Turkish writers must speak out - Elif Şafak

Turkish novelist Elif Şafak has faced a barrage of attacks in recent months as Turkish authorities have continued to crack down on free speech, but believes a Turkish writer today cannot sit on the sidelines, The Guardian reported on Monday. 

The 47-year-old Şafak, whose latest novel is among six finalists for this year’s Booker Prize and whose works are under investigation in Turkey on charges of obscenity, said she has not returned to her home country for three years, as she fears arrest. 

“Because I write about sexual harassment, violence against women, the police have taken my books to the prosecutor’s office,” she told the Guardian in an interview. “When you are a woman, the attacks are much more severe.”

Şafak, who moved with her husband to London 10 years ago, feels compelled to denounce the injustices of the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, which has cracked down harshly on critics in the past few years, including authors and publishers this year. 

“If you are a novelist from my country -- or Nigeria, Brazil, Hungary; the list is getting longer – you don’t have the luxury of saying: ‘I am not going to write about what is happening’,” said Şafak.

Life in Turkey is more difficult for journalists, she added, and for minorities, from Kurds to women and LGBT people. 

“The more ruthless you are with minorities,” said Şafak, explaining the thought process of Trump and Erdoğan, “people think that’s strength. But of course it is a sign of weakness.”

The antidote to authoritarians and intolerance, she told the Guardian, is not more tribal politics – it is art and music and food, the activities that bring people together and blend cultures. The folk tales she weaves into her fiction often touch on taboo subjects. 

“Many of those stories were a way of talking about women’s sexuality, celebrating pleasure, delight, wine. And of course in a conservative environment celebrating pleasure is a radical act,” she said. 

In a country like Turkey, writing could also be seen as a radical act. 

“When I am writing a novel I feel more free,” said Şafak. “I have met lots of women who have grown up in Turkey who cannot bring themselves to swear in Turkish. But in English they use the F-word all the time. Writing is like that for me.”