Saturday, September 25, 2004


Lord of the Flies

"I saw that around Mosul, everybody is the resistance - not terrorists, but not civilians really either...They used the small kids to bring them water, and nobody treated them like children. They'd be with the men who were talking about cutting heads, and the kids would be standing guard, like little men, so you become afraid of the children too."

That was Zeynep Tugrul, a woman journalist from Turkey who was kidnapped at Tal Afar and taken to Mosul, talking to the New York Times. In a way, this supports the claim that there are terrorists lurking in that city, contrary to the denial of the town's representatives. In fact, the eyewitness account proves that the Iraqi security forces have been infiltrated or bribed:

"...When they stopped to ask a policeman in Tal Afar to direct them, he waved over a car with three masked men inside who ordered them to get in. They were taken to a nondescript house..."

However, to the town's credit they seem to be outsiders:

"They spoke Turkish... but also claimed to be Sunni Arabs, and not Turkmen of the Shia branch of Islam. Ms. Tugrul said they also spoke a very different Turkish dialect from the Turkmen."

Tugrul appeared on Turkish television, saying at one point that her captors would force her to pray five times a day.

"I apologized to God and told him that this was all for show; I told him that I didn't really pray five times a day and that I wasn't even sure I was praying right. Luckily, the captors would not look at me while I was praying because I was a woman. I would pray loudly, so they could hear the words."


Wednesday, September 22, 2004


Christopher Hitchens on Orhan Pamuk

After two positive reviews from Harper’s and John Updike from the New Yorker, the Atlantic follows suit in reviewing Orhan Pamuk’s Snow, with who else but Christopher Hitchens. One of Hitchens’ earlier causes has been Cyprus and Turkey’s role in the conflict; he often gives talks to Hellenic institutes in the US regarding Turkey and Cyprus (his ex-wife also happens to be a Greek Cypriot). It doesn’t come as a surprise that Hitchens uses this opportunity in reviewing a political novel to further his case against Turkey: “The United States and the European Union have lately been taking Turkey’s claims to modernity more and more at face value. The attentive reader of Snow will not be so swift to embrace this consoling conclusion.” Thus, he praises Pamuk in crafting a work of ambivalence with regards to Turkey being the clichéd bridge between East and West. Hitchens points to Pamuk’s virtues and faults on both the political and literary front, leaning toward the negative in terms of literature, “Prolix and often clumsy as it is, Pamuk’s new novel should be taken as a cultural warning.”

Written before September 11th, Snow takes place in Kars, which is a town near the Armenian border, and it describes the conflicts of various secular/militant, Islamist, and Kurdish voices of the population. Of his literary virtues, Hitchens notes, “Pamuk is at his best in depicting the layers of the past that are still on view in Kars—in particular the Armenian churches and schools whose ghostly reminder of a scattered and desecrated civilization is enhanced in its eeriness by the veil of snow. Nor does he omit the sullen and disaffected Kurdish population.” To Hitchens the most sympathetic group seems to be the Islamists, and the most unsympathetic are the secularists, even though Pamuk himself is, by ideology, a secularist who had defended Salman Rushdie when Satanic Verses broke.

Hitchen’s criticism of Pamuk’s style is most clearly summarized when he notes that “Pamuk’s literalism and pedantry are probably his greatest enemies as a writer of fiction; he doesn’t trust the reader until he has hit him over the head with dialogue and explanation of the most didactic kind.” Although I haven’t read Snow, I know this attribute comes up once in a while to bite Pamuk in his other works.

Then on the political side, although praising him for his ambivalence, Hitchens criticizes Pamuk for his lack of courage:

“Some important Turkish scholarship has recently attempted an honest admission of the Armenian genocide and a critique of the official explanations for it. The principal author, in this respect is Taner Akcam, who, as Pamuk is certainly aware, was initially forced to publish his findings as one of those despised leftist exiles in Germany—whereas from reading Snow one might easily conclude that all the Armenians of Anatolia had decided for some reason to pick up and depart en masse, leaving their ancestral properties for tourists to gawk at.”

Hitchens is criticizing Pamuk here for not being blunt enough, for not taking a stand, even though he scolds Pamuk for being too explicit and didactic with respect to other aspects of the novel. However, with such a blunt explanation, wouldn’t the sense of eeriness of Kars subside rather than swell? Pamuk may in fact be guilty of not wanting such an admission to eclipse his entire novel.

John Updike disagrees with Hitchens on courage:

“To produce a major work so frankly troubled and provocatively bemused and, against the grain of the author’s usual antiquarian bent, entirely contemporary in its setting and subjects, took the courage that art sometimes visits upon even its most detached practitioners.”

In his review, Hitchens repeats something that he has used in his Cyprus book, namely, that Turkey is not a country with an army but rather an army with a country. In his case against Turkey, which he sprinkles throughout the review, he fails to mention that Turkish Kurds, for obvious reasons, are one of the most ardent supporters of its EU bid. He does, however, mention Nazim Hikmet.

“…in 1920, the legendary Turkish Communist leader Mustafa Suphi set out along the frontier region…and was murdered with twelve of his comrades by right-wing “Young Turks.” This killing was immortalized by Nazim Hikmet in a poem that is still canonical in Turkey. (Hikmet himself, the nation’s unofficial laureate, was to spend decades in jail and exile because of his Communist loyalties).”

That Nazim Hikmet is our most popular poet hopefully goes to our credit.


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