DRACULA AND THE OTTOMANS
BY GEMMA MASSON, PHD CANDIDATE AT THE CENTRE FOR BYZANTINE, OTTOMAN AND MODERN GREEK STUDIES, UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM.
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I was watching Designated Survivor Series 2 Episode 10, Line of Fire. Emily Rhodes (Italia Ricci) is in hospital with the mother of a baby who is undergoing an operation but her church does not permit blood transfusions. The mother spits out the beginning of a bible quote and Rhodes completes it. She then goes on to tell the mother that she went to Catholic school.
“Carrie: Are you devout?
Emily: No. Nine years of Catholic School and I never saw God there.
Carrie: I’m sorry.
Emily: Don’t be. I see it other places, like in a Mother’s love.”
Immediately all my alarm bells went off. The writer got this scene so wrong. Catholics don’t quote scripture. Chapter and Verse is a mark of the protestant religion. It is just not a Catholic thing.
The foundation stone of the Protestant religions is the vernacular bible. When Martin Luther published his 95 theses in 1517 he was challenging the elements of church dogma that departed from the teachings of the bible. The Catholic church was perfectly happy to continue with Latin mass and have the faithful rattle out their pater nosters and ave marias in ignorance of the meaning of their words.
It was not until the 1960’s following Vatican II that the Catholic church moved to mass in vernacular languages. Even today Catholic children do not read the bible in lessons. They learn prayers and catechism. Many Catholic families do not even own a bible.
At the core of the Protestant religions is the need for the faithful to read the word of God directly, without the clouding effect of interpretation through filters imposed by men such as the Pope, Bishops and Priests.
It is no accident that the timing of the Protestant reformation followed the invention of the moveable type printing press. In order to become a Protestant you had to have access to a bible, and you had to be able to read it. The vernacular bible was born.
It then became the mark of a good Protestant to reference the Bible on any point of faith. If you could back up an action with a quote directly from the Bible that supported the validity of the action. If you could place your quote precisely in the Bible, by quoting the relevant Chapter & Verse that made the point even more forcefully.
This focus on the word of God bleeds into all aspects of church design. Catholic churches are gloriously decorated architectural wonders filled with images of saints, Holy Mary, angels, martyrs, votive candles, icons, side chapels, expensive ornamentation. They are designed to be palaces fit to house the Lord. You don’t speak directly to God though, you work through intermediaries. You pray to saints to intercede on your behalf. You then pay a priest to put in a good word for you too. The economy of the Catholic church is founded upon the concept that you buy influence.
The most fundamental protestant churches are the plainest. The focus is on the word. The only object you need to commune with God is the Word of God and that is in the Bible.
In this regard the most fundamentalist Protestant religions share a great deal of common ground with the most fundamentalist Islamic sects. Islam also focuses on the word, albeit in the Koran. Islamic art avoids images of people in case they be interpreted as the image of God, a graven image and an object of idolatrous worship.
Below is the Sancaklar Mosque outside Istanbul. It is a modernist Islamic space. The design emulates the cave in which the Prophet Mohammed received the Koran from God. The only decoration in this Mosque is a piece of calligraphy, the Word of God. This is a space that would work well for any hard line Presbyterian. It is a long distance away from the splendorous excess of the Vatican.
Last night was the spring, or vernal equinox. In astrological terms that makes today the first day of the new astrological year. The first month of the Zodiac calendar is Aries, the Ram. We all love to make fun of horoscopes and the notion that you can predict your future from the rotation of the planet and the precession of the stars.
At the same time the human brain is pre-programmed to seek patterns in nature. Random chance is a frightening threat, so we seek solace in order and causality. Reading horoscopes is simply a manifestation of the real human need to make sense of our world.
Today is also the first day of the new year in the Bahá’í calendar, a religion from Iran. Year 1 of this calendar begins in 1844 CE making this year 175BE. Though it originates in Iran it is most heavily persecuted there. It is sad that Islam, which was once renowned for its tolerance of other faiths, has become so prohibitive of other peoples beliefs.
So to poetry and today I have a poem from one of the most famous and best loved Syrian poets. Nizar Qabbani was born on March 21st 1923 in Damascus which he described in his will as “the womb that taught me poetry, taught me creativity and granted me the alphabet of Jasmine“.
The suicide of his older sister when he was aged 15 had a profound influence on the young Qabbani. She made the ultimate refusal to an arranged marriage. All his life he advocated feminism and an examination of the relationship between men and women in Arabic society.
The defeat of Syria and the Arab allies in the 6 day war by Israel also had a profound effect on his work and shifted his focus from the poetry of love to the poetry of politics.
A lesson in Drawing; by Nizar Qabbani
My son places his paint box in front of me
and asks me to draw a bird for him.
Into the color gray I dip the brush
and draw a square with locks and bars.
