last May I posted an entry on Fazıl Say and his tweets,[1] and now, at long last, there seems to be some movement in his case, as related by Veli Şirin, the Director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism in Germany: “Say appeared in an Istanbul court on October 18 and was charged with hate speech and insulting religion for Twitter messages mocking the conduct and beliefs of Islamic fundamentalists. He faces a potential sentence of 18 months in prison. In one tweet, he commented on a muezzin, who calls Muslims to prayer, for his hurried style. In traditional Islam, the call to prayer, or ezan, is supposed to be delivered melodiously; muezzins from different mosques compete to see who can recite it in the most extended and pleasing tones (even though it is now usually played on speakers from a sound recording at the top of a minaret, rather than being rendered by a live person [as an aside, let me point out that since the mid-1990’s, the call to prayer is once again delivered live in most cases, but not from the top of a minaret rather from terra firma into a handy microphone]). A Muslim adage says that a discordant call to prayer or an ugly mosque is against religion. But following the example of the Saudi Wahhabi sect,[2] fundamentalist muezzins now read out the call to prayer in a brusque manner resembling that of a grumpy public transit driver announcing a series of stops”.[3]

The pianist appeared on CNN Türk‘s programme Aykırı Sorular (‘Contrary Questions’), presented by Enver Aysever, and pronounced the following choice words: “Is the government now going to determine if a man believes in Allah or not?”, adding “they want me to believe in Allah by condemning me to one year and a half of prison time”. [4]  The above-quoted Şirin, not coincidentally writing on the website of the neoconservative and right-wing Gatestone Institute, gives the following verdict: “The case of Fazil Say exposes the falsity of the modern and democratic image of Turkey that the Erdogan government is trying to project to the world. Free speech is limited to members of the political elite – except for criticism of religion, which is prohibited even to them. As the influential journalist Semih Idiz wrote in the leading Turkish daily Hürriyet on October 23, the case against Fazil Say “has nothing to do with ‘justice’ in the objective sense of the word . . . Say has become a nemesis for most Justice and Development Party (AKP) followers and religious conservatives, who would be more than happy to see him receive a prison sentence, regardless of what this does to Turkey’s image abroad. As for his ‘virtuosity’ and ‘international fame’ these mean little for a large proportion of the conservative Turkish public, which has no appreciation of Western classical music – or any form of Western high culture – anyway.” Idiz expressed his doubt that the outcome of the Fazil Say case will demonstrate that the current Turkish government has a positive commitment to freedom of speech”.[5]  And the pianist himself laconically remarked “The whole world is laughing at Turkey, just look at this court case I am involved in”.[6]  


[1] “Insulting Islam: Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkey” A Pseudo-Ottoman Blog (27 May 2012).  https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2012/05/27/insulting-islam-pakistan-afghanistan-and-turkey/.

[2] Cfr. “Tayyip’s Mosque: The Legacy Project” A Pseudo-Ottoman Blog (23 September 2012). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2012/09/23/tayyips-mosque-the-legacy-project/.

[3] Veli Şirin, “Turkey: Fazil Say, Composer, Charged with Blasphemy for Tweets” Gatestone Institute (13 November 2012). http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/3448/turkey-blasphemy-fazil-say.

[4] “Say: Hapisle Allah’a inanmamı istiyorlar” NTVMSNBC (14 November 2012). http://www.ntvmsnbc.com/id/25397543/.

[5] Veli Şirin, “Turkey: Fazil Say, Composer, Charged with Blasphemy for Tweets”.

[6] “Say: Hapisle Allah’a inanmamı istiyorlar”.

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