(Censored) Turkey for Christmas

Following from the earlier post on the levels of censorship our own government will stoop to (isn’t that illegal under the European Human Rights legislation?) comes this news about Orhan Pamuk, the bestselling Turkish writer. His crime? He made comments in a newspaper interview in which he criticised certain aspects of the Turkish government and older horrors hidden in history which no-one in Turkey is supposed to talk about. Criticising the authorities or in any way denigrating Turkish identity is a crime.

These are very broad terms which could be interpreted and applied in almost any way the government sees fit to stifle free speech, somewhat like the ‘bringing the company into disrepute’ charge I had to deal with a few months back; it can mean anything and you are at the mercy of those who made the rules as to how they interpet it. It just occurred to me as I write that it was around this time last year that a certain manager had me sent home suspended and a certain company tried to set up a disciplinary hearing a couple of days before Xmas in a nice Dickensian touch – the union sorted them out on that score – although I couldn’t blog about it until after the hearing in January where I was fired.

Not that I am comparing my case to Ohran’s in any but the broadest strokes – I certainly wasn’t in danger of going to prison for speaking my mind unlike this famous novelist, or many bloggers in countries like Iran. That said this attempt to stifle free expression has similarly resulted in something of an own-goal for those authorities in the form of much publicity and subsequent condemnation around the world, starting with the literary community and spreading outwards to everyone else who reads of it (and indeed is free to read about it and free to comment on it).

Since the Turkish government is very keen to join the European Community this could be seen as not only a moral morass but a practical error of judgement. Many other writers have faced the courts in this country, but Ohran has such international standing, being both a critical and bestselling success, that this has become noticed by the international community. Some EU members of parliament, already uneasy at the thought of a large Muslim country with a dreadful human rights record (Turkey has more cases outstanding for human rights abuse than all other nations in Europe put together) and a repressive regime which stifles free speech have seized upon this. Although I doubt the idiots in charge in Turkey (hey, I’m denigrating you, what are you going to do about it?) want to surrender any of the repressive powers they have gathered to themselves we can only hope high profile cases like this and the pressure it creates from the EU will force them to reform into a more democratic and liberal society if they wish admittance to the EU.

Isn’t it interesting that 21 years after 1984 has come and gone so many of those in authority, both corporate and government, are still thinking in terms of Orwell’s Big Brother. From Henry banning the Bible in English to the imprisoning of poets in the Soviet era (Vaclav Havel, anyone?), the detention, torture and murder of ‘intelligentsia’ to new acts like that in the earlier post enacted to ‘protect’ us from terrorism by denying our rights, the face of Big Brother is the same – strip away the cosmetic surgery of PR and spin doctoring and it is the same, dour face.

What Big Brother doesn’t understand – indeed has never understood – is that the little people he steps on are not little single souls to be crushed underfoot with no consequences. Little Brother has many other Little Brothers and Sisters who he shares with and they with him. From Gutenberg’s printing press to the web and blogs the ability of individuals and small groups to reach larger audiences in many nations those in authority have striven to control the medium, the speech and so the thought of their people. It has never worked. In our interconnected world it is even less successful, with such abuses as Ohran’s quickly reported and debated in many languages around the world.

Many in the cyberpunk genre are fond of saying that information yearns to be free. This is true as far as it goes, but really it it the thoughts behind that information which yearns to be free – and what are our writings, be they blogs or novels, but the formal construction and articulation of our thoughts, set in a medium in which others can read, share and debate with those thoughts, often without ever meeting the person who generated them. Language is the birthright of all human beings – it is wired into that remarkable mechanism, the human brain; just look at small infant trying to speak, trying to understand the world and express it. It allows us to construct ideas and express them, from spiritual and philosophical insights to the telling of tales, language is the very essence of our humanity; to restrict the freedom of expression is to attempt to neuter and control language, which is a direct assault on one of the most fundamental human faculties. The ability to speak freely against those in authority is the civilised world’s equivalent of a gargoyle on a medieval cathedral or the mirror shield of Perseus, reflecting back the evil against itself, the one thing it cannot face.

Okay, I’ll come down off my high horse before the saddle starts to chafe my thighs, but I make no apologies for going on perhaps a little too far above – this sort of thing incenses me and has done all my life, right from being a small boy reading history and learning of the burning of books by Nazis. I’m angry – bloody furious. There are many websites out there and books too that I dislike intensely, but the thought of banning them, imprisoning the writers or burning the books is horrific to me. It is still going on in the 21st century, even on the doorstep of Europe (and even in our own democratic countries), so use your voice Little Brother, Little Sister – it is and always has been our one true defence against the oppressors and deniers of freedom. They repress because, despite their powers, their police, their censorship and laws they are scared of us. They should be. I think I’m going to have to go and re-read V For Vendetta again (if you have never read it, I highly recommend it – it is, in some ways, the graphic novel equal of 1984). Read and think and talk; use your language skills, they are the sharpest tools any human was ever given.