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The Relations Between the East and West in “Snow” by O. Pamuk

Throughout history, relations between the East and West have been marked by violence and cultural conflict. However in recent years, disunity the between the West and the Middle East in particular has been exacerbated because of Western foreign policy and increasing Islamic fundamentalism. International terrorism, notably the atrocities of September 11 and its repercussions, has further undermined this already volatile relationship.

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The “Clash of Civilizations” is a concept developed by political theorist Samuel Huntingdon. Huntingdon’s thesis focuses on the current state of international affairs and the cultural conflict between the East and the West. It is a multidimensional notion, which incorporates different spheres, namely economic, political, religious and social. For centuries, western and eastern traditions have differed greatly which led to conflict arising from the authentic nature and cultural uniqueness of both hemispheres.

In the modern world, this process leads to a clash of civilizations, which compete on the international arena. It should be mentioned that influence of both civilizations is a highly complex subject, which has an impact on cultures and societies in different ways: through norms and traditions, religious concepts and social institutions and globalization processes. In this essay, I shall use Huntingdon’s hypothesis as a framework for my analysis of the relations between the East and West in Orhan Pamuk’s political novel Snow.

The novel begins with a journey to Kars, a provincial city situated in north-eastern Turkey. This setting has symbolical relevance, namely because Turkey has long been considered the cultural and geographical bridge between the Europe and Asia. In Snow, Orhan Pamuk demonstrates that the clash of civilization is a cultural principle followed by generations of Muslim and western families. Terrorism and separatism are a core aspect of social life and are influenced by strong religious values and traditions.

Through experiences of characters in the novel, Orhan Pamuk demonstrates how terrorism is one of the most terrible threats and evils faced by the modern community (Jenkins 76). It represents a threat for a modern society because it is an attack on legitimate transnational order.

Moreover, it brings fear and anxiety to peaceful populations and it causes killing and injuries to innocent people. Additionally, terrorism causes an increase in the use of force by military and police forces whilst also presenting a threat to global peace and security. Huntington explains that civilization clash concerns: “a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power” (Huntington 56).

According to Huntington cultural and religious identity is the main factors which lead to clash of civilization (1998). In some Eastern countries, the creation of social culture influenced by religious traditions is seen as a priority and a great deal of time and effort is given to obtrusion of religious dogmas. Islamic fundamentalism is considered now as the main adversarial political and cultural form, which competes with western traditions and modernization of the western world.

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It creates a conflict between the East and the West, and has tremendous and unpleasant consequences for both civilizations. In Asia and the Middle East, the impact of religion on life of common citizens is stronger in comparison with Europe and America. Fundamentalism becomes a remarkable feature of Islam threatening millions of Western believers around the globe (Jenkins 54).

In Snow, we see that although Turkey is considered a secular democracy, it has a strong Islamic tradition and religion naturally informs all discussion. Religion plays a significant role in Snow. The central conflict in the novel occurs when the State decrees a ban of headscarves in universities. The headscarf functions as “the political symbol of Islam” and the mass suicides of young girls in Kars are presented as a protest against what they feel is an attack on their Muslim values and ideals (Pamuk 112).

Hande’s fear is that once she removes her headscarf she will be unable to recognize herself, “what scares me is the thought of never being able to return to the person I am now” (Pamuk 126). This fear is representative of the dilemma facing many Islamic countries who fear their cultural identity and traditions may be lost or eroded through the process of Westernization. This sentiment is also evoked by Blue, “but now we’ve fallen under the spell of the West, we’ve forgotten our own stories” (Pamuk 81).

Modern western culture, while admired by the secularists in the novel, is presented as an antagonist to the Islamic traditional value system, “there is after all only one West and only one Western point of view. And we take the opposite point of view” (Pamuk 233). Radical Islamists like Blue take this notion further by saying “the people of Europe are not are friends but our enemies” (Pamuk 277).

Throughout the novel, Ka, despite being a Turk is presented as a Westerner and thus an outsider. Ka’s secular, republican upbringing in “the Westernized upper middle class circles” of Istanbul alienates him from many of the city’s residents, “you don’t even belong to this country; you’re not even a Turk anymore.” (Pamuk 334). Furthermore, Westerners like Ka are deemed irreligious and “godless” (Pamuk 63).

