The persecution of Fazil Say

Saturday, 9 June, 2012

The internationally acclaimed Turkish classical pianist Fazil Say is to stand trial on charges of insulting Muslim religious values in comments posted on Twitter. If convicted, he could face a minimum of 18 months in prison.

Say quoted a verse by the 11th-century Persian poet Omar Khayyam that ridiculed the hypocrisy of people who pretend to be pious: “You say rivers of wine flow in heaven, is heaven a tavern to you? You say two hours await each believer there, is heaven a brothel to you?” In his riff on Khayyam, the pianist poked fun at a muezzin, who makes the Muslim call to prayer: “The muezzin finished the evening prayers in 22 seconds … Why are you in such hurry? A lover? A raki table?” he asked, referring to the aniseed-flavoured spirit popular in Turkey. Say has now closed his Twitter account and is contemplating moving to Japan.

The case of Fazil Say shows how much Turkey has changed under the premiership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In 1998, Erdogan was imprisoned for reciting a poem that a court ruled was an incitement to religious hatred. The then-mayor of Istanbul belonged to a banned Islamist party and the poem contained the lines: “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.”

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