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Turkish Pianist Fazil Say Shouldn't Have Received Jail Term for Anti-Islamic Tweets

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 5/22/2013 Category: Society
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,127 times Debate No: 34056
Debate Rounds (4)
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Fazil Say is a Turkish pianist and composer who gives worldwide concerts. Because of disparaging Islam through some Twitter posts, he received a 10-month-suspended-jail term.
For example in one tweet, Say joked about a call to prayer that he said lasted only 22 seconds. Say tweeted: "Why such haste? Have you got a mistress waiting or a raki on the table?" Raki is a traditional alcoholic drink made with aniseed. Islam forbids alcohol and many Islamists consider the remarks unacceptable. (1)
On the other hand, he just expressed his opinion on Islam and this decision of the court has caused lots of arguments on the topic.
There are some sources where you can read more about the subject:

1) No insulting, swearing or trolling
2) Debate starts at the second round, first round only for acceptance


Hello Ekin. Thank you for this debate. How interesting.
Debate Round No. 1


Today, I want to show the reason why this decision is against the Turkish Penal Code and European Convention of Human Rights. I plan to give the reasons why it's morally wrong on the third round and the fourth will be for the summary.

Let's remember the tweets first:
a."I am not sure if you have also realized it, but all the pricks, low-lives, buffoons, thieves, jesters, they are all Allahists" (a retweet from another user) (1)
b. "You say rivers of wine flow in heaven, is heaven a tavern to you? You say two huris [companions] await each believer there, is heaven a brothel to you?" (a poem of Omer Khayyam, 11th century Persian poet) (2)
c. Why such haste? Have you got a mistress waiting or a raki on the table? (3)

The Turkish Penal Code states:
1- Any person who openly provokes a group of people belonging to different social class, religion, race, sect, or coming from another origin, to be rancorous or hostile against another group, is punished with imprisonment from one year to three years in case of such act causes risk from the aspect of public safety.
2- Any person who openly humiliates another person just because he belongs to different social class, religion, race, sect, or comes from another origin, is punished with imprisonment from six months to one year.
3-Any person who openly disrespects the religious belief of group is punished with imprisonment from six months to one year if such act causes potential risk for public peace. (4)

The prosecutor mentioned that this decision was based on the third clause.

According to the European Convention of Human Rights, which we must consider too as Turkey ratified it in 1954 (5), freedom to manifest one"s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others (6). This statement is similar to the Turkish Penal Code, as it restrains the freedom of manifesting other religions, if it's in a way which causes risk of public order.

What this debate is going to be about is clearly that what the boundaries of "risk of public order" are. There is not a certain definition of this risk. We can only define public order. The United Kingdom Foreign has defined "public order" as a condition characterized by the absence of widespread criminal and political violence, such as kidnapping, murder, riots, arson, and intimidation against targeted groups or individuals (7). It's clear that some very little amounts of risks are not included within. Because any idea can disturb someone and cause violence among the public. If we included every little damage as "risk of public order", no peripheral idea would be allowed, which would definitely handicap the debatability of subjects and freedom of thought. The European Convention of Human Rights glosses this situation as it is applicable not only to "information" or "ideas" that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population. Such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no "democratic society". This means, amongst other things, that every "formality", "condition", "restriction" or "penalty" imposed in this sphere must be proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued (8).

If we lead back to the subject, there hasn't been any concrete risk of public order. In the first paragraph of the 8th page of the full decision, which isn"t translated into English so I have to show the Turkish one, (9) the risk of public peace is openly considered as the abstract risk of the public order, which actually refers to the people who are disturbed by these tweets. However, this "abstract risk" isn't expounded enough and can't be considered as such a vital situation as it's obvious that a tweet/ three tweets won't cause any violence in public. Lots of Twitter accounts post tons of insult and blasphemy including tweets every day, which don't cause any violence, but only disturb or shock some people. They are all ensured by the European Convention of Human Rights, as it's a matter of democracy to debate some topics and sometimes in a blunt way. Besides, one of these tweets (marked as "a" at the beginning) doesn't belong to him. He has retweeted it and even if these tweet was too dangerous for the public, he shouldn't have been responsible of it.

