فصل 07

کتاب: برف / درس 7

فصل 07

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Political Islamist Is Only a Name That

Westerners and Seculars Give Us at party headquarters, police headquarters, and once again in the streets

It was spooky sitting in darkness and total silence, but Ka preferred this to sitting in a well-lit room and chatting with Muhtar like old friends. Now all they had in common was Ipek, and while part of Ka was ˙ very eager to discuss her, another part was just as keen to conceal his feelings. He also feared that Muhtar might tell more stories, revealing himself to be even more stupid, and in that case Ka would be compelled to wonder why Ipek had stayed married to this man for so many years. He had ˙ no wish to discover her unworthy of his devotion.

So he relaxed when Muhtar, losing patience with his own story,

changed the subject to left-wing friends and political exiles who had fled to Germany. Ka smiled and told him what he’d heard about Tufan, their curly-haired friend from Malatya, who had once written about thirdworld issues for various periodicals: It seems he’d lost his mind. Ka last saw him in the central station in Stuttgart; he had a great long pole in his hands with a wet cloth tied to the end, and he was racing back and forth mopping the floor, whistling as he worked. Then Muhtar asked about Mahmut, the man who, never one to mince words, had once caused so much upset. Ka explained how Mahmut had joined the fundamentalist group of Hayrullah Efendi; he now devoted himself to its internal wranglings with the same argumentative fury he had shown as a leftist, except that now his issue was who got to control which mosque. As for the lovable Süleyman, Ka smiled when he told how he had been living off the dole of a church charity that had given refuge to many political exiles from the third world, but having grown so bored with life in the small town of Traunstein, he’d returned to Turkey, even knowing full well he’d be thrown into prison the moment he got there.

Ka spoke about Hikmet, who had died under mysterious circumstances while working as a chauffeur in Berlin; Fadıl, who had married the elderly widow of a Nazi officer and now ran a small hotel with her; and Tarık the theoretician, who had made a fortune working with the Turkish mafia in Hamburg. As for Sadık, who alongside Muhtar, Ka, Taner, and Ipek had once folded periodicals fresh off the press, he was ˙ now running a gang that smuggled illegal immigrants over the Alps and into Germany. Muharrem, the famous sulker, was now living a happy underground life with his family in the Berlin metro, in one of those ghost stations abandoned at the time of the Cold War and the wall. As the train sped between the Kreuzberg and Alexanderplatz stations, the retired Turkish socialists on board would stand to attention just as the old bandits of Istanbul would salute whenever passing through Arnavutköy, gazing into the swirling waters where a legendary gangster had driven over the edge and perished. Even if they didn’t recognize one another, the political exiles standing to attention in the car would cast furtive looks about them to see whether any fellow passengers might also be honoring the legendary hero of their secret cause. It was in such a metro car that Ka met up with Ruhi, who had once been so critical of his leftist friends for their refusal to engage with psychology; Ka found out that Ruhi was now working as a test subject in a study measuring the effectiveness of an advertising campaign for a new type of lamb pastrami pizza marketed to Turkish workers in the lowest income bracket.

Of all the political exiles Ka had met in Germany, the happiest was Ferhat, who had joined the PKK and was now attacking various offices of Turkish Airlines with revolutionary fervor; he’d also been seen on CNN, throwing Molotov cocktails at Turkish consulates; apparently he was now learning Kurdish and dreaming of a second career as a Kurdish poet. As for the few others Muhtar asked about with a strange note of concern in his voice, Ka had long forgotten them; he could only guess that they had followed in the paths of so many others, who joined small gangs, worked for the secret services or some segment of the black market, or otherwise vanished or went underground. Some, no doubt, had ended up by some violent means at the bottom of a canal.

His old friend had lit a match by now, so Ka was able to see the ghostly furniture of the branch party headquarters, and once he had located the old coffee table and the gas stove, he stood up and moved to the window, where he fixed his attention on the falling snow.

The flakes wafting past him were huge and ripe. Ka found a soothing elegance in their slow, white fullness, which was all the more luminous when a bluish light from an unknown part of the city shone through them. His mind returned to the snowy evenings of his childhood, when storms caused power outages and all through the house Ka would hear fearful whispers—“God save the poor!”—and his childish heart beat faster and he was so glad to have a family. He watched sadly as a horse and carriage struggled through the snow: in the darkness he could see only the head of the burdened creature, swinging from side to side.

“Muhtar, do you still pay visits to your sheikh?”

“Do you mean His Excellency Saadettin Efendi?” asked Muhtar.

“Yes, I do, every once in a while. Why do you ask?”

“What does this man have to offer you?”

“A little companionship and, even if it doesn’t last very long, a little compassion. He’s well-informed.”

