We learned about the Turkish Insult Laws as we settled in to our temporary home in Izmir four years ago. It was illegal to insult the Turkish nation or a Turkish person. It was illegal to insult Ataturk, the hero of modern day Turkey. Try it, and you could end up with a sentence of up to six years.
I initially found these restrictions appealing, as I desperately attempted to assimilate into the Izmirian culture.
"How civilized," I thought to myself. "The Turks behave so courteously to each other."
Amidst the bumper-car traffic, unimaginably worse than Rome, Paris and New York combined, one never heard drivers or pedestrians cursing each other. I liked that.
As I became enlightened, though, I realized that certain reforms Ataturk imposed actually contradict some peoples' religious beliefs. For example, he ordered Turks to abandon traditional dress for Western dress, requiring Muslim women to remove their veils and head scarves.
It dawned on me that this was an infringement on their freedom of speech and religion. Then I got angry. Yet I walked around this crowded city and admired the behavior I saw. And it pleased me. I walked the streets smiling, but when I noticed men glaring at me, I wiped the smile off of my face, remembering that women who smile at Turkish men risked having the smile misinterpreted. I saw that smiling at others in public was a problem there, with women as well as with men. And I didn't want to insult anyone.
Our time there went quickly and soon it was time to move away.
That was then: four years ago. This is now: There appear to be insult laws in the United States, only they are as yet unwritten. One cannot voice concern that Israel's government is oppressing Palestinian citizens without being called an anti-Semite. One cannot voice the opinion that supporting our troops means bringing them home instead of delivering them to terrorists without being called unpatriotic. One cannot voice concern that the U.S. is using up energy and fuel faster than the rate at which it is available and disproportionate to the rest of the world's population without being called ridiculous. One cannot oppose the decisions made by the Administration without being called ungrateful for what it is doing to fight terrorists. When did this happen? How did this start? When did freedom of expression get carved away from our Constitution? And why isn't there a movement to object to this 21st-century form of McCarthyism? And how long will it be before we really do have American Insult Laws?