فصل 08

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فصل 08

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CHAPTER EIGHT

Suicide Is a Terrible Sin

blue and rüstem

Ka stood across the street from the Communication Bookstore. The snow was falling faster, and by now he was tired of waiting and of dusting snow off his head, his coat, his shoes. He was about to go back to the hotel when he looked across the street and in the dim light of the streetlamp saw a tall bearded youth walking along the pavement opposite. When he realized that the snow had turned the boy’s skullcap from red to white, Ka’s heart began to race and he set off after him.

After walking all the way down Kâzım Karabekir Avenue—which the mayoral candidate of the Motherland Party, following the new fashion set by Istanbul, had promised to turn into a pedestrian precinct—they turned into Faikbey Avenue and then took the second right into Station Square. The statue of General Kâzım Karabekir that Ka remembered seeing earlier in the middle of the square was now buried and looked like a giant ice-cream cone. In the darkness Ka could still see that the bearded youth had entered the train station; he hurried after him. Finding no one in the waiting hall, he imagined that his guide must have gone out to the platform, so Ka went also; at the end of the platform he was just able to see someone moving into the darkness beyond, so Ka followed onto the tracks. Just as Ka was considering that were he to be shot dead here, his body would probably lie undiscovered till spring, he came face-to-face with the bearded young man.

“No one’s following us,” he said, “though you can still change your mind. But if you decide to continue you must keep your mouth shut from here on. You can never tell anyone how you got here. The penalty for treachery is death.”

This threat didn’t scare Ka, if only because, pronounced in a highpitched voice, it sounded almost funny. They continued along the tracks, passing the silo and then turning into Stew Street, right next to the military barracks, where the bearded youth pointed to an apartment building and told him which bell to ring.

“Don’t be insolent to the Master,” he said. “Don’t interrupt him, and when you’re through don’t hang around, just get up and leave.” This was how Ka discovered that among his admirers Blue was also known as the Master. But it was just about the only thing Ka knew about Blue—aside from his being a political Islamist of some notoriety. He remembered reading in the Turkish newspapers he saw from time to time in Germany that Blue had been implicated in a murder years ago. Still, many political Islamists killed, and none of them was famous. What had made Blue notorious was the claim that he was responsible for the murder of an effeminate exhibitionist and TV personality named Güner Bener, on whose quiz show, broadcast on a minor channel, contestants vied for cash prizes. Bener wore gaudy suits and had a penchant for indecent remarks, favoring jokes about “the uneducated.” One day, during a live broadcast, this freckled master of sarcasm was making fun of one of his poorer and clumsier contestants when by some slip of the tongue he uttered an inappropriate remark about the Prophet Muhammad.

Most likely it was noticed only by a few devout men dozing in front of their TV sets, who probably forgot the quip as soon as they had heard it, but Blue sent a letter to all the Istanbul papers threatening to kill the host unless he made a formal apology on the next show and promised never to make such a joke again. The Istanbul press gets threats like this all the time and might well have paid no attention to this one. But the television station had such a commitment to its provocative secularist line, and to showing just how rabid these political Islamists could be, that the managers invited Blue to appear on the show. He took this opportunity to make even fiercer threats, and he was such a hit as the “wild-eyed scimitar-wielding Islamist” that he was invited to repeat the performance on other channels.

Around this time, the public prosecutor issued a warrant for Blue’s arrest on the charge of making a public death threat, so Blue marked his first burst of celebrity by going into hiding. Meanwhile Güner Bener, who had also captured much attention by now for his role, appeared on his daily live TV show to defy his would-be assassins, proclaiming with unexpected vehemence that he was “not afraid of Atatürk-hating anti republican perverts”; the next day, in his luxury hotel room in Izmir where he stayed for the show, they found him strangled with the same loud tie festooned with beach balls he’d been wearing during the broadcast.

Blue had an alibi—he’d been attending a conference in Manisa in support of the head-scarf girls—but he stayed in hiding to avoid the press, which had by now made sure the whole country knew about the incident and Blue’s part in it. Some of the Islamist press were as critical as the secularists; they accused Blue of “bloodying the hands” of political Islam, of allowing himself to become the plaything of the secularist press, of enjoying his media fame in a manner unbefitting a Muslim, of being in the pay of the CIA. This may explain why Blue went underground and stayed there for a good long time. It was while he was in hiding that stories spread in Islamist circles of his having gone to Bosnia to fight the Serbs and his having been heroically wounded fighting the Russians in Grozny, but there were those who claimed that these rumors were false.

