Tag Archives: Islam

Abul Kalam Azad: “Our languages, our poetry, our literature, our culture, our art, our dress, our manners and customs, the innumerable happenings of our daily life…”

5 Feb

A more extended piece off the beautiful Abul Kalam Azad speech that Mahua Moitra uses in previous post in “Seven Signs of Fascism.” (watch her; she’s amazing) — a passage all of us in the Balkans should memorize too.

It was India’s historic destiny that many human races and cultures and religious faiths should flow to her, that many beliefs take root in her fertile soil, and that many a caravan should find rest here.  One of the last of these caravans was that of the followers of Islam.  We brought our treasures with us, and India too was full of the riches of her own precious heritage.  Full eleven centuries have passed by since then.  Islam has now as great a claim on the soil of India as Hinduism.  If Hinduism has been the religion of the people here for several thousand years, Islam has also been their religion for a thousand years.  Just as a Hindu can say with pride that he is an Indian and follows Hinduism, so also we can say that we are Indians and follow Islam.  I shall enlarge this orbit still further.  The Indian Christian is equally entitled to say with pride that he is an Indian and is following a religion of India, namely Christianity.

Eleven hundred years of common history have enriched India with our common achievement.  Our languages, our poetry, our literature, our culture, our art, our dress, our manners and customs, the innumerable happenings of our daily life, everything bears the stamp of our joint endeavor.  There is indeed no aspect of our life which has escaped this stamp.

The joint wealth is the heritage of common nationality and we do not want to leave it and go to the times when this joint life had not begun.

* From Abul Kalam Azad’s speech, as the president of the Indian National Congress, in 1940

India’s first Prime Minister of Education of India, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

“Ottoman”: final assessment; plus: the Notarades, and a “what-if” on our Turkish centuries

3 Feb

I’ve had more than one old Constantinopolitan Greek say to me: You [metropolitan Greeks] call us Byzantines but we’re not any more “Byzantine” than you. “Because when the Conqueror entered the city,” Kyra Smaro says, “he slaughtered any Greeks that had remained.” And this is born out by legit historical sources. Greeks — and other ethnicities of the empire — started repopulating Constantinople, now the Ottoman capital, after Mehmet consolidated his rule; ironically often brought in large numbers by force by the Ottomans to repopulate the almost empty city.

In my comments on the first two episodes of Netflix‘: “Ottoman”: It’s pretty good: understanding an opponent’s mythology — I expressed my apprehensions about how the violence of the final fall would be portrayed:

Maybe the inevitable escalation of violence, especially against civilians after the entry of the Turks into the City will make later episodes more disturbing, since The Religion of Peace gives an army three days’ right to loot, murder, rape and enslave if a city resists and doesn’t capitulate on its own.

Instead of glorifying the violence, though, the production totally whitewashes it, and I don’t know what’s worse or what I find more annoying. None of the massacring or enslavement of the remaining inhabitants of the City is shown, and though we know for a fact that large mobs of Greeks had packed themselves into a barricaded Hagia Sophia, hoping to be saved there, and that when the Turks finally broke in, everyone in the church was put to the sword (try and remember the butchery in the cathedral in Andrey Tarkovsky’s Andrey Rublev, when the Tatars finally break in), Netflix gives us an infuriating segment of Mehmet tranquilly walking into an empty, sanitized, already de-imaged Hagia Sophia and beatifically walking about in wonder, amazed at the building and the fulfillment of his own miraculous destiny.

And then there’s the sidebar story of Loukas Notaras, megas doux, the Grand Duke, something like a Prime Minister or Grand Vizier, to Constantine XI:

I do dread the thought of how they’re going to treat the fate of the Notarades, though. It’s much too scintillating to just leave out of the whole narrative, yet to show it to us they’d have to admit that their revered Fatih Mehmet was what we would today call bisexual, and that he was also a cruel sadist, and I don’t know how that would have sat with the Turkish side of the production.