In his voice Ka heard not serenity but disillusionment. “I live a very solitary life in Germany,” Ka said, obstinately continuing the conversation. “When I look over the rooftops of Frankfurt in the middle of the night, I sense that the world and my life are not without purpose. I hear sounds inside me.”

“What sorts of sounds?”

“It may just have to do with fear of getting old and dying,” Ka said, with embarrassment. “If I were an author and Ka were a character in a book, I’d say, ‘Snow reminds Ka of God!’ But I’m not sure it would be accurate. What brings me close to God is the silence of snow.” “The religious right, this country’s Muslim conservatives”—Muhtar was speaking rapidly, as though willing himself to be carried away by a false hope—“after my years as a leftist atheist, these people came as such a great relief. You should meet them. I’m sure you’d warm to them too.” “Do you really think so?”

“Well, for one thing, all these religious men are modest, gentle, understanding. Unlike westernized Turks, they don’t instinctively despise the common people; they’re compassionate and wounded themselves. If they got to know you, they’d like you. There would be no harsh words.” As Ka knew from the beginning, in this part of the world faith in God was not something achieved by thinking sublime thoughts and stretching one’s creative powers to their outer limits; nor was it some thing one could do alone; above all it meant joining a mosque, becoming part of a community. Nevertheless, Ka was still disappointed that Muhtar could talk so much about his group without once mentioning God or his own private faith. He despised Muhtar for it. But as he pressed his forehead against the window, he said something altogether different.

“Muhtar, if I started to believe in God, you would be disappointed, and I think you’d despise me.”


“The idea of a solitary westernized individual whose faith in God is private is very threatening to you. An atheist who belongs to a community is far easier for you to trust than a solitary man who believes in God. For you, a solitary man is far more wretched and sinful than a nonbeliever.” “I am a solitary man,” said Muhtar.

The fact that he could say these words with such sincerity and conviction filled Ka with rancor and pity. It seemed to him that darkness had given them both a certain drunken confidence. “I know I’m not going to be one, but say I did become the sort of believer who prays five times a day. Why would that disturb you? Perhaps because you can embrace your religion and your community only if godless secularists like me are overseeing business and government affairs. A man can’t pray to his heart’s content in this country unless he can depend on the efficiency of the atheist who’s an expert at managing the West and the other aspects of worldly business.”

“But you’re not one of those godless businessmen. I can take you to see His Excellency the Sheikh whenever you like.”

“I think our friendly policemen have arrived!” said Ka.

Through the icy window they saw two plainclothes cops struggling to get out of a patrol car parked just below, at the entrance to the arcade.

“I’m going to ask a favor now,” said Muhtar. “In a moment these men are going to come upstairs and take us off to the station. They won’t arrest you, they’ll just take your statement and let you go. You can go back to your hotel, and in the evening Turgut Bey will invite you to dinner and you’ll join him at his table. Of course his devoted daughters will be there too. So what I’d like is for you to say the following to Ipek. Are you listen- ˙ ing to me? Tell Ipek that I want to marry her again! It was a mistake for ˙ me to ask her to cover herself in accordance with Islamic law. Tell her I’m through acting like a jealous provincial husband and that I’m shamed and sorry for the pressures I put on her during our marriage!”

“Haven’t you already said these things to her?”

“I have, but I got nowhere. It’s possible that she didn’t believe me, seeing as I’m the district head of the Prosperity Party. But you’re a different sort of man; you’ve come all the way from Istanbul, all the way from Germany even. If you tell her, she’ll believe it.”

“Seeing as you’re the district head of the Prosperity Party, isn’t it going to cause you political difficulties if your wife isn’t covering herself ?” “With God’s permission I’m going to win the election in four days’ time and become the mayor,” said Muhtar. “But it’s far more important to me that you tell Ipek how sorry I am; I’ll probably still be behind bars. ˙ Brother, could you do this for me?”

Ka had a moment of indecision. Then he said, “Yes, I will.” Muhtar embraced Ka and kissed him on both cheeks. Ka felt a mixture of pity and revulsion; he despised himself for not being pure and openhearted like Muhtar.

“And I’d be very grateful if you would take this poem to Istanbul and deliver it by hand to Fahir,” said Muhtar. “It’s the one I just mentioned to you, its title is ‘The Staircase.’ ”

Ka was just putting the poem into his pocket when three plainclothes policemen entered the darkened room; two were carrying huge flashlights. They were capable and efficient and it was clear from their demeanor that they knew exactly what Ka was doing there with Muhtar; it was clear to Ka that they were from MIT. They insisted all the same on ˙ seeing Ka’s identity card and asking him his business. Ka said once again that he had come to cover the municipal elections and the suicide girls for the Republican.

“It’s because people like you are writing about them in the Istanbul papers that these girls are committing suicide in the first place,” said one of the policemen.

