فصل 05

کتاب: برف / درس 5

فصل 05

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CHAPTER FIVE

I Hope I’m Not Taking Too Much of Your Time?

the first and last conversation between the murderer and his victim When, in full view of Ka and Ipek, the tiny man in the New Life Pastry Shop shot him in the head and the chest, the director of the Institute of Education was wearing a concealed tape recorder. The device—an imported Grundig—had been secured to his chest with duct tape by the diligent agents of the Kars branch of MIT, the national intelli- ˙ gence agency. The director had received a number of threats after barring covered girls from the classroom. When the civil security agents who keep track of fundamentalist activities confirmed that these threats were serious, the Kars branch decided it was time to offer the potential victim some protection. But the director did not wish to have an agent lumbering like a bear after him. Although he identified himself with the secular political camp, he believed in fate as much as any other religious man. He preferred to record the death threats, with a view to having the guilty parties arrested later. He had stepped into the New Life Pastry Shop on a whim, to have one of those walnut-filled crescent pastries he loved so much. When he saw a stranger approach, he switched on the tape recorder, as was now his practice in all such situations. The device took two bullets— not enough to save his life—but the tapes survived intact. Years later, I was able to acquire a transcript from the director’s widow, her eyes still not dry, and his daughter, who by then had become a famous model.

—Hello, sir. Do you recognize me?

—No, I’m afraid I don’t.

—That’s what I thought you’d say, sir. Because we haven’t ever met. I did try to come and see you last night and then again this morning.

Yesterday the police turned me away from the school doors. This morning I managed to get inside, but your secretary wouldn’t let me see you. I wanted to catch you before you went into class. That’s when you saw me.

Do you remember me now, sir?

—No, I don’t.

—Are you saying you don’t remember me, or are you saying you don’t remember seeing me?

—What did you want to see me about?

—To tell you the truth, I’d like to talk to you for hours, even days, about everything under the sun. You’re an eminent, enlightened, educated man. Sadly, I myself was not able to pursue my studies. But there’s one subject I know backward and forward, and that’s the subject I was hoping to discuss with you. I’m sorry, sir. I hope I’m not taking too much of your time?

—Not at all.

—Excuse me, sir, do you mind if I sit down? We have a great deal of ground to cover.

—Please. Be my guest.

(The sound of someone pulling out a chair.)

—I see you’re eating a pastry with walnuts. We have lots of walnut trees in Tokat. Have you ever been to Tokat?

—I’m sorry to say I haven’t.

—I’m so sorry to hear that, sir. If you ever do come to visit, you must stay with me. I’ve spent my whole life in Tokat, all thirty-six years. Tokat is very beautiful. Turkey is very beautiful too. But it’s such a shame that we know so little about our own country, that we can’t find it in our hearts to love our own kind. Instead we admire those who show our country disrespect and betray its people. I hope you don’t mind if I ask you a question, sir. You’re not an atheist, are you?

—No, I’m not.

—People say you are, but I myself would find it hard to believe that a man of your education would—God forbid—deny God’s existence. But you’re not a Jew either, are you?

—No, I’m not.

—You’re a Muslim?

—Yes. Glory be to God, I am.

—You’re smiling, sir. I’d like to ask you to take my question seriously and answer it properly. Because I’ve traveled all the way from Tokat in the dead of winter just to hear you answer it.

—How did you come to hear of me in Tokat?

—There has been nothing in the Istanbul papers, sir, about your decision to deny schooling to girls who cover their heads as dictated by their religion and the Holy Koran. All those papers care about are scandals involving fashion models. But in beautiful Tokat we have a Muslim radio station called Flag that keeps us informed about the injustices perpetrated on the faithful in every corner of the country.

—I could never do an injustice to a believer. I too fear God.

