Commentary Magazine


Topic: the Simpsons

Turkey’s Jihad Against “The Simpsons” Only the Beginning

Earlier this month, I highlighted that the Turkish broadcasting board had fined CNBC-E, a Turkish television station which broadcasts financial reports during the day and subtitled sitcoms in the evening, because it had aired a “Simpsons” episode which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist government deemed insulting to religion. To paraphrase the Washington Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo, Bart had become a blasphemer. Anyone who doubts that parody and humor have deep roots in the Middle East need only read Bernard Lewis’s primary source book, Islam, From the Prophet Muhammad to the Capture of Constantinople, Vol. II: Religion and Society. Political Islamism—especially the variety which arises out of Saudi Arabia and which the Turkish government increasingly embraces—is largely unable to handle satire.

It now seems that the Simpsons were only the first victim of Erdoğan’s broadcasting bureau. Now it’s going after talk shows which say the wrong thing or advocate too strongly for the primacy of free speech. From the Hürriyet Daily News:

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Earlier this month, I highlighted that the Turkish broadcasting board had fined CNBC-E, a Turkish television station which broadcasts financial reports during the day and subtitled sitcoms in the evening, because it had aired a “Simpsons” episode which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist government deemed insulting to religion. To paraphrase the Washington Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo, Bart had become a blasphemer. Anyone who doubts that parody and humor have deep roots in the Middle East need only read Bernard Lewis’s primary source book, Islam, From the Prophet Muhammad to the Capture of Constantinople, Vol. II: Religion and Society. Political Islamism—especially the variety which arises out of Saudi Arabia and which the Turkish government increasingly embraces—is largely unable to handle satire.

It now seems that the Simpsons were only the first victim of Erdoğan’s broadcasting bureau. Now it’s going after talk shows which say the wrong thing or advocate too strongly for the primacy of free speech. From the Hürriyet Daily News:

RTÜK ruled that the Prophet Muhammad was insulted during the show broadcast on Oct. 15, during which journalist Sevan Nişanyan was a guest. Aysever and Nişanyan were discussing the controversial film, “The Innocence of Muslims,” which caused harsh reactions in across the Muslim world a few months ago. The ruling declared that Nişanyan’s statements “exceeded the boundaries of freedom of expression” and found them “insulting and injurious” to society.

So first it’s “The Simpsons,” then it the tweeters, now it’s the talk shows. On top of which, Turkey now ranks No. 1 in the arrest of journalists. It’s seems like parody, but even Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s chief negotiator for European Union accession, goes around suing critics: A while ago, he and the Turkish Embassy in Washington tried to serve me with papers after I wrote a critical article about Turkey’s European Union accession.

The question for American congressmen is, with Turkey going from bad to worse, do they truly stand for what Turkey now represents? Do they endorse the silencing of free speech? Do they embrace not only Hamas but also its most radical factions? Do they support Iran’s drive to a nuclear weapon and seek to poke holes in Iran sanctions? If yes, they belong in the Congressional Turkey Caucus. But, if not, perhaps it’s time they leave a body whose numbers Ambassador Namik Tan uses to suggest American officials support Turkey’s policies.

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D’oh! Turkey Fines the Simpsons

One characteristic that Islamists share around the world is that they have no sense of humor. As I had recounted in my October COMMENTARY essay on the Muslim Brotherhood, rather than tackle Egypt’s housing crisis or move to jump start the Egyptian economy, one of the first actions of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt was to seek revenge against the famous Egyptian comic actor Adel Emam, who in the 1990s appeared in several films lampooning Islamic fundamentalists; an Egyptian court sentenced him to three months in prison for insulting Islam.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan likewise suffers a humor deficit. When, early in his government, a cartoonist depicted him as a cat tangled in a ball of string, Erdoğan sued the cartoonist. Alas, that was not the exception but the rule in Turkey today. Turkey’s Supreme Board of Radio and Television (RTÜK) has just fined a Turkish television channel for broadcasting “The Simpsons”. The problem?

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One characteristic that Islamists share around the world is that they have no sense of humor. As I had recounted in my October COMMENTARY essay on the Muslim Brotherhood, rather than tackle Egypt’s housing crisis or move to jump start the Egyptian economy, one of the first actions of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt was to seek revenge against the famous Egyptian comic actor Adel Emam, who in the 1990s appeared in several films lampooning Islamic fundamentalists; an Egyptian court sentenced him to three months in prison for insulting Islam.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan likewise suffers a humor deficit. When, early in his government, a cartoonist depicted him as a cat tangled in a ball of string, Erdoğan sued the cartoonist. Alas, that was not the exception but the rule in Turkey today. Turkey’s Supreme Board of Radio and Television (RTÜK) has just fined a Turkish television channel for broadcasting “The Simpsons”. The problem?

RTÜK said the fine had been levied due to CNBC-E “making fun of God, encouraging the young people to exercise violence by showing the murders as God’s orders and encouraging them to start drinking alcohol on New Year’s Eve night.” “One of the characters is abusing another one’s religious belief to make him commit murders. The bible is publicly burned in one scene and God and the Devil are shown in human bodies,” the RTÜK report said. In another scene, God serves coffee to the Devil, which can be considered an insult to religious beliefs, according to the report, which explained the motive behind the fine.

Alas, so long as the members of the Turkish Congressional Caucus are received as VIPs at the Turkish ambassador’s residence and in Istanbul and Ankara, U.S. officials might still work under the illusion that Turkey is a country on the trajectory for European Union membership, and not a country positioning itself to be the new Egypt.

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