(Those who would know Blue’s own version of these matters might consult his short autobiography entitled “My Execution,” which can be found on the fifth page of this book’s thirty-fifth chapter, “Ka with Blue in His Cell” subtitled “I’M NOT AN AGENT FOR ANYONE,” though I am not sure everything Blue tells us there is entirely correct.) True, many lies were told about Blue. The fact is that some of them fed his legend, and certainly it could be said that Blue was nourished by his own mysterious reputation. It was also suggested that, by his later silence, Blue had tacitly agreed with all the barbs he attracted in some Islamist circles for his earlier proclamations; many would even suggest that a Muslim appearing so much in the secularist, Zionist, bourgeois media had only got what he deserved. In fact, as our story will show, Blue did indeed enjoy talking to the media.

As for his reasons for being in Kars, as is so often the case

with rumors in small places, the stories spread fast but just didn’t add up. Some said he had come to shore up the local operations of a Kurdish Islamist organization, the government having crushed the Diyarbakır-based national operations center; Blue, it was said, had been dispatched to Kars to “secure the organization’s secrets.” Others discounted this story, as the organization in question had no members in Kars, apart from one or two raving lunatics. Some said Blue had come to repair relations between the Marxist-revolutionary Kurds and the Islamist Kurds—there was increasing conflict between them in the cities of the East—and according to this story he had come to urge that they all try to act like peaceful well-behaved militants. The tension between the Marxistrevolutionary Kurds and the Islamist Kurds had begun in violent arguments, exchanges of insults, beatings, and street fights, and in many cities matters escalated to knifings and attacks with meat cleavers; in recent months partisans had been shooting and killing one another, taking captives and interrogating them under torture (with both sides using familiar methods like pouring melted plastic onto a prisoner’s skin or squeezing his testicles), and there were also reports of strangulations. It was said that a secret group of mediators had formed who believed this war was “playing right into the hands of the state” and so wanted to end it, and that this group had dispatched Blue to reconnoiter in the towns of the affected area, but according to his enemies Blue’s black past and relative youth disqualified him from such an important mission. There were other rumors, spread by the young Islamists, that he had come to Kars to “straighten out” Hakan Özge, Kars Border Television’s effeminate young shiny-suit-wearing host and disc jockey, who had been making mischievous jokes and sly insinuations about our glorious Islam and now constantly referred to God and prayer time on his program. Others still imagined that Blue was a go-between for an international Islamist terrorist ring. It was said that even the Kars intelligence and security units had heard about this Saudi-backed network with plans to terrorize thousands of women—pouring into Turkey from the old Soviet Union to work as prostitutes—by killing some of them. Blue had done nothing to deny these rumors, just as he had done nothing to deny the rumors about the suicide girls, the head-scarf girls, or the rumor that he had come to observe the municipal election. His failure to respond to what was said about him, coupled with his refusal to come out of hiding, gave him an air of mystery that appealed to the students at the religious high school and the young in general. He wasn’t just hiding from the police; he stayed off the streets as a way of maintaining his legend, and toward this end it suited him to keep people guessing as to whether or not he was in their city.

Ka rang the doorbell that the youth with the skullcap had indicated and immediately decided that the short man who welcomed him inside the apartment was the one who had shot the director of the Institute of Education at the New Life Pastry Shop an hour and a half earlier. Ka’s heart began to beat faster.

“I hope you won’t take offense,” this man said, raising his arms in the air as a prompt for his guest to do likewise. “Over the past two years they’ve made three attempts to assassinate the Boss, so I’m going to have to frisk you.”

Ka held out his arms to be searched—it took him back to his university days. As the man’s little hands passed carefully over his shirt, Ka was afraid he would notice how fast his heart was beating. But once the search was over, Ka felt calmer and his heartbeat returned to normal. No, in fact this was not the director’s assassin. This pleasant middle-aged man, who rather resembled Edward G. Robinson, seemed neither decisive nor strong enough to shoot anyone.

Ka heard the sobs of a baby and the sweet sounds of a mother tenderly trying to comfort it.

“Shall I take off my shoes?” he asked, and removed them without waiting for an answer.

“We’re guests here,” said a second voice. “We don’t want to be a burden to our hosts.” Ka suddenly realized there was someone else in the little entry hall.

Although he knew at once that it was Blue, a part of him was doubtful; perhaps he had been expecting the meeting to be far more carefully staged. He followed Blue into a sparsely furnished room, where a blackand-white television set was playing. Here a tiny infant with his fist in his mouth was staring with happy and deeply serious eyes at his mother, who was changing him and whispering to him sweetly in Kurdish. His eyes fixed first on Blue and then on Ka as they entered the room. As in all the old Russian houses, there was no hallway. The two men continued into a second room.

