Saturday, January 29, 2011

No, [Country] Does Not Exist for you to Imagine a Sandbox Full of People You Like

I started writing this about Tunisia, then put it to rest. I decided to pick it up again about Egypt. I initially wanted to entitle it "What we talk about when we talk about revolution" but Gawker dissuaded me of that.

So Tunisia exploded, ever-so-quietly. One day Ben Ali was doin' his thang, and then a week later, he's cooling his heels in the Gulf. Which, much like Kyrgyzstan before it, provoked a great reaction by people who have no clue what they're talking about. And in the absence of facts, it has been then decided to project wildly and uglyily.

Clearly, Wikileaks or Twitter or somesuch technology isn't responsible for the revolution. Tunisians are. Food costs skyrocketed, people were starving, and people didn't like that. This is not a tricky story. Ben Ali wasn't particularly nasty of a dude, but there was lots and lots of corruption and eventually enough middle class people didn't care for it. Again, this is not a shocking story.

But different analysts have taken to this revolution to explain why their worldview is correct. And in doing so, they've rejected any sort of agency by Tunisians themselves in order to explain - pedantically - how the world works. There are literally dozens of examples of this, but I'm going to latch on to two because, well, I can.

Ian O. Lisser explains that, you see, Libya and Algeria are in much more precarious positions then Tunisia:
Like Tunisia, Algeria has been unable to offer a viable future to masses of unemployed or underemployed young people. Unlike Tunisia, the sheer scale of the problem in Algeria is much larger, Islamism is the leading force of opposition, and the political culture is more intolerant and violent.  A new revolt in Algeria, should it come, holds the potential for another protracted and bloody conflict between extremists and a military-backed state.
Yes, Algeria and Libya are much larger than Tunisia. They are also all next to each other. That's about where the comparison ends. You can criticise Ghadaffi all you want, but the fact is, he keeps people fed. It's a socialist state there, and thus a bit more resilient until the top really comes off. Which, thanks to energy wealth, will be a long time coming (unless Ghaddaffi does something bizarre, which, you know, wouldn't actually be all that bizarre).

Algeria has been at a low-level civil war for a while now. This is not new news. This is not relevant to Tunisia.
This may need to change. Europe has an obvious stake in the future of the southern Mediterranean, not least because of the large North African communities in France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and elsewhere, and the direct links to European security. As in the Balkans in the 1990s, an effective response sometimes requires a new geographic frame. If the last decade underscored the importance of the Gulf to the future of the Middle East, the next decade may be just as much about the Mediterranean as a place that matters. Strategy toward the Mediterranean—Europe’s near abroad—is likely to be an increasingly important test of European Union foreign policy and transatlantic cooperation. 

King Leopold's Ghost? More like Albert Camus' Zombie. Mr. Lesser runs some "Mediterranean Advisors LLC" company and has some sort of background in Portuguese and Middle East and Turkey and North African advising. Hey, I'm all for making your own way in life, but inventing a map and them co-opting life events to fit that map is a bit of a stretch. That said, he seems like a smart enough dude. He views things through his lens, a lens that un-ironically incorporates the term "Near Abroad" but hey. Reasonable minds can differ. But note the lack of a Tunisian voice besides "mass of Tunisians." I'm going with something here.

The hooligans over at Ricochet, though, well, are something else. Ms. Berlinski published the bizarre "most frightened people in the Middle East" picture which includes Abbas of Fatah (someone I can assure you she does NOT want ousted out of power popularly) and al-Assad (who will lose exactly?) and some other guys I don't really recognize because let's just say, they're not that far up the Hottest Heads of State Power Rankings. It's charming in its own way. Because this happened once, it will happen all over! Everything has been fine in Lebanon since the Cedar Revolution! Palestinians voted in Hamas which was universally respected and not at all complicated!

The follow-up went from endearing to creepy-crawly. "You're on your own, but you can do it" wraps it up pretty well actually. This went from revolution to cute little kid on the jungle gym while parents watch.

But then I think about the suppressed premise. Are the Tunisian people really so mindless and childlike that absent a sign that the West is interested in promoting democracy in Tunisia, they'll just lose their enthusiasm for democracy and hand their country to the Islamists? If so, I doubt democracy has much of a chance in the first place.  
 This paragraph makes me indescribably angry. Ms. Berlinski writes the excuse - that these people aren't ready - in order to hedge her bets on what happens. We are pro-democracy, sure. But not so much that we'll take responsibility if the democracy isn't the democracy we like. It's the most equivocal of all equivocalities. We'll like you if you look like us, but express concern if you do not.

