Foreign Affairs, Europe, Travel, Espionage, Fiction, Non-Fiction, In the News
ISTANBUL “Hell no, angrily no,” says Galeri x-ist art director Kerimcan Guleryuz when asked if excitement about Turkish contemporary art exceeds the supply of real talent here. “They don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s not hype.” By “they” he means the collectors and gallery owners—and there are many—who are wondering if the Turkish art market is being set up for a fall.
My qualifications as an alarmist about the Islamization of Europe are second to none, according to my critics. But even I cannot find a good legal, political, or moral argument for Swiss voters’ decision, in a November referendum, to ban the building of minarets. Legally, it introduces a contradiction into the Swiss constitution, which is quite clear on this point: “Nobody may be discriminated against, namely for his or her . . . religious, philosophical, or political convictions.” If a citizen has a right to erect a cross, in other words, his fellow citizen must have the right to erect a minaret. This isn’t a minor technical point. The antidiscrimination article is not in the Swiss constitution arbitrarily. We in the West do not believe in banning religious symbols; that’s one of the key reasons we consider our societies superior to those that do. How can anyone in Switzerland be taken seriously now if he criticizes the Saudis for refusing to permit the building of churches?
26 January 2010
Americans with relatives in the earthquake-ravaged country can’t even get our bureaucrats on the phone.
To judge from the State Department’s response to the earthquake in Haiti, our government has not learned the obvious lessons about disaster preparation that it should have after September 11 and Hurricane Katrina. I know, unfortunately, because my family was in Port-au-Prince, where my sister-in-law worked for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti. Her father, my brother, and my ten-month-old nephew were with her. They were all unharmed; obviously, many were not so fortunate. I cannot comment on the United States’ relief efforts in Haiti, which I have not seen firsthand and about which I have heard only confused reports. But I did observe the State Department’s response to the relatives of Americans in Haiti, and they suggest that our preparation for disasters needs far more thought.
By chance, my father and I were together when we heard the news. We had both just flown to Washington DC—he from Paris, I from Istanbul—to care for my grandmother, who’d had a heart attack. Before the words “major earthquake in Haiti” came over the car radio, we had been under the impression that we were living through a serious family emergency. Then we learned what those words really mean.
ISTANBUL Shafts of misty light pierce the steam of the Ca?alo?lu hamam in Istanbul’s Eminönü district, once the heart of walled Constantinople and the seat of the Ottoman Sultanate. Built by Sultan Mahmud I in 1741 to provide revenue for the Haghia Sophia mosque, its marble rooms are opulent, timeless pleasure-domes of fountains and gilded columns. In the women’s section, a pleasant gabble of feminine voices mingles with the sound of sluicing water; the bathers gossip languidly, gently washing one another’s hair. Nothing could be more authentically Turkish than this.
Or so the tourists like to imagine it.
ISTANBUL As officials at the European Capital of Culture Agency here know all too well, once you’ve been named a Capital of Culture, it's only a matter of time before the "Capital of Corruption" jokes start.
The world is vanishing from Americans’ awareness.
22 December 2009
If you get your news from the sources most Americans do, you will not know that India recently test-fired the Agni II, an intermediate-range, nuclear-capable ballistic missile. Nor will you know the test’s results, which were reported all over the subcontinent but not in America. You will probably be unaware of Sergei Magnitsky’s death in a Moscow prison, or of who he was; the news was barely reported in the United States.
America should learn from Britain’s disastrous takeover of its biggest auto company.
After the Second World War, the United Kingdom’s newly elected Labour government resolved to build of Britain a New Jerusalem. It nationalized the commanding heights of the economy and inaugurated the cradle-to-grave welfare state. By the 1970s, the UK faced an economic crisis unrivaled since the Great Depression. Shabby and hopeless, Britain had become, in Henry Kissinger’s words, a “tragedy” of a nation, reduced to “begging, borrowing, stealing.”
British Leyland, Britain’s largest automaker, faced bankruptcy in 1975. Fearing that its collapse would leave a million workers unemployed, the Labour government nationalized it.
Communism’s Defeat, 20 Years Later
Several weeks ago, the British press, led by the Times of London, reported “explosive” evidence from Soviet archives indicating that Margaret Thatcher—of all people!—had tried to keep the Berlin Wall from falling. Indeed, said the paper, she secretly urged Mikhail Gorbachev to “do what he could to stop it.” The Times based this revelation on Kremlin notes, still officially classified, of a Moscow meeting between Thatcher and Gorbachev in September 1989. These and many other documents were spirited out of Russia in 2003 by Pavel Stroilov, a researcher at the Gorbachev Foundation. MARGARET THATCHER WANTED BERLIN WALL TO STAY, reported the Australian. MR. GORBACHEV, KEEP THIS WALL UP! marveled The Economist, leading the article with a breathless “WHOA.” Andrew Sullivan titled his blog entry MARGARET THATCHER, SECRET DEFENDER OF SOVIET SECURITY, declaring the news “staggering.” But these are all mischaracterizations and misunderstandings of the Kremlin document; nothing about it is shocking in the least.
November 3, 2009
ISTANBUL Some of the writers who gathered on Tuesday evening to read selections from their work at the D& R bookstore on Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul’s main pedestrian boulevard, had trouble understanding one another. The reading was one of dozens of events held city-wide as part of the four-day long, inaugural Tanpınar Literature Festival, organized by Istanbul’s Kalem literary agency. The festival, billed as the city's first international event of its kind, attracted some 90 writers from 32 countries. It featured readings, debates, book signings and lectures on topics ranging from “Being European,” to “Trends in International Publishing.” But translators were in scarce supply, with predictable consequences: Turkish and foreign authors found each other mutually incomprehensible. This was the very problem the festival was meant to redress.