I think we do know that Notaras tried to cooperate with the new rulers and perhaps tried to buy Mehmet off in exchange for his and his family’s safety. But apparently, soon after the fall, Mehmet ordered that he be sent one of Notaras’ handsome sons, Jacob, a notably beautiful teenager, who had inevitably caught Mehmet’s eye, to do…well…whatever with. Notaras refused and Mehmet then had the boy and perhaps his other brothers decapitated in front of his father and then decapitated Notaras himself.

A daughter of the family, Anna, somehow ended up in Venice — whether she had escaped before the fall of the City or not is not clear — but became a sort of Queen Mother in exile and benefactress to the large Greek community there, (Notaras, being a “spins-gold-out-of-thin-air” Greek, had invested most of his wealth in real estate in the Venetian Republic) creating a Greek school and setting in motion the construction of the first Greek church in Venice, San Giorgio dei Greci (below) or St. George of the Greeks, a truly gorgeous church, with an adjacent icon museum that shouldn’t be missed if you’re in Venice next; seriously, it’s one of the sites in the city critical for understanding its role and position in the larger Mediterranean.

And it might seem odd, given that so much of this blog is dedicated to making Greeks’ understand (or accept) their relationship to the East, that I’m now musing on our relationship to the West. But San Giorgio itself is — along with the glorious icons from Venetian Cretan School, along with other things that then come to mind…the unique urban beauty of the city of Corfu, or the couple dances, balos, of the Aegean islands, and the liltingly beautiful music that accompanies them, or reading Erotokritos, or El Greco — among the things that beg the question: “What if?” What if the Ottomans hadn’t prevailed? At least not for so long and over such a huge piece of territory? What would we “look” like now?

Anyway, the story of Mehmet and Notaras’ son, Jacob, is so lurid and full of orientalist tropes about sexually depraved Muslims that it’s hard to know if it’s apocryphal or not (that Mehmet was bisexual, or at least what we would call bisexual today, is not in doubt, however. But, again however, bisexuality was par for the course in the mediaeval Muslim world, as it was in the classical Greco-Roman world which had preceded it, so it was not a particularity or idiosyncrasy of Mehmet’s nor would it have been considered immoral at the time). And some historical sources claim that Jacob wasn’t beheaded but ended up in Mehmet’s harem or serving him at his new court, and later escaped to Venice to join his sister Anna and two other siblings of his. I can tell you one thing: the whole story of the Notarades is so fascinating and complicated that someone should give it a historical fiction chance, print or screen, at some point.

There is this fascinating and kinda wacky book out there, The Age of Beloveds: Love and the Beloved in Early-Modern Ottoman and European Culture and Society, by Walter G. Andrews and Mehmet Kalpaklı, that describes a homoerotic and bisexual court culture that the authors argue existed in both East and West in the early modern Mediterranean, that starts off with the story of Mehmet and the Notaras boy, and that claims the whole incident was a cultural misunderstanding, and that Mehmet was honoring the Notaras family by seeking the intimacy of the handsome young Greek boy. I’m not doing the book justice; it’s complicated and parts are actually very beautiful. Check it out; it’s very interesting.

As for “Ottoman”, it ends up being an atypically Netflixian anodyne treatment of a fascinating historical moment.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Maddening, and hard not to see as the inherent sterility of mainstream Islam’s war on the beauty of Alevism…

20 Jan

Or the beauty of anything…

See article:

cemevi

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cemevi2

nikobakos@gmail.com

 

November 19th post: Who IS that in photo? Alison Miner, old time reader, writes; Tried to get snarky about covered Muslim women and turns out Orientalist joke’s on me:

27 Nov

MY original post:

What is this a photo of?

19 Nov

Jeez, you know, I don’t want to be snide, but what’s being photographed here?  Is it the umbrella?  Is it so her children and grandchildren can remember how blindingly white her mandyli always was?  How gracefully the kimono-like folds of her doulama always fell?  The embroidered edges of her salwaria against her elegant pasoumakia?

Why is she, herself, even in the picture?