—It took me two days to get here, sir, two days on snowy, stormy roads. While I was sitting on that bus I thought of no one but you, and believe me, I knew all along that you were going to tell me you feared God. And here’s the question I imagined asking you next, sir. With all due respect, Professor Nuri Yılmaz, if you fear God, if you believe that the Holy Koran is the word of God, let’s hear your views on the beautiful thirty-first verse of the chapter entitled Heavenly Light.

—Yes, it’s true. This verse states very clearly that women should cover their heads and even their faces.

—Congratulations, sir! That’s a good straight answer. And now, with your permission, sir, I’d like to ask you something else. How can you reconcile God’s command with this decision to ban covered girls from the classroom?

—We live in a secular state. It’s the secular state that has banned covered girls, from schools as well as classrooms.

—Excuse me, sir. May I ask you a question? Can a law imposed by the state cancel out God’s law?

—That’s a very good question. But in a secular state these matters are separate.

—That’s another good straight answer, sir. May I kiss your hand?

Please, sir, don’t be afraid. Give me your hand. Give me your hand and watch how lovingly I kiss it. Oh, God be praised. Thank you. Now you know how much respect I have for you. May I ask you another question, sir?

—Please. Go right ahead.

—My question is this, sir. Does the word secular mean godless?

—No.

—In that case, how can you explain why the state is banning so many girls from the classroom in the name of secularism, when all they are doing is obeying the laws of their religion?

—Honestly, my son. Arguing about such things will get you nowhere. They argue about it day and night on Istanbul television, and where does it get us? The girls are still refusing to take off their head scarves and the state is still barring them from the classroom.

—In that case, sir, may I ask you another question? I beg your pardon, but when I think about these poor hardworking girls of ours—who have been denied an education, who are so polite and so hardworking and who have bowed their heads to God-only-knows how many decrees already—the question I cannot help asking is, How does all this fit in with what our constitution says about educational and religious freedom?

Please, sir, tell me. Isn’t your conscience bothering you?

—If those girls were as obedient as you say they are, they’d have taken off their head scarves. What’s your name, my son? Where do you live?

What sort of work do you do?

—I work at the Happy Friends Teahouse, which is just next door to Tokat’s famous Mothlight Hamam. I’m in charge of the stoves and the teapots. My name’s not important. I listen to Flag radio all day long. Every once in a while I’ll get really upset about something I’ve heard, about an injustice done to a believer. And because I live in a democracy, because I happen to be a free man who can do as he pleases, I sometimes end up getting on a bus and traveling to the other end of Turkey to track down the perpetrator, wherever he is, and have it out with him face-to-face. So please, sir, answer my question. What’s more important, a decree from Ankara or a decree from God?

—This discussion is going nowhere, son. What hotel are you staying at?

—What, are you thinking of turning me in to the police? Don’t be afraid of me, sir. I don’t belong to any religious organizations. I despise terrorism. I believe in the love of God and the free exchange of ideas.

That’s why I never end a free exchange of ideas by hitting anyone, even though I have a quick temper. All I want is for you to answer this question. So please excuse me, sir, but when you think about the cruel way you treated those poor girls in front of your institute—when you remember that these girls were only obeying the word of God as set out so clearly in the Confederate Tribe and Heavenly Light chapters of the Holy Koran— doesn’t your conscience trouble you at all?

—My son, the Koran also says that thieves should have their hands chopped off, but the state doesn’t do that. Why aren’t you opposing this?

—That’s an excellent answer, sir. Allow me to kiss your hand. But how can you equate the hand of a thief with the honor of our women? According to statistics released by the American Black Muslim professor Marvin King, the incidence of rape in Islamic countries where women cover themselves is so low as to be nonexistent and harassment is virtually unheard of. This is because a woman who has covered herself is making a statement. Through her choice of clothing, she is saying, Don’t harass me. So please, sir, may I ask you a question? Do we really want to push our covered women to the margins of society by denying them the right to an education? If we continue to worship women who take off their head scarves (and just about everything else too), don’t we run the risk of degrading them as we have seen so many women in Europe degraded in the wake of the sexual revolution? And if we succeed in degrading our women, aren’t we also running the risk of—pardon my language—turning ourselves into pimps?

