Turkey and Islam

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Nov 11 07:25:27 MST 2002

(This article is more interesting for the details than any kind of
serious political analysis.)

New Yorker Magazine, 2002-11-18

Will Turkey be the model for Islamic democracy?

Five hundred years ago in Constantinople, at the height of the Islamic
empire, a young prince named Cihangir lived with his father, Süleyman
the Magnificent, who was the most revered of the Ottoman sultans.
Cihangir cut a pallid figure in the Ottoman court. He was a hunchback,
weak and withdrawn, and when he learned that the Sultan had ordered the
execution of his half brother Mustafa, the prince died of heartbreak. In
his honor, Süleyman ordered that a mosque be constructed on a hill
overlooking the confluence of the Bosporus, the Golden Horn, and the Sea
of Marmara. The Cihangir Mosque burned to the ground in 1720, and
another mosque was built on the same site; the new mosque, the "Blue
Guide" sternly advises, "is of no interest whatsoever."

That seems harsh. Early in the evening just a few weeks ago, I walked up
a steep side street past the mosque on the way to an appointment, in a
nearby high-rise, with Orhan Pamuk, a novelist who holds a position in
Turkey rather like Gabriel García Márquez's in Colombia—he is the house
postmodernist. Pamuk greeted me at the door of a spacious one-bedroom
apartment, which he uses strictly as a place to write; he lives a short
walk away, near the city's busiest shopping district, Taksim Square. In
the apartment, thousands of books were teetering in stacks of varying
heights, a mesa of Dickens, a butte of quarterlies, vast and interesting
geological formations accreting over time, all on the brink of seismic
catastrophe. Pamuk is fifty, and boyish-looking, with straight floppy
hair, oversized glasses, and an eager, unassuming manner. He led me into
the main room, a living room that he has converted into a study. His
view of the water, of the ship traffic and the slender bridges that
connect Europe and Asia, is precisely framed by the tapered minarets of
the mosque.

"It's something, isn't it?" Pamuk said. "I've been working here for
years, from early morning into the night, and I never get tired of the

Pamuk grew up in a wealthy family, which made its money through the
establishment of the secular Turkish republic. His grandfather was a
civil engineer who built railroads just as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was
building a nation after the fall of the last Ottoman sultan; his
mother's family was in the textile business. Although much of the money
is gone now, Pamuk is regarded around town as a kind of Istanbul
aristocrat: a few of his friends even joke that he is a sultan himself.
As an artist, he is the avatar of a new breed. Traditionally, Turkish
novelists have been leftists who cultivate an image of modest wisdom;
they portray, in the main, the hardships and domestic dramas of village
life in the Anatolian heartland. A Turkish novelist, Pamuk said, is
generally regarded not "as a person with demons but, rather, as a man of
good will." In Pamuk's work, the setting is native but the imaginative
models—Borges, Calvino, Nabokov—are not.

full: http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?021118fa_fact

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