Once again, Turkey is about to face another Emir Kusturica incident with the Indian writer V.S. Naipaul. The European Writers Parliament, or EWP, a large international literary event, is hosting Naipaul in Istanbul from Thursday to Saturday. However, Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul’s invitation to speak at an Istanbul literary event has prompted controversy due to the author’s critical statements about Islam. Daily Zaman writer Hilmi Yavuz was the first to mention the event in his column. He wrote that Naipaul said Muslim people were retarded and could not do anything rational. Later on, many other columnists such as Ahmet Hakan from daily Hürriyet and Bülent Somay from daily Radikal wrote about Naipaul and on what kind of writer he is.
While Yavuz wrote that it is not possible to have a dialogue with Naipaul (because Napiul has already made up his mind about Muslims), Somay said Naipaul was a colonial intellectual just like Salman Rushdie, Amin Maalouf and Hanif Kureishi. Then, a number of Turkish writers invited to the European Writers Parliament have announced they will boycott the event in protest of Naipaul’s participation. “Islam has had a calamitous effect on converted peoples,” Naipaul, a Nobel laureate, said in 2001. “To be converted you have to destroy your past, destroy your history. You have to stamp on it, you have to say, ‘My ancestral culture does not exist, it does not matter.’” As a result, Naipaul decided not to come to Istanbul for the event.
Both Kusturica and the Naipul incidents draw attention to the multi-dimensional identity crisis in Turkey, and its Muslim aspect in particular. It forces us to reassess whether the Turkish intellectuals are tolerating intolerance in a constructive manner. Ragıp Zarakolu, a journalist, writer and founder of the Turkey Human Rights Association, criticized Turkish intellectuals and said their attitude was not acceptable in comments to Vercihan Ziflioğlu of the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. According to Zarakolu, there are many people in Turkey who are experiencing discrimination because of their ethnic origins. Even though Naipaul’s words may rightfully be intolerable for many Turkish people, the reaction of Turkish intellectuals is also arguable. It is a matter of question whether a writer should maintain his/her unbiased professional stance or respond in further intolerance in the name of defending one’s own identity. Turkey has seen the same thing with Kusturica and it was once again Muslim identity at stake. Once again an identity crisis has become the main problem in Turkey.