Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Who is "the Other”? Does it Really Exist?

Ilber Ortayli, Galatasaray University
The OIC-EU (Organisation of the Islamic Countries and European Union) Joint Forum of 12-13 February 2002 in Istanbul

Mr. Chairman, Excellencies, Distinguished guests, Ladies and gentlemen
Let me give a quotation from "the other" about "the others." He says: "We possess in Arabic comprehensive books about the beliefs of all the then-known denominations, sects, philosophical schools and systems of thought, Muslim and non-Muslim, ancient and contemporary. The most famous example of this type of literature is the Book of Religions and Beliefs (Kitabûl Milel Vennahhâl) which was completed in 1127 by Sahrastani, a scholar from Horasan in North Eastern Iran. When we compare his detailed, well-informed and remarkably unbiased accounts with those of the ancient Greeks and Latin texts related to Judaism. For example all that the illustrious Roman historian whom we know as Tacitus, about monotheism was that the Jews worshipped in the temple of Jerusalem the image of a donkey. About the Sabbath, this most precious gift of Judaism to mankind, he remarked only that the Jews were the laziest of all peoples since they took off a full day every week. In order to obtain authoritative information about Judaism, Tacitus had just to walk up one or two blocks where he would have found educated Jews of Hellenic upbringing who could have taught him better in his own language. But he and his Greek masters, whom he copied, lacked the spirit of research and scientific responsibility needed for the task. How different was Sahrastani who took pains in Iran to study in detail and to describe objectively such sects as the Persian dualist, the manichaeuns, and the followers of masdaq, all of whom were of course anathema to him from the point of view of religion. No doubt when we compare it to Tacitus, we have to confess that between Tacitus and Sahrastani, humanity has made a great step forward."

The author of this page is the late professor Shelomo Goitein, the contemporary Jewish patriarch of Oriental and Islamic studies. There is also this group of scholars like Goldsihef, a faithful Jewish scholar, the professor of Jeshivot in Budapest, who never got a professorial title from the Austria-Hungarian Imperial Academic administration, yet who was the most distinguished scholar of Islamic studies. He dedicated his life to study this branch of humanity, and even had been for a while a simple pupil of Jamul Ashar in Cairo.

There are "others" for everyone. For a politician, "the other" means the real other, a trouble maker. As the Arab scholars mention it (Vilayurtu Nas Belâul Arzl): to rule the others, the people, is the great suffering. The others for the other one is the ones who speak another language, and the other for the other one is the one who has another faith. And suddenly, the other is the other for someone who has another kind of nature, either bad or good, another type of dressing and another type of manner in his everyday life. It is the problem of humanity that we still do not study the others well. It is a great pleasure for us to know the other, but we still try less for it. "God this is orient, God this is occident" a wonderful translation from the Holy Koran by Rekert, who dedicated this page in his Westosterriche Divan by Goethe (Velilnahl Masripu Velmagribu). The page gives us the road to understand the others.

The peoples in this world have passed to democracy, but they have no passions and not enough respect for the others. There are some activities under this protection of democracy. Of course, everyone may have his right to propagate his faith and his belief that he can lead missionary activities. But should we do that? If the principles of democracy allow it, should we go to Russia and try to change their faith? Orthodoxy is a faith and a religion, and it also keeps a culture. So the culture and civilisation of Russia is Orthodoxia. This culture contains not only the St. Sophia, the Hram, the cathedral in Kiev, it maintains and protects not only the icons and frescos of different churches, not only the church music and language, but it also gave us one of the best presents of humanity: the Russian novel. So Dostoyevski is a product of this civilisation. Why should we change it, bringing there another faith of Christianity, the Protestant missions? Why should we change the culture and the globality of this world, really taking away freedom under the institution of the propaganda of freedom.

There are in this world religions; there are the religions of others. It is the colour of this world. There are some missionary books which record everything possible and impossible about the faith of others, but there are also books such as the wonderful pamphlet of His Highness Hasan bin Talal, "Christianity in the Arab World." This is a new model, a new type of Sahrastani in our age, in which he describes the religion of others so neutrally, so calmly, and so richly in instance, and it should be an example for everyone. This is the age of religions and faiths, and people have to keep and respect each other's cultures; we have these examples to go by. It is also the task and the homework of everyone to study each other's religion and faith. We have great orientalists in the occidental world, but who are they? They are someone who knows the other, and they are someone who sometimes we can invite, if we need them. It is a small scandal that a dignitary of the European Community a few years ago talked about the Muslim religion and civilisation saying that, well there they are but we don't know them well, you know etc etc. And it was a small scandal that that was the country of de Voilné, Marcelion, and that was a country of great scholars who carried the history of Nadir Shah to the language of Voltaire and who carried the verses of Hafiz into the language of Montaigne and Baudelaire.

It is a task for us to study the occident. We had great scholars in the past like El-Idrisi who even used the sagas of the Scandinavians to research the foundations of the Russian state in order to establish the origins of the Russianism in this world. There are also scholars like Ibn-i Haldun who used the famous book of Fabious Josephus, the famous history of the Jew who revolted against the Romans; even the Rabbinical tradition of the Jewish religion had no idea about this book for centuries. That is what we have too. We have thousands of Turkic peoples and others in Russia who have the best knowledge of the Russian language, but none of them have a deep respect for the history of Russia. Similarly, there are Russians who have tried to understand this civilisation, but have no echo and no customers among his own people. So occidentalism and orientalism should study each other mutually, and that would be a tradition to lead the people.

We are the others and we are not the others. The other does not exist; as we share the same belief of the prophet Abraham, we are all Jewish and our religions are the variation and, after my faith, the perfection of one belief; but we are all children of Abraham. We are not others as we read the translation of Hafiz as Hammer and Goethe did. We are not others as we enjoy Baudelaire and Shakespeare. The trouble is, we have to study the others very well. As Orientals, as we study the occidentals, surely we can bring and produce other types of interpretations. We are not the others because we need to study the text of the Saxons, the Grand Duchy of Burgoine, which can lead us to the new horizons to understand the venture of the humanity. We are not others because we all speak the same ideas, we all express the same faith. Of course, we are others for each other as we have different daily patterns, as we have different foods and flavours, as we have a different musicality in our languages.

It is a new era. The Orientals try to understand the Occidentals better, and the Occidentals should do the same. To understand each other is not a commercial production. We do not need any kind of theatrical performance to show our brotherhood and human appearances, but we need another kind of institutionalisation. As Prof. Bernard Lewis mentioned yesterday, there are now civilisations, whether we like or dislike them, whether we know or have a deep ignorance about each other, there are civilisations and we have started to recognise these civilisations as civilisations at least; that is progress. And there are of course ways of doing that. I think the Spirit of Istanbul which was mentioned yesterday by the French Foreign Minister, but formerly by his ancestors General Bonaparte at the beginning of the 19th century and then the greatest leader of the positivists August Compte: Istanbul is the crossing point, the carrefourre of civilisations and of faiths. And I think this meeting should be one of the first steps towards this idea. There is no division, there should be no conflict between nations, faiths, and between the newly established and emerging organisations. We have to meet each other because we need each other. Thank you for your patience.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Düşünce Kahvesi



Reset Dialogues on Civilazations

NPR: World Music

NYT: Travel and Cities

H-Net Academic Announcements