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Monday, June 14, 2010

The Responsibility of Free Speech

By Kaya Turan reporting from Rochester, UK

Michael KuyucuRadio DJ Michael Kuyucu has written an article condemning Turkey's megastar Tarkan over the recent book dispute that saw the European Court of Human Rights find in favour of the publisher and fine Turkey, over the legal decision from its domestic courts to seize the book after a legal application from Tarkan's lawyers in 2001.

The book, purporting to be a scientific case study on the nature of celebrity in Turkey, had focused on Tarkan's sexual preferences and his rumoured homosexuality, using gutter press gossip and unofficial sources, while also failing to cite any used materials.

In wanting to block the distribution of this book, Kuyucu said that Tarkan had not only helped add to Turkey's bad human rights' record internationally, but that it was wrong for an artist, whose objective should be to contribute to culture, to want to ban a book written about celebrities.

Kuyucu compared Tarkan's legal attempts to place an injunction on the book's publisher as book burning.

Public Opinion on Censorship

In response to Kuyucu's article, who can honestly advocate the banning of books? Nevertheless, it's a reality in the world outside of Turkey today. For example, censoring books continues to flourish in 21st Century schools in America.

There are hundreds of challenges to books in schools and libraries in the United States every year. According to the American Library Association (ALA), there were at least 513 in 2008. But the total is far larger, as 70 to 80 percent are never reported.

These books are certainly more important than books about the way celebrities handle themselves.

But does this make banning books right? Of course not. Does the statistics of book banning in schools dent America's "land of the free" image? Depends on what side of the idealogical divide you're on, and the same will be true for anyone that believes Tarkan defending his name in court will dent Turkey's image outside of its own borders.

Today, Israeli public opinion has held steadfast after its army shot at humanitarian aid workers, because its government justified it for national security purposes - even if it resulted in the civilian deaths of citizens from a friendly country on international borders along a coastline blockaded in the name of their own war on terror.

Arguably, if we use live ammunition against people defending themselves with sticks and stones, then that will be the only war we will ever win. We certainly won't win public opinion elsewhere. This goes not only for Israel, but Turkey, too, in its own fight to defend the sovereignty of its borders.

But what does this have to do with Tarkan's case? Nothing apart from stretching an analogy to an amazing length, something Kuyucu himself did by trying to compare Tarkan wanting to protect his own privacy at the risk of artistic integrity, to Nazi book burning and Turkey's own shady political past in his article.

However, the banned book's publisher has won his case against Turkey for the court decision to censure the book, and Turkey has been fined by the European Court of Human Rights because of it.

So, should the Turkish public punish Tarkan, because he saw fit to legally fight a book that seemed loaded with its own ammunition of sticks and stones, and which attacked his own personal borders?

Call Your Own Cauldron Black

Freedom of speech comes with responsibility.

If a book was written about me where I thought its sole purpose seemed to be to make money off my name without my permission, using such lines as to suggest that the way I held my penis on stage made me gay under the disguise of a scientific thesis, then I'd go to court to use my legal right to get that book banned, too.

It's a personal choice, because first and foremost before we are our careers - even if it is one burdened with the goal of cultivating culture as Kuyucu believes is the high nature of artists - we are human beings with feelings.

We need to take Tarkan's decision to take action within the mental context of the way his frame of mind was at the time. In 2001, the homosexual issue was at its peak, with stolen photographs and MPs making statements about his sexuality, he probably felt he had, had enough.

Although maybe Kuyucu was right on one point. Had Tarkan not given this "celebrity trash fiction" with a scientific slant the weight he did by deciding to take the publisher to court, it would probably have long been forgotten about now.

What we have today, however, is Kuyucu wanting to hold on to Tarkan's penis - in a manner of speaking. It's the same way of speaking - a sensationalist one - that has been used in the book, and the approach Kuyucu defends in his condemnation of Tarkan wanting to stop publication of this book nearly a decade ago.

Will Kuyucu want to ban this blog because of that line? Or will he just email us politely to remove that sentence?

UPDATE: Kuyucu responds but gives no permission to print it >>

Taking a closer look at the DJ's own cultural contribution in Turkey, too, critics of Michael Show could say that the programme has little to do with Turkish music, and is rather a poorly dressed vehicle to drum up support in Turkey for Greek acts during Eurovision Song Contest time.

There's nothing wrong with that. He is free to do it. The question of whether he is cultivating culture in Turkey is debatable, but irrelevant of the way Kuyucu describes the country he butters his bread in throughout his condemnation of Tarkan, Turkey is a free country after all.

And as to the "censoring" nature of Turkey, it is still a fact - even in the 21st Century - that a corresponding show would still be taboo in Greece and other countries with more of a censoring nature towards certain types of music, such as Armenia and Serbia.

Just look at the way countries vote in the Eurovision Song Contest for proof of how politicised music has become on that particular international arena.

And if this is the type of mentality Kuyucu comes from, maybe he should also direct his pen towards himself, otherwise it could be a case of the pot calling the cauldron black.

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