Atheism, like the suicides in the novel, is presented as a “disease,” which might “spread contagiously like the plague” (Pamuk 15). This echoes the attitude of many radical Islamists who condemn the “dissolute Western social mores that are ‘infecting’ the Islamic world” (Dement xxv). In light of this, Ka’s unwillingness to define himself as an atheist is troubling for the novels Muslim characters. Pamuk explains that: “the idea of a solitary, Westernised 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” (Pamuk 63).

According to Huntington “in this new world the most pervasive, important, and dangerous conflicts will not be between social classes, rich and poor, or other economically defined groups, but between peoples belonging to different cultural entities” (Huntington 27).

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The dialectical relationship between modernization and tradition is a central preoccupation in the novel. Turkey is presented as a schizophrenic country, which is torn between upholding Atatürk’s westernizing reforms and retaining its traditional Eastern identity. The secularists in the novel see Europe as the future of Turkey and embrace modernization and progression, expressing the fear that fundamentalists could send Turkey “back in the Middle Ages” (Pamuk 207).

The current state of Kars is testament to the need for a progressive western influence. With the loss of “all the Armenians, Russians, Ottomans and the early republican Turks who made this city a modest centre of civilization” the city fell into economic stasis.

Kars is depicted as a “place that the world had forgotten” (10) in the “poorest and most overlooked corner of Turkey” (Pamuk 18). Lack of modernity and abject poverty is further highlighted by references to “broken plastic cars, one-armed dolls and empty bottles” (Pamuk 120. Snow boasts a dual function in the novel, it both preserves the city’s Eastern traditions but also isolates it from the rest of the country. The title Snow is apt as the denotation of Kars in Turkish is also snow. This potentially symbolizes the “fierce struggle between the rational west and Islamic east, which has been cloaked and preserved by obfuscating, historical layers” of snow (Jones 2006).

Identity crisis is described through the characters of Necip and Fazil, Hande, These characters experience social and cultural difficulties communicating with other nations. As encounters, many Muslims have experienced discrimination and in some situation marginalization. Possibly, in the longer term, multicultural traditions conducted in society lessen these difficulties and make it easier for children and adults to be proud of their bicultural identity.. In recognition of Westerns increased international relations and cultural links with countries in the Muslim region, a cultural policy has recently been put in place.

At last there is a cultural strategy that endorses the value of acquiring and maintaining competencies in the identity and culture. This approach serves to make racial differences a valued option of cross-cultural adaptation and increase motivation to learn and accept their cultural values. Necip and Fazil, Hande unavoidably experience varying degrees of acculturative stress. Though, the large numbers of recent ethnic populations who have arrived in times of economic recession face particular problems. Pamul writes: “Muhtar aspired to be Western but turned to religion” (55). He wanted his son to be a European p 56 as he had failed” (Pamuk 55).

Those regarded as elites in their local communities because of their qualifications and successes are faced with multiple losses in the initial period of rebuilding their careers in white society. For many characters the challenges of cultural adaptation have been compounded by bad employment prospects during the whole life. For some African-Americans negative experiences, such as cultural conflict, perceptions of discrimination, separation from friends, unemployment and underemployment, and cross-cultural differences in the workplace, are likely to lead to a great deal of marital and personal stress.

In the book Snow, identity crisis is apparent thought personalities and duality of Ka and Orhan. Orhan narrator and Orhan novelist knows East and West well, having lived most of his life in Turkey, and having also studied writing and literature in the United States. The Muslims accept identity and becomes proud of his/her ancestry. Considerable attention has been given by the media to the special issues and problems arising out of the identity phenomenon.

Despite their diverse socio-economic backgrounds, families generally retain many of their cultural beliefs. Though, many parents find it difficult to insist that their offspring also maintain the culture and identity. Achieving safety and prosperity may be the only fundamental African-American family value that has not been weakened, because western societies also value personal growth and development.

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Though, the traditional emphasis on the importance of the cultural identity has been undermined by western values of individualism. ‘“People in high society never believe in God. They believe in what Europeans do, so they think they are better than ordinary people” (Pamuk 105). Pamuk shows that national identity development is a complex process marked by changes in self-consciousness and awareness, new perception of the world and self, the community and friends, communication with peer and colleagues (Mohaddessin 43; Rejwan 51)

Pamuk and Huntington underline that terrorism cannot be justified because it represents a threat for national borders and security, it causes fear and anxiety to global population, it represents violence against peaceful populations and does not bring desired benefits to terrorists. Pamuk writes: “he sensed the presence of separatist Kurdish guerrillas in the city” (Pamuk 10). Terrorism cannot be justified because it involves the systematic use of military and police forces against the established order and global peace (Rejwan 77).

