Commentary Magazine


Turkish Pianist Sentenced for Blasphemy

Just over four months ago, President Obama stood beside Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and spoke warmly of the relations between the two countries and his personal friendship with Turkey’s leader. While they stood together, Erdoğan’s security forces were seizing yet another independent media company; it would soon be transferred to his political allies.

Alas, the situation is going from bad to worse in Turkey. From today’s Hürriyet Daily News:

World-renowned Turkish pianist Fazıl Say, who was sentenced to 10 months in prison for blasphemy in April, was again sentenced to 10 months by an Istanbul court today in a retrial. Say had received a suspended 10-month prison sentence on charges of “insulting religious beliefs held by a section of the society,” for re-tweeting several lines, which are attributed to poet Omar Khayyam… Say was convicted after tweeting the following lines: “You say its rivers will flow in wine. Is the Garden of Eden a drinking house? You say you will give two houris to each Muslim. Is the Garden of Eden a whorehouse?”

Perhaps senior diplomats—some former U.S. ambassadors to Turkey and men like Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried, who downplayed Erdoğan’s Islamism and suggested his party was nothing more than the Turkish equivalent of a European Christian Democratic Party—might want to consider how they got Turkey so wrong. 

For Turkish liberals, businessmen, students, and secularists who are striving for a constitutional order where rule-of-law trumps any prime minister’s personal orders and an independent judiciary reigns supreme, the worst aspect of American behavior is that so many American figures are lending their endorsement not to Turkish-American relations but rather to Erdoğan’s agenda. Namik Tan, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States, has made it clear that the Turkish government interprets membership in the Congressional Turkish Caucus as a sign of endorsement of Turkey’s anti-liberal, anti-democratic, anti-secularist, and anti-free speech agenda. And yet, despite everything, more than 130 members of Congress, continue to effectively endorse a government which engages in blasphemy trials with a frequency now rivaling Iran and Saudi Arabia.