The Muslim Secular Istanbulus and Religion

One of my favorite chapters in this book is Pamuk’s chapter on his own experiences of religion. The way young Orphan views God struck me as strange when I first read them but, now I am able to see how they are similar to beliefs around the world. At the very beginning of the chapter the author talks about how the cooks and the maids are the ones interested in God and later explains why he thought this was. The fact that religion and God is a fable or tonic for the poor and those in pain. He speaks of how his family view the religious as backwards and how these traditions are halting the progress of the Turkish Republic. It is only later when brought to a mosque by the maid Pamuk realizes that “religious people are harmless”. This is of course a huge matter in Turkish everyday life and the debate over the place of religion is one that will continue forever but the parallels in this chapter always strike me. I think that this stereotype of only the needy and broken needing religion is alive and well in all societies. The concept of having to fill some kind of whole successful and rational people feel with science and philosophy is especially common among the mostly secular upper middle class. Why is this? Is there a sense of sad superiority? (This tension is, of course, changing in Modern Turkey since Pamuk’s childhood with a new upper class of devout Muslims and it is changing the identity of Turkey.) I think there is but why? He describes his family’s superstition and half-belief and it confuses me. When a culture is forced to change so quickly and the traditions remain with humans just changing their names how does one become more valued by different people?

Readings For 11/01/2015

Building the New Egypt

The article on televangelists brought back memories of my own childhood in a way. I grew up in a home that was very religious but, similar to the message of the al-duah al-gudud the faith that was practiced was based on an authenticity in behavior. The concept referred to to as ethics by the Egyptians is used to promote a self-change process that is then used to create a concept of societal change through the change of individuals. (Qur’anic verse (13:11) “God does not change the condition of a people until they change it themselves.”) This phenomena seems to be captured by the youth in Egypt who are called to build Egyptian economic growth and create societal change.

Watching Cairo From Beirut

In this article Anthropologist Joanna Randa Nucho shares her experience of being in Lebanon for her dissertation fieldwork during the revolutionary protests in Cairo. She tells how she followed the news very carefully and thought that other Egyptians would also. She was a little surprised, I think, that they in fact did not. They expressed empathy for the people but they did not feel that their lives would be affected by events so far away. Nucho shared conversations she had had with her interlocutors about their perception and most interestingly her view on how the violence of the Lebanese civil wars had shaped the Lebanese’s view on revolutionary change. This theory was interesting to me and made me ask the question, What happens when violence and revolution become commonplace but change is nefariously out of reach? Does it become like gun crime in the US where news of it is almost boring?

Far Outside Cairo: A Graffiti Campaign to Denounce the SCAF

This article was really short. It discussed the student campaign to put up graffiti around the city of Mansoura. This graffiti’s message is against the police violence against protesters but the police do not seem to be actively trying to stop it. Is this because they do not think it has an effect or importance? The student artists hope that this practice will dissipate the rumors and theories that the protesters are staging the photos of police violence.

Jadaliyya: A New Form of Producing and Presenting Knowledge in/of the Middle East

This interview was very interesting to me as I am a close follower of the site Jadaliyya and I recommend it to everyone. This interview was done at the beginning of Jadaliyya and was discussing the format of the site as well as the editors’ goals and mission. They discuss how the site was formed to fill a gap between scholarly journals and books and blogs with blogs being non-collaborative and scholarly journals taking months to come out. The articles on Jadaliyya are something in the middle with a basis in theory and a form of ethnographic writing even though many of the authors are not anthropologists. Their approach to the East/West debate and how they do not write articles based on audience makes them the best and their quilting technique was an interesting explanation of this. Jadaliyya is said to be changing the way news and media present topics in the Middle East. They are creating a more indigenous reporting and including areas that are not usually part of the discussion in Middle East reporting and scholarship. The country pages they discuss are for the most part finished and I recommend taking a look, in my opinion they are one of the best. They also do area news “roundups” which provide relevant articles for the last week or so of news in a particular region which are the best way to stay informed. Through their new multi-discipline approach the editors have created something new, an almost more area-studies way of viewing the world.

Algeria in France 10/26

I have found Silverstein to be a hard author to follow and his chapters very dense so in this post I will focus mainly on chapter 3. In in this chapter of Algeria in France the focus is on the spaces people inhabit, the way these spaces are formed and the statements these spaces make. By this I mean the political statements that these spaces are seen to have and the parallel statements of identity these spaces form. In the opening story the reader is given a glimpse into the life of Mounir who lives in a cité in the banlieue (suburb) Northwestern of Paris. His account of his housing situation is given and one can see his frustration with the poor transportation to the city, the vandalism and crime and lack places to buy basic goods. In his home you can also see how in many ways he “inhabit(s) multiple spaces between Algeria and France simultaneously” in how his home is laid out and decorated.

