April 18, 2013 § 1 Comment
Yesterday I wrote a post taking the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, Francis Ricciardone, to task for his comments on Fazıl Say as reported by Hürriyet Daily News. According to HDN, when asked by reporters to comment on Say – who was sentenced to a 10 month suspended prison sentence for comments deemed to be insulting to religious beliefs – Ricciardone quoted his brother as saying, “A very bad piano player hit the wrong key.” I interpreted this comment to mean that Ricciardone believes that Say was out of line and that the Turkish court system acted appropriately in prosecuting and convicting him, and I was accordingly unsparing in my criticism of the ambassador. Since the piece quoting Ricciardone was published in HDN, which is an English language newspaper, the Turkish language version of the same paper – Hürriyet – has run a one paragraph article in which the quote attributed to the ambassador is slightly different. Hürriyet relates the line as, “Çok fena, piyanist yanlış tuşa bastı,” which translated means, “Too bad, the pianist pressed the wrong key.” To me, there is no substantial difference between this iteration and the original iteration, as I interpret this second version in the same way; the clearest and most obvious reading is that Ricciardone is making a joke about the Say case and implying that Say got himself into trouble for saying the wrong thing.
As I noted yesterday, Ricciardone has gotten into hot water with the Turkish government for being critical of crackdowns on journalists, the army, and general violations of freedom of speech. Indeed, I wrote in the last paragraph of my post, “kudos to him for his previous efforts to highlight abuses of democracy by the Erdoğan government.” That element is what makes this situation such an odd one, as given the entirety of his track record, I am surprised that our ambassador would say something so seemingly callous about the Say case and give cover to the Turkish government to defend Say’s verdict. Nevertheless, the quote as reported appeared to stand for itself, which is why I did not hesitate to be harsh with my criticism.
After I posted yesterday’s blog, it was suggested to me both publicly over Twitter and privately that Ricciardone’s comments could be interpreted in another way, which is that he was criticizing the decision rather than Say. In this reading, his reference to the bad piano player or the pianist means the court, and it is the court that hit the bad note. I think this is a stretch based on the actual comment, but I certainly cannot rule it out, particularly given Ricciardone’s recent history of trying to draw attention to Turkey’s more egregious behavior when it comes to violating freedom of expression. I consequently reached out to the ambassador in an effort to see if he was accurately quoted and whether he would like to clarify his comments, since as readers of this blog hopefully have seen, I am not a flamethrower and I do not harbor an ideological agenda but try to be the best and most accurate analyst I can be. I am not a journalist so I am reliant on what is reported by other but if I got this wrong, I wanted to be able to clarify, correct, and apologize for any mistakes I may have made. Following my reaching out, an embassy spokesperson got back to me today and said, ” The ambassador’s remarks were taken out of context.”
Now, is it possible that Ambassador Ricciardone was criticizing the court’s decision and expressing sympathy for Say, and that he did it in a clumsy manner that got misinterpreted? It certainly cannot be ruled out, and as I said, it would make sense based on the sum total of what we know that he would come down on Say’s side rather than the court’s side. On the other hand, interpreting the line that way requires some mental gymnastics, and the claimed missing context to the comments has not been provided, and most importantly the quote itself has not yet been disputed. So those are all the facts as I know them, and I will leave it up to my readers to decide what Ambassador Ricciardone intended when he commented on the Say case. I will say for myself that if Ambassador Ricciardone intended to express his support for Say and to criticize his conviction, then I unreservedly and without hesitation retract my strident and harsh comments from yesterday and personally apologize for maligning the ambassador, although I am not entirely sure that I am convinced of this interpretation of events quite yet. If there’s more on this to come, I will keep you all posted.
March 28, 2012 § 8 Comments
Anyone who knows me at all knows how strongly I feel about my alma mater. I loved every second I was there; it was the place where I found myself intellectually, grappled with complex issues surrounding religion and faith, and most importantly met my wife. My best friends to this day remain the ones I made in college, and I try to stay involved with the university by donating what little money I can afford, getting involved in different alumni committees and groups, and going back to visit any chance I get. I have degrees from three different universities and will soon add another from a fourth, and I don’t feel a genuine heartfelt affinity for any of them save the first. Unfortunately, it turns out that the place I love so much also happens to house an idiotic, hypocritical, shameful group of fools. That’s right Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine, I’m looking straight at you.
Is it because I object to a Palestinian state? Nope. Is it because I want Israel to continue to occupy the West Bank? Certainly not. Is it because I think that Jewish life is more valuable than Palestinian life? Wrong again. It is because I have zero patience at all for a group that thinks the best way to combat anti-democratic behavior, suppression of free speech, and silencing of dissent is to exhibit anti-democratic behavior, suppress free speech, and silence dissent. Please, someone explain to me the logic behind this brilliant tactical disruption of a panel of Knesset members, including Israel’s first Arab cabinet minister, to show that Israel’s alleged intolerance of dissent is best countered by committing the exact same offense yourself. Please explain to me why a protest against discriminatory policies should be carried out by announcing a vigilante-enforced parallel discriminatory policy against any Israeli official with the nerve to want to attend or speak at a Brandeis-sponsored event. I wonder if these paragons of liberal virtue have the basic skills of logic and reasoning to understand that their actions to disrupt the free exchange of ideas are the very antithesis of liberalism. I wonder if they comprehend that the effort to obnoxiously silence others and attempt to exclude an entire class of people from an imagined political or social community not because of anything they themselves have said or done but by virtue of who they are is the real display of fascism here.
The response to objectionable speech is not censorship, but more speech. If you are confident that you are right, then let your argument win the day. If, however, you are a cowardly bunch of simpletons who think that shouting down your opponents and preventing them from expressing their ideas in a public forum is somehow a vindication of any values you profess to uphold, then keep on doing what you’re doing. Time to grow up, Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine, and to think about the meaning of this quote from the man who lent his good name to your group: “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”