Ka’s mind was on Blue. He saw a bed made so perfectly that it would have passed military inspection, and a pair of striped pajamas neatly folded beside the pillow; sitting on the bed was an ashtray inscribed ERSIN ELECTRIC and on the wall a calendar showing scenes of Venice; there was a large window, its shutters open, looking out over the melancholy lights of the snow-covered city. Blue closed the window and turned to face Ka.

His eyes were deep blue—almost midnight blue—a color you never saw in a Turk. He was brown-haired and beardless, much younger than Ka had expected; he had an aquiline nose and breathtakingly pale skin.

He was extraordinarily handsome, but his gracefulness was born of selfconfidence. In his manner, expression, and appearance there was nothing of the truculent, bearded, provincial fundamentalist whom the secularist press had depicted with a gun in one hand and a string of prayer beads in the other.

“Please don’t take off your coat until the room has warmed up. . . . It’s a beautiful coat. Where did you buy it?”

“In Frankfurt.”

“Frankfurt . . . Frankfurt,” Blue murmured, and he lifted his eyes to the ceiling and lost himself in thought. Then he explained that “some time ago” he had been found guilty under Article 163 of promoting the establishment of a state based on religious principles and had for this reason escaped to Germany.

There was a silence. Ka knew he should take this opportunity to

establish cordial terms between them, so when his mind went blank, he began to panic. He sensed that Blue was talking to calm himself.

“When I was in Germany, at whatever Muslim association I happened to be visiting, in whatever city—it could be Frankfurt or Cologne, somewhere between the cathedral and the station, or one of the wealthy neighborhoods of Hamburg—wherever I happened to be walking, there was always one German who stood out of the crowd as an object of fascination for me. The important thing was not what I thought of him but what I thought he might be thinking about me; I’d try to see myself through his eyes and imagine what he might be thinking about my

appearance, my clothes, the way I moved, my history, where I had just been and where I was going, who I was. It made me feel terrible but it became a habit; I became used to feeling degraded, and I came to understand how my brothers felt. . . . Most of the time it’s not the Europeans who belittle us. What happens when we look at them is that we belittle ourselves. When we undertake the pilgrimage, it’s not just to escape the tyranny at home but also to reach to the depths of our souls. The day arrives when the guilty must return to save those who could not find the courage to leave. Why did you come back?”

Ka remained silent. The threadbare room, with its unpainted walls and its flaking plaster, did not invite confidences, nor did the naked bulb that hung from the ceiling, piercing his eyes.

“I don’t want to bore you with questions,” said Blue. “When the dear departed Mullah Kasım Ensari received visitors at his tribal encampment on the banks of the Tigris River, this was always the first thing he’d say: ‘I’m very glad to meet you, sir, and now would you tell me who you’re spying for?’ ”

“I’m spying for the Republican,” said Ka.

“That much I know. But I still have to ask why they’re so interested in Kars as to have taken the trouble to send someone all the way out here.” “I volunteered. I’d also heard that my old friend Muhtar and his wife were living here.”

“But they’ve separated—hadn’t you heard?” Blue corrected him, looking straight into Ka’s eyes.

“I had heard,” said Ka. He blushed. Thinking of everything that Blue had to be noticing right then, Ka hated him.

“Did they beat Muhtar at the police station?”

“Yes, they did.”

“Did he deserve to be beaten?” Blue asked, in a strange, almost insinuating voice.

“No, of course he didn’t,” Ka replied angrily.

“And why didn’t they beat you? Are you pleased with yourself ?” “I have no idea why they didn’t beat me.”

“Of course you know why: You belong to the Istanbul bourgeoisie.

Anyone can tell, just by looking at your skin and the way you hold yourself. He must have friends in high places—that’s what they said to one another, there’s no doubt about it. As for Muhtar, one look and you know he has no connections, no importance whatsoever. In fact, the reason Muhtar went into politics in the first place was to be able to stand up to those people the way you can. But even if he wins the election, to take office he still has to prove that he’s the sort of person who can take a beating from the state. That’s why he was probably glad to be getting one.”

Blue was not smiling at all; his expression was even sad.

“No one can be happy about a beating,” Ka said, feeling himself to be ordinary and superficial next to Blue.

Blue’s face said, Let’s move on to the subject we’re really here to talk about. “You’ve been meeting with the families of the girls who committed suicide,” he said. “Why did you want to talk to them?” “To research an article.”

“For newspapers in the West?”

