European Writers Parliament, Istanbul November 2010

I arrived today in Istanbul, for the European Writers Parliament. I'm scheduled to give one of the opening addresses tomorrow, which I'll post here after I've given it. There's already controversy, as VS Naipaul has been forced to withdraw, after Turkish writers threatened to boycott the event if he spoke.

Naipaul's views on Islam have always seemed half-baked to me, and I'm not surprised people find them offensive. However I'm concerned at the threat of a boycott. Turkey, after all, has a long and ignoble tradition of using the law against writers whose views are found offensive. Article 301 of the Turkish penal code makes it an offence to insult Turkey, Turkish ethnicity or Turkish government institutions. It has been used against nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, and the Armenian editor Hrant Dink, who was later murdered by an ultra-nationalist, who, after his arrest, posed at a police station, surrounded by officers, against the backdrop of the national flag.

I think issues of freedom of speech will loom large in this meeting. I hope we'll be able to confront them directly, both in the Turkish context and more broadly. I'll update this post as things develop.