“No, it’s not,” Ka said stubbornly.

“What’s your explanation then?”

“They’re committing suicide because they’re unhappy.”

“We’re unhappy too, but we don’t commit suicide.”

While this conversation was going on, they were combing the branch headquarters with their flashlights, opening cabinets, taking out drawers, dumping their contents onto tabletops, and leafing through files. They turned Muhtar’s table upside down to look for weapons, and they pulled out one of the heavy filing cabinets to look behind that. They treated Ka much better than they treated Muhtar.

“After you saw the director of the Institute being shot, why did you come here instead of going straight to the police?”

“I had an appointment here.”


“We’re old friends from university,” said Muhtar, in an apologetic voice. “And the daughter of the owner of the Snow Palace Hotel, where he’s staying, is my wife. Just before the incident, they called me and made an appointment. Our phones here at party headquarters are tapped, so you’ll have no trouble verifying this.”

“What do you know about our tapping your phones?”

“I beg your pardon,” said Muhtar, without the slightest annoyance. “I don’t know for sure—I was only guessing. Maybe I am wrong.” Ka felt a tinge of respect for Muhtar, who had ingratiated himself with the policemen treating him roughly, who was taking their pushing and shoving with equanimity, who, like the rest of Kars, shrugged off the power outages and the dreary muddiness of the roads.

Having searched every corner of the branch headquarters, overturned every drawer, and emptied every file folder, the policemen bound a few discoveries together with string, noting them for the official record, and threw the bundle into a sack. Then they took Ka and Muhtar down to the patrol car. As they sat in the back side by side like two mum and guilty children, Ka saw subordination return to the huge white hands resting like two fat old dogs on Muhtar’s knees.

As the patrol car inched its way through the dark snow-covered streets, the two stared miserably at the weak orangey lights shining out through the half-drawn curtains of the old Armenian mansions, at the elderly clutching plastic bags and struggling down the icy pavements, at the dark old empty houses, lonely as ghosts. On the billboard in front of the National Theater a poster announced that evening’s performance.

The workmen were still out on the streets installing the cable for the live transmission. The crowds milling around the bus station looked ever more impatient with the roads still closed.

The snowflakes now seemed large as the ones in those boules de neige Ka had played with as a child; as the police car trundled slowly through the snow he felt as if he were inside a fairy tale. Because the driver was taking great care, even this short trip took seven or eight minutes, but all the while he exchanged only one look with Muhtar; he could tell from his friend’s miserable look of resignation that when they reached police headquarters Muhtar would get a beating while he himself would be spared.

He read something else into the look his friend gave him, and it would stay with him many years: Muhtar thought he deserved the beating he was about to get. Even with the certainty of his winning the election in four days’ time, there was something so unsettling about his composure as to make him seem contrite for what had not yet happened; it was almost as if he were thinking, I deserve this beating not just for having insisted on settling in this godforsaken city but for having succumbed once again to the desire for power; I won’t let them break my spirit, but I still hate myself for knowing all this and so I feel inferior to you. Please, when you look me straight in the eye, don’t throw my shame back at me.

While the plainclothesmen didn’t separate Ka from Muhtar after parking the patrol car in the inner courtyard of police headquarters, there was nevertheless a marked difference in the treatment of the two men.

Ka was a famous journalist from Istanbul who could, if he wrote something critical, get them into a lot of trouble, so they treated him like a witness who was there to help the authorities with their investigation. But with Muhtar it was as if to say, Not you again! and so even when they returned to Ka it was as if to say, What is a man like you doing with a man like him? Innocently Ka assumed it was Muhtar’s ingratiating replies that made them think him, on the one hand, stupid (do you really think we’re going to let you take over the country?) and, on the other, confused (if only you could get your own life in order). Only much later would Ka make the painful discovery that the police were pursuing a different line altogether.

Hoping he might be able to identify the tiny man who had shot the director of the Institute of Education, they took Ka into a side room to peruse an archive of about a hundred black-and-white photographs. Here was every political Islamist from Kars and the surrounding areas who had ever been detained even once by the police. Most of them were young Kurds, from the villages or else unemployed, but there were also mug shots of street vendors, students attending religious high schools or universities, teachers, and Sunni Turks. As Ka looked at photograph after photograph of doleful youths staring miserably into the police camera, he thought he recognized two teenagers from his walk around the city earlier in the day, but he saw no one who resembled the tiny and, it seemed to him, older man who’d committed the murder.

Ka returned to find Muhtar hunched on the same stool, but his nose was bleeding and one eye was shot with red. Muhtar made one or two shameful gestures and then hid his face behind a handkerchief. In the silence Ka imagined that Muhtar had found redemption in this beating; it might have released him from the guilt and spiritual agony he felt at the misery and stupidity of his country. Two days later, just before receiving the unhappiest news of his life—and having by then fallen into the same state as Muhtar—Ka would have reason to recall his foolish fantasy.

