Thursday, June 19, 2008

No freedom of speech in Turkey

Bulent Ersoy is a Turkish singer. Last February, she made what would be considered a fairly common remark in a western democracy: she questioned the value of the Turkish government's war against the Kurds, and said that if she had a son, she "would not send him to the grave for the war of other people". As a result, she has now been charged with "making the public detest military service"; if convicted, she faces up to three years in jail.

This is simply obscene. Turkey pretends to be a modern democracy, but its citizens are forbidden to debate some of the most important questions a country can face: whether to go to war, and whether the price is worth it. Those issues, apparently, are too important for ordinary Turks, and solely the purview of the authoritarian militarists who run Turkey's "deep state". It's a grossly undemocratic attitude, which stinks of the very worst of early twentieth century authoritarianism. Unfortunately, that's the very era Turkey's elite are trying to cling to.

But in addition to being a violation of human rights and its commitments under the ECHR, this case also highlights a real problem with Turkey joining the EU: militaristic nationalism. Two world wars and almost thirty million dead have cured the rest of Europe of that particular disease, but it still thrives in Turkey. And it is that, rather than Islam, which presents a real cultural barrier to integration with Europe.