Astonishment fills his eyes:
‘… But this is a prison, Father,
Don’t you know, how to draw a bird?’
And I tell him: ‘Son, forgive me.
I’ve forgotten the shapes of birds.’
My son puts the drawing book in front of me
and asks me to draw a wheatstalk.
I hold the pen
and draw a gun.
My son mocks my ignorance,
‘Don’t you know, Father, the difference between a
wheatstalk and a gun?’
I tell him, ‘Son,
once I used to know the shapes of wheatstalks
the shape of the loaf
the shape of the rose
But in this hardened time
the trees of the forest have joined
the militia men
and the rose wears dull fatigues
In this time of armed wheatstalks
and armed religion
you can’t buy a loaf
without finding a gun inside
you can’t pluck a rose in the field
without its raising its thorns in your face
you can’t buy a book
that doesn’t explode between your fingers.’
My son sits at the edge of my bed
and asks me to recite a poem,
A tear falls from my eyes onto the pillow.
My son licks it up, astonished, saying:
‘But this is a tear, father, not a poem!’
And I tell him:
‘When you grow up, my son,
and read the diwan of Arabic poetry
you’ll discover that the word and the tear are twins
and the Arabic poem
is no more than a tear wept by writing fingers.’
My son lays down his pens, his crayon box in
front of me
and asks me to draw a homeland for him.
The brush trembles in my hands
and I sink, weeping.
Muhsin Al-Ramli is an Iraqi expatriate who now lives and teaches and writes in Madrid. He was born on the same day and in the same year as my wife. He translated Don Quixote into Arabic. He is the brother of Hassan Mutlak, also a writer, who was known as the Iraqi Lorca. Hassan was hanged in 1990 for his part in a coup d’état. That was the year of the Kuwait invasion and the beginning of the first Gulf War.
Maybe it is simple romanticism on my part but the brothers call to my mind the Islamic warrior poet kings of Andalusia in the middle ages such as Ibn ‘Ammar and al-Mu‘tamid.
From one Lorca to another ; by Mushin Al-Ramli
“Once again to Hassan Mutlak*, and it is not the last.”
What was has transformed into what is left…
and I said goodbye to Iraq
I abandoned the police stations, the cemeteries.
I crossed the walls of weapons
and the empty pharmacies.
I had been hard with the garden of hands in farewell
and with the tears of the girls that were left behind
because my weeping, in front of me, is long
and my map is a blind man’s cane.
My heart is a cemetery full of loved ones
and my medicine is there…there,
with the gypsies of Andalucia.
I crossed countries, many cities
and lived briefly in little towns
because Granada was waiting for me,
and I for her;
Because Lorca laid down his gaze
over the hand of the watch and the olive groves.
My friend, my brother, is waiting for me
since our very first notebooks.
I will cry inside his arms.
I will wet his shirt embroidered with songs.
I will tell him all that the tyrant has done
between the two rivers, between the palm trees
and between friends.
I will describe the rope they used to hang Hassan Mutlak,
and the machinery that minces souls and makes Iraqi meat.
But I have found his house empty
with the exception of his rocker, trembling,
between the window and the poem.
I called out: Lorca. Lorca.
Oh, the secret of my mother’s insistence on smoking,
despite her asthma.
Where are you?
My friend and my partner in innocence.
Where are you?
Nothing, but his rocker, trembling,
between the window
and the piano.
I kept calling
until his neighbor appeared, a gypsy girl,
Your friend left us what remained.
He had said farewell to his rocker…now
I will describe the handkerchief with which he covered his eyes
after his final gaze at his watch, waiting for you.
I will sing you his last poem;
his last breath.
The shots agitated him and
we became entangled
The weeping everywhere…
Everywhere there is weeping.
Our hands have signaled
to the clouds
and to the height of confusion.
“I have come to Granada
in search of Lorca.
so that I might write about the assassinated ones of my family.
But…I found him assassinated.”
The best poetry is painful. In many cases it carves open the poet, exposing their deepest insecurities to the world. In certain cases it carves open society and exposes the rot at the core. When poetry does this it becomes political.
When the Nationalists murdered Federico Garcia Lorca in the Spanish Civil War they said his pen was worth a regiment. Brendan Kennelly in his Cromwell poems brutally illustrates that violence is perpetrated on all sides in conflict, and rejects the attempt by any one side to airbrush out it’s hand in the bloodletting.
Clifton Snider approached poetry through the lens of Jungian psychology. In this regard I share an appreciation of his journey as it mirrors my own in some respects. Snider is an academic who challenges conformity.
He took the US administration to task over the war in Iraq, setting up his own anti-war page. A Poet Against the War
He has been targeted by the Right in the USA for his criticism of the military led, profit oriented approach to US Foreign Policy. His life has been placed in danger by the right. When an ultra right wing mouthpiece denounces an academic they are aware that there is a legion of stupid white men out there, wrapped in the US flag and armed with assault rifles who are happy to pull the trigger on any clearly marked target.