—I’ve finished my pastry, son. I’m afraid I have to leave.

—Stay in your seat, sir. Stay in your seat and I won’t have to use this.

Do you see what this is, sir?

—Yes. It’s a gun.

—That’s right, sir. I hope you don’t mind. I came a long way to see you. I’m not stupid. It crossed my mind that you might refuse to hear me out. That’s why I took precautions.

—What’s your name, son?

—Vahit Süzme. Salim Fe¸ smekân. Really, sir, what difference does it make? I’m the nameless defender of nameless heroes who have suffered untold wrongs while seeking to uphold their religious beliefs in a society that is in thrall to secular materialism. I’m not a member of any organization. I respect human rights and I oppose the use of violence. That’s why I’m putting my gun in my pocket. That’s why all I want from you is an answer to my question.

—Fine.

—Then let us go back to the beginning, sir. Let’s remember what you did to these girls whose upbringing took so many years of loving care.

Who were the apples of their parents’ eyes. Who were so very, very intelligent. Who worked so hard at their studies. Who were all at the top of the class. When the order came from Ankara, you set about denying their existence. If one of them wrote her name down on the attendance sheet, you erased it—just because she was wearing a head scarf. If seven girls sat down with their teacher, you pretended that the one wearing the head scarf wasn’t there, and you’d order six teas. Do you know what you did to these girls? You made them cry. But it didn’t stop there. Soon there was another directive from Ankara, and after that you barred them from their classrooms. You threw them out into the corridors, and then you banned them from the corridors and threw them out into the street. And then, when a handful of these heroines gathered trembling at the doors of the school to make their concerns known, you picked up the phone and called the police.

—We’re not the ones who called the police.

—I know you’re afraid of the gun in my pocket. But please, sir, don’t lie. The night after you had those girls dragged off and arrested, did your conscience let you sleep? That’s my question.

—Of course, the real question is how much suffering we’ve caused our womenfolk by turning head scarves into symbols and using women as pawns in a political game.

—How can you call it a game, sir? When that girl who had to choose between her honor and her education—what a pity—sank into a depression and killed herself, was that a game?

—You’re very upset, my boy. But has it never occurred to you that foreign powers might be behind all this? Don’t you see how they might have politicized the head-scarf issue so that they can turn Turkey into a weak and divided nation?

—If you’d let those girls back into your school, sir, there would be no head-scarf issue.

—Is it really my decision? These orders come from Ankara. My own wife wears a head scarf.

—Stop sucking up to me. Answer the question I just asked you.

—Which question was that?

—Is your conscience bothering you?

—My child, I’m a father too. Of course I feel sorry for those girls.

—Look. I’m very good at holding myself back. But once I blow my fuse, it’s all over. When I was in prison, I once beat up a man just because he forgot to cover his mouth when he yawned. Oh, yes, I made men of all of them in there. I cured every man in that prison wing of all his bad habits. I even got them praying. So stop trying to squirm out of this. Let’s hear an answer to my question. What did I just say?

—What did you say, son? Lower that gun.

—I didn’t ask you if you have a daughter but if you’re sorry.

—Pardon me, son. What did you ask?

—Don’t think you have to butter me up, just because you’re afraid of the gun. Just remember what I asked you. (Silence.) —What did you ask me?

—I asked you if your conscience was troubling you, infidel!

—Of course it’s troubling me.

—Then why do you persist? Is it because you have no shame?

—My son, I’m a teacher. I’m old enough to be your father. Is it written in the Koran that you should point guns at your elders and insult them?

—Don’t you dare let the word Koran pass your lips. Do you hear? And stop looking over your shoulder like you’re asking for help. If you shout for help I won’t hesitate. I’ll shoot. Is that clear?

—Yes, it’s clear.

