You might have read about it, right now, Jan Böhmermann, a German comedian might face trial over a satirical poem he recited about Erdogan. “Je suis Böhmermann”, some people already tweet (because that’s the term du jour for the littlest, most pathetic thing) and the German media are nauseatingly full of opinion pieces and the question, how far satire can and should go.
But here’s a little backstory. It all began not with Böhmermann but with the satirical comedy show “Extra3” who did a “comedic” song about Erdogan criticizing him for his treatment of critical members of the press and generally the political opposition in Turkey. Because, see, right now, Turkey is a key component to deal with the thousands and hundreds of thousands of refugees. To reduce the risk of those refugees going the dangerous route over the sea to Greece, they now will be sent back immediately to Turkey who will house them but also will send as many refugees over the legal (and more importantly, safe) way to Europe as have been sent back from Greece. It’s not a perfect plan but Europe doesn’t know anymore how to stop all those people from dying in little make-shift boats and Greece doesn’t know what to do with the survivors. It all could be a lot better but this is what we have right now.
The European countries had to compromise heavily to get this deal done with Turkey because Erdogan wants in on the EU. Furthermore, Turkey has been heavily criticized for incarcerating critical journalists and members of the political opposition. Especially the Kurds suffer heavily under the turkish government which is a constant sore in the eye of the Human Rights Watch (read more).
So, it’s a tricky situation. On the one hand, you need to get on Erdogan’s good side, so you can save the lives of refugees and gain more control over the situation. On the other hand, you can’t completely ignore that Turkey seems to be on the best way to become a dictatorship.
Extra3 wanted to show this discrepancy with their song which made fun of how much control Erdogan has on the whole situation right now. Erdogan returned the favour by inviting the German ambassador and being kind of thin-skinned about the whole thing.
Now, Extra3 did not break any German law. Our free speech covers satire and art – if you will – within the means. German politicians complained about Erdogan’s reaction and even the ambassador kind of laughed it off as ridiculous.
Enter Jan ****ing Böhmermann. You might not have heard of him before but he’s kind of like John Oliver…but without the empathy, the passion to educate on ambiguous topics and generally the goodwill to make things better. Jan Böhmermann is basically a dude who puts out ironic viral videos or pranks other stars or the media in an attempt to show that he is above everything and smarter than everyone and anyways, the coolest dude who ever lived. He also is bathed in irony which means that you can never attack anything he does because in the end you didn’t get it because you’re too stupid. He’s the kind of comedian who doesn’t want to change things but kind of loves to criticize them and feel better about himself. The kind who walks into an internet forum, mocks everyone and then leaves before he has to explain himself. He’s the kind of comedian who releases a parody of a rap video that miraculously mocks both gangster rappers and the police and therefore manages to have no opinion at all but just riled up everyone. He’s – for lack of a better word – a troll.
And he decided to one-up Extra3 with a poem about Erdogan that is – by law – illegal to say about any head of state according to §103 (that really should be done with but still exists). He knew that because he mentioned it before he recited it. He also had Turkish subtitles for the poem but not the contextual introduction of the poem, meaning that the “satire” did not translate to people who didn’t speak German.
It’s a poem that is full of clichés and stereotypes about muslim people and refers to Erdogan as some really bad things. It’s supposed to be educating about what should be reprimanded instead of the Extra3-song. At least, that’s what people interpret into this whole thing. It’s not like Böhmermann really clarified it, even after Merkel apologized to Erdogan about the poem, even after Erdogan said he wanted file a complaint and even after Böhmermann is – right now – under police protection because apparently some people don’t get a joke (seriously, though, the last part is the one thing I am actually really sorry for because no one deserves to be threatened for a stupid poem). So far, there has been no word from Böhmermann about this situation.
The legal situation is this (despite a lot of people claiming otherwise):
– Merkel can’t wave her hand to make it all go away
– The poem is actually illegal under §103
– The court can decide whether the context of the poem is enough to punish Böhmermann or not (most people think that it will not)
The situation is also this:
In an already very tricky and sensitive political situation, someone decides to completely derail everything by creating a pretty big clusterfuck for everyone involved. Do you think that Angela Merkel has better things to do than to apologize to Erdogan for fear that he will somehow use this against the deal the EU has with him? Of course, she does. Do you think the media should rather report on the hundreds of other critical situations in this world than spend about 500 articles each day on a stupid satire? Of course, they should. Do you think that Erdogan overreacted? Of course he did but we are not talking about cool-beans Obama here, so it is impossible to not have known that.
You want to know what I think? I think that freedom of speech is incredibly important. But this thing did not help the incarcerated journalists in Turkey and it did not educate people on the limits of freedom of speech because right now, everyone tweets “Satire can do anything” like they don’t even know what words are or that personal rights do exist. And I think that you are always allowed to criticize your politicians, your leaders or whomever you want to criticize – but you don’t have to be such an ass about it.