The author describes some of the theories behind this type of housing in France focusing on the work of Bourdieu. Bourdieu describes the symbolism of these houses leaving two main motivations behind their construction. First is the “myth of return” or the attempt to keep a connection to their former villages with the plans to return one day and the second is the symbolism of success the axxam represents to their original communities. The most interesting theory behind why the home is taken to be so culturally important in retaining a connection to the village is because the lack of a unifying social institution in these new communities, such as the mosque.

This chapter was also very interesting and informative in the information it gave regarding the urban planning of Paris or more factually the lack of planning. I have studied this in relation to French populations  but the perspective of the immigrant was very fascinating to me. It is not so different from the rising population of the proletariat and the author hints at this in the text. To me this seems not only to be a problem of immigration but a problem of urbanization. We are still seeing this today in cities like Mexico City and Tashkent. What was interesting though in this perspective was the way that the housing crisis allowed villages to be recreated in hotels and bidonvilles with communal kitchens and cafes. The nostalgia of this period is not surprising to me even though it is for a time of severe hardship. I wonder though what form this nostalgia takes.

Lila Abu-Lughod’s Writing Women’s Worlds Chapters1-3

I agree with the other posts that this book was rather enjoyable. Her choice of storytelling instead of a more analytic and critical ethnography book makes the material very approachable. One of the other things I noticed regarding her methods was how she mentions herself quite frequently whether to let the reader know the stories were in answer to her questions, when she uncomfortable, how she integrated into the Bedouin’s lives and also just talking about how she got people to talk about these issues.  This was very interesting to me, seeing her life as an Anthropologist. The visit she describes of the more “modern” woman and her husband’s visit and the subsequent dinner at their mansion made me think of the dramatic difference in lives. The Anthropologist’s life in America and her life in the Bedouin’s camp. I wonder how long it took for her to feel more comfortable in their tents than in a fine home.

One of the interesting parts of this ethnography no one else has mentioned yet is the impact of WW2 on the Bedouin communities. I knew of course that the British and Germans fought in N. Africa but I had never thought to think about how this affected the citizens outside the urban areas. WW1 is more often spoken about regarding these matters, I think. The stories of the constant migration of camps and the difference in materials available was very interesting. Even more educational however was the realization that the county was left littered with bombs and scrap metal. I wonder how desperate and hopeful someone would have to be to dig bombs out of the ground and burn them for money.The story of Mignim’s son was enlightening on this matter, English Bedouin relations and also the difference in perspective of individuals, mother and son. The way the English officer was seen by Migdim and her son was very interesting. I would assume that if my boy had just been injured by a bomb in our country left by other, I probably wouldn’t like their soldiers. Of course, I understand the gratitude of saving his life by Migdim’s and her family’s response was different. I can’t quite put my finger on what though. The stories depth however lied in the two very different tellings. Her son being concerned with his father and the Englishman and his father. His mother barely mentioned whereas to Migdim the only thing of importance was her son, his story was about the virtue of the British. I still do not completely understand why. 

Reflection on Pamuk’s “Istanbul”

When reading Pamuk’s Istanbul (or really any of his books) it becomes apparent that Turks living in Istanbul have a strange sense of the past and almost a hundred years after the conquest of Turkey (or fall of the Ottoman Empire) there is still a deep sense of loss. Even people, such as Pamuk, who grew up well after still can sense the transitioning in the area. It is interesting to note how he talks of the destruction of old pashas’ mansions, the yalis and even the cemeteries where many of them are buried. It seems to be a terrible disregarding of history and a past culture but I am reminded by Pamuk that it is on purpose. The Turkishization of Turkey by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in the early 1900’s is the backdrop of this destruction. It is almost as if by destroying the pashas’ and other bourgeoisies’ things you can destroy their very memory and delete all that they represent from society.
This leads me into another key point in all of Pamuk’s writing, the want of Turks in Istanbul, especially the upper middle class, to be Western. There is also a very specific conception of what being “European” or “Western” looks like. This has always struck me as very odd whenever I encounter it in any of his or other Turkish writer’s books. Being Western is being secular, wearing western clothes, using the latest appliance or having china dog’s on your television set. Because of this ideal there is also a lot of attention paid to Westerners’ comments on their city and culture in general. I do not quite understand why he should deem that important. Why is westernization so important? I find it ironic that the very things Westerners visited Turkey for are the things that were done away with in the pursuit of Western and Turkishization.
Overall my greatest question is if Pamuk realistically describes what it is to be an Istanbullus and, if there really is such thing.