Snow by Orhan Pamuk

“Is there a global culture today? I think there is. Its images come from movies, old and new, and from television; its sounds are rock-and-roll, rap, and heavy traffic on the street” (Berman 113). Thus, the West has created magic with its media and modern-day conveniences developed through industrialization. Because the West is by and large Christian, the Muslim world does not truly appreciate this “global culture” (Berman 113). After all, the Muslims remember the Crusades.

They distrust Christians for this reason. Hence, Pamuk cannot help but illustrate the clash of civilizations going on in his native country, Turkey, as he produces novel after novel about his nation. In fact, in Snow, this clash between westernization and Islamization is so vividly illustrated that this novel, despite the fact that it is fictitious, should be added to lists of references for studies on the clash on civilizations that virtually everybody hears about today.

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Pamuk explains what the leading lady of a Turkish play was trying to impart thus: “[S]he was talking about our souls, because the scarf, the fez, the turban and the headdress were all symbols of the reactionary darkness of our souls, from which we should liberate ourselves and run to join the modern nations of the West” (Pamuk 155). The manager of the play seeks to bring “enlightenment” to his nation, where “cobwebbed minds” are working to create “darkness” (Pamuk 158).

These minds belong to Islamists, who would rather do away with westernization in its entirety than protect people from “misery and despair” (Pamuk 199). By doing away with westernization, they would close doors on economic opportunities. Regardless, they remain adamant about achieving their political goals. There are so many characters in Pamuk’s novel, Snow, illustrating the clash of civilizations that it is impossible not to get interested in the historical context of the novel.

A study of the historical context of Snow should also deepen the reader’s understanding of the political aims of Islamists who vehemently oppose westernization in Turkey. As modern-day media sources continuously discuss this topic, it is further impossible for the reader not to connect the political aims of Islamists in Turkey to those of the Taliban in Afghanistan that the United States is still waging its war on terror against. Clark writes that the Taliban’s “emphasis on the political strategy of its insurgency mimics Mao’s emphasis on the political.

After all, Mao followed Clausewitz closely and gave special importance to achieving political objectives over tactical successes. ” Just the same, it must be argued that the Taliban did not need Mao’s instructions to prioritize their goals. As a matter of fact, the Taliban were ruling Afghanistan for some time, which is why it is not surprising that their political objectives are more meaningful to them than “tactical successes” (Clark). Do the Islamists in Turkey have the same political goals as the Taliban in Afghanistan?

A fundamentalist Muslim leader in Pamuk’s novel, Snow, tries to convince the poet, Ka, that the headscarf girls denied the right to dress as they please “are so miserable and so alone that they see no course of action but to imitate the suicidal martyrs” (Pamuk 77). According to a study on the causes of terrorism, ordinary people can be easily “influenced into violence” (“New Research Into Causes Of Terrorism Reveals People Turn To Suicide Bombing To Preserve Identity”).

Nobody would be surprised if those girls commit suicide, seeing that the leaders of fundamentalist Islam in Turkey are suggesting that it is perfectly reasonable for them to kill themselves. By convincing girls to kill themselves for the headscarf, the leaders of fundamentalist Islam may be able to convince the entire world that it is necessary to grant girls the freedom to dress as they please in Turkey, just as the West does not place restrictions on punks and bikinis.

So, even though banning the headscarf seems as unreasonable as banning the bikini or punk hairstyles, the fact that the headscarf is banned is a reason for fundamentalists, who teach women that it is obligatory to wear it, to manipulate the world of politics by asking for Islamization of Turkey. They can use examples such as Teslime in Pamuk’s novel to win hearts. Teslime had committed suicide because she was not allowed to wear a headscarf in her college; besides, her friends had given up on Islam so as to meet secular demands. Hence, she had felt that her “life had no meaning” (Pamuk 17).

A brief study of the history of Turkey may better explain the reasons for fundamentalist demands in Turkey, explained by Pamuk with their emotional baggage, including the fact that fundamentalism teaches young girls to commit suicide for their male leaders to fulfill their political goals. Those young girls must have been inspired by the Ottoman Empire in Turkey that had established courts of Islamic law, apart from modern-day Turkish males who have tremendous influence on their lives (“Mustafa Kemal Pasa”). According to Pamuk, “The men give themselves to religion, and the women kill themselves” (Pamuk 35).

As blunt as this statement appears, it does not stop fundamentalists from continuing to remind their followers, including females, that the Ottoman Empire lost a vast portion of its territory, eventually to be abolished at the end of the First World War, thanks to the West. The creation of modern Turkey fell into the hands of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk at that time. He was a Turkish army officer and a revolutionary statesman, who is today known as the founder and the first President of the Republic of Turkey (“Mustafa Kemal Pasa”).

As the first president of the nation, Ataturk had introduced a range of extensive reforms to create a modern, secular, and democratic state. His reforms included the proclamation of the new Turkish state as a republic. This gave the Turkish nation the right to exercise popular sovereignty by representative democracy. The first president of the Republic of Turkey also included as part of his legal reforms the total separation of religious affairs and government.

