Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan thinks that blasphemy should be banned as a crime against humanity. And when he says "blasphemy" he seems to have in mind specifically "whatever offends Muslims." So basically, absolutely anything can be banned so long as it offends enough Muslims who complain loudly enough.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, 2011
Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty
What Prime Minister Erdogan wants to do is make certain thoughts and beliefs crimes. The only reason he has for this is the fact that certain thoughts and beliefs are offensive to some Muslims. Is that a reasonable foundation to make something a crime, though? Not in any civilized society. So why is Erdogan trying to make Turkey less civilized?
If Muslims have the power to ban some thought or word or belief by claiming offense, can I have that right too? Can I claim that their protests offend me and then have those protests banned? Can I claim that their Qur'an offends me and so have it banned? If not, then this isn't really about protecting people's freedom of belief; instead, it's about protecting religion from being criticized or challenged.
"I am the prime minister of a nation, of which most are Muslims and that has declared anti-semitism a crime against humanity. But the West hasn't recognized Islamophobia as a crime against humanity -- it has encouraged it. [The film director] is saying he did this to provoke the fundamentalists among Muslims. When it is in the form of a provocation, there should be international legal regulations against attacks on what people deem sacred, on religion. As much as it is possible to adopt international regulations, it should be possible to do something in terms of domestic law."
He further noted, "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. I was able to include Islamophobia as a hate crime in the final statement of an international meeting in Warsaw."
Source: Today's Zaman
Erdogan's comments here are ambiguous - almost to the point of being incoherent, which may be the point. After all, the less clear you are the harder it is for critics to pin you down on what you are saying. This is important when you're talking about criminalizing belief and thought.
When he says "You can say anything about your thoughts and beliefs, but you will have to stop when you are at the border of others' freedoms," does he mean that you cannot say anything about others' beliefs, or merely that you cannot say anything critical or negative about others' beliefs?
His statement "Freedom of thought and belief ends where the freedom of thought and belief of others start" is clearly a reference to the idea that "your freedom to swing your fist ends where my nose starts," but the analogy is strained to say the least. You swinging your fist causes demonstrable harm once it reaches my nose, but what demonstrable harm is created by a belief or a thought?
Of course apologists for censorship and oppression like Erdogan will never even try to demonstrate that thoughts or beliefs cause real harm. Since the goal is simply to protect Islam from critique, all they need to do is show that someone, somewhere is offended. That's certainly easy enough to do.
What's significant, though, is the fact that Erdogan thinks that Islam in particular or even religion generally need to be protected at all. It's significant that he wants to make blasphemy a crime which implies that he thinks his god needs to be protected. This all means that he and like-minded believers all regard their religions as weak and impotent. That's why the need the police powers of the state for protection.