Fazil Say in concert in Ankara in 2010
Fazil Say in concert in Ankara in 2010Reuters

An internationally-renowned jazz and classical pianist has been accused in a suit brought by individual Turkish citizens of “publicly insulting religious values adopted by a part of the nation.” The pianist, 42-year-old Fazil Say, could face up to 18 months in prison if convicted in the trial that began today (Thursday) in Istanbul over Twitter messages that had references to Islam. 

One of the “offensive” tweets authored by him personally chuckled over the speed of a muezzin's call to prayer, wondering if the cleric was rushing to the tavern for a drink. Other tweets passed along via his account came from different Twitter authors. One was a sardonic comment about Islam's view of the afterlife that originated from Slovenia and referenced lines by 11th century Persian poet Omar Khayyam.

In an attempt to explain the case, Istanbul-based Harun Yahya Organization spokesperson Sinem Tezyapar told Arutz Sheva, “Everybody needs to love and respect one another. Democracy is not freedom of insult," she said in an exclusive interview about the case Thursday afternoon. The organization, headed by Turkish Islamic scholar Adnan Oktar, publishes books and produces the A9TV "Building Bridges" satellite television program that declares as its primary goal the aim of "building bridges" of peace and understanding between Muslims and the rest of the world. 

“Democracy teaches us not to display patience in the face of insult but to avoid from it. We do not want a society enjoying freedom of insult," Tezyapar said. "“One may not have faith in God - surely God is beyond this - and can hold a statement regarding this; this is freely possible but there is no place for slanderous statements. That person may not embrace religious values, and may criticize as he likes, but slander is not acceptable at all. When slanderous statements are made then we will prevent this to happen through law and justice. We will never let anyone slander against another person's religion or sacred values. There must be limitless freedom of thought, but there can be no freedom of slander. One may advocate any philosophy, any idea he likes, but this should be done without cursing, slandering. Let us talk with one another, let us converse and be friends, but we should always preserve acts of respect and courtesy," Tezyapar explained. She added that Say was being tried for incitement, and that his remarks had not only targeted Muslims, but in fact "all believers in God."

The pianist has performed frequently in Europe, as well as in Asia and the United States, and has served as a European Union cultural ambassador. But he also has been a critic of the current ruling AK (Justice and Development) Party government's cultural and social policies. A self-declared atheist, his position puts him at odds with the Islamist ruling faction, and with much of Turkey's population, which is primarily Muslim.

Turkey, which has for years attempted to gain membership in the European Union, recently came to the conclusion that France and Germany would succeed in their efforts to permanently block its bid and instead began to tighten its ties with its Muslim neighbors in the Middle East.