Turkey’s request to prosecute German comedian could become political “honor killing” of Merkel

As I easily predicted when Turkey asked Germany to take down a satirical song from a local TV, things have escalated quickly, to the point that the so far unbeatable Chancellor finds herself cornered.

German Ambassador was summoned by the Turkish Foreign Minister who asked to ban the video with the song –a legally impossible move in Germany, as in all Europe and most democratic States.

The video went quickly viral, as also did outrage not only in Germany, but in whole European Union, where people perceived the Federal government’s response as feeble and appeasing.

The local TV which caused the uproar was so delighted of the unexpected publicity that doubled the stunt, naming the Turkish President “employee of the month” for the service rendered to Extra3.

It was easy to imagine that any comedian in the continent would feel obliged to try to replicate their success and give their contribution to the Freedom of Expression’s cause, in the guise of “Unnerving Erdogan.”

But then things became serious.

Maybe some remember Jan Böhmermann only as the German comedian who infamously faked the video of the then Minister of Finance of Greece “sticking the finger to Germany.”

Böhmermann claimed to want to show the difference between a simple satirical video and an actual insult to a foreign head of state, that is a crime under the German law. He proceeded to read a poem about Erdogan, showering the Turkish head of State with shameful allegations, like beating “girls, Christians and Kurds,” plus having sex with goats.

Predictably, the Turkish government was outraged and as much as predictably it asked Germany to prosecute the comedian (and to ban the video, ça va sans dire…)

Unpredictably, though, Merkel fell into the trap that may or may not have been intentionally set by the comedian and now she is in a hopeless situation.

Merkel called the video “unacceptable” in a telephone call to Prime Minister Davutoglu. She also underscored the fact that it had been taken off the television’s website, giving the impression that she favored censorship. But what is worse, she made the content of the telephone call public, exposing what can only be seen as a desire to appease the government of Turkey, widely considered to be authoritarian and under scrutiny for jailing dozens of journalists and the prosecution of hundreds of people for “insulting the President.”

The Böhmermann’s poem is of such obvious poor taste to be self-parody. If ignored by governments it was likely to have raised more sympathy than derision for Erdogan.

But if Germany will decide to prosecute the popular comedian, the perception in Europe will be that Merkel bowed once again to Turkey’s bullying even on fundamental rights. Turkey’s crackdown on basic freedoms, that is already costing a high price to the country, will be seen by public opinion as a present danger to Europe’s freedoms not only in case of EU accession but even in case of close relations with Erdogan.

The issue would not be nebulous “European values,” ready to be scrapped at the first chance of kicking refugees and migrants out but those fundamental freedoms Europe –and especially Germany– paid a high price to achieve.

What will happen if Merkel’s government will decide to not prosecute the comedian? Will Turkey use it as a casus belli to scrap the much criticized “refugee deal”? In this case not only the public opinion but possibly the EU governments too will consider it blackmail on freedom of expression.

And more comedians are jumping on the train of mocking Erdogan.

Asking the German government to censor the insulting video Turkey has pushed its ally Angela Merkel, the architect of the “refugee deal” and a de facto supporter of Erdogan, into a dead end.

The latest news is that Böhmermann needs police protection because of threats by alleged Erdogan supporters: if something happens to him, it would be a disaster for Turkey –and even more for Merkel.

For the first time she looks seriously weakened and little matters that no other political figure seems to have the stature to replace her. Strong leaders have seldom been replaced by important politicians, on the contrary, history teaches the opposite.

What would have happened if Turkey had not reacted to the insulting poem?

Adversaries of the President would have shared it on social media, like they are doing anyway. People of good taste would have probably decried it and President’s supporters would have been outraged. In a few days, weeks at most, it would have been forgotten.

But Erdogan’s image as a strong man would have been tarnished. The domestic audience would take it as yet another foreign plot against the “National Will” but the many Erdogan’s supporters among Turkish voters in Germany would have felt humiliated. This must have been deemed unacceptable.

It’s unlikely that they would have switched their political allegiance or starting to support the opposition.

All in all, it’s a mere question of prestige, or of honor, that same kind of irrational “honor” driving acts like “honor killings.”

It doesn’t matter if Turkey underestimated the chance of weakening Merkel asking her to censor the comedian. I didn’t take a fortune teller to understand that this time too, like countless others, the video with the insulting poem would have gone viral becoming unstoppable for the “Streisands Effect.”

Turkey has weakened a crucial political ally for a matter of perceived honor, thus accepting the notion that the honor of a head of state and of a whole country could be in the hands of any foreign comedian willing to challenge his country’s law. It’s something worse than a miscalculation.


Originally published at piero-castellano-06.tumblr.com.