Vah, but Ayşe Teyze‘s eyes always gliterred when she smiled…   Vah va…

But wait…  Is that Ayşe Teyze?………

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Portrait of a Woman, Istanbul, 1870s Bir İstanbul Kadını, 1870’ler

Ottoman Imperial Archives

@OttomanArchive

 

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Well Alison came up with the smartest answer:

Do you think these photos were actually used as family photos?  I always saw these photos (and there are a LOT of them) as made for westerners, and serving a few purposes.
I think there’s the “look at how strange/exotic these musselmans are!” angle, for sure. But have you ever seen a studio photo of a tribal woman with a veil on? I haven’t seen any that I can think of.
More often than not, these studio photos feature (very pale) women in very fashionable Western clothes, with either a super sheer veil, or a super (blindingly white, for instance) obvious one. I think they were intentionally designed as sexual objects – they demanded the viewer imagine what was underneath. And I’m sure some Victorian dudes were more than happy to oblige.
The other photos of women that were part of these commercial sets tend to be darker women lounging seductively with nargiles. Those are pretty clear in their intentions, I think.
These “hidden” ladies are just a sexy lady with the added benefit of performing their upper classness, right? I don’t see religiosity in them anywhere.
Maybe this is all obvious, and you were just being funny. But I spend a lot of time typing “Istanbul” into digital image collections and not having anyone to share my critique of what I find. ;)

 

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Alison,

I was trying to be funny but I’ve clearly failed.  Here I was trying to be snarky about Islam and the covering of women (I’ve seen plenty of these photos around C-town and it never occurred to me — naivëly  that they were posed any tourist objects of any kind.  As you rightly point out: “These “hidden” ladies are just a sexy lady with the added benefit of performing their upper classness, right? I don’t see religiosity in them anywhere.)  Instead they flipped a perfect Orientalist ippon on me.

Share some more of these with us?  I and reader will greatly appreciate.  Come to New York, chavala

Thanks again,

Niko

What is this a photo of?

19 Nov

Jeez, you know, I don’t want to be snide, but what’s being photographed here?  Is it the umbrella?  Is it so her children and grandchildren can remember how blindingly white her mandyli always was?  How gracefully the kimono-like folds of her doulama always fell?  The embroidered edges of her salwaria against her elegant pasoumakia?

Why is she, herself, even in the picture?

Vah, but Ayşe Teyze‘s eyes always gliterred when she smiled…   Vah va…

But wait…  Is that Ayşe Teyze?………

Screen Shot 2019-11-19 at 6.55.11 PM

Portrait of a Woman, Istanbul, 1870s Bir İstanbul Kadını, 1870’ler

Ottoman Imperial Archives

@OttomanArchive

WHAT?! They’ve lost it…like completely

18 Nov

US says Israeli settlements no longer considered illegal in dramatic shift

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Mike Pompeo takes questions during a press conference in Washington DC Monday. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

I don’t even know what to say.  It’s like mega-dufus and his cabinet get up every morning and think: “What completely, internationally destabilizing, unthought-out, randomly dangerous piece of shit-policy are we going to announce today?”

I won’t be able to blame Arabs (as all of you know I like to do) for even the extremest reactions.

“In making the case for the policy shift, Pompeo repeated some of the language he had used to justify the recognition of Israeli control of the Golan, saying it reflected “the reality on the ground”, and that it arose from the unique facts, history and circumstances” around the establishment of settlements.”

“…it arose from the unique facts, history and circumstances” around the establishment of settlements.”

What does that even mean?

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

The “comforting illusion” of India

11 Nov

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I have a serious philosophical issue with all monotheisms; the concept just doesn’t hold water for me and I never understood why in junior high history it was presented as such a leap forward in the development of human consciousness.  Like, what’s so smart about this totally reductive idea?

I’ve always said that if I could be a sentient embryo and choose what religion I would be born into, it would be Hinduism, because it seems to me that it contains the most intelligent and sophisticated dialectic between unity and plurality.  Just the Gita — where a handsome, young, womanizing god is revealed to be the very principle of existence itself — has always been enough to seduce me both intellectually and emotionally — and sexually, frankly.  I think Kanha’s “I am the taste of water”, may be even more powerful than Yahweh’s «Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν» — “I am the Is”.

