While traveling through, İstanbul can often prove overwhelming for tourists and locals alike, people often find different strategies to make sense of their experiences. Several foreigners have drawn on a lexicon of tropes and/or images that represent the city as strange and mysterious – the epitome of eastern promise. By doing so they invoke the kind of orientalist metaphors that date as far back as the mid-eighteenth century, when western aristocrats embarking on the Grand Tour became fascinated with the Ottoman Empire. This stance suggests a basic resistance to empathizing with other cultures: although İstanbul might prove fascinating, its charms are best kept at a distance.
Turkey’s relations with the United States have seldom been at such a low point. In late February 2014, 84 former lawmakers, ambassadors and national security advisers sent an open letter to Barack Obama in protest against what they saw as Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s authoritarian policies that significantly compromised the rule of law. A month later, the American government distanced itself from Erdoğan’s repeated request to forcibly repatriate Islamic scholar Fetullah Gülen to Turkey. Such moves are symptomatic of a U.S. presidency that does not want to involve itself too much in Turkey’s affairs and thereby fuel Erdoğan’s complaints that the West wants to harm him. In any case, criticism from Washington would have little effect on his policies.
ALTHOUGH written from a variety of perspectives at different points in history, all three books reviewed here offer penetrating insights into Turkish politics past and present, as well as commenting on how they are interpreted both inside and outside the country.
Although very different in terms of subject matter, all three books reviewed here offer fascinating insights into the ways writers over time have employed a variety of strategies in an attempt to emphasize the superiority of the western way of life over others.
Turkey’s role in the contemporary world continues to be a subject of intense debate, especially at a time when its economic performance surpasses that of several states within the European Union. In the light of recent developments, with the United Kingdom vetoing a rescue plan approved by the other twenty-six EU countries and therefore facing a future on Europe’s periphery, Turkey can now negotiate from a position of strength, secure in the knowledge that it is no longer Europe’s sole outsider, perpetually confined to its economic and political margins.
Cinema in Turkey differs from other recent books on the subject – notably Gönül Dönmez-Colin’s Turkish Cinema: Identity, Distance and Belonging (2008), and Asuman Suner’s New Turkish Cinema (2009) – in that Arslan focuses less on recent cinema in Turkey and more on the Yeşilçam era from the early 1950s to the late 1980s. More importantly, Arslan does not consider the cinema in Turkey either as ‘Turkish,’ or as expressive of a certain construction of national identity.