Never Offend

Annals of Thought-crime. Orhan Pamuk goes on trial on Friday.

My crime is to have “publicly denigrated Turkish identity.”…Last February, in an interview published in a Swiss newspaper, I said that “a million Armenians and thirty thousand Kurds had been killed in Turkey”; I went on to complain that it was taboo to discuss these matters in my country…If the state is prepared to go to such lengths to keep the Turkish people from knowing what happened to the Ottoman Armenians, that qualifies as a taboo. And my words caused a furor worthy of a taboo: various newspapers launched hate campaigns against me, with some right-wing (but not necessarily Islamist) columnists going as far as to say that I should be “silenced” for good; groups of nationalist extremists organized meetings and demonstrations to protest my treachery; there were public burnings of my books.

Most of the ingredients, brought together in one nasty brew. Stupid idea piling on stupid idea until you end up with a great stack of nonsensical absurd hollow pseudoideas. The idea that there is such a thing as Turkish ‘identity,’ the idea that it shouldn’t be ‘denigrated,’ the idea that it shouldn’t be denigrated publically, the idea that doing so is a crime worth three years in prison, the idea that Pamuk should be ‘silenced’ for committing such a crime, the idea that he should be permanently silenced for doing so, the idea that what he did is ‘treachery.’

My detractors were not motivated just by personal animosity, nor were they expressing hostility to me alone; I already knew that my case was a matter worthy of discussion in both Turkey and the outside world. This was partly because I believed that what stained a country’s “honor” was not the discussion of the black spots in its history but the impossibility of any discussion at all. But it was also because I believed that in today’s Turkey the prohibition against discussing the Ottoman Armenians was a prohibition against freedom of expression, and that the two matters were inextricably linked.

Well, yes. What Turkey did some ninety years ago was done by an entirely different set of people (which is one reason ‘identity’ is such a bad idea: it leaves the impression that in fact it’s the same people, but it isn’t), but the people forbidding discussion of it now are the people who are alive now, and if they think they’re buffing up Turkey’s current ‘identity’ by doing so, they’re delusional. If they think preventing freedom of expression in order to suppress discussion of a part of Turkey’s history is a sensible, useful, productive idea, they’re infatuated.

What am I to make of a country that insists that the Turks, unlike their Western neighbors, are a compassionate people, incapable of genocide, while nationalist political groups are pelting me with death threats? What is the logic behind a state that complains that its enemies spread false reports about the Ottoman legacy all over the globe while it prosecutes and imprisons one writer after another, thus propagating the image of the Terrible Turk worldwide?…Last May, in Korea, when I met the great Japanese writer Kenzaburo Oe, I heard that he, too, had been attacked by nationalist extremists after stating that the ugly crimes committed by his country’s armies during the invasions of Korea and China should be openly discussed in Tokyo.

They must all have offended someone. Never, never offend anyone – or else.

5 Responses to “Never Offend”