But it’s precisely that kind of Western romance with Hinduism and its infinite polymorphousness, to paraphrase Freud*, that has led to the “free pass” we’ve given to a criminal Modi from “Bible-belt” Gujarat and a criminal BJP for way too long.  It’s tempting and comforting to think that Hindu fundamentalism is an oxymoron, but fanaticism and hate can infect any ideology.

Modi is a criminal and the BJP and Shiv Sena — with its increasing stranglehold on one of the world’s great, open, cosmopolitan cities, which is why “Mumbai” infuriates me, though nobody seems to listen to me — are criminal, murderous organizations.

No amount of saffron and marigolds can change that.

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* Anthropologist Clifford Geertz used to tell an anecdote — whether real or not has never been verified — about an Englishman who asked a saddhu he came across one day where the universe was located.  And the holy man replied:

“On the back of an elephant that rests on the back of a turtle.”

“And the turtle?”

“On the back of another turtle.”

“And that turtle?”

“On the back of another turtle.”

“And that turtle?”

“Ah, sahib, after that it is turtles all the way down.”

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Greek assholes: Anti-migrant pork-and-alcohol BBQ held near Diavata refugee camp

10 Nov

Look, I’m as annoyed as the next Christian by Islam’s puritan beef with booze and pig meat*, but this is sheer inanity and sociopathic intent to insult and hurt others. It’s what the Spanish Inquisition used to do.  It embarrasses me as a Greek.  Malakes…eh malakes.

* I do have to say though, that I’m super-irritated at the hypocrisy of Muslim friends I know who are more than border-line alcoholics who get trashed on a regular basis, but will freak out if there’s pork or even any non-halal meat put in front of them.  It’s like you can live without pork; and that’s your loss of course: I’m sorry you’ll die without ever trying pata negra jamón or a cocido madrileño, or ever eating a roast suckling lechón in Segovia, or Dominican chicharrón or Doña Cecilia’s pigfeet seco with chickpeas or a Shanghai braised pork shoulder or really good chorizo or morcilla.  I respect your fortitude.

But really…  Ok, pig is haram; but if we’re talking about an addictive substance that’s harder to abstain from like alcohol, then you can get a halal-pass?

I dunno abi…

Pork 7

Pork 1Pork 2

jamon_iberico

Pork 3Pork 4Pork 5.jpgScreen Shot 2019-11-18 at 1.41.12 AMchorizo

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

From Alex Shams @seyyedreza: 70 years after Partition, still so many walls to be torn down

10 Nov

Beautiful scenes from the historic Sikh pilgrimage to Pakistan currently underway, after Pakistan opened a direct corridor from India’s border to one of Sikhism’s holiest sites

SikhEI_oKiPXkAASien1SikhEI_oKiUXUAE5aCySikhhEI_oKiTWkAEUE7zSikhEI_oKiTWwAAgfYh

Also make sure to check out the work Alex and company are doing at the @AjamMC and great photos and podcasts at Ajam Media Collective.  “Ajam” is the Arab exonym for Iran/Iranians/Persia/Persians.  The “other”– what Iranians were to Arabs — is inherent in the word.  So as a Muslim Indian friend said about @AjamMC : “It’s cool how they’re using ‘Ajam’ to signal a space for alteriority.”

I agree.

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Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

P.S. Armenians & Kurds — “Atoning for a Genocide”

30 Oct

150105_r25970 armenian churchEaster Mass in Sourp Giragos in Diyarbakır, 2014. Because the church still has no priest assigned to it, a priest flies in from Istanbul. Pari Dukovic

From A Century of Silence: A family survives the Armenian genocide and its long aftermath.:

“As the villagers fled to Diyarbakir from the surrounding areas, it became a Kurdish city. In time, the Diyarbakir Kurds began to recognize that their role in the genocide was a kind of original sin in their modern political history. “I remember this one Armenian priest,” Demirbaş told me. “A Kurd was insulting him, and this priest told him, ‘We were the breakfast for them, you will be the lunch. Don’t forget.’ And that was important for me.'””  [My emphasis]

While we’re on Armenians, at a time when Syria plunges more deeply into hell than we had ever thought possible, when the West abandons the Kurds to Erdoğan and Assad, proving again that the U.S. is Turkey’s hamali, or that Turkey’s tail wags the dog, if you prefer, a historical reality check might be called for.

