The Mark of a Strong Leader

April 28, 2016

The Mark of a Strong Leader

by Azmi Sharom


IN Turkey, there is a law where insulting the President could result in prosecution and a jail sentence of up to four years. Since 2014, a staggering 1,800 cases have been started against people who allegedly insulted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Boy, that’s a lot of insults.

The Turkish government does not limit its prosecution of such people within its own borders. It finds ways and means to prosecute those overseas as well.

A German comedian (my goodness is there such a thing?) faces possible prosecution from his own government for reading out a sati­rical poem against Erdogan on German television.Germany has a weird law where insulting foreign leaders could lead to a court case if that foreign go­­vernment makes a request for it. Turkey duly did so.

Man, this Erdogan chap seems to be a bundle of exposed nerves, so sensitive is he to insults. Oh dear, am I being insulting? However, this piece is not about Erdogan and his delicate sensibilities; the last thing I need is another government on my back. And besides, I would like to visit Turkey again one day. It’s a wonderful country with excellent kebabs.

But I wonder why some leaders (and just to be absolutely clear, I am speaking in general here) feel themselves to be in need of special protection against the barbs of their critics.One would have thought that ha­­ving gone through the rough and tumble of politics, they would have in their career developed a skin of elephantine thickness.

Yet, somehow upon reaching the pinnacle of power, some politicians become as fragile as a little flower on the edge of a desert. Perhaps this is understandable among dictators.

They are dictators after all, and dictators are by definition dictato­rial. They will brook no criticism and they have the force of their military and police to back them up.But in a democracy, whether it is a developed democracy or a fledgling or even a dying one, this entire business of being “insulted” is really part and parcel of the system.

Is it insulting to say that a state leader is corrupt and incompetent? As long as there is some semblance of proof, surely not. In a democracy, the whole idea is for people to choose their leaders. And those who wish to take power will undoubtedly try to show that their opponents are really unfit to have that power.And also in a democracy, the people have a right to pour scorn on leaders whom they dislike.

We put them there after all; they owe their position to us, so why then can’t we say they are doing an awful job?Perhaps some leaders are such gentle souls that any insult, real or perceived, will hurt them deeply.

Oh, the poor dear, if you are so delicate then perhaps putting yourself in the public arena was a bad career move.Perhaps there are those who think that by crushing those who dislike them they are showing their strength.

I beg to differ; the mark of a strong leader is one who can face down their rational critics with reason and their irrational ones with indifference. The more a leader screams and stamps his/her feet in petulance, the more one will suspect he can’t answer for his actions and he may jolly well have something to hide.

  • Azmi Sharom ( is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.