In his Daily Telegraph article today, an outraged Boris Johnson points that not only is the EU stifling democracy but is banning free speech. Boris begins:“Love is a many splendoured thing. Cupid’s darts find the most unexpected targets. I am not for one minute prepared to exclude the possibility that erotic interest may flower between a man and a goat. The ancient Greeks clearly thought about the possibility: hence their mythologising about Pan and satyrs and other cloven-footed hybrids.
A cursory trawl of the internet reveals – according to the BBC – that in 2006 a Sudanese man called Tombe was surprised in the act of darkness with a female goat, and was obliged by the village elders to pay a dowry of 15,000 Sudanese dinars to its owner, and then to marry the beast. To the best of my knowledge they are still together.
But I don’t think there is anyone of any importance who seriously believes that there has been any kind of romance involving the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and any other non-human mammal, caprine or otherwise.So, when a young German comedian called the Turkish leader a “goat –––––––”, in a little-watched broadcast on March 31, you might have thought that the best response – from Turkey’s point of view – was a dignified silence. Yes, I suppose it was puerile. And yes, I accept that it was not in especially good taste. But it was what we call a joke. It is utterly bewildering – and slightly shocking – that the Turkish leader has failed to see this.
The episode has, as they say, got his goat, and he has deployed all Turkey’s diplomatic and political weight in an effort to persecute the satirist, 35-year-old TV host Jan Boehmermann. He and the Turkish government have officially demanded that the presenter should be prosecuted for lèse-majesté – in this case causing offence to the leader of a foreign state – under an all-but defunct statute that dates back to 1871 and the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Incredible though it may seem, the journalist could face five years in jail. But what is truly incredible – indeed what is positively sickening – is that the German government has agreed at the express request of Angela Merkel that the prosecution should go ahead. She did not have to do so. She could have said no. The matter was entirely at her discretion. Plenty of German politicians were telling her that any such legal action would be an outrageous infringement of free speech – an act of censorship that smacked of some of the darkest moments in Germany’s 20th century history.
And yet she numbly decided to kowtow to the demands of Erdogan, a man who is engaged in a chilling suppression of Turkish freedom of expression. Erdogan only became president 18 months ago – and yet in that time prosecutors have opened 1,845 cases against people accused of insulting him, including a doctor who posted a picture of Erdogan on social media, next to a picture of Gollum.
It is no use saying that the case against Boehmermann is an obvious dud, or that it will be thrown out by the German court. Think of the impact in Turkey. Imagine how you would feel if you were a Turkish journalist, worried about what you could say, and you saw Angela Merkel – the leader of the most populous and richest country in the EU, this club of soi-disant liberal western nations – cravenly siding with the whim of an autocrat.
You would feel alone, frightened that even Germany was unwilling to stick up for you; and you would be right. Everyone knows why she has done it. Everyone knows why Angela Merkel is so cynically and so desperately determined to appease the Turkish leader – or at least to do nothing to irritate him; and that is because in the next few weeks and months we could have another migration crisis in the eastern Mediterranean.
We all know that the original problem was exacerbated by Germany’s open-door policy. Angela Merkel presented herself as a kind of EU Statue of Liberty – and the result was a pull factor that brought migrants flooding to Germany and other countries, via Turkey, on a scale not seen for decades. And now a deal has been done – a fragile deal by which Turkey agrees to take back refugees from Greece, in exchange for cash, and renewed promises of EU membership.
But it is Turkey’s hand on the tap. Erdogan, if he chooses, can allow the trickle to turn back into a flood – with devastating consequences not just for Merkel, but for the whole project of EU integration. The British referendum is on a knife edge. All the usual suspects are out there, trying to confuse the British public, and to persuade them that they must accept the accelerating loss of democratic self-government as the price of economic prosperity.
We have heard from the IMF (which got the Asian crisis completely wrong), as well as the banks and the CBI, all of whom were wrong about the euro. Davos man – the kind of people whose club-class air tickets are paid by the taxpayer, all the lobbyists and corporate affairs directors of the big companies: they are all increasingly nervous that they have been rumbled, that people can see the emperor has no clothes and that Britain could have a glorious future outside the EU.
They all know that there is one event in the next few weeks that could remind the British people of at least one salient point in this debate – that this country has lost control of its frontiers – and that is another migration crisis on the borders of the EU, and within the EU itself. That is one reason why it is essential for Angela to suck up to Erdogan. That is why this egregious prosecution has drawn not a peep from the UK.
No one believes that Erdogan is a goat-fancier or that muffled baa-ing is to be heard from the presidential suite in Ankara. But in a free and pluralist society there is no reason why a self-professed satirist should not make a joke about it. The process of EU integration means the wholesale erosion of democracy; and it would seem that protecting that process means the erosion of free speech as well. The whole thing is infamous.”