Criminal Case: Turkish Prez & Gollum

A tweet comparing Turkish president Erdogan with Gollum

Tweet of Turkish president Erdogan with Gollum


Here’s a small news item that has an interesting literary, or at least a cinematic, dimension: a Turkish doctor could be imprisoned for tweeted images comparing the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Gollum (see above). Apparently it is against the law in Turkey to insult its head of state, and a judge has convened a panel to determine whether the comparison is in fact an insult.

According to a New York Times article, the doctor lost his job with Turkey’s Public Institute of Health and faces up to two years in jail. The panel will consist of two academicians, two psychologists and a movie expert–which means that a man’s fate depends on a literary character analysis.

Charging the doctor for what appears a harmless tweet appears to be business as usual for the increasingly authoritarian Erdogan, the Times article reports:

The society that Mr. Erdogan helps lead is developing a reputation for not tolerating name-calling on social media. The debate over Gollum might seem silly if Mr. Erdogan was not the president of a country and the outcome did not involve prosecution and possible jail time.

In another case, Mr. Erdogan took Merve Buyuksarac, the former Miss Turkey, to court after she was accused of violating a law against criticizing public servants by posting a poem on her Instagram account in January. In March, Bahadir Baruter and Ozer Aydogan, two cartoonists who work for a Turkish satire magazine, were fined $2,700 for publishing a cartoon that showed Mr. Erdogan joking about killing a journalist. Their original sentence, converted to a fine by a judge, had been 11 months and 20 days in jail, according to Al Jazeera.

Journalists are facing a wave of similar crackdowns. In November, after Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party regained its parliamentary majority in elections, thousands protested because they saw the arrest of two prominent reporters as evidence of growing hostility to oppositional news media.

Consulting its own expert, the New York Times interviewed Wheaton English professor Michael D. C. Drout, who edits the annual review of Tolkien’s works. Drout notes Gollum’s ambiguous status:

“I don’t think there’s any consensus that Gollum is evil,” Mr. Drout said in an interview. “He is the most tragic character in The Lord of the Rings.”

Pointing out that Gollum is instrumental in destroying the ring, Drout added,

“The context is this: Gollum accidentally, not intentionally, saves the entire world.”

And further:

Mr. Drout said that no one would’ve appreciated the existential debate over Gollum more than the author who created him. Painfully and pitifully, Sméagol almost succeeds in overcoming his evil side, but fails. It is a scene that is said to have upset Mr. Tolkien to the point of tears as he wrote it, Mr. Drout said.

“He didn’t see him as irredeemably evil,” he said of Mr. Tolkien. “He saw him as someone who had been destroyed by this evil ring.”

In that sense, the comparison to Erdogan may well be apt. To the extent that the ring stands for the potential of power to corrupt, Erdogan seems to be ever more falling under its spell. Because of power’s dark temptations, figures like Gandalf and Galadriel refuse to take the ring while others, beginning with Isildur and culminating with Frodo, are contaminated by it.

I wonder if the convened panel would conclude that the comparison indicates that Erdogan is being corrupted by power and needs to stop abusing his power if he is to regain his soul. Great literature can provide us with the healing medicine we need. Unfortunately, such a conclusion would probably not lead Erdogan’s government to drop the charges.

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