Originally the news from Germany was that the Turkish government had requested Jan Böhmermann be prosecuted for a piece of satire aimed at Erdoğan. The latest news, however, is that the Turkish president himself has now made a personal complaint against this not very funny comedian for libel.
On a day when the press reports that this weeks meeting between King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia and our “boss from the Bosporus” “has set new records for opulence and paranoia”, it would appear that the Turkish president has still got more than enough, and more than enough ego, to take this incident personally. So much so in fact that his lawyers are apparently proceeding on the basis of article 103 of Germany’s Criminal Code rather than by invoking article 181 as was suggested elsewhere.
Is there anything surprising in this latest intrusion from Ankara? Well, we know that the “want to be” Sultan not only tends to deal with the opposition in a manner not too different from the King of Saudi Arabia, but also has an ego and ambitions at least as great as that particular absolute monarch. Therefore, it should come as no surprise “article 103”, a rather antiquated example of lèse majesté, which basically states that you can go to prison for three months to five years for insulting a foreign head of state, is being invoked rather than “article 185”, which is normally the basis for run of the mill libel cases.
Furthermore, while the reaction of Turkey’s president, which once again puts Merkel in a predicament, is no surprise whatsoever, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş saying Böhmermann’s poem had not only insulted 78 million Turks, but that it was also “a crime against humanity” is , especially as it comes from a government which refuses to admit to its own very real crimes against humanity past and present, an affront.
The commentator Nuray Mert may think that Turkey has reached a turning point regarding its pro-western secular outlook and that if the West doesn’t engage, it could end up being faced with a country that is closed and more repressive. Nevertheless, the fact is that Erdoğan’s Turkey is already repressive, the West has been engaging, and there is evidence to suggest that Ankara only wants to engage on its terms. Whatever else, this latest affront, to western values is sufficient to suggest that it is time for the West to put its foot down. If it doesn’t, the costs in the longer term will be even greater than they might otherwise be.