[Marxism] Orhan Pamuk

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jul 5 12:11:04 MDT 2006

Many thanks to Gilles d'Aymery for calling my attention to the 
exceptionally well-written and interesting article ("Orhan Pamuk: A 
Novelist Where The Currents Cross") by Peter Byrne in the latest Swans on 
Turkey's most famous novelist and his arrest last year for defending 
Kurdish rights and for calling attention to the genocidal attack on the 
Armenians during WWI. http://www.swans.com/library/art12/pbyrne07.html

When I was in Istanbul in December, I watched reports on the trial every 
night. I was a bit shocked to see the degree of open violence on display by 
the unruly nationalist crowds at the courthouse. Byrne refers to these 
incidents in biting prose:

 >>A lawyer had punched the pink face of an elderly man who accompanied the 
accused. The same man, leaving the court, was kicked by an excited 
spectator who had been shouting "traitor." The presumed criminal was then 
set upon by a woman who struck him with a rolled-up folder. The crowd 
surged as he stumbled toward a waiting car. But the police stood back. Some 
of their number in plainclothes were busy inciting the crowd. A banner 
called the accused "a missionary child," an insult meaning foreign-bred, 
impure Turk. Shouts came of "Get out of Turkey." Stones were thrown. Eggs 
splattered the car windows as it pulled away.<<

Just today, Turkish newspapers and the NY Times reported the arrest of Noam 
Chomsky's Turkish publishers for the same charge:

 >>NY Times, July 5, 2006
Turkey: Publisher Faces Prosecution
by Sebnem Arsu

A publisher who printed a book by the linguist Noam Chomsky was indicted on 
a charge of "insulting the Turkish identity," which can carry up to six 
years in jail. The book, "Manufacturing Consent," was written by Mr. 
Chomsky and Edward S. Herman in the 1980's, but the indictment focused on a 
2001 edition's introduction that analyzed coverage of the Kurdish conflict.<<

This is not the first time that Turkish publishers have faced such a 
charge. In 2002, a publisher named Fatih Tas was acquitted by a court of 
promoting disunity after making Chomsky's "American Interventionism" 
available in a Turkish language edition. The book was critical of Turkey's 
efforts to suppress the Kurdish minority, and Washington's role in backing 
the Turkish Government.

Despite Pamuk's willingness to stand up to Turkish chauvinism, I found 
evidence that at least one educated and radical-minded Turk remained 
critical of him. In Izmir, a literature major at the local college that was 
a friend of the family, told me that he had little use for Pamuk, who he 
regarded as a postmodernist tool of the West.

My own exposure to Pamuk is somewhat limited. I tried to read his highly 
regarded (at least in the NY Times Book Review section) "My Name is Red" 
but found it unreadable. It is a historical novel with all the preciousness 
that you find in Tariq Ali's well-intentioned but leaden historical novels, 
but with the added annoyance of postmodernist cleverness. On the other 
hand, I have his nonfiction "Istanbul: Memories and the City" at home and 
have skimmed through its pages. From what I have seen, it is difficult to 
imagine another work that captures Istanbul's complex mixture of West and 
East. It is also utterly devoid of the kind of pretension that put me off 
in "My Name is Red."

Although Pamuk tends to steer clear of making pronouncements on political 
issues not directly related to Turkish society, he did speak out on the 
looming war in Iraq in 2003. Whatever concessions this author has made to 
Western taste, he certainly shows no interest here in placating Washington 
or London's war-makers:

The Guardian (London), March 14, 2003

Inside story: 'I feel despair': Turkey's MPs surprised the world by voting 
'no' to US troops being based in the country. Now it seems their new prime 
minister will overturn this - with the army's help. Acclaimed Turkish 
novelist Orhan Pamuk fears that once again his country will become a 
military dictatorship

by Orhan Pamuk

Before Turkey's new prime minister Tayyip Erdoan won a landslide victory in 
the elections last November, he was constantly maligned and abused by most 
of the Turkish media. They said that the naive Turkish people should be 
aware of Erdoan's pro-Islamist past before voting for him. Nevertheless, 
those like me, who were afraid Erdoan's election would pave the way for a 
military coup, said that his new pro-western and pro-European Union 
"liberal" stance should be taken at its face value. But the establishment 
press accused Erdoan of being a fundamentalist in disguise who would strike 
a blow at secularism in Turkey once in power.

In Istanbul now, the joke is that we were mistaken and Erdoan was indeed 
hiding his true colours. What he was hiding, however, was not Islamic 
fundamentalism but commitment to American military interests. First, he 
made it clear that he was displeased with parliament's rejection of US 
demands for a northern front against Iraq. This "no" to war reflected the 
fury of the Turkish people, 90% of whom are opposed to the war. I was 
amazed and delighted by this decision, which should make the Turkish 
parliament proud. Even the pro-state and pro-army Turkish press briefly 
paid it lip service, since everyone's national sensibilities were hurt by 
the coverage of Turkey in the western media as a country that would engage 
in a war it did not believe in for the sake of American dollars. In 
particular, a cartoon in which Turkey was depicted as a belly dancer 
writhing in front of Uncle Sam in order to get more money broke many hearts 
in the country. The reaction to the cartoon was so exaggerated in the 
Turkish press, which is as highly sensitive to any coverage in the western 
media as the Turkish public, that I expected the Turkish Society of Belly 
Dancers to protest that belly dancing was not as dishonourable as portrayed.

