Is Allah merciful and compassionate? Elif Shafak on love-based religion, fear-based religion, and the color orange

It was another “driveway moment,” a term coined by a National Public Radio listener to describe the moment when your commute is over, but you sit in your driveway with the radio on, listening to the end of an NPR news item.

The interview was with author Elif Shafak who was promoting her new book The Bastard of Istanbul. A Turkish lawsuit against Shafak based on her new book was recently dismissed. A lawsuit because?…Among other things Shafak discusses the mass movement of Armenians out of Turkey in 1921, accompanied by what many have labeled “genocide,” a taboo subject in Turkey.

Both of Shafak’s grandmothers were Moslem, she relates, but she received a different religious legacy from each of them. To one, religion was based on “jallal” or fear. God was someone who sat up in heaven writing down all your sins. To the other grandmother, religion was joyful and everything could be negotiated.

Mystics of all religions fascinate Shafak, especially the Islamic Sufis. To her, mystics go beyond words and touch the essence of religion. When you approach religion through mysticism, she says, the differences between religions start to dissolve.

And Shafak is a rebel because of the color orange? Another taboo subject that Shafak is not afraid to tackle is the “turkification” of the language. When the Turkish language was purged of words derived from Arabic and Persian in 1923, the meanings of the words were also lost, along with much subtlety of thought, ponders Shafak. For example, many Persian words describing degrees of color were purged from the language. So without Persian, Turks can no longer describe the shades of color between yellow and red.

UPDATE: 8/16/2010
In the course of a discussion about Turkish words for color at Languagehat, MMcM has discovered that the current transcript for the above interview says nothing about the color orange, much less genocide, grandmothers, or the dissolution of the differences between religions. Instead it’s just a short, pedestrian recital of her legal difficulties with the book (it’s available in limited preview on google books here) ending with a recording of the author saying:

Our conversation with the past has been broken. But our history, our stories lie here in the layers just beneath our feet. As a storyteller, it is my job to collect them. Sometimes I liken my writings to walking on a pile of rubble. Atop the pile, I stop and listen for the sounds of breathing amid the stones. Look to the stories beneath your feet.

“Our conversation with the past has been broken”, indeed.

Comments closed, heh.

But at least one blogger was as transfixed by the interview as I was–the grandmothers, the color orange, and all. We both heard her say all those other fascinating things that have now been scrubbed.  But now she has children, and she lives and publishes in Turkey.  Perhaps she can no longer afford to be an unafraid rebel.  But not to worry.  No one in Turkey can read this, because Turkey blocks WordPress subdomain blogs.

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