Tuesday, 19 April 2016

What is Freedom? - Lucy Coats

Imagine this. You are a performance poet and comedian. You write a poem smearing Francois Hollande, the French President. There are many such poems, and this is, after all a free country. You perform the poem. People laugh. And then it becomes much less funny. President Hollande takes offence. He is insulted. He complains to David Cameron, and threatens to take you to court. Now a prosecution is probably going to be launched against you, with Mr Cameron's approval. You face going to prison for five years. And all because of a little comic poem you wrote. PEN International estimates that such 'insult laws' still exist in no fewer than 12 EU countries, including France. So insulting President Hollande is definitely a risk.

The thing is, this may seem like a ridiculous plot for a novel. But it isn't. It has actually happened to a young German comedian called Jan Böhmermann, who wrote a poem insulting President Erdogan of Turkey. 

Böhmermann was trying to go one 'better' than an another ditty insulting Erdogan, which the Turkish government made a complaint about earlier this year.

"What I'm about to read is not allowed. If it were to be read in public - that would be forbidden in Germany." 
Böhmermann said, before he read his "smear poem" out loud on public television.

It wasn't a very nice poem at all. But the thing is, poets, writers and comedians have been insulting politicians from time immemorial. Think of the long and honourable tradition of nursery rhymes. Hidden within them are all sorts of sly digs at royalty and politicians. Poets document, they hold up hidden things to the light, they protest - and yes, they use humour to throw insults at politicians and pop stars alike. This is what freedom of speech is about. Unless, apparently, you live in Germany. I find that really worrying - and even more worrying that Angela Merkel and the rest of the EU leaders (including Mr Cameron) are not standing up for the right to freedom of speech and telling Turkey where to get off. I am not going to go into the politics of this here - all I will say is that our freedom to speak our minds, to make comedy, to say what we think, even if it offends, should be an inalienable right.

In 1770, Voltaire wrote the following in a letter (not the usual quote, but the correct one):
“I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.”
I agree with him. That's why I'm going to join in with The Spectator's 'President Erdogan Offensive Poetry' campaign. I'm not particularly keen on Douglas Murray - in fact I find him annoying in the extreme. But that's not the point. Freedom of speech is the point. And for that I will stand up and shout beside anyone.

Out now: 
Cleo 2: Chosen (UKYA historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra VII) 
Cleo '[a] sparkling thriller packed with historical intrigue, humour, loyalty and poison.' Amanda Craig, New Statesman
Also out:  Beasts of Olympus series "rippingly funny" Publishers Weekly US starred review, nominated for Beehive Award
Lucy's Website - Twitter - Facebook - Instagram

Lucy is represented by Sophie Hicks at The Sophie Hicks Agency


Susan Price said...

Agree, agree, agree!

John Dougherty said...

That reminds me - I must put my song about David Cameron on YouTube...

Lynne Benton said...

Can't wait, John. I'm sure it's as good as your song about Ed Vaysey!

-blessed holy socks said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
catdownunder said...

With you all the way Lucy!

Sue Bursztynski said...

It stinks, definitely! I gather that the whole thing is due to the matter of refugees coming through Turkey and ending up in Germay. If she tells the Turkish president no, he might just let them all through, and Germany has been flooded already. So it's political. It still stinks.

BTW, there's a spam message above Cat's comment.