Bassem Yousef

Bassem Yousef (Photo credit: AslanMedia)

Fazıl Say

Cover of Fazıl Say

In a bit of a different take here on today’s Creativity Tech blog, we are taking a look at two cases of creatives in the Middle East and Europe who have been in hot water recently with their respective governments for putting satirical material on social media.  Americans oftentimes take their First Amendment rights to free speech for granted.  Musicians, artists and actors routinely criticize the government or take up controversial social causes via Facebook and Twitter.  It is with these freedoms that we sometimes forget about creatives around the globe who use satire to poke fun at religion or respective governments to challenging results.

Fazil Say, 43, is known worldwide as a classical pianist.  The Turk was charged and convicted by an Istanbul court with “openly insulting the religious values held by a portion of the public” by posting several tweets about traditional Muslim views on heaven.  Among other tweets and retweets, Say posted: “You say the rivers will flow with wine, is heaven a tavern? You say each believer will receive two women, is heaven a brothel?” according to CNN.  Three individuals filed formal complaints against Say last June.  The Justice and Development Party won election in July 2007 and is an Islamic-leaning and conservative political party in Turkey, according to Wikipedia.  Say will not be jailed so long as he doesn’t commit a similar crime within a five year time frame.

Over in Egypt, a comedian who is known as the Jon Stewart of the Middle East was arrested for insulting Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.  Bassam Youssef, 39, is a former cardiac surgeon who first took to YouTube to make jokes about the state of Egyptian affairs following the Arab Spring two years ago.  He has since used YouTube to broadcast 108 episodes which are seen by 15 million people per episode.  Youssef was arrested for allegedly insulting Morsi and Islam and was released on bail on 15,000 Egyptian pounds on March 31, 2013.  His case is still pending.

With the advent and access of social media throughout the world, those artists that use this technological medium to express themselves can easily attract a wide audience of followers almost instantaneously if found to be comical enough.  Problems arise, however, when a government is not so open to the ideals of free expression-whether through satire, comedy or just old-fashioned dissent.  To that end, we will be sure to report on developments in Youssef’s case or whether Say violates the terms of his sentence and tweets another so-called “joke.”

Whatever your politics, it is hard not to be just a little thankful for the freedoms of expression-whether through traditional or digital media-that we have at home in the United States.


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