Sunday, December 26, 2010

Orhan Pamuk and his oriental melancholia

Turkish author Orhan Pamuk wrote an article in the New York Review of Books named The Fading Dream of Europe.

This is what I posted in response:

Historical events should be evaluated in their circumstantial context in order to understand their true nature and intent, only then we might be able to make a fair judgement about their implications. Pamuk’s article unfortunately lacks that, it is a one-sided, narrow, cynical and grossly melancholic interpretation of history partly influenced by his Orientalist views we are familiar to see in his novels and partly his resentment towards the backlash of an alleged Nationalist plot against his political views.

I don’t agree that Turkish people were called upon to embrace and even imitate a rosy-pink European dream just for the purpose of legitimizing Atatürk’s reforms. Such a limited view demands us to believe that these reforms were hallow imitations, lacking substance and vigor, however nothing can be further than the truth.

Turkish Republic was founded in 1923 on the wrecks of Ottoman Empire and Atatürk’s reforms were derived from the newly born state’s secular constitution. At the centre of these reforms we see Secularism as its core value and a desire to establish an egalitarian society in which women and men have equal rights including the right to vote and the right for being elected as representatives of the state.

It didn't matter whether the Secularism was born in Europe or elsewhere. Whereas the circumstances in which it was born and its context mattered for Atatürk.

Secularism is a product of the Age of Enlightenment in which reason was advocated as the primary source of legitimacy and authority. At its core was a critical questioning of traditional institutions, customs, and morals, and a strong reliance in rationality and science.

Enlightenment had been a natural movement evolved in the dialectical context of European history, it didn’t drop from the sky like a meteoroid. You can not point to a single historical event as its sole source. French Revolution happened to be its most dramatic and well know realization.

The central issue Pamuk is circumventing is the clash of Islam and Secularism we see today. Islam contradicts Enlightenment values by proposing a political, social and judicial ideology of its own relying solely on divine authority as opposed to reason.

To a large extent Muslim migrant populations in Europe while enjoying and taking advantage of freedom and tolerance European democracies provide, don’t show similar levels of tolerance or respect to the values of greater society they live in.

In the name of multiculturalism most Muslims continue to live within enclosed ghettos. Their recognition of truth is determined by Imams who teach them intolerance towards views who oppose or don’t share their absolute divine rhetoric written in the Koran.

And such rhetoric dictates men abuse their power to suppress women and undermine their role they could otherwise play in the society. Such injustice had been exactly one of the key points of Atatürk’s reforms to confront.

Atatürk and liberated women of the secular Turkish Republic

Unfortunately the irony of Liberty has been letting intolerance to breed despite clearly not endorsing it. This is the puzzle the West has to solve without undermining core values of Enlightenment.

For the past eight years the Turkish Republic is governed by a pro-Islamic populist political party (AKP) who concealed their true intent behind a ‘Moderate Islam’ mask, slowly but surely marching towards their ultimate goal of establishing an Islamic presidential state. There are strong indications that this is the case. The AKP Government now controls judiciary system, put intellectuals, journalist, and politicians who oppose them in prison for three years without sufficient evidence to prosecute them.

Unfortunately what Pamuk is saying here is not so different to populist and anti-secular rhetoric of AKP.

I advise Mr. Pamuk to return to what he does best, writing beautiful novels.

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