Recycling Istanbul

31 03 2009

Back in the days, I went to Istanbul, and was greatly impressed. Somehow an year and a half later, I am still thinking about it, which is why I decided to recycle an old Facebook note:

Cultural superiority vs cultural imperialism
Tuesday, August 14, 2007

You know, in the very middle of the Hagia Sofia church in Istanbul there is a structure of white cloth. It does look strange, like a white cubicle, lost in a world of religions and spirituality, with a couple of great round shields saying Allah and Muhammed towering grudgingly over it.

This cubicle looks, well, modern. Religion is not really modern, now is it? And as another offence to this whole word of opium for the masses, the white thingie was adorned with quotes from Ataturk. Hm, strange at best.

I entered. The white cubicle contained, among may other things, an exhibition of a number of books. Beautifully written-out, pages shining in gold and rainbow, and those little intricate arcane Arabic letters. And of course, signs in English explaining to the tourist what all this is about in a number of catch-phrases along the lines of “a pillar of pure faith”.

But there is something to it. The Islamic world has produced one of the greatest cultures ever, with its philosophy, science and state organization being the marvel of the Middle Ages. It was prosperous, and as such was creating not only those beautiful cities, mosques, monuments, handicrafts, weapons, furniture, clothes, but also those little shining books. The Islamic world was producing wisdom and developing not only a certain worldview but also a system of spirituality and philosophy – a very distinct culture of mysticism and raw beauty.

From the complexities of the Shari’a to the sacred rituals of the Islam, there is one single clear message visible: Islamic culture has created an entirely valid, and why not even superior worldview, based on religious, social, political and military assumptions a European will find very difficult to understand, and very easy to dismiss.

Then again, you ask how come they are superior if, for example, Turkey was so easily defeated by the European powers, and therefore forced to modernize and europeanize?

Now I ask, is this our measure of civilization superiority – military victory and poitical blackmail? Why do we consider Europeans, who have learnt how to kill their fellow man better, as superior to the Turkish, who have unlearnt to do it?

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