Free Speech

Doctor Could Go to Jail for Saying Turkish President Looks Like Gollum, But Is That an Insult?

The good, the bad, and the Gollum.


Lord of the Rings

As worrisome as anti-free speech trends on American college campuses might be, it's worth remembering that the rest of the world has it a lot worse: a Turkish doctor named Bilgin Çiftçi might go to jail for comparing his nation's president to Gollum, a character from The Lord of the Rings.

Now Çiftçi's defense hinges on whether the comparison was insulting or not.

According to The Washington Post:

According to the Turkish news agency DHA, Çiftçi was expelled from the Public Health Institution of Turkey in October after sharing a meme comparing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the creepy creature from "The Lord of the Rings."

Insulting the head of state is a crime punishable with jail time in Turkey, and Çiftçi was promptly put on trial after the meme was spotted in his Facebook feed.

But when he appeared in court, Çiftçi insisted that he hadn't insulted anyone at all. For all his slimy skin and questionable syntactic habits, many say Gollum is not a villain. He may even be a hero. After all, it was he who freed Middle Earth from the tyranny of the ring by biting it off of Frodo's finger and (albeit inadvertently) plunging with it into the lava roiling inside Mount Doom (spoiler!).

The court has appointed five experts to investigate whether the reference to Gollum was offensive. This seems to me to be a difficult question. Gollum does indeed possess many unsavory characteristics: he's ugly, greedy, cowardly, and murderous. But he is ultimately responsible for the downfall of Dark Lord Sauron, and serves as an example of the idea that all people, even the despicable, are worthy of dignity and capable of goodness.

Of course, the fact that the Turkish head of state, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, maintains and enforces a law prohibiting people—especially journalists—from criticizing him is a great example of the sort of vindictive pettiness that Gollum manifests in his worst moments.

If convicted, Çiftçi could face two years in prison.