“Yes, for newspapers in the West,” said Ka, with a certain pride, despite his having no contacts in the German press. “And also in Turkey, for the Republican,” he added with embarrassment.

“The Turkish press is interested in its country’s troubles only if the Western press takes an interest first,” said Blue. “Otherwise it’s offensive to discuss poverty and suicide; they talk about these things as if they happen in a land beyond the civilized world. Which means that you too will be forced to publish your article in Europe. This is why I wanted to meet you: You are not to write about the suicide girls, either for a Turkish paper or a European one! Suicide is a terrible sin. It’s an illness that grows the more attention you pay it, particularly this most recent case. If you write that she was a Muslim girl making a political statement about head scarves, it will be more lethal for you than poison.”

“But it’s true,” said Ka. “Before she committed suicide, this girl did her ritual ablutions and then said her prayers. I understand the head-scarf girls have a lot of respect for her because she did that.”

“Girls who commit suicide are not even Muslims!” said Blue. “And it’s wrong to say they’re taking a stand over head scarves. If you publish lies like this, you’ll only spread more rumors—about quarrels among the head-scarf girls, about the poor souls who have resorted to wearing wigs, about how they’ve been destroyed by the pressure put on them by the police and their mothers and fathers. Is this what you came here for, to encourage more poor girls to commit suicide? These girls who for the love of God find themselves caught between their schools and their families are so miserable and so alone that they see no course but to imitate the suicidal martyr.”

“The deputy governor said that the Kars suicides have been

exaggerated.”

“Why did you meet with the deputy governor?”

“For the same reason I went to see the police: so that they wouldn’t feel obliged to follow me around all day.”

“When they heard the news that the covered girls thrown out of school were committing suicide, they were very pleased!” said Blue.

“I will write things as I see them,” said Ka.

“Your insinuation is directed not just against the state and the deputy governor, it’s directed at me too. When you imply that neither the secular governor nor the political Islamists want anything written about the suicide girls, I know you’re trying to provoke me.” “Yes, I am.”

“That girl didn’t kill herself because they threw her out of school, she killed herself over a love affair. But if you write that a covered girl killed herself—sinned against God—on account of a broken heart, the boys at the religious high school will be furious. Kars is a small place.” “I was hoping to discuss all this with the girls themselves.” “Fine,” said Blue. “Why don’t you ask these girls whether they’d like you to write in the German press about their sisters who, having stood up for the right to cover their heads, were so devastated by the repercussions that they departed this world in a state of sin.”

“I’d be more than happy to ask them!” Ka said stubbornly, even as he was beginning to feel afraid.

“I had another reason for having you come here,” said Blue. “You just witnessed the assassination of the director of the Institute of Education. This was a direct result of the anger of our believers over the cruelty that the state has visited on our covered girls. But of course the whole thing is a state plot. First they used this poor director to enforce their cruel measures, and then they incited some madman to kill him so as to pin the blame on the Muslims.”

“Are you claiming responsibility or are you condemning the incident?” Ka asked sharply, as if he really were a journalist.

“I haven’t come to Kars for political reasons,” said Blue. “I came, perhaps, to stop this suicide epidemic.” Suddenly he put his hands on Ka’s shoulders, pulled him close, and kissed him on both cheeks. “You are a modern-day dervish. You’ve withdrawn from the world to devote yourself to poetry. You would never want to be the pawn of those who would denigrate innocent Muslims. Just as I’ve decided to trust you, you’ve decided to trust me—and you came through all this snow that we might meet. Now, to show my thanks, I would like to tell you a story with a moral.” Again he looked Ka straight in the eye. “Shall I tell you the story?”

“Tell me the story.”

“Long, long ago, there was a tireless warrior of unequaled bravery who lived in Iran. Everyone who knew him loved him. They called him Rüstem, and so shall we. One day, while hunting, he lost his way, and then, as he slept encamped that same night, he lost his horse. While he was looking for Raksh, his horse, Rüstem wandered into Turan, which was an enemy land. But because his reputation preceded him, they treated him well. The shah of Turan welcomed him as a guest and arranged a feast in his honor. And after the feast, the shah’s daughter paid Rüstem a visit in his room to proclaim her love for him. She told him that she wished to have his child. She seduced him with her beauty and her fine words, and before long they were making love.

“The following morning, Rüstem returned to his own country, but he left a token—a wristband—for his future child. When the child was born, they called him Suhrab, so let’s call him that too. Years later, his mother told him that his father was none other than the legendary Rüstem. ‘I’m going to Iran,’ the boy said, ‘to depose the wicked Shah Keykavus and install my father as his successor . . . and then I’ll return to Turan and do exactly the same thing to the wicked Shah Efrasiyab, and when I’ve done that, I’ll install myself as his successor. And then my father Rüstem and I will bring just rule to Iran and Turan—in other words, to the entire universe!’