And that's just it. Equivocality. Mildly worded messages. One of the things I, personally, struggle with is the divide between how much I care about these places and how little they care about me. At the same time, it's quite rewarding. I can write, I can talk...but I don't have a stake. This offers me a lot of freedom. At the same point, I write for a foreign audience. I struggle to see why a Turk should listen to me.

Which is why the "you can do it!" rhetoric is...bizarre. It puts the foreigner up as judge and jury of the revolution. But not the executioner, the foreigner is too equivocal.

The Americans, in particular, who travel and opine tend to come through the International Relations/Political Science/Diplomacy educational rigmarole. Taught how to express yourself in polite, measured, tones so as to appeal to a base and to avoid having to take a stand. It's an excuse to be uneducated, and if educated, it's an excuse not to go on a limb. Rather judge the Arabs then make a stand that can be judged.

The Foreign Policy type of media is giddy, of course. It gives them excuse to be Important and to rush to judgments. "Egypt's burning", "Falling Pharoah" and some such. Never mind that al Jazeera is running circles around all of them. Nathan Brown is someone I can support, though:
While in the 1980s, Mubarak's "stability" was welcome, today it reeks of stagnation, cronyism, sycophancy, and slow decay. 
Sycophancy needs more print in these sorts of things. More fightin' words, more creative thinking. More of the sort of thing that actually involves investing yourself in change, not investing yourself in analysis.

Instead, there are eyeglass-adjusters and belt-lifters. The sort of people who are dismayed and shocked that the AKP has power, that al-Ikhwan is a political player, that Tunisia exists outside of Roman ruins. It's all quite boring.

The fun of the internet is that everyone can be an expert, everybody can give their point of view. But the explosion of analysis comes at the lack of actual news. This is, again, not a new or thrilling revelation.

Us expatriates do more than our fair share. Wearing our passport pages like armor, the places we've been allow us to give opinions. The exoticness of our friends' names, the snarkiness of our Facebook albums make up our new CVs. "Can YOU believe the barbarousness of the locals?" "That they would do things so DIFFERENTLY than us?"

We get off on telling people how cool we are, how we are in fin de ciecle Paris or 1920's Berlin or other such romantic notions. We abhor the thought that this does not make us interesting. That our foreignness doesn't make us special, just desperate. Frightened by our insipidness at home that we must take refuge in a place where our existence makes us interesting.

But the locals are never good enough for us. We give due pittance and sympathy to the people who die in the revolutions, only to imagine what the revolution means. At the first sign of foment, of froth, we begin dreaming of a country full of people like us. That because we understand the country better, we can make a better country. Nevermind what people think, we seem to know what they truly believe.

So continue with the even-handed outrage, the meek-mannered thunder. The coy protest and the put-down of the locality. Our transnationhood makes us more worldly and more knowledgable. Because I took a course in college, y'know, I know the right path for Egypt, for North Korea, for Timor Leste. It's more than wanting to be around people like us, it's wanting people around us to be more like us. Egotism masquerading as charity, tapioca pudding, but free-range, all-organic, Whole Foods tapioca pudding. Instead of taking bold stands, we boldly stand elsewhere.

It's boring, it's terribly trite, and its just rich white folks convincing themselves it's more than just imperialism. More than just expressing our own dreams in ways that gets other people killed, puts other people in jail.

And I know I'm as guilty as anyone of this, and that I shouldn't be like a law school Kanye, putting out my soul in poorly-worded internet broadcasts. I'm not sure what I should do, I'm not sure what you would do. But the status quo is pathetic enough to keep on going, which mild words and tut-tutting proceeding.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sayyet Qutb and the Muslim Brotherhood. Or; It's Complicated

Claire Berlinski has started a "history of the Muslim Brotherhood" that I did not sit well with.Teleological to the maxx, it looks at the Muslim Brotherhood through history in order to explain how it got to where it was today. I was a bit discomfited by the original post and the follow up, but Ms. Berlinski was gracious enough to let me get into a formal debate. She gave me membership privileges on her site, but as you will see soon enough, I had a lot more than the 200 word limit to say. And besides, I feel that the master-pupil relationship that comments sections make for are usually inappropriate and turn what should be a give-and-take into a classroom environment. So I have posted my full response here, and I hope that, if you come here from Ricochet, you will be kind enough to read it.

