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Pianist to be put on trial in Turkey for ‘insulting Muslim values’

We reported some weeks back that the pianist Fazil Say, who professes atheism, had gone into self-exile from his homeland and plans to settle in Japan. Now, for some reason, the Turks have decided to put him on trial, presumably in absentia. Supporters are organising a petition here.

Read on:

Friday, 01 June 2012

By Al Arabiya with Agencies

An internationally acclaimed Turkish classical pianist is to stand trial on charges of insulting Muslim religious values in comments posted on Twitter, an Istanbul court ruled on Friday.

Fazil Say has performed with the New York Philharmonic, Berliner Symphoniker, Israel Philharmonic, Orchestre National de France and Tokyo Symphony Orchetra and has served as a cultural ambassador to the European Union.

“The trial will open on Oct. 17 in an Istanbul court,” his lawyer Meltem Akyol told AFP, adding that Say would attend the hearing.

The 42-year-old pianist quoted a well-known poem by the 11th Century Persian poet Omar Khayyam that ridiculed the hypocrisy of people who pretend to be pious.

State-run Anatolian news agency reported that the court “accepted an indictment against Say for allegations of explicitly insulting religious values.” If convicted, the pianist could face 18 months in prison, according to Reuters.

Religious conservatives in mostly Muslim Turkey have become more assertive since Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) swept to power a decade ago, arousing fears among opponents that the republic’s secular traditions are being eroded.

Khayyam’s poem is in the form of a questions to believers: “You say rivers of wine flow in heaven, is heaven a tavern to you? You say two hours await each believer there, is heaven a brothel to you?”

In a separate tweet, Say poked fun at a muazzin, someone who makes the Muslim call to prayer.

“The muazzin finished the evening prayers in 22 seconds … Why are you in such hurry? A lover? A raki table?” he asked, referring to the aniseed-flavored spirit popular in Turkey.

The multiple award-winning artist said in April in an interview with the Hurriyet daily that he felt completely ostracized by Turkish society since he declared that he was an atheist and that the criticism he had received had highlighted a growing culture of intolerance.

“I think it’s time for me to move to Japan,” Say told the daily.

“When I said that I was an atheist, everyone insulted me and the legal authorities jumped on everything that I wrote on Twitter. I am perhaps the first person anywhere in the world to be the object of a judicial inquiry for declaring that they are an atheist.”

Say is expected to stand trial in the coming months in a case that shows how the tide has turned in Turkey since Erdogan was imprisoned in 1998 for reciting a poem that a court ruled was an incitement to religious hatred.

Erdogan, the then mayor of Istanbul, had belonged to an Islamist party that had been banned after the military forced its leader to resign as  prime minister a year earlier. He served six months in jail. The poem he had read contained the verses; “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.”

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  1. I wrote this a while ago as a stimulus document for 6th formers.again, it seems relevant.

    • José Bergher says:

      Congratulations on your extremely fine article and especially for your mention of Entärtetemusik.
      May I add a quotation from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. This was read by the producer-announcer at the beginning of every broadcast of a wonderful weekly radio program on music, in Caracas, Venezuela:

      “The man that hath no music in himself, Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils; The motions of his spirit are dull as night, And his affections dark as Erebus. Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.”

      After the quote, the listeners were treated to a couple of minutes of the beginning of Dvorak’s violin concerto. Then the two-and-a-half hour program got started.

  2. José Bergher says:

    I just went back to a hardware store and demanded my money back. I had bought a special flashlight after reading an ad about “Special Magic Lantern ® to Look for The Muslim Religious Values in Turkey.” I went to Turkey. I looked for The Values the concert pianist had insulted I looked and looked and kept looking. And then looked again. I had made sure The Special Magic Lantern ® was turned on; there were no battery problems. But I didn’t find what I was looking for. The manager at the hardware store said, “Look here, mister, it’s not my fault or the manufacturer’s if you found nothing. The promo tells you to look, but doesn’t guarantee you’ll find anything. Maybe there’s nothing to find.” This guy’s just impossibly obnoxious. He sells flashlights and can’t see the light. Ok, so much for him. I’m taking him to court. And not ony him: I’m also suing the company that makes this lamp and swears it’s infallible.

  3. And Turkey wishes to join the EU.

  4. CS Barnett says:

    This exemplifies why we in the US must insure the First Amendment, guaranteeing
    our rights to freedom of religion, from which derives our freedom of expression,
    of the press, the right of the people to peacefully assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
    ” Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. ”
    Say is fighting against the Islamic Law called Sharia, which does not have these guarantees of rights. One Sharia ruled country after another bans music, what one can write without threat of prosecution , imprisonment, or death.
    For those of us who are artists and writers, the First Amendment is imperative- obviously.

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