You're Not Helping

Thursday, December 29, 2005

You're Not Helping

The European Parliament has to be one of the most useless democratic institutions known to man. It is good for the occasional laugh, however. This article shows how a Dutch MEP (Member of the European Parliament, silly) who supports Turkey's bid for EU membership managed to set back that bid just a wee bit.

Turkey's foreign minister said on Wednesday it might be necessary to change a controversial law after nationalist lawyers used it to call for the prosecution of an EU lawmaker for criticising the Turkish military.

The lawyers accuse Joost Lagendijk, a Dutch member of the European Parliament, of insulting Turkey's armed forces by suggesting the military was provoking Kurdish rebels in south-east Turkey in order to boost its influence.

The group has already embarrassed the government by launching prosecutions of novelist Orhan Pamuk and other writers under Article 301 of the penal code, which makes it an offence to insult "Turkishness" or state institutions like the military....

Asked by his interviewer whether he thought Lagendijk had "overstepped the boundary" in his remarks on the military, [Foreign Minister Abdullah] Gul said: "I do not think so. But of course this is for the courts to decide."

Gul has in the past said he believes Pamuk, the best-selling author of novels such as "Snow" and "My Name is Red", would be cleared of insulting the state for saying a million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed in Turkey in the 20th century.

Lagendijk, a Green and a vocal supporter of Turkey's EU bid, is reported to have said during a recent visit to Istanbul: "The military wants clashes with the PKK (Kurdish rebels). This makes it feel powerful and important."

The military is a revered and powerful institution in Turkey and insulting it is a crime. But under EU-inspired reforms, the generals have seen their influence eroded in recent years.

Speaking very generally, freedom of expression isn't protected quite as strongly in Europe as it is in the U.S.--consider, for example, England's horrible libel laws, anti-blasphemy laws in various countries, and anti-Nazi laws in Germany and Austria. But free expression still counts for something, so Article 301 has been more than a minor embarrassment to Turkey in its effort to win EU membership.

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