—Then answer this question: What good can come to this country if women uncover their heads? Give me one good reason. Say something you believe with all your heart. Say, for example, that by uncovering themselves they’ll get Europeans to start treating them like human beings. At least then I’ll understand what your motives are and I won’t shoot you. I’ll let you go.

—My dear child. I have a daughter myself. She doesn’t wear a head scarf. I don’t interfere with her decision, just as I don’t interfere with my wife’s decision to wear one.

—Why did your daughter decide to uncover herself

—does she want to become a film star?

—She’s never said anything of the sort. She’s in Ankara studying public relations. But she’s been a tremendous support to me since I’ve come under attack over this head-scarf issue. Whenever I get upset about the things people say, whenever I am slandered or threatened, whenever I have to face the wrath of my enemies—or people like you, who have every right to be angry—she calls me from Ankara and—

—And she says, Grit your teeth, Dad. I’m going to be a film star.

—No, son, she doesn’t say that. She says, Father dear, if I had to go into a classroom full of covered girls, I wouldn’t dare go in uncovered. I’d wear a head scarf even if I didn’t want to.

—So what if she didn’t want to cover herself, what harm could come of it?

—Honestly, I couldn’t tell you. You asked me to give you a reason.

—So tell me, you shameless brute. Do you mean to tell me that this was your thinking when you allowed the police to club these devout girls who have covered their heads at God’s command? Are you trying to tell me that you drove them to suicide just to please your daughter? —There are plenty of women in Turkey who think the way my daughter does.

—When ninety percent of women in this country wear head scarves, it’s hard to see who these film stars think they’re speaking for. You might be proud to see your daughter exposing herself, you shameless tyrant, but get this into your head. I might not be a professor, but I know a lot more about this subject than you do.

—My good man, please don’t point your gun at me. You’re very upset. If the gun goes off, you’ll live to regret it.

—Why would I regret it? Why would I have spent two days traveling through this miserable snow if not to wipe out an infidel? As the Holy Koran states, it is my duty to kill any tyrant who visits cruelty on believers. But because I feel sorry for you I’m going to give you one last chance.

Give me just one reason why your conscience doesn’t bother you when you order covered women to uncover themselves, and I swear I won’t shoot you.

—When a woman takes off her head scarf, she occupies a more comfortable place in society and gets more respect.

—That might be what that film-star daughter of yours thinks, but the opposite is true. Head scarves protect women from harassment, rape, and degradation. It’s the head scarf that gives women respect and a comfortable place in society. We’ve heard this from many women who’ve chosen later in life to cover themselves. Women like the old belly dancer Melahat ¸Sandra. The veil saves women from the animal instincts of men in the street. It saves them the ordeal of entering beauty contests to compete with other women. They don’t have to live like sex objects, they don’t have to wear makeup all day. As the American Black Muslim professor Marvin King has already noted, if the celebrated film star Elizabeth Taylor had spent the last twenty years covered, she would not have had to worry so much about being fat. She would not have ended up in a mental hospital. She might have known some happiness. Pardon me, sir. May I ask you a question? Why are you laughing, sir? Do you think I’m trying to be funny? (Silence.) Go ahead and tell me, you shameless atheist. Why are you laughing?

—My dear child, please believe me! I’m not laughing! Or if I did laugh, I was laughing out of nerves.

—No, you weren’t. You were laughing with conviction!

—Please believe me, I feel nothing but compassion for all the people in this country—like you, like those covered girls—who are suffering for this cause.

—Sucking up to me will get you nowhere. I’m not suffering one bit.

But you’re going to suffer now for laughing about those girls who committed suicide. And now that you’ve laughed at them, there’s no chance you’ll show remorse. So let me tell you where things stand now. It’s quite some time now since the Freedom Fighters for Islamic Justice condemned you to death. They reached their verdict in Tokat five days ago and sent me here to execute the sentence. If you hadn’t laughed, I might have relented and forgiven you. Take this piece of paper. Let’s hear you read out your death sentence. (Silence.) Stop crying like a woman. Read it out in a good strong voice. Hurry up, you shameless idiot. If you don’t hurry up, I’m going to shoot.

