19 September 2012

Erdoğan doesn’t get it

Unless you just woke up 5 minutes ago from a decade-long cryogenic sleep, you would know about the Muslim riots in response to an execrable film that insults the prophet Muhammad. Bad taste and dirty tricks aside, the film Innocence of Muslims is the latest work that has elicited a grossly disproportionate reaction from many Muslims. Of course, certain liberals can be counted on to, if not condone, then at least rationalise the murders and violence by blaming the ‘provocative’ critics of Islam for being insensitive, even reckless. Nevermind that the victims of Muslim fanaticism are often innocent people who had nothing to do with the offensive film, or book, or poem, or cartoon. Nevermind that no amount of offense ever justifies physical violence and brutality.

Free speech fail.
These politically correct scolds who refuse to unconditionally condemn Muslim savagery can only encourage those like Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who wants to outlaw “attacks on religion”. In an absurd black-is-white statement, Erdoğan equated the silencing of religious criticism with respecting freedom of thought and belief:

Freedom of thought and belief ends where the freedom of thought and belief of others start. You can say anything about your thoughts and beliefs, but you will have to stop when you are at the border of others’ freedoms.

If Erdoğan is alluding to that famous catchphrase of individual freedom, “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins”, he only shows just how far he misses the point of that statement. Firstly, offending a person’s beliefs, religious or not, is not the same as physically assaulting them. Secondly, the arbitrary nature of what is deemed offensive makes it practically impossible to avoid offending someone somewhere. Many Islamic beliefs are highly offensive to secularists like me. So do Muslims violate my freedom by simply holding and expressing those beliefs? Thirdly, Erdoğan’s bizarre adaptation of the “swing my fist” statement would mean that no one is allowed to discuss, criticise, debate or even comment on beliefs and ideas that they themselves do not hold.

By Erdoğan’s reasoning, you can’t give your opinion on Marxism unless you’re a Marxist. You can’t point out the flaws of libertarianism unless you’re a staunch free market advocate. And you definitely can’t criticise the regressive, sexist, irrational, violent aspects of Islam unless you acknowledge that there is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet (even then there is no guarantee that you won’t be viciously set upon by your fellow Muslims for casting aspersions on the faith).

Erdoğan has also compared ‘Islamophobia’ to anti-semitism, saying that “Turkey recognizes anti-semitism as a crime, while not a single Western country recognizes Islamophobia as such.” False equivalence much? Muslims constantly try to deflect legitimate criticism of their beliefs and values by confusing an ideology with an ethnicity. It doesn’t matter that Muslims may consider their beliefs to be indistinguishable from their personhood, because they are wrong to do so. By their logic, anyone who holds particular beliefs, however odious or harmful, is exempt from criticism so long as they identify strongly enough with those beliefs. A Neo-Nazi can therefore justifiably claim to be a victim of persecution when he is criticised, since his sense of self is inextricably bound up with his ideology.

Turkey under Erdoğan and his Islamist Justice and Development Party has become more conservative in recent years, with an increasingly religious bent to its politics. For a country that aspires to be a secular, democratic model for other Muslim-majority countries, its prime minister gives the worrying impression that he seeks to undermine that aspiration, whether for ideological or political reasons.


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