Sayyid Qutb is the magic link for people concerned about the Muslim Brotherhood. It follows that, if Qutb was a Brother, and Qutb said some nasty stuff that later inspired Zawahiri and bin Laden, then the Brotherhood is responsible for Zawahiri and bin Laden. This leaves out a very important part of Qutb's life, a part that is pretty obvious from the most famous picture taken of him:

Qutb spent a long time in prison. And, to paraphrase Office Space, not nice, white-collar, conjugal visit prison (not that he would take much advantage of the conjugal visits, it would seem).

After World War II and the British Empire's decision to stop being an empire, the Free Officers Movement deposed the Egyptian King and set up a socialist republic under Gamal Abdel Nasser. I'm skipping a lot of history here, and I'm always fascinated by how the Egyptian military, fresh off of being embarrassed by the nascent Israeli state, was able to retain power, but we'll have to move on.

As one could guess, an Arab Socialist State wanted little to do with the Islamic state preferred by MB. From 1945-54, there's a whole lot of instability in Egypt, something that it is hard to absolve the Brotherhood from or to implicate them in. It all really depends on which lunatic fringe of the internet you'd prefer to read. The fact is, Brothers fought Israel, Brothers fought the Egyptian state, Brothers fought the English, Brothers fought Brothers...again, instability. It's very difficult for Americans to understand the anarchic panic of an unstable state. Say what you want, but Nasser at least brought stability. He also brought tens of thousands of Brothers into jail. Qutb was one of them.

Prison, as it goes, changes a man. Qutb was never that charismatic before, but he became morose under the beatings, torture, and general Kafka-sity of prison life. When talking about Qutb, its always fun to read his things before imprisonment:
It is necessary for the new leadership to preserve and develop the material fruits of the creative genius of Europe, and also to provide mankind with such high ideals and values as have so far remained undiscovered by mankind, and which will also acquaint humanity with a way of life which is harmonious with human nature, which is positive and constructive, and which is practicable.
On the whole this theory [Socialism] conflicts with man's nature and its needs. This ideology prospers only in a degenerate society or in a society which has become cowed as a result of some form of prolonged dictatorship. But now, even under these circumstances, its materialistic economic system is failing, although this was the only foundation on which its structure was based. Russia, which is the leader of the communist countries, is itself suffering from shortages of food.
This is the sort of stuff that would get you a pat on the head from your Sunday School teacher today.

Prison...changed things when he was sentenced in 1952. He became far more pessimistic and found a Utopian religious society to be the only way out. Needless to say, before he realized this plot, he was hanged for being part of a plot to assassinate the Egyptian President under what could charitably called a show trial. This was 1966.

There are two major gaps here: The first is that as an inmate, Qutb was unable to take part in the Brotherhood and was sidelined by MB leadership for being, well, an unstable prison-bound author. It warrants mentioning, of course, that he has no formal clerical training and really seemed to strongly dislike Imams, al-Azhar, or any form of religious life. He joined MB not as a youth, but in 1951, at age 45, as a propagandist for them. He used the MB as a political opportunity to lash out at Egypt's encroaching socialism. He was a member for less than 2 years by the time he was arrested. He would've been a footnote to history if he didn't have to go and get martyred by the Egyptian state (though writing beautiful Arabic would've certainly helped him stay in the Area Studies curricula of the universities that a certain type of Ricochet-li loves to fume about).

So how much he actually was a member of the Brotherhood is dubious. Also, remember that end date, 1966. You know what part of the 1966 world order is still relevant in 2010? Pretty much none. He didn't even get to get upset over the 6-Day War, or to see what real Islamic Revolution looked like in Iran, or to see Sunni hardliners take over Mecca.

Qutb was a writer and a philosopher. Not a politician. His works have been seized by politicians to make their points. The "Islam as an underdog locked in struggle with the West" narrative pushed by al-Qaeda makes use of his prison writings, which are full of plaintives for a better world and fumations at the world as it is. The Muslim Brotherhood also takes advantage of his writings. They cite entirely different paragraphs.

In much the same way that EVERY American politician has a favorite Founding Father, every Muslim politician (and I include bin Laden as a politician because after all, he is trying to change the political scheme of the world. Bin Laden gets lots of other titles as well, I'm sure) promoting an Islamic way of life has a favorite Qutb quote. The Muslim Brotherhood's leadership has very carefully tread between embracing Qutb and keeping him at arm's length. They published a book, Preachers not Judges which can best be said to be a very polite refutation of Qutb's writings as related to politics.