To sum up, I wrote the translations of the tweets one more time, then I mentioned the relevant laws and principles to the topic, I found a definition to "public order" and explained the boundaries of it quoting a principle of European Convention of Human Rights, then proved that the case doesn't have anything against these boundaries.

At the next round, I'll analyse the tweets and generally the case and explain why the decision is morally wrong.

Thank you, good luck. :-)

(7) 236. UK FCO, Police Personnel, 2007.


"potential risk for public peace"

Did Fazil Say's tweets cause potential risk for public peace? Of course they did.

For example, journalist and blogger Sevan Nisanyan was recently sentenced to 13 months in prison under the same law for writing the following comment (1).

"It is not “hate crime” to poke fun at some Arab leader who, many hundred years ago, claimed to have established contact with Deity and made political, economic and sexual profit as a result. It is almost a kindergarten-level case of what we call freedom of expression."

According to Nisanyan himself, these simple sentences have caused "a daily deluge of extremely graphic insults and death threats". He says "people are simply not used to a member of a non-Muslim minority to speak boldly and coherently on sensitive national and/or religious issues. It drives some people raving mad." (1)

This is clearly a potential risk for public peace. And Fazil Say is more prominant figure than Nisanyan. He has over 52,000 followers on twitter (2), almost twice as many as Nisanyan (3). So the potential risk for public peace is even greater in his case.

Pro argues that one of Say's tweets was actually a retweet and "even if these tweet was too dangerous for the public, he shouldn't have been responsible of it." If a racist organisation lends me a swastika flag and I pop it up in my front garden, am I absolved of responsibility because the flag isn't mine? Of course not. Fazil Say was borrowing words to express his own idea.

Turkey is a democracy

Pro complains that this "abstract" risk isn't expounded enough. She doesn't like the law as it's written. Neither do I. However, Turkey is a democracy. The people of Turkey have chosen a government, and the laws of the government reflect the will of the people. According to the CIA, 99.8% of the population of Turkey are Muslims (4). These Muslims have chosen a conservative pro-Islamic government. The government writes laws that protect Islam. Protection from blasphemy must be more important to the people of Turkey than the protection of free speech. The sentencing of Fazil Say is an expression of democracy.

The European Convention on Human Rights

"Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others" (5)

The European Court has interpreted "protection of public morals" as the right "not to be insulted in [one's] religious feelings by the public expression of views of other persons". (6) That is, democratic societies may put in place limitations on freedom of expression to protect the wider population's religious feeling from insult. The Turkish penal code falls within this interpretation.

Most famously, the European Court upheld a previous Turkish government's decision to ban the headscarf in universities. Although this was a limitation on freedom to manifest one's religion, the court said:

"Where questions concerning the relationship between State and religions are at stake, on which opinion in a democratic society may reasonably differ widely, the role of the national decision-making body must be given special importance... Rules in this sphere will consequently vary from one country to another according to national traditions and the requirements imposed by the need to protect the rights and freedoms of others and to maintain public order... Accordingly, the choice of the extent and form such regulations should take must inevitably be left up to a point to the State concerned, as it will depend on the specific domestic context ..." [my emphasis] (7)

Thus, the European Court and I share the view that democratically elected representatives of the people are in the best position to balance the freedoms of the population.

(6) cited by pg 14
(7){%22itemid%22:[%22001-70956%22]} p.109
Debate Round No. 2


ekin forfeited this round.


Ekin, you've closed your account, so I guess this debate is over. Thanks anyway - I thought it was a really interesting topic and I was especially looking forward to your moral arguments.

Maybe another time.
Debate Round No. 3


ekin forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
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