—“I, Professor Nuri Yılmaz, am an atheist”—my dear child, I’m not an atheist!

—Keep reading.

—My child, you’re not going to shoot me while I’m reading this, are you?

—If you don’t keep reading it, I’m going to shoot you.

—“I confess to being a pawn in a secret plan to strip the Muslims of the secular Turkish Republic of their religion and their honor and thereby to turn them into slaves of the West. As for the girls who would not take off their head scarves, because they were devout and mindful of what is written in the Koran, I visited such cruelty on them that one girl could bear it no more and committed suicide. . . .” My dear child, with your permission, I’d like to make an objection here. I’d be grateful if you could pass this on to the committee that sent you. This girl didn’t hang herself because she was barred from the classroom. And it wasn’t because of the pressure her father put on her either. MIT has already told us she was suf- ˙ fering from a broken heart.

—That’s not what she said in her suicide note.

—Please forgive me, but my child, I think you should know—please lower that gun—that even before she got married, this uneducated girl was naïve enough to give herself to a policeman twenty-five years her senior. And—it’s an awful pity—but it was after he’d told her he was married and had no intention of marrying her— —Shut up, you disgrace. That’s something your prostitute of a daughter would do.

—Don’t do this, my son, don’t do this. If you shoot me, you’re only darkening your own future.

—Say you’re sorry.

—I’m sorry, son. Don’t shoot.

—Open your mouth. I want to shove the gun inside. Now put your finger on top of mine and pull the trigger. You’ll still be an infidel but at least you’ll die with honor. (Silence.)

—My child, look what I’ve come to. At my age, I’m crying. I’m begging you. Take pity on me. Take pity on yourself. You’re still so young.

And you’re going to become a murderer.

—Then pull the trigger yourself. See for yourself how much suicide hurts.

—My child, I’m a Muslim. I’m opposed to suicide.

—Open your mouth. (Silence.) Don’t cry like that. Didn’t it ever cross your mind that one day you’d have to pay for what you’ve done? Stop crying or I’ll shoot.

(The voice of the old waiter in the distance.)

—Should I bring your tea to this table, sir?

—No, thank you. I’m about to leave.

—Don’t look at the waiter. Keep reading your death sentence.

—My son, please forgive me.

—I said read.

—“I am ashamed of all the things I have done. I know I deserve to die and in the hope that God Almighty will forgive me . . .” —Keep reading.

—My dear child. Let this old man cry for a few moments. Let me think about my wife and my daughter one last time.

—Think about the girls whose lives you destroyed. One had a nervous breakdown, four were kicked out of school in their third year. One committed suicide. The ones who stood trembling outside the doors of your school all came down with fevers and ended up in bed. Their lives were ruined.

—I am so very sorry, my dear, dear child. But what good will it do if you shoot me and turn yourself into a murderer? Think of that.

—All right. I will. (Silence.) I’ve given it some thought, sir. And here’s what I’ve worked out.

—What?

—I’d been wandering around the miserable streets of Kars for two days and getting nowhere. Then I decided it must be fate, so I bought my return ticket to Tokat. I was drinking my last glass of tea when— —My child, if you thought you could kill me and then escape on the last bus out of Kars, let me warn you. The roads are closed due to the snow. The six o’clock bus has been canceled. Don’t live to regret this.

—Just as I was turning around, God sent you into the New Life Pastry Shop. And if God’s not going to forgive you, why should I? Say your last words. Say, “God is great.”

—Sit down, son. I’m warning you—this state of ours will catch you all—and hang you.

—Say, “God is great.”

—Calm down, my child. Stop. Sit down. Think it over one more time.

Don’t pull that trigger. Stop. (The sound of a gunshot. The sound of a chair pushed out.) Don’t, my son! (Two more gunshots. Silence. A groan. The sound of a television. One more gunshot. Silence.)

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