Sunday, 23 December 2007

heat and light

have been generated over the past few days after a Turkish concert pianist and composer, Fazil Say, said something unguarded about Islamism and culture in his home country. The story is written up here (Turkish Daily News) in a way that is broadly sympathetic to Say, and vaguely unsympathetic to "Islamists".

Heat comes because Turks are sensitive to negative comments about their home. This is very understandable, though as a Brit, difficult to appreciate.

It is perhaps not entirely to the credit of the UK that if a prominent artist made some rude comments about these shores and a plan to emigrate s/he would be ignored on the grounds that people can say what they like and no one really knows what Britain is about anyway...

Light has been shed on the political divisions in Turkish society between secularisers and moderate Islamists (who are of course 'secularist' in at least one sense). This collection of opinions in Zaman, a pro-AKP paper very sympathetic to Islam, is revealing. Not least, the ultimate value accorded to country in one's self-identity (e.g. He expressed that one cannot abandon his country, “no matter what” and "What does ‘leaving’ mean when Turkey is the most important thing we have?"). Some might call that idolatry.

You can't read too much into these off-the-cuff statements to an off-the-cuff statement, but this other comment by pianist Burçin Büke is plain silly - What’s more important, you don’t have the right to mix music with politics. (a) What do rights have to do with it? and (b) music is already inescapably political. [It wasn't as if Say was mixing "music" and specific party politics.] I guess Mr Büke knows nothing of Nazism and culture, Stalinism and culture, Maoism and culture, conservative politicians in most countries who complain about the effect of various popular musics on the young...

Of course, Say's complaints can easily be interpreted as the whining of the secularist elite that does what it wants while suppressing various types of Islamic (and other) expression, as this Zaman columnist points out.

The heat and light are important for a foreign observer like me, not so much so that I can presume to take sides, but so that I can understand a little more of the tensions in self-definition, in aspirations, in lifestyle, in attitudes to expression that are revealed.