Moments later, they returned Ka to the side room to give his statement. Sitting across from a young policeman using the same old Remington typewriter he remembered his lawyer father using on nights when he brought work home, Ka described the slaying of the director of the Institute of Education, and as he spoke it occurred to him that they had shown him Muhtar in order to frighten him.

He was released soon afterward, but Muhtar’s face remained before his eyes for some time. In the old days, the provincial police weren’t quite so ready to beat up religious conservatives. But Muhtar was not from one of the center-right parties; he was a proponent of radical Islam. Once again Ka wondered if this stance had something to do with Muhtar’s personality. He walked through the snow for a long, long time. At the end of Army Avenue, he sat down on a wall and smoked a cigarette, while he watched a group of children slipping and sliding on a side street in the lamplight. The poverty and the violence he had seen that day had tired him, but he was propped up by the hope that with Ipek’s love he would ˙ be able to begin a new life.

Later on, walking through the snow again, he found himself on the pavement across the street from the New Life Pastry Shop. The window was broken and the navy-blue light atop the police patrol car parked out front was flashing; it cast an almost spiritual glow over the shop employees and the pack of children gathered around the car, and it imbued the falling snow with a divine patience. When Ka joined the crowd, the police were still interrogating the old waiter.

Someone tapped timidly on Ka’s shoulder. “You’re Ka the poet, aren’t you?” It was a teenage boy with large green eyes and a good-natured childish face. “My name is Necip. I know you’ve come to Kars to report on the elections and the suicide girls for the Republican, and you’ve already met with quite a few groups. But there’s one more important person in Kars whom you should see.”


“Could we move a little to the side?”

Ka liked the teenager’s air of mystery. They moved in front of the Modern Buffet, “world-famous for its sharbats and saleps.”

“My instructions are such that I cannot give you the name of the person you need to meet unless you first agree to meet him.” “How can I agree to see someone without first knowing who he is?” “You’re right,” said Necip. “But this person is in hiding. I can’t tell you who he’s hiding from or why unless you agree to see him.” “All right, I agree to see him,” said Ka. Striking a pose that came straight out of an adventure comic, he added, “I hope this isn’t a trap.” “If you can’t put your trust in people, you’ll never get anywhere in life,” said Necip, also striking a pose straight out of an adventure comic.

“I trust you,” said Ka. “Who is this person I need to see?” “After you find out his name, you’ll meet him. But you must also keep his hiding place a secret. Now think about it one more time. Shall I tell you who he is?”

“Yes,” said Ka. “You have to trust me too.”

“This person’s name is Blue,” said Necip in a voice full of awe. He looked disappointed when Ka offered no reaction. “Did you never hear about him when you were in Germany? In Turkey he’s famous.” “I know,” said Ka, in a soothing voice. “I’m ready to meet him.” “But I don’t know where he is,” said Necip. “What’s more, I myself have never seen him even once in my whole life.”

For a moment they smiled doubtfully at each other.

“Someone else is going to take you to see Blue. My job is to help you make contact with that person.”

They walked together down Little Kâzımbey Avenue, amid the posters and small campaign banners. There was something about Necip’s wiry body and his nervous, childish manner that reminded Ka of himself at that age, so he warmed to the boy. For a moment he found himself trying to imagine what the world looked like through those green eyes.

“What did you hear about Blue in Germany?” asked Necip.

“I read in the Turkish papers that he was a militant political Islamist,” said Ka. “I read other nasty things about him, too.”

Necip quickly interrupted him. “Political Islamist is only a name that Westerners and seculars give us Muslims who are ready to fight for our religion,” he said. “You’re a secularist, but please don’t let yourself fall for the lies about Blue in the secular press. He hasn’t killed anyone, not even in Bosnia, where he went to defend his Muslim brothers, or in Grozny, where a Russian bomb left him crippled.”

They came to a corner, where he made Ka stop.

“You see that store across the street, the Communication Bookstore?

It belongs to the Followers, but all Islamists in Kars use it as a gathering place. The police know this and so does everyone else; some of the salesclerks spy for them. I’m a pupil at the religious high school. It’s against the rules for me to go in there. If I do I’ll be disciplined, but I have to let the people inside know you’re here. In three minutes you’ll see a tall bearded young man wearing a red skullcap come out the door. Follow him. When you’ve gone two streets, if there aren’t any plainclothes police around, he’ll approach you and take you to the place you need to go. Do you understand? May God be your helper.”

With that, Necip vanished into a cloud of snowflakes. Ka’s heart went out to him.

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