As I mentioned earlier, I would strongly, strongly, urge you to read Nathan Brown's "The Muslim Brotherhood's (and Egypt's) Qutb Conundrum"  in Foreign Policy. He is far more well-read on this subject then me. The dude knows his Islamic movements. He concludes with this:

Since its re-emergence in the 1970s and 1980s, the Brotherhood has gradually stepped up its social and political engagement, working not to create a tiny countersociety but to persuade all of Egypt to follow its path; the goal has been reform of the entire society along Islamic lines. That strategy has led to a very uneven but still quite real political maturation; it has also led to a mix of successes and frustrations. Qutb speaks to the frustrations. Those who find the society too distant from Islam are less likely to prioritize engagement in the short term. They will seek instead to focus on the faithful and perhaps to reform the society not through broad social and political work but through a more elitist approach.
The Muslim Brotherhood is a political movement, a political party. Much like how Sarah Palin and Lindsey Graham are both members of the Republican Party but speak to different wings of it, Qutb and, say, Ali Sheikh-Ahmed do similar for the Muslim Brotherhood. Qutb speaks to a part of the Muslim base that the Brotherhood wants to expand into, and they would be fools to villify Qutb. In fact, it is a very, very, powerful argument that MB adheres to a more pacifist definition of Qutb's works and brings people eager to join a violent Jihad to instead choose the Brotherhood's "Great Jihad" of charitable works. This would not be a bad thing.

So, Ms. Berlinski, what shall we cover next? The Brotherhood and Palestinian Territories? Their greater transnationalism? The role they've played since the fall of the USSR? And meanwhile, Hizb ut-Tahrir is wondering just who you have to publish in order to get an audience in the United States these days. Their branding experts are REAL upset they didn't go with a simple English translation like al-Ikhwan did.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Muslim Brotherhood: A History, A Counterpoint.

Claire Berlinski has started a "history of the Muslim Brotherhood" that I did not sit well with.Teleological to the maxx, it looks at the Muslim Brotherhood through history in order to explain how it got to where it was today. I was a bit discomfited by the original post, but Ms. Berlinski was gracious enough to let me get into a formal debate. She gave me membership privileges on her site, but as you will see soon enough, I had a lot more than the 200 word limit to say. And besides, I feel that the master-pupil relationship that comments sections make for are usually inappropriate and turn what should be a give-and-take into a classroom environment. So I have posted my full response here, and I hope that, if you come here from Ricochet, you will be kind enough to read it.

Thank you for inviting me into a debate, and I'm sorry that it took so long. I got held up at work doing work-like things and the lot. But I think it's a debate worth having because, as you intimated, there are a lot of Muslims out there, and it is worth understanding branches of political Islam so the wrong one isn't barked up.

To understand the Muslim Brotherhood, one has to look at the context in which they began. We will move on to the post-war Brotherhood tomorrow, as you say. The context involves the Islamic context, the geographical context, and the chronological. First, we need to establish some ground rules when we talk about Islam.

Islam is an evangelical religion. Some branches more than others. It seeks to convert non-believers and asks its adherents to act as ambassadors for the religion and to live their lives religiously. It is no different from Evangelical Christianity in this regard. Both groups seek to turn the world to the "true" religion and have a similar millennial scenario that involves everyone on Earth being in the true religion or very, very, sorry they're not. But there is no reason to be more skeptical of one form of evangelism than the other. Religions are allowed to seek converts. It's always amused me how it's the most religious people who are frightened of the evangelism of others. If you're right, what's the harm of the other guy? (For the record, I am religious, and am neither Evangelical Muslim nor Christian).

Also, the different schools of Sunni Islam, and the different qadis and scientists and what have you, all have different judgments of "great" and "small" jihad. This concept is totally different then the concept of "Jihad of the sword" (Jihad bil Sayf) that may only be pursued via fatwa. It used to be only the Caliph could command Jihad bil Sayf, but then the Caliphate fragmented (and was never really whole to begin with) and now any grouch with good handwriting can issue the perquisite fatwa. Note that al-Banna goes out of his way to not use the term "Jihad bil Sayf" - he makes no claim to Caliph. He also rejected violence. MB has rejected violent means from its inception in 1928 (4th graph from bottom) until current day (election of Badie as leader).

