As Michael Stürzenberger, an editor of the conservative German website Politically Incorrect reports, a Munich court convicted on February 6, 2013, a 74-year-old pensioner, Maria Frank, of hate speech for a sign displayed by her at a September 8, 2012, rally. Frank’s case demonstrates once again that individuals criticizing and/or condemning Islam can easily encounter legal difficulties in Germany and elsewhere.
Frank had taken part in a Munich protest of Stürzenberger’s small conservative and anti-Islam party Die Freiheit against a proposed Islamic center/mosque in Munich (the Zentrum für Islam in Europa—München or ZIE-M). Although Frank is not a member of DF, Stürzenberger describes her as “one of the most zealous collectors of signatures” for a DF-led petition drive to stop ZIE-M. As quoted by Stürzenberger, Frank’s sign referenced the Ottoman Empire’s September 12, 1683 defeat at the siege of Vienna, a historic turning point in driving back a Muslim advance into Europe, and sarcastically stated that the “Turks then peacefully bombarded Vienna.” Frank’s sign also sarcastically described the allied troops of Austrians, Poles, and various German contingents who relieved the siege as the “original Nazis.”
The legally pertinent sentence on Frank’s sign, though, was a comparison of 1683 with the present day in the statement: “Now the presumptuous Turks and Muslims from all over the world threaten Europe again.” Pursuing a complaint raised by a member of the Green Party’s youth group (Grüne Jugend), the state prosecutor at Frank’s trial argued that this sentence provoked a “hostile attitude” towards all Muslims/Turks and incited “hate.” Frank accordingly satisfied the elements of Section 130 of the German Criminal Code against “Incitement to Hatred.” Among other provisions, this section in its first paragraph makes liable anyone who “in a manner capable of disturbing the public peace… incites hatred against segments of the population.”
Agreeing with the prosecution, the presiding judge sentenced Frank to pay 40 Euros for 90 days (3,600 Euros), but placed Frank on probation for three years provided that she pay 1,000 Euros to Amnesty International (AI). As reported by the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ), a leading German newspaper based in Munich, Frank “vehemently” protested against giving money to AI, an organization not respected by her. Instead, Stürzenberger noted, Frank suggested a donation to “Christians in need,” an alternative rejected by the judge with reference to AI’s support of Christians oppressed in Muslim countries. Frank immediately appealed the decision the following Thursday, February 7, 2013.
While arguing that her sign addressed German politicians in general and not pedestrians on the street, who hardly could see Frank’s sign anyway given surrounding counterdemonstrators, Frank justified her views with reference to statements by Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. As Frank discussed at trial and in an immediately following press release, a September 30, 2012, speech by Erdoğan at his AKP party convention had made approving references to the date 1071 and the Seljuk Turk sultan Alp Arslan. As the Viennese Die Presse noted, 1071 marked the Battle of Manzikert, in which the Seljuks under Arslan defeated the Byzantine Empire under Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes, thereby opening Anatolia to Turkish settlement. Erdoğan’s spoke to his audience of 2023, the centennial of the Turkish republic’s founding, as the time when, “if it is God’s will, we will build up,” and of 2071, Manzikert’s millennium, as when “you will conclude.” Frank’s press release interpreted Erdoğan’s reference to 2071 as the point when Arslan’s “successors will have come far enough along to attack once again Christian Europe.”
As commentators like Christian Jung of the conservative German website blu-news have noted, other Erdoğan quotations besides his September 30, 2012, party convention statements (made after Frank presented her protest sign on September 8) could have sufficed to incite her concerns about Islam’s pacific nature. Jung and the BBC’s online biographical entry on Erdoğan note that as mayor of Istanbul he received a ten-month Turkish prison term (only four months served) in 1998 for publicly reading an Islamic poem with the words: “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.” “Democracy is like a train,” he also stated before becoming prime minister in 2003. “We shall get out when we arrive at the station we want.”