The American and almost every other media might be too superficial or too impatient to dig so deep historically because they’d lose their audience, but there is one, and one big thing that disproves Donald Trump’s assertion that Turks and Kurds have been fighting each other for centuries and are “natural enemies (see video below).  And that is the fact that perhaps the greater portion of the massacres of Armenians and other Christians in eastern Anatolia during the last decades of the 19th c. and first two and a half decades of the 20th c. were conducted by Kurds.* Not by the Ottoman military, but by Kurdish para/irregular forces or just Kurdish tribal chieftains craving more land and authority and wealth, and conducting/justifying their campaigns of mass murder with the rippling green banner of Islam, under which Turks and Kurds were just brothers in defense of the faith.  Only when the forces of modern nationalism started displacing the older bonds of religion and empire, did Kurds arguably start to feel themselves a separate entity from Turkish Muslims, and did the power of clan loyalties shift from semi-feudal to Kurdish nationalist ones; it’s even arguable that Republican Turkey’s anti-ağa, anti-religious and Turkification campaigns stoked the fires of the new Kurdish nationalism more than anything else.  (Somewhat of a similar process occurs between the Ottomans and Muslim Albanians in the early 20th c., and Orthodox Greeks and Orthodox non-Greeks: Bulgarians, Macedonians, Vlachs, Albanian Christians — as the latter groups discovered/invented new identities to replace the old religious-institutional bonds.)

Armenian_woman_and_her_children_from_Geghi,_1899_(edit).jpgAn Armenian woman and her children who were refugees of the massacres and sought help from missionaries by walking far distances.  Photo unknown provenance.

So I’m sorry that couldn’t counter Trump’s claims of eternal Turkish-Kurdish enmity with something pretty about how — on the contrary — eternally well they have gotten along but rather by implicating both parties in coordinated mass murder.  And forgive me the occasional snicker at Greek pro-Kurdish poses and the general sanctification of Kurds that we’ve witnessed in the past couple of decades.

Armenia22hamidianArmenian victims of the massacres being buried in a mass grave at Erzerum cemetery.  Photo unknown provenance.

* From Wiki:

(“In 1890-91, at a time when the empire was either too weak and disorganized or reluctant to halt them, Sultan Abdul Hamid gave semi-official status to the Kurdish bandits. Made up mainly of Kurdish tribes, but also of Turks, Yöruk, Arabs, Turkmens and Circassians, and armed by the state, they came to be called the Hamidiye Alaylari (“Hamidian Regiments“).[16] The Hamidiye and Kurdish brigands were given free rein to attack Armenians, confiscating stores of grain, foodstuffs, and driving off livestock, and confident of escaping punishment as they were subjects of military courts only.) [my emphasis]

And not just eastern Anatolia.  Istanbul’s Kurdish population played a major role in the 1896 Hamidian Armenian massacres in the City, where hundreds were killed right there in Pera, in ab-fab Beyoğlu, in the middle of the elegant, Beaux Arts, now garish and overlit Istiklâl.  Referred to this before and to how brilliantly these events are handled in the “Duck with Okra” chapter in Maria Iordanidou’s Loxandra.

Only fair, however, that I include a reference to this 2015 article from The New YorkerA Century of Silence: A family survives the Armenian genocide and its long aftermath. by Raffi Khatchadourian, in which the then mayors of Diyarbakır and the separate municipality of the Old City, Osman Baydemir and Abdullah Demirbaş respectively, apologize for the Kurdish role in the Armenian massacres and rebuild and restore the city’s main Armenian church, Sourp Giragos (Hagios Kyriakos in Greek) and allow it to function (see photo above) for the handful of Armenians left in the city.   Khatchadourian‘s article has some beautiful photos too by Pari Dukovic.

“We Kurds, in the name of our ancestors, apologize for the massacres and deportations of the Armenians and Assyrians in 1915. We will continue our struggle to secure atonement and compensation for them.”

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Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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