Sunday, December 30, 2007

Check out My Blogroll . . .

. . . down the right side under the heading 'Blogs of Interest'.

It's been cleaned up and updated.

I don't necessarily agree with the positions taken by each and every blog listed there. In fact, that would be impossible since some take radically opposite views on issues that I consider important.

But, they are all there because they represent quality.

Check 'em out and let me know in the comments if any strike your fancy.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Quote of the Day

"Upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your God." -Martin Luther

Saturday, December 22, 2007

What is 'Turkish Exceptionalism' ?

The dean of Turkish social scientists, the venerable Şerif Mardin, was interviewed by Asharq Al Awsat newspaper recently.

(H/T Erkan's field diary)

Mardin gave his learned opinion on Turkish Islam and seems to have coined a new term echoing Alexis de Tocqueville’s American Exceptionalism .

He is calling it Turkish Exceptionalism. What is this Turkish Exceptionalism ?

Well, according to Mardin, it arises from the observation that :

"[t]he state takes precedence over religion by 'one millimeter'(...) Throughout its history the Ottoman Empire was cautious to distance the religion from the state(...) and was founded on the power of the state  which is a concept that is difficult for many Arabs to apprehend. ".

Actually, to get a complete picture of Ottoman governance and "power of the state" one needs to go further back in history to the point where Turks were a nomadic people constantly advancing and conquering territory. By doing so, one finds a continuous strand from that period to the very present day namely a style of governance marked by expedience.

Expedience requires that one is not diverted too much by abstract notions such as human rights and human values.

The reason the Arabs don't apprehend or see themselves in the Ottoman state is because the latter is based on Turkish not Arab nationalism. Mardin says :"It is important to affirm that the religious orders in Turkey are always related to the Turkish state, (...)" How very true it is that in Turkey Islam is subservient to the state and so subservient to the principle of expedience.

Moving on, Mardin curiously makes the claim that Turks and Iranians are somehow 'philosophical'. It's not clear why or in what connection he interjects this comment but empirical study would probably reveal this philosophical aspect is seldom integrated with governance . Such philosophical traditions, for Turkey, have always been irrelevant to the state. After all, who ever heard of a Sufi Sultan ?

Perhaps what Mardin is really trying to say is that for the Turks (and the Iranians) Islam is not about ethnicity and tribalism since we are dealing with an Arab religion 'revealed' in the Arab tongue.

Sociology is a science based on real facts, real history and real evidence. Unfortunately, these elements are strangely absent from in the responses Mardin has given in this interview.Nevertheless, if we wanted to be as faithful as possible to the most coherent fragments of Mardin's analysis, we would have to conclude that the Ottoman view of the state and religion is to be summarised as a secularism of praxis and of race. Just consider that while racist supremacist parties form the fringe of politics in all Western European countries, in Turkey they are part of the mainstream.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Verse of the Day

"From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us." (Acts 17:26-27)

In Turkish we have a saying : "bir lisan, bir insan" which is translated "one language, one person" and means, in effect, that with each new language you learn you become an additional person.

Is this correct ?

I have lived in 4 different countries, worked in 3 of them and as a result know 3 different languages fluently.

When I do re-connect with old friends and acquaintances who have remained roughly in the same place or culture all their lives it does become very striking to me how much they have had only one type of experience whereas I have had more. Yet, I'm not sure I would call these different cultural experiences (which is our present topic) different dimensions of any sort.

On a fundamental level I really don't see myself as having, as a result of my life experiences reached, some higher level of maturity or some higher level of anything, really. And, I wouldn't say that I have wasted those experiences either in that I have been totally immersed in and savoured each and every one of them. I'm only thinkin' that perhaps all this is a bit over-rated.

And, of course, they are not "different dimensions" because, as the verse says, God "from one man he made every nation of men".

What I do find is that my own cross-cultural experiences which are inherently with me 24/7 are at times quite difficult for me because often times I find I have an internalised socialisation which is different from the environment in which I "live. move and have my being".

Is Paul talking about the same kind of thing here ?

One might go down the route of what postmodernists call the "de-centered self". Surely, Paul is not making some sociological statement but speaking of a sociological reality to highlight another reality for the individual which is a theological one.

While one might hope great things for the individual in what Paul describes in the multiplicity of nations "inhabiting the entire earth" it rather comes across here in these verses as an assault or a challenge to the self, the individual.

And, I think Paul does want us to understand there IS an assault to the self built in to the scheme of things since Babel (perhaps) so that man "would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him," with hope since "he is not far from each one of us".

There has to be a denial of self here, definitely, and maybe this is why and how the 'multinational experience' makes one to feel inadequate rather than empowered.

Yet, one can still feel inadequate and still not be de-centered. Are you with me?

Perhaps I should introduce 'love' here at this point. Why ? Because 'love' is a de-centering of self. And for that you don't even need to move to another country, learn another language or learn about Afro-American sub-culture etc. The way love works in de-centering the person is that the person only concerns himself/herself with the welfare of the other person which is the truest and highest definition of love.

So conversely, it is possible to be in a totally familiar environment and still be truly de-centered.

Do you see what I'm getting at ?

I suppose now I have a word for the kind of life I have been led to or into and need to perfect : "de-centered". That's good. It gives me a conceptual hook on which to hang my thinking.