Turkish Court Defends Prophet Against Yours Truly

Turkish Court Defends Prophet Against Yours Truly

May 22, 2013


A criminal court in İstanbul condemned me to 13 ½ months of prison yesterday under art. 216/3 of the Turkish Criminal Code, which concerns “publicly demeaning the religious values held by a section of the population”.

The court cited a single sentence from a note I posted on my blog on September 22, 2012, where I argued that speaking disrespectfully of the Prophet Muhammed does not constitute “hate speech”.

Here is the original article in Turkish: http://nisanyan1.blogspot.com/2012/09/nefret-suclaryla-mucadele-etmeli.html

I wrote it in the heat of the debate on that silly Muhammad film which created an international furore last year. I argued that “hate speech” is only criminal if it actually puts the rights or security of a vulnerable group in jeopardy; that an inconsequential verbal attack on powerful majorities does not constitute criminal hate speech; that we should defend the right of people to make silly films, however tasteless, about some Arab leader who claimed to have talked with Allah many hundred years ago; that there was a grave danger in Turkey that this incident would be used to restrict freedom of speech.

The article contains a single sentence touching on Muhammed. This is what it says:

It is not “hate crime” to poke fun at some Arab leader who, many hundred years ago, claimed to have established contact with Deity and made political, economic and sexual profit as a result. It is almost a kindergarten-level case of what we call freedom of expression.

Several individuals around Turkey filed complaints about the article. Three different courts took up the case simultaneously. Istanbul was the first to reach verdict. I have no idea how the other two are faring.
I was called to testify in court a few weeks ago. I made the following statement in writing. I imagine it must have pissed the bench off a bit.

I was not represented by a lawyer, as I did not think it either necessary or useful. As of today, I do have a good lawyer, though.

This person named Muhammed has claimed to have established communication with the Maker of the Universe – God forgive my sins – and to have received a book from Her. This, in my conscience and belief, is blasphemy of the worst kind. Yet I do not bring a legal complaint against this person. For everyone has the right to believe in whatever silliness they wish and to take for truth whatever superstition they choose, so long as they do not violate the rights of others.

In consequence of his claim to have established contact with Deity, this Muhammed, who was a lowly merchant, acquired political dominion over all Arabia and gained the financial means to raise 30-thousand-strong armies. Again as a result of his claim to “Prophethood”, we learn from canonical Islamic sources that he acquired a total of at least eleven wives and two unwed concubines. In other words, it is an incontrovertible historical fact that this person made political, economic and sexual profit from his alleged contact with Deity. Now, profiting is not a crime, nor is it always a morally reprehensible act. To state that this person profited from claiming “prophethood” does not constitute an imputation of crime or even of immorality. It is merely a statement of historic fact.

Nevertheless I did not make that statement of fact in my article, considering it might be distasteful to some people. I carefully avoided any statement of the type “Muhammed was this and that”. I simply argued that, IF someone wished to make such a statement of fact it would be their most natural right to do so, and that this right should be protected by public hand against violation by hostile individuals or groups.

I believe that only an ignorant person devoid of the most basic notion of law would argue the contrary.

Telling the historical or legal truth may sometimes be hurtful to the sensitivities, or prejudices, of some people. This is regrettable. Yet I don’t think it would be possible, in a civilized legal system, to derive a legal injury or right from this fact. Nor do I think that there is any public benefit in tying the right to tell the facts to the prcondition to heed the fine sensibilities of this or that group.

I believe we are now going to appeal the verdict. The appeals process normally takes over a year. I don’t expect to go to jail in the meanwhile. And what the outcome of the appeals may be, only God knows.