How (Not to) Insult a Sultan: Jan Böhmermann vs. the Zaporozhian Cossacks

Late last month, German comedian Jan Böhmermann read a poem on his TV show about Turkish President Recep Erdoğan. I don't know how funny it was, but it was bawdy and then some: Erdoğan was said to like to "fuck goats," among other things. Now the German Chancellor we've so come to love, Angela Merkel, is allowing Böhmermann to be prosecuted in compliance with a request from the Turkish government. Here's some more context from La Wik:

Days after a music video titled Erdowie, Erdowo, Erdoğan in another German satire show had infuriated Erdoğan, prompting Ankara to summon the German ambassador, Böhmermann went on to find the line between satire, which is protected by freedom of speech legslation, and "abusive criticism" (German: Schmähkritik) of a foreign state leader, which in Germany is a punishable offense. Explicitly acknowledging this experiment to be deliberately offensive and "forbidden", Böhmermann went on to present a poem that not only harshly criticized Erdoğan for his human rights record, but was also liberally seasoned with profanity.

And now, against the will of a majority of Germans, Böhmermann is being put on trial in order to soothe Erdoğan's chapped ass. Böhmermann is now personally experiencing the anarcho-tyrannical quality of "the system," he hardly seems to oppose it generally. About the same time he read the "abusive" poem, he aired a video on his show in which progressives and Muslims are said to be more German than German opponents of mass immigration. This makes it harder to sympathize with him, as ridiculous as the circumstances of his prosecution are. Perhaps he will come to rethink his position on multiculturalism; or maybe he'll double down on his support for it. Somehow the former seems likelier now than it would have been even a few years ago.

Given all this, it would be worthwhile to call to mind a time when demands from Turks were treated very differently by Europeans, and no fussing was had about whether their language was "abusive." Here's the purported reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed IV, who had told them to submit to Turkish rule after they had won a battle against his forces. Ilya Repin's great painting of the Cossacks, led by Ivan Sirko, delighting in the writing of the reply, is a classic.

First, what the Sultan had said:

As the Sultan; son of Muhammad; brother of the sun and moon; grandson and viceroy of God; ruler of the kingdoms of Macedonia, Babylon, Jerusalem, Upper and Lower Egypt; emperor of emperors; sovereign of sovereigns; extraordinary knight, never defeated; steadfast guardian of the tomb of Jesus Christ; trustee chosen by God Himself; the hope and comfort of Muslims; confounder and great defender of Christians - I command you, the Zaporogian Cossacks, to submit to me voluntarily and without any resistance, and to desist from troubling me with your attacks.

And now the reply:

Zaporozhian Cossacks to the Turkish Sultan!

O sultan, Turkish devil and damned devil's kith and kin, secretary to Lucifer himself. What the devil kind of knight are you, that can't slay a hedgehog with your naked arse? The devil excretes, and your army eats. You will not, you son of a bitch, make subjects of Christian sons; we've no fear of your army, by land and by sea we will battle with thee, fuck your mother.

You Babylonian scullion, Macedonian wheelwright, brewer of Jerusalem, goat-fucker of Alexandria, swineherd of Greater and Lesser Egypt, pig of Armenia, Podolian thief, catamite of Tartary, hangman of Kamyanets, and fool of all the world and underworld, an idiot before God, grandson of the Serpent, and the crick in our dick. Pig's snout, mare's arse, slaughterhouse cur, unchristened brow, screw your own mother!

So the Zaporozhians declare, you lowlife. You won't even be herding pigs for the Christians. Now we'll conclude, for we don't know the date and don't own a calendar; the moon's in the sky, the year with the Lord, the day's the same over here as it is over there; for this kiss our arse!

Perhaps Böhmermann could learn a thing or two from the Cossacks about how to talk to the "sultans" of the present day.