Turkish classical musician Fazil Say is best known for his piano work, but it's the actions he took using a computer keyboard that have thrust him into the limelight in an unexpected -- and disturbing -- way.
Yesterday, Say -- who has received rave reviews for his playing and has performed in concert halls around the world -- was given by an Istanbul court a suspended 10-month prison sentence for insulting Islam and offending Muslims -- in Twitter posts. Although he was spared the indignity of being sent to jail, Say could find himself locked up if he is convicted of similar offenses during the next five years.
The offending tweets? In one, Say forwarded an excerpt from an 11-th century poem written by the famed Omar Khayyam. “You say that the rivers flow with wine, is heaven a tavern? You say that you will give every believer two very beautiful women, is heaven a brothel?” the poem says. In another tweet, the pianist -- a self-declared atheist -- suggests the rapid call to prayer he heard coming from a nearby Istanbul mosque might have been given by a muezzin eager to get his work done and head out for a drink.
Looking at the case in a piece for the Al-Monitor website, Orhan Kemal Cengiz, a well-known civil rights lawyer in Turkey, suggests Say's conviction is part of a disturbing trend in Turkey regarding the prosecution of those deemed to have insulted religion or Islam. From Cengiz's article:
Along with his suggestion that abortion may soon be banned, the other bombshell that mercurial Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently dropped was that his government is planning to build a massive mosque up on one of Istanbul's highest hills, designed so that it could be seen from almost every part of the city. Reports the Hurriyet Daily News:
“We are going to build a mosque over 15,000 meters square next to the broadcasting tower in Çamlıca. The planning work is nearing completion. I believe the bulldozers will begin working within two months. This giant mosque in Çamlıca was designed so as to be visible from all parts of Istanbul,” Erdoğan said late May 29, while speaking at the opening ceremony of a traditional handicrafts center in the nearby district of Kandilli.
Foundations General Director Adnan Ertem, Istanbul Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu, Police Chief Hüseyin Çapkın, Üsküdar Mayor Mustafa Kara and Emine Erdoğan, the prime minister’s wife, also attended yesterday’s ceremony.
The mosque complex will also include facilities underneath the building for traditional crafts, such as “hat” (Turkish calligraphy) and gilding, Erdoğan said. “In other words, just as there used to be madrasahs next to [mosques] in the past, our architects have undertaken to design something similar in this contemporary setting.”