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What Do You Say to This, Your Honor?

Art as Defensive Weapon

by MICHAEL DICKINSON

According to Turkish Justice Ministry Statistics as of Jan. 31, 2010, there are a total of 117,547 prisoners in Turkish jails, but only half of this number are actual convicts.  The vast majority of the rest are detainees waiting for a court appearance.  Many have to wait for a long time.

This week, after 10 months in prison detention, Turkish daily’s Vatan internet editor, Aylin Duruoglu, finally appeared in court.  She had been charged with membership of the illegal ‘Revolutionist Headquarters Organization’ after police had noted a lunch-time date she had at a Mall restaurant with party member Orhan Yilmazkaya to discuss promotion of a book he had written.  Kaya was killed during a police operation against the Organization in April 2009, and Duruoglu was arrested and detained on the same day at her home.  Finally, after 302 days in captivity, she has appeared in court and been released.  It is expected that she, like at least half of these tens of thousands of jailed detainees, will be aquitted.  And what compensation do these luckless innocent victims of the law receive for the precious time stolen from them?  –  "Hitch."  (Turkish for "zilch".)

As if that wasn’t enough, if some other prosecuter in the high Court disagrees with your judge’s decision, you can even find your aquittal quashed, and there you are suddenly back in court, going through the whole nightmare again.  I don’t know how often this happens to others in Turkey, but it happened to me anyway, and following an aquittal in 2008 on the charge of insulting the dignity of the Turkish Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan for portraying him as a pet dog of America in a collage caricature, I find myself back in the dock again next month on the same charge.  The last hearing in January was supposed to be the final one, but when I announced that I would refuse to pay a fine if found guilty, the judge adjourned for a few weeks to give me time to think.

After CounterPunch recently published an account of my predicament I received the following message from a reader:

"Mr. Dickinson -

You and I are roughly the same age, I was born in ’51, and while I haven’t lived overseas as long as you have, I was a world traveler, going to, for instance, Haiti, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Nepal, Egypt, to name a few.  None of these places had political systems that made me feel comfortable – all are varying degrees of corrupt police state oligarchies shitting on the poor.  However, I have always refrained from critcizing the local politics and government while in any country for two simple reasons:  #1-As a guest, especially a guest worker, in another’s home, one does not criticize the furnishings or the fare.  If uncomfortable, the proper, well-mannered thing to do is take your leave in a dignified manner that does not incite offense.  #2-Impolitic remarks in such places get the locals killed, tortured, & maimed, so common sense would indicate a similar severity may await oneself, if one made indiscreet comments, & more importantly, ones local friends and acquaintances. 

Countries like the above will never have freedom of speech like you and I used to enjoy in our countries and childish antics like yours do nothing to advance that cause.  The Athenians considered free speech to be the paramount civil right for themselves and had the decency to refrain from condemning those locales lacking it, since they rightly considered other systems or peoples insufficiently advanced to profit from it.  A very wise man once said, "Cast not pearls before swine, lest they be trampled under their feet."  He wasn’t referring only to verbal or spiritual pearls.  Peasants have about as much comprehension of free speech as a donkey has of a day off.  A place where honor is defended when daughters are buried alive for making friends with young men (Turkey) deserves free speech about as much as a place where teenagers are buried alive for stealing bananas (Haiti).

Did it never occur to you there are more important things than the right to shoot off your mouth?  Like your health & the health of your friends?  What about others who may want to visit after you? Why  fuck it up for them?  And why would you depict any Muslim leader as a dog?  After your lifetime in the Middle East, why use the most offensive way possible to make your point?  You should have been collaging Blair.  Everyone would have gotten the point without offense & appreciated your subtlety.  What you have done, as my father used to say, is shit in your own soup bucket.  Being creative, artistic, an artist, even, does not mean no rules outside the studio.  Common sense & common decency always rule & frankly, you’re lacking both. 

I hope you are not jailed for the indiscretion of returning to Turkey.  You could help yourself.  A little deference may save your ass.  The oriental costume you affect does not make you an oriental.  Start showing some respect for the local customs before you go for sentencing.  Apologize to Erdogan publicly before you go to court.  Take down your website & repudiate the offending pieces.  Upon arrival, don’t wait to be told to remove your headgear.  Wear a jacket & tie.  Tell the court you have reconsidered your conduct in the interim & in light of your new understanding of & respect for the local sensitivities, apologize & say while you are prepared for any sentence deemed fit so you can demonstrate your repentence to the public at large, pray the court’s mercy.  Don’t be arrogant but don’t grovel, either, because they will see right through that, since that is what they all do before their superiors, but give them something plausible so they at least have an opportunity to cut you a break and save face all around.  They probably don’t want to jail you but if you give them no reasonable way out, they will.  And will that do anybody any good?  Certainly not you.  It won’t make you a hero – there are only dead heros in Turkey.  You won’t even be admired. Quite the opposite.  If Turks want civil rights, let them die for them, just as our forebears did.

I’m assuming you will see the wisdom herein and adopt a course of action similar to that I’ve suggested, so if any of your ‘friends’ object, tell them to go fuck themselves.  They aren’t going to be the ones jammed up in some stinking prison.  And why not?  Even Napoleon had to retreat to fight another day & you’re no warrior.  I’m sure you regret it, anyway, especially now that you had to crawl back there because you got no support in England. 

But let’s just suppose it all goes wrong & you do get locked up for two years.  Well, use your common sense, because that will be all you have. You better find a girl friend to visit & bring you money so you don’t starve.  Most importantly, keep your mouth shut about everything.  Free speech don’t exist in prison, and if you had used your right to it more appropriately, you wouldn’t be fucked up like you are today. 

In all sincerity, I wish you the best of luck, but wise up.  Yabanji, from feranji, means foreigner and it’s not praise."

I refute and reject the writer’s advice.  We should make our feelings about global corruption and injustice known, and I will continue to withold payment if the judge decides on a fine.  He told me that he was giving me extra time to prepare my defence, and so I shall.  This time I will draw his attention to the petition of 559 names collected from all over the world, before my 2008 aquittal calling for the charges against me of insulting the Turkish PM to be dropped.

And I will also show the judge a copy of this new collage caricature I made recently, especially in my defense.  What do you say to this, Your Honour?  Is it an insult for which I should be punished?  Or is it free critical artistic expression on a political situation which should and must be criticized if we are to retain our sanity?

MICHAEL DICKINSON can be contacted through his website: http://yabanji.tripod.com/