“Contrary to what our own Europe-admiring atheists assume, all European intellectuals take their religion, and their crosses seriously. But when our guys return to Turkey, they never mention this, because all they want to do is use the technological supremacy of the West to prove the superiority of atheism (Pamuk 235).

On the other hand, Islam becomes an effective tool in the hands of terrorist organizations trying to influence world’s politics. There are different pints of view on the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, but all critics come to conclusion that Islam and clash of civilization will influence political and economic system of the world. On the margin of credibility, some of these projects have carried rejection of existing institutions to extreme lengths – living in elected poverty, in communes rejecting conventional family forms (Huntington 33).

Others have made various compromises with conventional work­ing procedures and attempted to evolve their own internal sys­tems with a premium on participation and internal democracy, practicing collective leadership and decision-taking. Islamic fundamentalism will have a growing impact on the global community and politics, economic and religion eventually spread­ing outwards into the West with both the pluses and minuses of this religious and political force (Firestone 83).

The title Snow has a symbolical meaning portraying history and rejection of Muslim values and traditions. Thus, while the dominance of the trading class continued, a small settler class with its own political goals arose alongside it. In wild rubber, moreover, the whites had a new, easily collectible, potential export product. But the transition from a labor-exporting economy to one which utilized local natural resources seems to have been beyond strength.

The Muslim cities were also subservient to the needs of the more important Asian and South American possessions. The work of art reflects reality of life and hardship experienced by people: “The Turkish press is interested in this country’s troubles only if the Western press takes an interest first. Otherwise it’s offensive to discuss poverty and suicide, they talk about these things as if they happen in a land beyond the civilised world” (Pumal 77).

Pamuk uses avid images of oppression and suffering to create a unique world unknown to Western people. The difference is governed not merely by language, but by an entire attitude. “He couldn’t utter a sentence without stuffing it with French words; he spent all the money he stole on all the latest European fashions” (Pumak 84). At once serious in nature and ludicrous in expression, is representative of the general dramatic situation in which the evil characters of the novel find themselves. This curious juxtaposition of elements has been aptly characterized by the phrase, the evil.

Like other powers, the whites also acted on the maxim of divide and rule, destroying the larger polities in order to integrate the smaller divisions into the colonial state (Huntington 87). That radically altered the political landscape and also ushered in fundamental social and economic transformations. The latter did not always signify progress for the Muslim communities but because they lay outside the ken of colonial officials went unconsidered by them. Samuel Huntington even predicts that “the next world war, if there is one, will be a war between civilizations” (Huntington, 29).

In sum, relations between East and west are based on cultural and religious conflict heated by political differences and terror attacks. The suffering of the human heroes, in either its physical or spiritual forms, is always retributive because of the homiletic nature of the novels Since the national hero is essentially the man who falls victim to vice, there are no suffering innocents. In the rigidly defined structure of the morality, both suffering and evil are non-problematic. If the dramatic context of the novel provided the essential clue for the interpretation of evil and suffering, the solidity and permanence of that context was responsible for the unshakeable conventions which governed the expression of suffering and evil.

Works Cited

Huntington, S. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Simon & Schuster; 1st Touchstone Ed edition, 1998.

Jenkins, M. B., DOES TERRORISM WORK? Mercury News, 2004.

Faksh, M.A. The Future of Islam in the Middle East: Fundamentalism in Egypt, Algeria, and Saudi Arabia. Praeger Publishers, 1997.

Firestone, R. Jihad: The Origin of Holy War in Islam. Oxford University Press, 1999.

Kagan, R. Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order. Knopf; 1st ed edition, 2003.

Kushner, H. W. Encyclopedia of Terrorism by Harvey W. (Sage Publications, New York, New York. 2002, pp. 359-64.

Mohaddessin, M. Islamic Fundamentalism: The New Global Threat. Seven Locks Press, 2004.

Moussalli, A. S..Moderate and Radical Islamic Fundamentalism: The Quest for Modernity, Legitimacy, and the Islamic State. University Press of Florida, 1999.

Pamuk, O. Snow Knopf; First American Edition edition, 2004.

Rejwan, N. Arabs Face the Modern World: Religious, Cultural, and Political Responses to the West. University Press of Florida, 1998.

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StudyCorgi. "The Relations Between the East and West in “Snow” by O. Pamuk." November 12, 2021.


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