For good measure, Erdoğan reiterated his admiration of Manzikert on December 16, 2012, during an address in the Turkish province of Konya. Expressing a fixation with fertility common among authoritarian leaders, Erdoğan told “young single persons” that they “will marry” and “raise the generation of 1071.” Erdoğan called for families to have at least three children in order “to raise a young and dynamic generation.”
Erdoğan has also previously advocated that successive generations of young Turks throughout Europe maintain a sense of Turkish identity as in, for example, a February 10, 2008, speech in a Cologne, Germany. Speaking to a packed stadium audience of 20,000 (by comparison, German chancellor candidates such as Angela Merkel often merely receive a few thousand) who responded to promotional materials calling for “Europeans of Turkish descent,” he went so far as to call assimilation a “crime against humanity.” Erdoğan’s Turkish speech not translated into German repeatedly referred to “we Turks” and “the Germans.” Although he warned his listeners of the “disadvantage if you don’t speak the language of the country,” he nonetheless called it a “natural right to teach your children their mother tongue.”
As Jung noted, such outlooks have caused the German conservative newspaper Die Welt to write in an article subtitle online of an Erdoğan who “believes in the world rule of Islam and formulates power claims.” The Die Welt author, Boris Kálnoky, observed that Erdoğan’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, has always condemned analogies of Turkey as a “bridge between East and West” in favor of an understanding of Turkey as a “gravitation point” or, as Kálnoky writes, a “power center.” Furthermore, as Der Spiegel reported on Wikileaks involving Turkey in 2010, Davutoglu has expressed to American diplomats a desire to reassert an Ottoman dominance over the Balkans, seen by him as having been benign for the region. Even exceeding Davutoglu’s “neo-Ottoman vision” is a leading AKP think tank member, who reported in a 2004 American dispatch as seeing Turkey’s role “to take back Andalusia and avenge the defeat at the siege of Vienna in 1683.”
For Jung, Frank’s sign “hardly” rates as “[c]lever” and is “perhaps even dumb.” Irrespective of agreement with Frank, though, her statements are a “permissible conclusion” in light of current events and agree with other views of Islam in Europe. After all, Dutch politician Geert Wilders has extensively compared the Islamic immigration to Europe advocated by Erdoğan and others to “conquest” via “Trojan Horse” methods in his book Marked for Death: Islam’s War against the West and Me, given widespread European concerns about deficient immigrant assimilation and “Islamization.” Islam has also appeared in a militant manner in the posters advocating Switzerland’s national ban on minaret building passed in 2009, with minarets in one popular poster evoking missiles, a motif later copied to the accompaniment of copyright infringement claims the following year by the far-right National Front in France.
Jung, meanwhile, speculated how a Polish woman holding a sign with the statement “The Germans want to conquer Europe!” would have fared in 1936 Warsaw under the Munich court’s reasoning. Would such a person, considered a heroine of anti-Nazi resistance by modern standards, have suffered condemnation for hate speech against Poland’s German minority?
The Munich court, for its part, conceded that Frank could legitimately reference 1683’s historic events but considered the extrapolation therefrom of a present threat to be unacceptable. Countering Frank’s anxieties, Stürzenberger reported that the judge spoke of positive experiences with the many people of Turkish background in the neighborhood in which he grew up. As the SZ reported, the judge admitted that drawing distinctions between permissible and impermissible speech involved a “very fine line.”
The court thus left Frank with a vague warning that she “must sensitize herself to what is acceptable and what not.” As the SZ reported, this was significant given Frank’s “expressions of rejection towards Turks and Muslims on the internet” that are “numerous and at times clearly more drastically pointed than on the poster.” Frank’s website Bündnis Deutschlands Zukunft, for example, refers to restricting the immigration of, or even deporting, “Muslims ripping us off.” The SZ further reported that the “other so-called Islam critics around the Party ‘Die Freiheit’ will probably attentively hear” the court’s warning, a point not lost by Stürzenberger in his reporting. Frank’s case thus shows that future debates about Islam in Europe will often have to brave such paradigmatic legal “chilling effects.”
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