Few Turks seem to be able to bring themselves to express unreserved pride in the first of their countrymen to get a Nobel. My students have been talking to me about Orhan Pamuk out of curiosity about how I would react to the views of some of them that he is a traitor for the comments he made a few months ago in an interview, condemning the killings of Kurds and Armenians in what is now Turkey. Others cautiously venture the view that , although he is obviously a great writer, he seems to have "bought" himself the prize by trashing his country to the world.
I aks these students whether they have a problem with the French law (still not ın force) banning the denial of the Armenian genocide. Of course they do!
Well, then they can't have it both ways, I tell them. If you don't approve of the French ban on Armenian genocide denial, you can't ban Pamuk and others from expressing their opinions about the Armenian genocide. In both cases, it's a breach of the principle of free speech. If you want a debate on whether or not what happened to the Armenians was a genocide, then you need to allow both sides to express their views - both in Turkey as well as in France. Using the same argument, the Armenian-Turkish columnist Hrant Dink was fierce in his criticism of the French law because he does believe that there was a genocide, and wants to say so anywhere. He even offered to disobey the law in France and court arrest there.
This argument has nothing at all to do with the facticity of the genocide.
But of course, it's possible to allow freedom of speech, and still silence people by allowing them to speak only to others who share their views, or ignoring them altogether. This is what has happened largely to antiwar critics of US foreign policy in the US, and to a lesser extent in the UK as well. Chomsky might draw standing-room-only crowds in the US at his speeches, but his books are seldom published by the mainstream press, and the last time the NYT published his dissenting views was probably in the early seventies. The blogworld, however, which is threatening to become more powerful than the mainstream media, is full of his admirers and detractors and abuseers. If that were to happen here, Pamuk would be allowed to say what he likes, but no one would pay him the blindest bit of notice except his acolytes and admirers. His detractors too would not find much of an audıence for all their hard blowing.
A lot of people seem to be unaware that Pamuk has been speaking at gatherings protesting the war in Iraq, at lectures where Chomsky was the main speaker, and in antiwar circles generally. It did not surprise me - as it seems to have done a number of my students - that he made the statement that he did about the Armenians and the Kurds. But that is what one might expect a humane writer to do in a society that claims to follow modern values - express sympathy for victims of state violence, never rush to condemn public enemies, get up the noses of the powerful, and generally be a gadfly. One of the virtues claimed for modernity and western civilisation and other bloated concepts was supposed to be precisely the capacity to allow the freedom to dissent. In the tradition of Orwell, Said, Chomsky and many others, intellectuals have a duty to "speak truth to power", although in fact historically they have simply provided the justifications to the powerful for whatever they wanted to do. I have not read enough Pamuk to know whether his novels reflect this dissenting tradition, but he has on occasions dissented sharply from some of the actions of the Turkish state, as indeed have many others.