Theater of Cruelty

East of the sun

Everyone wants to go here, but nobody wants to go there anymore.


[East] Many North Africans dream of a life in the United States. Some Eastern Europeans wish they lived in Western Europe. Some Pakistanis still regard Norway as a step forward. But where do we long? When Norway is at its worst, that is when the Progress Party is the country's largest party, Shopaholic ravages on TV3 and I have eaten unwell on truffles, I should like to see that I lived in India. When the election torment hits me in front of the brandy shelf on the pole Friday afternoon, I think about how different everything would have been if I had only known enough to be born in Palestine. And who manages to read 800 pages about the Western cultural history without wishing for the poor Cuba? Most people are probably fine without too much poverty, war and censorship, but can humans survive without the dream of a new life somewhere else?

In the old days, for example in the Enlightenment era or the romance, you were not a European intellectual unless you wrote at least one lyrical tribute to Arabs, the Middle East or the East in general. Admittedly, they were taken out of Thousand and One Nights, and Edward Said has labeled much of this exaggerated worship of the exotic as "Orientalism", yet it held a widespread fascination for, and curiosity about, what was culturally challenging . It is probably the same basic operation that makes me often dream of fleeing to Istanbul. Not because of seductive, color-speaking and belly-dancing harem women, but because of what the Turks call hüsün, translated into melancholy in Norwegian.

In the Qur'an, the term is used about people who are too concerned about money and material goods, but the author Orhan Pamuk rips it apart from its context and transfers it to life in Istanbul in the 20th century. Hüsün hits people picking bricks from old Ottoman mansions to coat two square feet of garden land. There are gray souls in gray coats in gray rainy weather. It is the loneliness of community. There is wealth in poverty. It is the unconsciousness that the choice between tradition and modernity, East and West, religion and secularism is impossible. For how can something be black and white in a gray city? The Turks want to join the EU, but many also want renewed membership in the Ottoman Empire.

It started in the gray light, writes Caroline Finkel in Osman's Dream. The History of the Ottoman Empire. The kingdom's first sultan, Osman, was obviously given his life task in a dream. The Ottomans were to gather all the peoples of the world. They came a long way. After the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, most Christian scholars preferred "the turban over the cardinal's hat." Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492 also fled there.

In the 1500th century, the empire was the most powerful world had seen since the Roman Empire. It embraced three continents and all the ethnicities of the world. In 1923 Mustafa Kemal (1881-1938) became Turkey's first president. He abolished the caliphate and introduced a nationalism that, over the century, made Istanbul increasingly ethnically homogeneous and less tolerant. One can get an overdose of black bile of less. The future is rarely in the past, but when I imagine life in Istanbul, I am an immigrant standing on a street corner selling bricks. For lazy Turks and influential tourists. n

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