Song of the week: ‘Burn the Witch’
“Stay in the shadows / Cheer at the gallows / This is a round up / This is a low flying panic attack.” (Radiohead, “Burn the Witch”)
The attack on a small record shop in Cihangir, Istanbul, during a Radiohead listening party may just be the tip of the iceberg. According to the attacker, there were people on the street drinking and “allegedly” harassing his wife and his baby in a stroller. Even the wife and the stroller story seems similar to the Gezi Park events and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s attacks on the protesters. So why are we surprised?
This year’s holy month of Ramadan is particularly hot and long. Iftar (the fast-breaking meal) takes place almost close to midnight. Unlike previous years, there is very little will to sit and share iftar, simply for the fact that most people who fast break it at home. Unlike previous years, there is very little probability that you will be stuck in traffic or in the office during the breaking of bread. There are visibly fewer neighborhood iftars and NGO gatherings. People are really making an effort to reach home, so interactions between people who fast and people who don’t have decreased considerably.
I had iftar meals in two nice restaurants on the shores of the Bosphorus twice last week, one in Üsküdar, the other in Kuruçeşme. The commonalities were stark. Iftars are not as fun and joyous as they used to be. This year conversations are less happy. This mood is not limited to ordinary people. If there are not big politicians attending, very few NGOs are organizing iftars to celebrate Ramadan. The nine-day holiday is almost seen more as a lifesaver for the tourism industry than a religious festivity.
Islam is under a great challenge. Its practices, its links to money, its treatment of young children and women are being questioned like no other time. Islamists cannot simply hide the argument of “Islamophobia in the West” anymore; because, this is the civilization that created algebra, philosophy and modern medicine. Just Google the names Averroes (İbni Ruşt) and Avicenna (İbni Sina) and one can see how backwards this religion has slipped.
That is why the attack on the record shop in Cihangir carries a lot of significance. The attack did not take place in Fatih, nor in Üsküdar. Those places are already off-limits to alcohol consumption. Seogu Lee’s little shop of records is where most expats live in Istanbul.
President Erdoğan expressed concern about what our Korean friend went through but showed little sympathy for the Turks beaten in the shop, or the ones that were gassed by the police the day after. This is the new normal: Foreigners can drink alcohol and have fun, but Muslims and Turks should live by the rules of Islam during Ramadan. This is probably how he wants it, most like the Qatar and Dubai model.
Sadly, President Erdoğan is in a fight he cannot win. Reason, belief and justice do not have to contradict each other. Conscience, science and progress are not enemies of each other. Human beings are united and very much alike. If a young Turkish businessman can open up a store in Vietnam then a young South Korean can run a record shop and drink beer in Cihangir.