The Muslim Brotherhood is very much a conclusion of its geography and the time of its birth. It was born as a transnational, anti-Western, religious movement when all three of these things had very different definitions then they do now. Al-Banna has a theological connection to Muhammad 'Abduh, the 19th Century reformer who was a fascinating mystic, journalist, and lawyer who "wanted to make Islam compatible with 19th-C secularism." Both al-Banna and 'Abduh studied Jamal-al-Din al-Afghani, who was one of the first people to successfully unite Muslims -at least theoretically - from Indonesia to Morocco under a modernizing ethos.

Al-Banna's anti-Westernism is quite similar, in fact, to Woodrow Wilson's anti-Imperialism. He promoted democracy and parliamentary rule as an alternative to the heavy-handed policies of British Egypt and the corruption of the Ottoman Empire. He took notes from the failure of the Khalifat Movement of India and the Jadidism of Russia to create, as Berlinski said, a slower, more gradual shift to power. One could make a comfortable analogy from al-Banna to Gandhi, Nehru, and the other heroes of the Indian Independence movement. He just wasn't as good a politician as them.

That said, he was an interesting man. He started the Muslim Brotherhood at age 24 with a few friends. He preached in coffeehouses and flophouses, to the poor that the al-Azhar clerics wouldn't make eye contact with. His group went from 800 in 1936 to 200,000 in 1938. He was on to something.

The Muslim Brotherhood emphasized (and emphasizes) social justice and aid for the impoverished and punishment for the corrupt. This has led the group to make many political decisions that people on a center-right blog would disagree with, in terms of aid programs, escalated taxing, and the like. These programs, however, are hardly outside the barn of political debate. Welfare is something to be argued about, not shot over. In addition, many of the Muslim Brotherhood's aid policies are just as similar to YMCA or the Salvation Army as they are to Hezboallah. Soup kitchens, education (through a religious lens, of course), and work programs. This is not the reinvention of the wheel.

The demise of the Muslim Brotherhood under al-Banna, pre-war, is linked to that anti-corruption stance and the enormous growth I mentioned earlier. A break-off group was formed that rejected al-Banna's peaceful stance, which forced him to make a compromise in order to regain control, promising the formation and training of "battalions." But 1940 happened first. The Desert Fox Rommel was embarrassing British forces and Africa seemed lost. Tom Bradby's God of Chaos gives an idea, though its set in 1942. The British set up martial law based in Cairo, and the Muslim Brotherhood was in contact with the dozens of Nazi spies in the region. This is 1940: the U.S. was still in touch with Nazi Germany, for the record. And the Brotherhood played both sides, shutting down the battalions and setting up "families" instead, and giving out aid to families injured in German bombing raids. For the rest of the war, the Brotherhood kept an uneasy truce with the British-backed Egyptian government. As promised, we'll get into post-war later.

So if we're talking about the Muslim Brotherhood as a group, we're discussing an explicitly anti-violence organization that fell along the vaqf tradition of Egypt, but trying to bring it in line with 20th century determinationist and nationalist movements. It was a natural course of Islam and Egyptian history at that point, and it was sparked by the, well, whatever you want to call him, certainly energetic al-Banna. The translation and propagation of Mein Kampf and The Protocols is nasty and certainly regrettable. But I'm not ready to string Lindbergh up, either. It stands to mention that anti-Jewish violence in Egypt wouldn't take off until the Israel-Palestine wars. In fact, despite the fact that Brotherhood members were arrested for violence, well, again. Context. It was a violent time. Cairo was under martial law, and the Muslim Brotherhood was made up of some of the most desperate Cairenes. Al-Banna tried to have cooler heads prevail, and was largely successful. Things got a lot worse after his assassination and after the Israel-Palestine...unpleasantness.

Keith Ellison would not be born until 1963.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Book Review: Memed, My Hawk (Ince Memed) by Yashar Kemal

There's a fantastic review of Absurdistan I once read that said:
Just unbutton its shirt and let it bare its chest. Like a victorious wrestler, this novel is so immodestly vigorous, so burstingly sure of its barbaric excellence, that simply by breathing, sweating and standing upright it exalts itself.
And yeah, I think that applies to Memed, My Hawk a whole lot more than it applies to Shteyngart's work. It's rare when you can write a classical legend in 1955. It's a John Ford Western except that it is just as relevant to today as it was in the '50s and unlike the John Fords, it took place in contemporary times. Yashar Kemal owns. He made me forget my Turkey and start living in his for a few hundred pages. I'm not sure what else I could say but that.

