Columnist on trial for “inciting hatred” Fehmi Koru Faces Up to Four Years in Prison for 1999 Commentary Aired on Turkish TV Station

Good evening respected viewers,

The placard carried by a girl from Marmara University and bearing the words “Wasn’t 7.4 convincing enough?” caused many tempers to fray. A leaflet distributed at Ankara’s Kocatepe Mosque during a service to commemorate the death of Bediuzzaman Sait Nursi added further fuel to the flames. And when one of the organizers of this service, Mehmet Kutlular (owner of the Yeni Asya newspaper) drew a link between recent developments and the earthquake, he really stirred up a hornets nest. The press and television were awash with swearing, cursing and all manner of foul language. Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit made a statement. Even the State Security Courts stepped into the fray.

Everybody is entitled to their own beliefs. Open any philosophy book and see. The two most natural mental activities in the world are belief and disbelief. In every age, mankind has pondered the Creation. People swing between believing in an almighty creating power and rejecting the idea. Some reject the idea of this almighty power and remain disbelievers who cannot be convinced. Others accept the existence of a supreme power. They believe in God, but do not take it any further. And others, acting on the belief that the great creator would not leave what has been created out in the cold, know that prophets and books were sent to guide us. It is up to us whether to be an agnostic, a believer of this or that religion or a Muslim. For this [reason], in almost every belief system including Islam, one of the basic principles is “You have your religion and I have mine.”

Certain circles in Turkey are not satisfied with cracking down on beliefs at the point where faith becomes action. They believe they have the right to tell people what they should believe in. They are intent on establishing mental order in the field of religion without troubling their minds, without stopping for just one second to consider the reason for existence, and without having any more information beyond generally accepted values regarding religion in general and Islam in particular.

The arguments regarding the earthquake form the most striking example of this. The placard carried by that girl standing in front of the university that was denying her the freedom of education was an outward expression of the storms raging in her mind. Open up any religious book, not just the Koran, and you will see that God punishes those that do wrong, wayward congregations and those who rebel against the word of God, by sending natural disasters. This is how Lot’s people were erased from the face of the Earth. Noah was able to save those who believed in God, but those left behind perished in the great flood.

As the Holy Books point out, and in the logic of events noted throughout history, there is no personal or individual relationship between crime and punishment. Simply being free of sin will not necessarily save you from God’s wrath. When communities are destroyed, it is not just those who deny God that lose their lives, believers also die. The reason is that people of faith who die in natural disasters or acts of God are considered “martyrs.”

It is not just in Islamic culture that the troubles that befall us, quite apart from natural disasters, are considered to be God’s punishment. Bulent Ecevit is mistaken when he criticizes Mehmet Kutlular’s evaluation of the earthquake as ‘primitive thinking’ and said, “No other country in the world associates natural disasters with such primitive excuses.” I am certain that when one looks at the earthquakes that have hit other countries over the last couple of months, there will be no less people there than here interpreting them as Divine Retribution. Because of the lock that has been applied to minds and mouths here, people do not think. Even if they do think, they will not voice their thoughts.

By asking “Was not 7.4 convincing enough?” the aim was not to say that those who died were “sinners” and that those shaken by the quake deserved it. Those who look at that placard and draw that conclusion are not gullible people. They are purposely distorting the issue in order to plant doubt in people’s minds. There could well have been many people of faith in the family of the placard-holding girl who also perished in the earthquake. Indeed, the TV channels that showed the image of this placard encountered many earthquake survivors mixing with the victims of the university waiting at its gates [probably a reference to Islamist students who had been denied admission for wearing headscarves or other offences related to their religion—ed.] when they extended their microphones hoping to get them to say the wrong thing.

In the Koran, the question is asked of God, “My Allah, will you punish us for the sins committed by the stupid among us?” The placards carried by the students waiting at that university’s gates are the modern expression of that question. It is a noble attitude that accepts complete responsibility for the mistake and does not blame others for what happened. It is the most striking and succinct expression of the facts in this current climate.

This climate we are in is one that creates victims, that offers no happiness to anyone save the privileged few, that makes people economically unsatisfied, socially timid and political enemies. Who is the more fortunate at those universities that will not let headcarved girls in? Those who can enter the classrooms, or those who have to wait outside? Even now, the answer to this question cannot be given without some hesitation. That is the kind of situation we are in.

In such situations, natural disasters make people even more confused.

As much as certain circles may try to hide it, this earthquake has caused many people who used to think differently to reconsider their preferences. Every aftershock and tremor sharpens people’s faith and heightens their awareness. There is not much those who are disturbed by this fact can do. They are wasting effort and rowing against the tide.

I wish you all a very good evening.

Translated by Ilnur Cevik (edited for style by CPJ)