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The Turkish English-language publication Today’s Zaman has just recently reported on its website the comments of Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan concerning the implications of the Internet trailer for the movie Innocence of Muslims for free speech. The statements from the elected leader of an important North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member are an alarm bell for anyone concerned about the increasing threats to freedom of speech from various Muslim quarters around the world.
Speaking on September 16, 2012, during a visit to Sarajevo, Bosnia, Erdoğan noted that he is the “prime minister of a nation, of which most are Muslims and that has declared anti-Semitism a crime against humanity [No word yet on whether Turkey has declared the Ottoman Empire’s 1915 Armenian genocide a crime against humanity]. But the West hasn’t recognized Islamophobia as a crime against humanity—it has encouraged it.” Erdoğan elaborated that “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.”
Erdoğan called for “international legal regulations against attacks on what people deem sacred, on religion” as well as “something in terms of domestic law.” Stating that Turkish legislators will immediately seek to prohibit blasphemous remarks, Erdoğan proclaimed that “Turkey could be a leading example for the rest of the world on this.” Erdoğan’s announced agenda, meanwhile, complements the longstanding efforts to prohibit “defamation of religion” by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), an international body encompassing 56 majority-Muslim states (including Turkey) and the Palestinian Authority (PA) headed by Erdoğan’s Turkish compatriot, Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu.
Erdoğan’s comments are fallacious and troubling for a number of different reasons. To begin with, he equates opposition to people merely for their existence with a distinct identity (i.e. anti-Semitism) with opposition to an idea such as a belief in Islam, however important such an idea might be to those who identify with it. Such thinking is a complete distortion of the word “prejudice.” While any aversion or hostility to people merely because of their ancestry or appearance qualifies as a prejudice, criticism of a belief system such as Islam on the basis of objective analysis is the precise opposite of a prejudgment. In line with the tenor of Erdoğan’s comments, he refers to “Islamophobia,” an increasingly accepted term that, as critical research has revealed, originated in the 1990s amongst Muslim Brotherhood satellite groups as a tool to silence all criticism of Islam as a new totalitarian thought crime.
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