Saturday, December 01, 2007

God Delusion to be banned in Turkey?

I see from the Independent that Richard Dawkins' Turkish publisher Kuzey Publications is being hauled over the coals by religious fundamentalists. It seems that they are being threatened with legal action by prosecutors who claim that their publication of Dawkins' best selling work The God Delusion insults believers. I don't know they are so upset about myself, as the Turkish translation has apparently only sold 6000 copies since publication.

Erol Karaaslan, the founder Kuzey Publications could though face between six months and twelve months in jail if found guilty. Prosecutors are still debating over to press charges.

It is not the first time that Dawkins' has come against such problems in Turkey, since it seems that Islamic fundamentalists also tried to ban his earlier work The Selfish Gene.

I don't understand the furore personally or even why it was deemed necessary to publish in this territory in the first place - the book discusses Christianity more than other religions, and Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country. It also then puzzles me as to exactly who has been offended. Having read the book myself, I don't recall it even mentioning Islam.

Neither is Dawkins the first author to face controversy. The article states that Nobel prize winning novelist Orhan Pamuk and Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink were just two several dozens writers to be charged last year under a controversial law that makes it a crime to insult Turkishness, whatever that means. Pamuk was acquitted, but Dink – who was murdered earlier this year by a teenage ultra-nationalist - was found guilty.

What though does it mean to be Turkish, or for that matter, any other nationality? Does one have to be born in that country or have parents who were, or is it sufficient to have lived there for a certain number of years. If so, then how many? Is a child of Jamaican parents who emigrated to Britain in the 1950's any less British that I am - of course not, for in their hearts they still think of themselves as British, and that is what counts.

This also brings to mind an episode from my favourite science fiction series Babylon Five entitled Infection. It is I believe an episode from series two. It basically revolves around a machine on an uninhabited planet that seems hell bent on destroying everything in its path. When they ask what the machine actually wants it transpires that it was put in place to protect its former inhabitants, the Icarans from raiders by destroying anything that was not pure Icaran. The predictable result was of course the destruction of the entire race. Muslims and for that matter any other fundamentalist regime, should take note for if they do not pull up their own socks and start to behave in a more sensible manner by not being threatened by anything that does not agree with their own faith, they will ultimately share the same fate.

The word atheist is generally recognised in most societies as meaning one who does not believe in God. There is nothing wrong in this, as it is like anything else just one of many widely held beliefs. Being an atheist does not make one less moral or less of anything in fact, in fact when you look at the statistics the opposite is true. The more secular societies are nine times out of ten more tolerant and understanding of each other.

The word atheist has it seems only recently crept into the Turkish language, where it is regarded as a kind of insult. The Independent cites a survey of religious attitudes conducted in Turkey in 2006, which found that less than 2 percent of corespondents claimed not to believe in God. More recently polls showed that just 25 percent of Turks accept evolutionary theory.

On the one hand, while I am the first to espouse religious freedom, and in no way agree with the ridiculousness of this case, one has to ask why the book was published in this territory in the first place, when there seems to be such limited demand. Surely they must have known the controversy it would cause. The cynic or perhaps spiritual aspect of myself, wonders if this was the whole idea, since the only way to really shed light on these situations for them to be open to the light of public scrutiny so that they can be discussed by the world media and these regimes will realise and understand that their views are simply not those of a civilised society.

The treatment of women in Islamic countries has also been in the news in recent days. Firstly of course the ridiculous case in Sudan where a female teacher has been jailed for allowing the children in her case to name an innocent teddy bear as Mohamed. The British Government are I understand intervening to get her released, but in the meantime, some have called for a suspension of aid to that country. They are cutting off their noses then to spite their face.

The other case is that of a young recently married woman in Saudi Arabia, whose husband thankfully is standing by her. It seems that in Saudi Arabia with its extreme laws of sexual segregation, the only way that men and women can form any kind of relationship is for men to stand in the streets with their mobile phone numbers either on display as women walk past with their male chaperone's, or to literally throw them car windows. Somehow then prior to her marriage, this woman then formed a phone relationship with such a man.

After she was married he threatened to tell her husband unless she agreed to meet him, and so foolishly it seems she did. They were driving together when another car swung in front of them, hijacked their own car and drove them to an isolated place, where both her and her male companion were gang raped repeatedly by up to seven attackers. She tried to keep it from her husband and family, but the rapists (who had filmed the attack on their mobile phones) started to boast about what had happened and so the truth came out. Astonishingly the woman was sentenced to 90 lashes and then when she and fer family complained this was increased to 200 lashes and 6 months in jail. The rapists in the meantime were sentenced to between 2 and 11 years apiece.

The world can no longer sit back and allow this kind of thing to happen, we have to send a strong signal to these countries that this behaviour is not acceptable.

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