Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Turkey at the Frankfurt Book Fair

I'm writing from the Frankfurt Book Fair, where this year Turkey is the guest of honour.

Yesterday, at the opening ceremony, there was a clash. Oh, if you had just passed by and had a look at it, you might not have noticed it, everyone looked very happy and friendly. Orhan Pamuk was sitting next to Adullah Gül's wife, and they all smiled from time to time when the Director of the German Publishers & Booksllers Association Gottfried Honnefelder or the German Foreign Affairs Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier named one or both of them.

But you had to listen to their speeches. Pamuk spoke of freedom of expression in quite hard terms toward Turkey: "The State's habit of penalising writers and their books is still very much alive - he said -; Article 301 of the Turkish penal code continues to be used to silence and suppress many other writers, as it was use against me; there are at this moment hundreds of writers and journalists being prosecuted and found guilty under this article. While I was working on the novel that I published earlier this year, I needed to research old Turkish films and songs. I did it easily on YouTube, but now I would not be able to do the same. Because YouTube, like many other domestic and intrnational websites, has been blocked for residents of Turkey for political reasons".

As soon as he finished his speech, Pamuk left the hall in a hurry. Did he just have another appointment, or was it perhaps to avoid getting angry at what his president would say soon after him? Because Abdullah Gül critisized the lack of respet of freedom of speech in other countries, speaking of Turkey as a paradise in that respect, where the "biggest achievement" is multiculuralism. He said that in Turkey there are "Books and magazines published in different languages, as well as TV and radio programmes in different languages", even though in Turkey broadcasting in languages such as Kurdish or Arabic is still strongly limited.

This morning I went to a panel about Islam in Europe or European Islam. The guests were Islamic European scholar Tariq Ramadan and Albert Schmid of the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees. Actually the two agreed on almost everything, so there wasn't much of a debate, which was undoubtedly dominated by Ramadan. I was quite stunned by his charisma. He's a star, of course, and especially in France, but I had never bothered to learn more about him or to look for anything (a book, some TV appearance...), also because of him being a star, and my natural suspicious attitude towards such "vedettes". But I must admit he has arguments, and looks as if he believed in what he says, namely that Sharia does not mean denial of separation between the Church and the State, or that the people who are Muslim by religion but European by culture abide by what he calls "the 4 l'", that is the law of the country where they live, its language, loyalty to it, and liberty. It would deserve that I speak more about it, especially about his position on the stoning of adulterers, but unfortunately I don't have the time now.

The rest of the Fair is waiting for me (and lunch as well!).

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