“So said the pure and good-hearted Suhrab, little knowing that his enemies were far more cunning and sly than he. For while Efrasiyab, the shah of Turan, lent his support to the war with Iran, he also placed spies in the army to make sure Suhrab wouldn’t recognize his father.

“After many tricks and ruses, and cruel twists of fate and coincidence, engineered for all he knew by the Sublime Almighty, the day arrived when Suhrab and his father Rüstem came face-to-face on the battlefield, each with his army behind him. Neither could have known the other’s face, but no matter: Both were in armor, and needless to say they did not recognize each other. Rüstem would of course have wanted to remain anonymous inside his armor: otherwise this hero facing him might unleash the full fury of his force against Rüstem in particular. As for Suhrab, his childish heart allowed him only one vision, that of his father on the throne of Iran, so he never stopped even to wonder who his adversary might be.

And so it came to pass that these two great and good-hearted warriors who were father and son, standing before their respective watchful armies, jumped forward and drew their swords.”

Blue paused. Before looking into Ka’s eyes, he added in a childish voice, “Although I’ve read this story hundreds of times, I always shudder when I get to this part, and my heart starts pounding. I don’t know why, but for some reason I identify with Suhrab as he prepares to kill his father. Who would want to kill his father? What soul could bear the pain of that crime, the weight of that sin? Especially my own Suhrab with his innocent heart! The only hope at this point is that Suhrab will kill his foe without discerning his identity.

“As these thoughts pass through my mind, the two warriors begin to fight, and in a struggle that goes on for hours neither is able to defeat the other. Soaked and exhausted, they scabbard their swords. When we come to the evening of the first day, I’m as troubled for the father as I am for Suhrab, and when I continue the story, it’s as if I’m reading it for the first time; I dare to dream that father and son will be unable to kill each other and find some way out of their predicament.

“On the second day, the two armies line up once more, and once again father and son face each other in their armor and engage each other in merciless combat. After a long struggle, luck smiles on Suhrab—but can we even call this luck?—and he throws Rüstem off his horse and pins him to the ground. He takes out his dagger and as he prepares to bring it down on his father’s neck, they say this to him: ‘In Iran it is not the tradition for enemy heroes to take away a head on the first occasion. Don’t kill him; that would be too crude.’ So Suhrab does not kill his father.

“When I read this part I get very confused. I’m full of love for Suhrab. What is the meaning of this fate God has arranged for this father and his son? As for the third day of the fight, a day I have awaited with such trepidation—against all my expectations, it’s over in a moment.

Rüstem knocks Suhrab off his horse and, leaping forward, plunges his sword into him and kills him. The speed of the event is horrifying, shocking. When he sees the wristband and realizes that he has killed his son, Rüstem kneels down, takes his son’s bloody corpse onto his lap, and cries.

“At this point in the story I always cry too, not just because I share Rüstem’s grief but because I now understand the meaning of Suhrab’s death. It is Suhrab’s love for his father that kills him. But now I move beyond the childish and good-hearted love Suhrab felt for his beloved father; what I feel most acutely now is the deeper and far more dignified anguish of the father as he struggles to honor both his son and the codes that bind him. My sympathies, which have been throughout with the rebellious and individualistic Suhrab, pass over to Rüstem, the strong responsible father who is his own man.”

Blue paused for a moment. Ka felt very jealous of his ability to tell this story—or, indeed, any story—with such conviction.

“But I didn’t tell you this beautiful story to show you what it means to me or how I relate it to my life; I told it to point out that it’s forgotten,” said Blue. “This thousand-year-old story comes from Firdevsi’s Shehname.

Once upon a time, millions of people knew it by heart—from Tabriz to Istanbul, from Bosnia to Trabzon—and when they recalled it they found the meaning in their lives. The story spoke to them in just the same way that Oedipus’ murder of his father and Macbeth’s obsession with power and death speak to people throughout the Western world. But now, because we’ve fallen under the spell of the West, we’ve forgotten our own stories. They’ve removed all the old stories from our children’s textbooks.

These days, you can’t find a single bookseller who stocks the Shehname in all of Istanbul! How do you explain this?”

Both men fell silent.

“Let me guess what you’re thinking,” said Blue. “Is this story so beautiful that a man could kill for it? That’s what you’re thinking, isn’t it?” “I don’t know,” said Ka.

“Then think about it,” said Blue, and he left the room.

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