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25 November 2010

Hari Kunzru criticises Turkey’s record on free speech

The British novelist lends his support to V.S. Naipaul at the European Writers' Parliament in Istanb

By Lucian Robinson

The British novelist Hari Kunzru has criticised Turkey’s attitude towards free speech at the European Writers’ Parliament, a literary event in Istanbul which is backed by Orhan Pamuk and José Saramago. Kunzru gave the opening speech at the event this morning, after the Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul, who had been supposed to deliver the speech, dropped out earlier in the week “by mutual agreement” with the event’s organisers, after controversy in Turkey regarding his attitude towards Islam.

The Guardian reported that Naipaul’s invitation to deliver the opening address had caused considerable outrage in the Turkish press in the run-up to the event, due to comments he had made about Islam at a reading of his 2001 book, Half a Life. At the reading, Naipaul made a comparison between Islam and colonialism, and argued that Islam “has had a calamitous effect on converted peoples. To be converted you have to destroy your past, destroy your history. You have to stamp on it, you have to say ‘my ancestral culture does not exist, it doesn’t matter.”

Kunzru also said in the speech that Naipaul’s absence from the event was “regrettable” and made an appeal for article 301 of the Turkish penal code, which makes it illegal to insult the Turkish nation or state, to be revoked. Kunzru is quoted as having said that one of the first acts of the European Writers’ Parliament should be to call for the repeal of article 301 “and a declaration that no European writer should have to operate under the threat of similar laws.” Kunzru went on to argue that “it would be absurd to assert freedom of speech in the abstract without exercising it in concrete terms.”

Hari Kunzru is a contributor to the New Statesman. His books of the year for 2010 can be found here and his story “The Culture House” can be found here.

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