Snow and scarves

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Snow by Orhan Pamuk
Published in 2002
A review by Sidharth Vardhan
(5 / 5)


“To play the rebel heroine in Turkey, you don’t pull off your scarf, you put it on”

If you were interested in the whole controversy raised by the ban of veil in France a few years ago, then this book too might interest you. It is based on real events in a modern and secular Turkey. Here too there is a ban on wearing head-scarves in universities and like, though this is in a country where the majority of the population is Muslim but rulers are still liberals (or rather ultra-liberals). As a consequence several innocent religious women are deprived of their right to education and, forced to choose between education and religion; they end up committing suicide. What made their misfortune worse is the guilt they must have carried to graves since Koran prohibits suicide. And so, in a way, they must have felt condemned by the very religion they were fighting for.

To me, the book shows that the dangers of ultra-liberalism. Liberals should and must fight for the oppressed – Turgut Bey, a liberal who is also one of the better characters, argues “It’s not enough to be oppressed, you must also be right”. I find Kadife more agreeable who puts on scarf, not for religious reasons but to protest against an unjust law. Here liberals are causing the oppression by forcing their values on unwilling people.

Most people sort-of get married with their religious beliefs over time, to force them to leave behind their religion is like forcing a drug addict to abandon his drugs. To begin with, it is inhumane. Next, it is too late – it will create a lot of pain and you probably won’t succeed. And even if you did, religion (or drug) will leave behind a void (a sort of need it has created in person for itself) and the person will never be comfortable. Marx was right when he said religion is the opium of masses. It is the case here.

The suicides are, of course, turned into political symbols. Some good religious young men disturbed by what is being done to women took to revolt. Pamuk managed to humanized one such young man by making him tell the protagonist about his love for a girl who had committed suicide and his own wish to be a science fiction writer.


January 13, 2018


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