Today's date:
Summer 2007

The Two Souls of Turkey

Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish novelist, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006. The following excerpts are taken from an interview with Orhan Pamuk that originally appeared in NPQ in 2005.

Istanbul —In my novel, Snow, the Islamists in the town of Kars make fun of Ka, the poet from Istanbul who lives in Frankfurt, for looking down on his own people and wanting to be European.

That is not my view. They are not right. For over a hundred years Turkey has made an ultra-effort to Westernize itself. Those conservatives, Islamists or anti-Westerners who resent that change call us liberal secularists "mock Europeans" and imitators. I don't buy this. Turkey has Westernized and modernized in its own way—outside of Europe. We are already way beyond being "mock Europeans."

The other point in my novel, though, is that if people resent going down this path of Westernization, you should not bomb them or kill them. You should not feel contempt for them and call them stupid. You have to understand the resentment and the anger and engage it. You have to have compassion for their fear and insecurity.

If you want to globalize the world, you have to do this. It is a tough job. You just can't put them down as idiots. There has to be a distinction between trying to move a civilization forward and just having an insulting attitude toward people, even if they are angry and full of politically incorrect rhetoric.

As immigrants from Muslim countries become large minorities throughout Europe, and if Turkey joins the European Union, Europe will have "two souls," like the ambivalent characters in Snow.

Yes, two souls. That is our common future, in Turkey and in Europe. If Turkey is going to be a part of Europe, say in 15 years, it should definitely change radically. But so should Europe. Europe should re-invent and re-think itself as a more democratic, multi-religious, self-confident society, based not on religion and a fairy-tale history but on a tolerant anti-nationalist vision.

As for Turkey, there have been so many authoritarian politicians over the years trying to impose one soul on Turkey, one way of life or mode of being. Some wanted to impose Western secularism by military means; some wanted Turkey to be eternally traditional and Islamic. This approach destroyed democracy in Turkey. It was responsible for all the coups. To have two souls is a good thing. That is the way people really are. We have to understand, that, just like a person, a country can have two souls. These souls are continuously in dialogue with each other, sparring with each other and changing each other.

To have democracy is precisely to have this dialogue between these two souls.

This idea of incompatibility of Islam with modernity or with secularism is an argument that adopts the fundamentalist logic. Liberals, democrats or Western thinkers should stop making general, vulgar essentialist observations on Islam every time they come up with some new problem, most of which is partly their making, too. The whole history of Islam under the Ottoman Empire has been a synthesis of the Book and what is happening in history, in the world. Islam is not a pure thing in and of itself, but related to the world and to history. Islam has long been influenced by the presence of Europe and the presence of the world situation. There is no pure Islam out there in a vacuum. Only the fundamentalists believe that.

Look at what has happened now in Turkey. We once had an Islamic fundamentalist party which has now converted into a more or less Western-style party whose historic mission is to take Turkey into Europe, and it is backed by the people! This approach is sober and compelling to most Turks today.