Islamic courts were closed down, and the Islamic canon law was replaced with a secular civil code and a new penal code modeled after civil and penal codes in Europe (“Mustafa Kemal Pasa;” “Ataturk’s Reforms”). For the fundamentalists of Turkey, this was undoubtedly a shame. Many decades after Ataturk’s death, the Republic of Turkey continues to refer to itself as a secular state. In fact, the political system of Turkey is a parliamentary democracy despite the fact that the country has spent intervals under military rule.

Because of political unrest, the military has taken over the Republic of Turkey several times. Yet democracy has returned time and again to rebuild Turkey as Ataturk would have liked to see it (“Turkey: Politics, Government, and Taxation”). Just as democracy is the language of the West, Turkey continues to try to separate religion from official affairs to boot – on the course that Ataturk had set it on. For example, the government of Turkey has forbidden the wearing of headscarves in schools and public universities.

Yet, the wife of the Turkish prime minister refuses to remove her headscarf as she moves around in public places (“Turkey in the 21st Century: The Legacy of Mrs. Ataturk”). She is not alone in her adherence to the interpretation of Islam that asks of women to cover their heads. Turkey continues to be home to moderate as well as radical Muslims who refuse to see the government eye to eye in matters of separation of religion and politics. Terrorism, too, is a problem experienced in the Republic of Turkey (Yegenoglu, Cagaptay, and Alptekin).

The terrorist that Ka encounters in Turkey is, therefore, not entirely fictitious (Pamuk). As a matter of fact, Pamuk is well-acquainted with real happenings in his homeland. As he encourages the reader to understand the history of Turkey through Snow, the reader may enhance his or her comprehension of the clash of civilizations, coming to the conclusion that the fundamentalists of Turkey must be demanding leadership roles in the world of Turkish politics, just like the Taliban of Afghanistan, who too have played leadership roles in their country.

At the same time, the West is worried that the fundamentalists may seek leadership roles in Christian countries to boot, that is, once they have managed to win Muslim hearts in Muslim-majority nations. As the West virtually runs the world economy at present, political leaders of Turkey cannot afford to turn their backs on Christian nations. This compels terrorists and fundamentalists to ask for Islamization of Turkey by doing away with westernization. Because terrorism and suicides have a massive emotional impact on ordinary people, these are the tactics taught by fundamentalist leaders of both Turkey and Afghanistan.

Unsurprisingly, ordinary people are confused by the clash of civilizations. They see no end to terrorist acts just as they see no end to the war on terror. Both sides use bombs, with a terrible emotional impact on healthy minds. Pamuk illustrates that the headscarf girls are equally confused and horrified. Hamde, for example, has come to believe that she would always be despised not only by those who teach the headscarf rule to women but also those who ban the headscarf (Pamuk). Ka has figured out that all of the girls who committed suicide had been abused by males (Pamuk).

So, Kalife condemns men “who waste so much effort to gain exposure themselves while… [the women]… endure so much to protect… [their]… privacy;” in addition to the press that fails to discuss “women whose lives have been ruined” (Pamuk 241). After all, if the headscarf is meant to protect women from unwanted behaviors of males, it has failed to accomplish its purpose. More importantly, this confusion in the minds of the headscarf girls in Pamuk’s novel reveals that there is a clash of civilizations going on in Turkey, even if all Turks belong to the same nation and race.

Huntington’s thesis in “The Clash of Civilizations” is based on the assumption that the world requires perpetual conflict to go on existing, which is why civilizations must clash in the post-Cold War era. The author insists that Islam, in particular, must certainly clash with the West during this period. However, as the example of Turkey shows, this clash is not necessarily concerned with geographical boundaries of nations or civilizations. Rather, this is a clash of cultures, that is, “global culture” versus historical culture of the Ottoman Empire (Berman 113).

As Pamuk refers to fundamentalists taking people to “misery and despair,” this clash of cultures may be further understood with reference to economic interests of Turkey (Pamuk 199). Barber writes that all those who oppose Americanization today are Jihadists in a war being waged at present, that is, Jihad vs. McWorld. Although the word, Jihad, is distinctly Muslim, the author does not refer to radical Islam alone when he makes mention of Jihad. Rather, Hamas and Hezbollah are in the same group as the Russian Zhirinovsky, the Serbs of Bosnia, and separatists in Occitan France, Quebec and Catalonia (Barber).

The author defines the Jihadists as those who want to keep their traditions in the face of McWorld, which is about “fast music, fast computers, and fast food” (Barber 53). As Jihad vs. McWorld goes on in Turkey, the lives of simpleminded folks, such as the headscarf girls, are destroyed if they cannot escape abusive men and fundamentalist leaders, in addition to all those who confuse them by opposing the headscarf. Such girls may be caught in a situation similar to the Holocaust, with no possibility to escape as the entire world refuses to understand and respect them.

By bringing these girls to his readers’ attention, however, Pamuk has not only managed to help his readers enhance their comprehension of the clash of cultures repeatedly discussed by the media today, but also inspired them to seek solutions through this increased understanding. As Barber points out, neither the Jihad side nor the McWorld is entirely correct. This is the reason why nobody has thus far produced solutions for the headscarf girls in Turkey and other Muslim countries. This momentous task is, therefore, left to the readers of Snow.