In Conversation with Orhan Pamuk - A voicepk.net Exclusive

Speaking exclusively to voicepk.net, Turkish novelist & Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk converses with journalist and host of Aaj TV’s “Spot Light”, and painter and rights activist Salima Hashmi during the Lahore Literary Festival, about how literature enabled him to go beyond the bourgeois circles he was raised in, and gain an outsider’s as well as an insider’s perspective on Muslim bourgeois culture.

Munizae Jahangir: Correct me if I’m wrong, but you said that “I’m an expert on international Muslim bourgeoisie and their hypocrisy.”

Orhan Pamuk: No, I don’t want to say that. I [say] it in a softer, in fact a loving way. I am, in fact, by education not different from them. But what made me different is literature, where I went beyond [the bourgeoisie’s] world.

First I went to my people and then went beyond the culture of my Turkish bourgeoisie. And I also think that it is possible to go beyond the circles where you are raised. But also, I’ve been to India – I’ve been to many Muslim countries where I have been welcomed, and people [welcomed me into] their homes.

I know that Turkish bourgeoisie with their traditions, their desire to be European and secular and their desire to belong which leads them to hypocrisy. It is very hard to be a Muslim bourgeois.

And in the end, fortunately or unfortunately, these are the classes that will take us more towards modernity. I should not be too tough on them… while I am angry [at] their hypocrisy, I am angry [at] them for their lack of interest in their past, for their inadequacy in producing modern culture that would give a sense of angst and modernity. There’s something that would be new for Europe too, it’s very hard to do these things simultaneously.

Salima Hashmi: Have you noticed that when you [said “I am an expert on international Muslim bourgeoisie and their hypocrisy”], everybody laughed because of that self-recognition; a moment of real self-recognition. We all understand what it is to be a hypocrite.

Orhan Pamuk: Yes, and I’m proud about being asked about these things.

In a separate interview with Munizae Jahangir for Aaj TV’s “Spot Light”, Orhan Pamuk delved into curbs on free speech in Turkey and the need for Islamic nations to move toward democracy rather than remain mired in authoritarianism and conservatism.

Munizae Jahangir: How do you like Lahore – what are you first impressions of Pakistan?

Orhan Pamuk: I’m here because of my childhood high-school years. [Whenever] there is [mention] of Pakistan, it [is] mostly “Lahore” and “Iqbal” so I wanted to see that so much. In fact I was going to come 5 years ago. In the end, I’m happy, very happy, to be here.

I spent a day, yesterday, in and around the [Lahore Fort] and I know that culture – I know the culture of Muslim palaces of the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries. It is very much like Topkapı Palace and [Turkish] culture. I was also impressed by the fact that the landscape of the Fort looks very much like Mughal miniatures. The greenery and the white dots on [the Fort] were exactly like a miniature.

Here we talked at the [Lahore Literary Festival] about my books, about the eternal problems of secularism, Islam, modernity, Western ideas; these are the things that I am tackling here.

Of course you would think “But Mr. Pamuk, the Turkey [you were] born in was a more secular Turkey.”

“Is it a different Turkey [now]?” you may ask. It is a different Turkey! Countries are changing, but I am in it, I am happy to be in [Turkey] since the past 65 years.

Munizae Jahangir: What are the challenges that a novelist like yourself who is so celebrated – but Turkey is now going through a transition. I see in your writings an old Turkey which was perhaps more secular. What are the challenges for a novelist like yourself?

Orhan Pamuk: Everyone is responsible, not only the writers and artists and intellectuals. But then there is a strong movement to protect secularism in Turkey.

But I think the struggle is, along with secularism, also about free speech. Democracy is not only “elections”… [Turkey does not] have full free speech. Lots of people are in trouble and in jail – some of my friends are in jail. We think that, in fact, we are suffering not because of, say, Islamism, I think, but [rather] authoritarianism and lack of free speech.

Munizae Jahangir: My last question to you: it seems to be like more of a right wing world right now. Do you see a resurgence of, let’s say, people who are more secular-minded like yourself, of people who are associated more with freedom of speech, who want fundamental freedoms in the rest of the world.

Orhan Pamuk: I think that the idea of secularism and individuality and full democracy and free speech will never die. I’ve been travelling all over the world and people want free speech. People want free speech not only because of politics but because its undignified, its not human not to have full free speech, and that is what I see all over the world.

All the problems we have – authoritarianism, right-wingism, a bit of nationalism and anti-Westernism, these are our problems. Let’s identify them and talk about them… We have to solve these problems, and we have to optimistic about solving them too. I am sure there will be much more sophisticated, developed Islamic democracies.

We wouldn’t be proud saying “Islamic republic”. We would be proud saying “Islamic democracy”. That will happen one day, I am optimistic.