June 4, 2009

Turkish author on trial for blasphemy

Turkish novelist Nedim Gursel is on trial over his book Daughters of Allah, about the birth of Islam. In the book, Gursel questions some of the beliefs of the religion, as well as the violence of fanatics. As a result, he's now on trial for blasphemy, and faces up to a year in prison if convicted. Gursel claims that his work is not blasphemous because the book required extensive research, as well as collaboration with religious officials.

This story hits home for me because I'm starting research for a novel that is based off of something in the New Testament. I don't want to get into it too much, especially because I haven't even settled on which of two possible directions I want the story to take. But right now I am doing a lot of research, including re-reading the four gospels and looking at relevant scholarly texts. And I know that this novel will be, to some extent, blasphemous. Regardless of which direction I take, someone is going to consider it blasphemy. But I'm okay with that. That's the difference between my project and Daughters of Allah. My work is supposed to be blasphemy; his is not. His is supposed to have critical commentary, but it's not intended to be blasphemy. And yet he's being persecuted.

Of course, the real difference between Gursel and myself is that I live in a country where, if I write a book based on religion, I won't be prosecuted, blasphemous or not. And I have to say, I'm not always proud of my country, but in the case of free speech, I'm relieved that I live in a place where I can write what I want and not risk jail time or worse for artistic expression.

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