The book is about the titular character, believe it or not. As a boy, Memed runs from home, finds the world outside is pretty interesting, but ultimately is drawn back home. His family, seemingly longstanding enemies of Abdi Agha, the ruler of Degirmenoluk and four other villages, is punished for his transgressions. Years after this continual punishment he runs away with his beloved. That works out poorly. He then takes to the mountains and becomes the bravest brigand the Cukurova has seen.

Although it itself is a legend, it also discusses how legends are made. The tiny, boyish, Memed becomes a monster to his enemies and a haughty animal to his companions. The book is about how expansive Turkey is, it makes the land east of Ankara seem as expansive as the Midwest plains that hold the stars I still recognize as home. I'm not nearly as clever a book reviewer to discuss how Kemal writes how he does. So just read it and enjoy the ride.

Kemal was a complicated figure. And while you hear some biographers say that with concern, for me, I think it just means that he was interesting. Oh, gee, wow, he didn't have a clear-cut position on socialism. That's not being difficult, its avoiding the drab talking points of his era. The man's story is fantastic. He loved telling stories as a kid growing up in rural (RURAL!) Turkey, but he was distraught when he woke up one day and couldn't remember the words to his favorite story. He decided he would have to learn to write in order to be a better story teller. There are then stories of him getting a job in the library so he could just read all day and other such fantastic things. They matter less as factual vignettes than as a mythical image of Yashar the author from the hills. The Nation's article on him is fantastic and is a must-read. I went from "OK, I ought to read Kemal" to "I must read him" solely because of that article.

I love how far removed the book is from Istanbul. So many foreigners coming to Turkey focus on Istanbul. And I admit to yes, living here and yes, finding it quite nice. All the same, when I read about how "Istanbul thrives as the new party capital of Europe" all I can think of is "Istanbul is pretty much the most boring city in Europe." Oooh, more couchsurfers looking for love (and/or friction)? Sounds great! Bridge East-West! Live your exotic fantasy without having to learn a word! The fact is Turkey is so much more than Istanbul. And now that Istanbul has welcomed a generation of internal immigrants, the rest of Turkey is coming to Istanbul. This has caused far more panic and fear than a welcoming of a whole new side of cool.

In this book, near none of the characters have names that smack of Turkey. Ok, sure, there's a Memet, an Ibrahim. But even "Ali" seems rare these days. And I have yet to come across an Iraz, a Hatche. Let alone an Abdi or Jaffar. Memed comes to "the big city" that is likely smaller than Adana. Maras is the big town. Nomads make up a significant plot point. We're a long ways from Reina, and I love it. This is as much Turkey as anything else.

While Turkey wrestles or whatever with its identity, it gets turned into an Evren v. Erdogan affair. The rise of Turkey's east, it's businessmen and its politicians is just as important. And it goes far beyond the Kurdish and Armenian plot points. Kemal gives life to the humans on the fringe that have made Turkey grow in its Republican days. He has created the image of the Turkish lower class that Fatih Akin and Nuri Bilge Ceylan have latched on to.

More to the point, Memed, My Hawk reads like a campfire tale told by Cool Grandpa Yashar. There are good guys and bad guys. Beautiful women and wise old crones. For being entirely too realistic, it reads like magical fantasy. Taunts at gunfights, single-minded men, families pushed to their limits...these are not the things of history, these are the tales of now.

Memed, My Hawk is about Turkey and, to paraphrase a friend, says "Bastards!" to Istanbul, says "Bastards!" to Ankara. It thumbs its nose at the foreign correspondent, it would do worse to the modern-day blogger if one could imagine Memed understanding computers. Kemal writes about Turkey and is wrapped up in its legends, its myths, its identity. The American coming in to Turkey can never understand it, especially not from a stone's throw from the Bosphorus. It doesn't matter how strongly they arch their eyebrows, how perfectly they tent their fingers. Kemal, one can say, claims Turkey for the Turks through literature (though he may hate to hear that expression used for him).

All we do is try to explain our impressions to other foreigners. The narratives that we all try to force Turkey into, the way we cram-pack Menderes and Davutoglu into one timeline, are all ways of reflecting what we want Turkey to be. Meanwhile, here's Yashar Bey, flaunting the Turkey we all wish we could capture.