The borders of free speech

I have been laughing about some of the numerous Erdogan jokes that were recently published in the Dutch twitter feed. Some were quite funny indeed.

Quick recap of the events that lead to this escalation.

  • March 31st: German comedian Böhmermann blatantly insults Turkish dictator Erdogan in an attempt to demonstrate the borders of the German Free-speech law. Erdogan learns about the poem and finds an obscure German law that allows him to sue Böhmermann for a prison sentence.
  • April 12th: Böhmermann receives police protection due to threats of ‘Erdogan Supporters’.
  • April 15th: Angela Merkel does not use her lawful opportunity to block the lawsuit, meaning she allows it to take place, The Dutch Cabinet discovers a similar law in the archives and immediately sets course to its abolishment.
  • In reaction to that, Hans Teeuwen posts a video in which he explains that in his time as a boywhore, Erdogan did not exactly please him as a client. Hans Teeuwen is a prominent Dutch free speech advocate. He was a friend of Theo van Gogh, who got murdered in the streets of Amsterdam for repeatedly criticizing muslims on tv. More Dutch comedians and broadcasters publically insult Erdogan.
  • April 21st: Dutch Media report on a letter that is sent by Turkish consulates. It consists of a call to all Dutch Turks to report on public insults of Erdogan and the Turks. The stream of Erdogan insults on twitter explodes, and #ErdoganInsult becomes trending.
  • April 22nd: After being asked by the Dutch cabinet, the Turkish consulates answer that this was a misunderstanding. A lawyer announces that Erdogan will sue Hans Teeuwen.
  • April 23rd: a Turkish journalist from the Netherlands is arrested in Turkey. She has a lovely night in jail.
  • April 24th (today): the journalist is released, but cannot leave the country.

Now, what can we learn from all of this?

First, I’d say that Erdogan may by now realise that if he hadn’t acted upon the insults, all of this may have died away in a day. Instead, it turned into an ongoing media battle, with some quite insulting episodes. A classic example of ‘you become what you try to fight’. His social media terrorization policy clearly doesn’t work in Europe. He’s not as powerful as he may like to be.

Second, the Dutch media landscape clearly hasn’t yet recovered from the murdered comedians Charlie Hebdo and Theo van Gogh, a similar case in the Netherlands, in 2002. I would say that framing Erdogan as a threat to our freedom of speech gives him far more credit than he deserves. Sure, he’s a threat in Turkey, but not here. Are we already forgetting that this man is actually helping us out by giving a space to all the refugees we don’t have room for? Wasn’t that what we wanted?

Third: the word ‘Goatfucker’. It was prominent with Böhmermann, and Theo van Gogh used it as well, before he got murdered. It means ‘Arab’. I think it plays a pivotal role in this story. It originated from the Dutch colonial times, in which it was used to insult Arabs by suggesting bestial tendencies. It affirmed the conquerors’ elevated moral position. But one should wonder how moral our position is. After all: who would suffer in a world where men fuck goats?

Because Theo van Gogh used this word, it has acquired a protest status in the Netherlands. It’s in a way comparable to Je Suis Charlie, but more offensive. The sad thing is that on the Western work floor, arabs are, indeed, worth less than whites. So using the word is more like bullying a weaker social group. That doesn’t advocate for Erdogan, who is probably worth far more than the comedians who insult him. Of course, he just thrives on EU attention. If he has the opportunity to infiltrate our minds somehow, it’s only smart of him to take it. Even if it backfires.

But what did the comedians get caught up with in the first place? Do they believe they did something good for the Turks? In that case, the word goatfucker was quite ill-chosen. Or did they really think they would support free speech with their heroic acts of public insult? It seems to me that these comedians hitch-hike on a wave, needlessly deepening a clash between cultures under the pretence of free speech.

Should I feel guilty for being entertained?

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