I consider myself very lucky to live in a country where there are no legal restrictions against speech that criticizes religion or religious people. Some are not so lucky, like Fazil Say, a composer who’s now in a Turkish prison and being charged with breaking laws against inciting hate and insulting the values of muslims.
His crime? Statements and tweets that are critical of islam and muslims. Some of his tweets are extremely disparaging toward muslims and islamic doctrine:
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.
You say rivers of wine flow in heaven: is heaven a tavern to you? You say two houris await each believer there: is heaven a brothel to you?
The muezzin finished the call to prayer in 22 seconds. What’s the rush? A lover? A raki [alcoholic drink] on the table?
There is nothing that I have seen from Fazil Say that incites anyone to violence, rather he is critical of muslim doctrine and hypocrisy among its leaders. It is worth nothing that many devoutly religious people around the world respond to offense with violent acts, so I find it hard to muster sympathy when they want to play the victim card. Say has not done or said anything to persuade people to violent acts, and his condemnations of islamic zealotry are no worse than many critiques of american evangelical christianity offered by atheist commentators in this country, including myself and many of my friends.
Sometimes we atheists are accused of being intentionally derisive toward religion or its followers. I will admit that I do, in fact, enjoy being provocative, but my intention with that is always to foster discussion, or to point out logical flaws and dogma, never to inspire violence toward or hatred for religious people. If your response to a verbal affront is violence or criminal charges, I would argue that you’re the one inciting hate– hatred against people who disagree with you and aren’t afraid to say so, even though they know there may be negative consequences.
Where do we draw the line? Many muslims are no doubt offended by christians rejecting Mohammed as a prophet, just as many christians are probably offended by islam rejecting the divinity of Jesus. Atheists think both positions are absurd. If you are offended by someone expressing a view that is contrary to yours, that’s an indication that you are not very confident in your position. If you respond to criticism with violence, that means that your position is not defensible with words or reason, otherwise why would you not defend it thusly?
Fazil Say is standing firm in his assertion that he has done nothing wrong. He has been quoted as saying, “I do not accept the accusations brought against me. I deny them.” His trial has been postponed until February, so we have to wait until then before we’ll know his defense strategy and fate. In the mean time, Fazil and others like him will continue to fight for their right to free expression without fear of government reprisal. In his own eloquent words:
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 honour 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.
These are dark times in many ways, and we all have the opportunity, even the obligation, to continue to push for enlightenment around the world.
This has been Day 21 of my blog-a-day goal for the month of October. I hope to write 500 words or more per day, or ~15,000 for the month, to get myself in the habit of writing every day. How do you keep yourself motivated for creative pursuits? It’s definitely something I find difficult.