News / Europe

Turkish Pianist's Conviction Provokes Debate

Fazil Say, an internationally known Turkish pianist, during a concert in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2012.
Fazil Say, an internationally known Turkish pianist, during a concert in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2012.
Dorian Jones
Turkey's internationally acclaimed pianist Fazil Say was convicted by a Turkish court earlier this month of blasphemy. His conviction has provoked a fierce debate over the balance between religious freedom and freedom from religion.

Say is on an extended international tour. But his conviction for blasphemy and the 10-month suspended prison sentence now hanging over his head has put his return to Turkey in doubt.

The 43-year-old pianist was convicted for inciting religious hatred, for retweeting a series of comments on religion. One was a quote attributed to the medieval Persian poet Omar Khayyam questioning whether heaven was a brothel or tavern because of the promise of virgins and wine.

Say, an atheist, is an outspoken critic of the influence of religion in Turkish society and the country's Islamist-rooted government. For other critics of this trend, like internationally renowned Turkish artist Bedri Baykam, Say's conviction sends a worrying message.

"We feel totally vulnerable in front of the government with the ways the laws are being used," said Baykam. "You don't have the right to think or you don't have the right to be atheist or you don't have the right to criticize religion. So people who are atheist, people who criticize things that are written in religious books, so will they be forbidden to talk? We are talking about hell."

Say's conviction has drawn condemnation worldwide, with Amnesty International describing it as "chilling." The conviction coincided with the U.S. State Department's annual report on human rights, which strongly criticized Turkey over freedom of expression.

But Turkish Culture and Tourism Minister Omer Celik stressed that artists aren't above the law.

"I don't want anyone prosecuted for what they say, but everyone - cultural figures, ordinary citizens and politicians alike - are 'equal before the law,'" said  Celik.
 
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is now pressing for greater protection of the Islamic faith both at home and abroad.

During a U.N. conference in Vienna in February,  Erdogan said "Islamophobia" must be regarded as a crime against humanity "just like Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism," and called on the international community, in particular Europe, to do its part in combating it.

Turkey currently leads the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Its head, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, says such measures have nothing to do with curtailing freedom of expression.

"We believe in the right of freedom of expression, but we also believe [in] the freedom of religion," said Ihsanoglu. "How can someone practice his religion freely in dignity and without fear, if his religion, which is part of their identify, is denigrated and insulted?"

Critics point out there is an irony here. Prime Minister Erdogan himself was sent to jail in 1998 for quoting the lines of a famous Turkish poem "minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers." His jailing was part of a crackdown inspired by the staunchly secular military. Many religious activists were jailed and Islamic schools closed.

Istar Gozaydin of Istanbul's Dogus University is an expert on the often uneasy relationship in Turkey between religion and the state. She says Erdogan's decade-long rule has been characterized by the restoration and extension of religious rights, but warns that individual freedom is now at risk.

"They used to be a problematic time for the believers, for the people who wanted to have the freedom of conscience, religious belief and practices." said Gozaydin. "However, now it is just the opposite. Now there is quite a significant respect for freedom of religion, however there is not much respect for the freedom from religion."

Say has played with the New York Philharmonic and the Berlin Symphony Orchestra, among others, and has served as a cultural ambassador for the EU. His conviction has made him the symbol of what is becoming an increasingly polarizing debate over religious freedom and freedom from religion  - one that seems destined to only intensify.

You May Like

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As tumult in Middle East distracts Obama administration, efforts to shift American focus eastward appear threatened More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Eissa from: Egypt
April 30, 2013 10:08 PM
"Questioning whether heaven was a brothel or tavern because of the promise of virgins and wine"... That sounds like an ignorant INTERPRETATION (derived from the Qur'an). It is a CHOICE to take that as an insult or denigration of the religion. By persecuting such comments, the government is lowering itself to the same level of ignorance.


by: Mayray
April 30, 2013 8:09 AM
I hope religion won't lead to the end of this world soon. By the heavens, a man has got the right to air his views!

University of Nigeria
http://unn.edu.ng


by: Abriskil from: Aqwa
April 28, 2013 4:07 PM
I remember the days when this government was claimed to be champions of liberty in Turkey, by American media. What has changed now? Turkey is worse than 90s in which it had communist and kurdish terrorists to blame for lack of liberties.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid