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Hugh Pope Speaks. Important People (and others) Listen.

September 21, 2010

Hugh Pope is one of the longest-tenured and most respected voice when it comes to Turkey and the surroundings. With ~30 years of journalism and research experience and more language knowledge than I myself would know what to do with, there’s really no quibbles with the resume. And the talk that was offered was through Sabanci University and took place at a fin de siècle Ottoman Bank. These are all good things. So when he gives a talk introducing his new book, Dining with al-Qaeda, we are predisposed to listen.

Every picture of the man comes out blurry because he’s so kinetic. Either that or the salmon-red pants.


The talk itself was interesting, of course. With an editor-imposed title like Dining with al-Qaeda, written in all-caps, Trajan font, Mr. Pope felt the need to defend himself. Informing us that he was originally considering “Eating Out with al-Qaeda” did not bring forth nearly as many sophomoric twitters as I hoped/expected. It should be said, this was a really impressive audience that truly canvassed the international journalism community in Istanbul. And I’m not just saying that because they invited me out for drinks afterwards (though they did) and because my favorite aged English poet was there (though he was). But the talk was not directed towards this audience specifically. If anything, it was a warmup for his book tour that I assume will be taking place across the US soon enough.

In my mind, Pope is strongest when discussing the Turanic and Persian worlds. This is mostly because I am grossly biased, and because I really, really, enjoyed Sons of Conquerors. DwaQ, though, is obviously about the Arab world as well, if not predominantly. I haven’t read it yet, so I wouldn’t know. But all the same, and recognizing that he has much more knowledge in the region than I do, I’m not convinced that Solving Palestine is going to solve most everything. I am 100% for solving Palestine, don’t get me wrong. I just think that the issues revolving around organizing asymmetric violence go far deeper than that.

So the talk was all on Palestine, Arab folk, and how Mr. Pope got himself out of a death sentence while arguing with an al-Qaedali. Cool stuff, to be certain. But not particularly Turkish. And I hope (and imagine) that in DwaQ he goes far beyond the whole “AKP is an exciting dangerous mysterious organism” thing when he discusses Turkey. Oh, and apparently he goes to Sudan. That must be cool. And I should also mention, just as you can’t explain the Middle East with Palestine, I don’t think you can explain the Middle East with al-Qaeda either. And I sincerely doubt that Mr. Pope intends to do just that, but I sincerely hope that his editors and publishers make it seem like he will.

And an interesting discussion of journalism ensued, as you’d expect in a room full of journalism folk. “When I began in journalism, our task was to gather enough crumbs to make a cake.” Lots of consternation about editing, self-censorship, and the sanctity of sources ensued. And maybe in Mr. Pope’s time, people made the cake with crumbs. But now, it seems like, a journalist is just expected to buy the frosting.

Good things, all in all. Talks done by important people, attended by important people, are really the core of expat life, if you’re intending to do more than just Live Life…man. All these folks would love to have protégés and little images of themselves, believe you me. So go to your next meeting, offer to buy a drink for some friendly guy or gal, and get yourself initiated into the journalistic life of the city you live in (especially if its Istanbul, because these dudes are cool). It’s a good way to get to know the lay of the land and meet some good people. There’s free food too. And who knows? You may even learn something.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 13, 2011 2:04 am

    The Fourth Word

    In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.

    The prescribed prayers are the pillar of religion.

    If you want to understand with the certainty that two plus two equals four just how valuable and important are the prescribed prayers, and with what little expense they are gained, and how crazy and harmful is the person who neglects them, pay attention to the following story which is in the form of a comparison:

    One time, a mighty ruler gave each of two of his servants twenty-four gold pieces and sent them to settle on one of his rich, royal farms two months’ distance away. “Use this money for your tickets”, he commanded them, “and buy whatever is necessary for your house there with it. There is a station one day’s distance from the farm. And there is both road-transport, and a railway, and boats, and aeroplanes. They can be benefited from according to your capital.”

    The two servants set off after receiving these instructions. One of them was fortunate so that he spent a small amount of money on the way to the station. And included in that expense was some business so profitable and pleasing to his master that his capital increased a thousandfold. As for the other servant, since he was luckless and a layabout, he spent twenty-three pieces of gold on the way to the station, wasting it on gambling and amusements. A single gold piece remained. His friend said to him: “Spend this last gold piece on a ticket so that you will not have to walk the long journey and starve. Moreover, our master is generous; perhaps he will take pity on you and forgive you your faults, and put you on an aeroplane as well. Then we shall reach where we are going to live in one day. Otherwise you will be compelled to walk alone and hungry across a desert which takes two months to cross.” The most unintelligent person can understand how foolish, harmful, and senseless he would be if out of obstinacy he did not spend that single remaining gold piece on a ticket, which is like the key to a treasury, and instead spent it on vice for passing pleasure. Is that not so?

    And so, O you who do not perform the prescribed prayers! And O my own soul, which does not like to pray! The ruler in the comparison is our Sustainer, our Creator. And of the two travelling servants, one represents the devout who perform their prayers with fervour, and the other, the heedless who neglect their prayers. The twenty-four pieces of gold are life in every twenty-four-hour day. And the royal domain is Paradise. As for the station, that is the grave. While the journey is man’s passage to the grave, and on to the Resurrection, and the Hereafter. Men cover that long journey to different degrees according to their actions and the strength of their fear of God. Some of the truly devout have crossed a thousand-year distance in a day like lightening. And some have traversed a fifty-thousand-year distance in a day with the speed of imagination. The Qur’an of Mighty Stature alludes to this truth with two of its verses.

    The ticket in the comparison represents the prescribed prayers. A single hour a day is sufficient for the five prayers together with taking the ablutions. So what a loss a person makes who spends twenty-three hours on this fleeting worldly life, and fails to spend one hour on the long life of the Hereafter; how he wrongs his own self; how unreasonably he behaves. For would not anyone who considers himself to be reasonable understand how contrary to reason and wisdom such a person’s conduct is, and how far from reason he has become, if, thinking it reasonable, he gives half of his property to a lottery in which one thousand people are participating and the possibility of winning is one in a thousand, and does not give one twenty-fourth of it to an eternal treasury where the possibility of winning has been verified at ninety-nine out of a hundred?

    Moreover, the spirit, the heart, and the mind find great ease in prayer. And it is not trying for the body. Furthermore, with the right intention, all the other acts of someone who performs the prescribed prayers become like worship. He can make over the whole capital of his life to the Hereafter in this way. He can make his transient life permanent in one respect…

    * * *

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