Since the image of the nation as a carpet- dealer upset everyone, Erdoan 
produced a new trump card that would force Turkey into cooperation with 
Bush and convince the public: Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq and, God 
forbid, demands for an independent state. Since some nationalist male 
Turkish politicians consider bombing poor Kurds far more honourable than 
belly dancing, it may be that this new argument will carry more weight. 
Already many columnists are hinting at the possibility of "undesirable 
developments" in northern Iraq in an attempt to influence the public and 
bewildered members of parliament. The idea of a Kurdish state is such a 
fearsome prospect in Turkey, such an unmentionable taboo, that it can only 
be spoken of as "undesirable developments".

Erdoan's party asked the army to make an announcement in favour of war to 
influence the parliamentary decision before the rejection of the proposal, 
but the army did not wish to grasp this thorny issue before parliament. 
When parliament, too, evaded the thorny issue, the job fell on Erdoan and 
the Turkish press, which had called on the army for help. The majority of 
the Turkish press have no qualms about carrying on war propaganda, despite 
the anti-war fury of the people, because most of their financial clout 
comes not from newspaper sales but from bribes received from the state by 
various subterfuges. Many nationalist Turkish columnists, whose heart was 
broken by the representation in the west of Turkey as a nation fighting for 
money, are now busily engaged in war propaganda for their own bread and butter.

The truth that emerges from all this irony and comedy is this: the Bush 
government's relentless desire to launch a war against Saddam has nothing 
to do with establishing democracy in the Middle East. On the contrary, 
American military ambitions are curtailing democracy in Turkey and leading 
to more army intervention in politics. After the government and the press, 
the task now is to intimidate members of parliament to obtain a reversal of 
its decision.

The world should know about the damage that has been done to Turkish 
democracy by the Bush government, which, has bypassed the sentiments of the 
Turkish people, preferring to cooperate with the army. Already, 
parliament's "no" to war has been dismissed and the massing of American 
troops in Turkish harbours is continuing as if nothing had happened. In 
response to this scandalous disrespect for the parliament, its president 
bravely declared that it made his hair stand on end, while his fellow party 
member, prime minister Erdoan, seemed quite undisturbed. The justified 
complaint that there is not enough democracy in Turkey, which we have 
become accustomed to hearing from the US for years has, thanks to the Bush 
government, been transformed into a grumble that there is too much 
democracy in Turkey.

Unlike some, I am not opposed to this war because I am opposed to 
globalisation. I believe that globalisation can be beneficial, opening the 
way for the free circulation of capital, goods, ideas, and even people, and 
weaken local nationalistic states and dictatorships. But the Bush 
government's idea of globalisation is not freedom of goods and thoughts but 
the unconditional freedom of the American army to bomb what it likes, when 
it likes. For this purpose, it has shown itself prepared to undermine local 
democracies and spurn parliamentary decisions.

This approach, which attaches little importance to the UN, makes no attempt 
to understand the reluctance and indecision of its allies, and is intent on 
having the cooperation of local national armies at any cost for the sake of 
its own military victory, is not much different from that of Saddam, who 
recognises nothing but his own will.

Like the leaders of many other countries, the Turkish prime minister is 
trapped between the pressures of the Bush government and the indignation of 
the people. What distinguishes Erdoan from Tony Blair is not only that he 
has spent and enjoyed most of his political life in an anti-western and 
anti-American culture and discourse. With a debt burden of Dollars 80bn to 
international western lenders, Turkey could be plunged overnight into an 
economic crisis similar to that of Argentina if deprived of IMF support. 
Unfortunately, Germany and France, who took a stand against Bush's 
policies, did not come out in support of the Turkish parliament's "no" 
vote. More importantly, in the years when Blair was making the most of the 
joys of being prime minister, Erdoan was counting the days in prison, where 
he had been thrown under pressure from the state and army, for reciting an 
Islamist poem. Now his cooperation with the same state and army for a war 
that people hate and are protesting against may have tragic consequences 
for him.

Another consequence of the aggressive policies of the Bush government is, 
sadly, to see that in many countries like Turkey now the art of politics, 
whether leftwing or political Islamist, has been reduced to the skill of 
winning the popular vote and combining it with American military interests. 
Finding himself in such a predicament, Erdoan is telling courageous 
journalists, who remind him of his former words, that he "was not then in 
power". If we are to believe this pretext, which pro-state columnists find 
convincing, we must draw the pitiable conclusion that the words of a 
Turkish politician are not to be trusted if he is not in power. If he is in 
power, America can trust him.

If Erdoan compels the Turkish parliament to change its decision to say no 
to the war and enter it with the US, he will lose the trust of the people 
which he earned so patiently over the years by his diligence, talent, 
outspoken honesty and time spent in prison.



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