An academic who specializes in psychological decoding of the works of Oscar Wilde : duck in a barrel.
But Snider is a fighter. His poems are not shy retiring allusions or hidden allegories. They are full frontal attacks, and he names the beast! I doubt you will hear his poetry read on Prairie Chapel Ranch down there in Texas.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: by Clifton Snider
The woman with a scarf
at the food stand
asked for an ounce of flour:
she had three children
and a little water.
The American leader
squinted, eyes like oil pools.
He shot her point blank
in the temple.
His secretary of state
lopped off the arms & legs
of a soldier, pressed into service
by the sword of antiquity.
The minister of defense
ordered smart bombs to explode
the brains of a man in turban
old enough to remember
the American president
who provided his people arms
to fight their neighbor.
Valentine ; by Carol Ann Duffy
Not a red rose or a satin heart.
I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.
It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.
I am trying to be truthful.
Not a cute card or a kissogram.
I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,
if you like.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.
Born today in 1902 Kevin Barry was the most perfect of martyrs. A smart lad, educated by the Jesuits in Belvedere College Dublin. He played on a championship winning junior rugby cup winning team and also represented the school on the senior cup team.
He went on to study medicine in University College Dublin. Aged only 18 he was involved in a shootout with British Soldiers and was the only member of his squad caught. He refused to give up his comrades under torture. He was tried, found guilty and hanged by the British like a common criminal.
For Sinn Féin (the IRA) the events could not have been orchestrated more favourably. The British immediately found themselves on the losing side in a world-wide PR campaign. In Ireland tempers were already high. The hanging of Barry occurred in the same week when Terence MacSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork, died on hunger strike.
The British had plenty of ammunition to fight a counter PR campaign but they failed miserably. For instance the soldiers attacked by Barry’s squad were about the same age as Barry himself. Barry was armed with dum-dum bullets, banned by Geneva convention.
Described as a “sensitive poet-intellectual” MacSwiney was presented to the world as a pacifist playwright intellectual forced by the brutal British to take up arms in defence of his rights. Killed by a callous and cold-hearted monarchy. Barry was presented as little more than a child, a young gentleman of great potential, beaten, tortured and hanged by violent beasts. Who could not shed a tear?
Money flowed in from abroad for the cause. The IRA guerilla campaign went into all out war and within a year the British Government found their position in Ireland untenable. They went to the negotiating table.
The thing about martyrs is never to create them. The British were slow to learn this lesson. The execution of the 1916 leaders should have opened their eyes to the power of martyrs. But the British were still creating martyrs in 1981 when 10 Provisional IRA prisoners died on hunger strike in the Maze prison in the Britain of Margaret Thatcher. The leader of that strike, Bobby Sands, was elected to the Westminster parliament while on hunger strike. The British Government suffered a dreadful loss of face and had to pass legislation to prevent nomination of prisoners for election to prevent a repeat incident.
The hunger strike is a very ancient tradition in Ireland and goes all the way back to pre-Christian Ireland and Celtic Hospitality laws. It was compulsory for a host to feed a guest under his roof. As a protest against injustice a subject might starve himself outside the hall of his lord. Such an action usually led to resolution of a dispute because the lord could not bear the shame of a man starving himself on his doorstep.
The IRA began active use of the hunger strike in May 1917 to protest their status as political rather than criminal prisoners. Under international pressure the hunger strikers were released. Thomas Ashe was subsequently re-arrested and went back on hunger strike in Sept 1917. The British Government initially ordered the forced feeding of fasting prisoners. When Ashe choked to death during force feeding in 1917 his funeral became a major IRA recruitment drive. The hunger strike as a modern weapon of non-violent resistance was born.
The world paid due attention and in India Mohandas Gandhi saw its potential. As a form of non-violent protest it complied with the philosophy of satyagraha. In 1929 Jatin Das died after 63 days on hunger strike. On the same strike Bhagat Singh set a hunger strike record of 116 days and ended the strike when demanded concessions were granted.
Prison authorities have become more scientific about the force feeding of hunger striking prisoners. As a result of direct stomach feeding via a Ryles tube Irom Sharmila was able to remain healthy despite 16 years refusal to ingest either food or water through her mouth.
One final thing about martyrs, they need to be special. A good martyr every ten years or so serves as a beacon of defiance, bravery, resistance to oppression. It serves as a rallying cry, a call to recruitment , an incentive for contributions to the cause. In the middle east today Islamic groups create a handful of martyrs every month. Too many martyrs for any individual martyr to stand out from the crowd. Martyrdom is no longer special, it just become the norm and eventually it becomes meaningless. A pointless death. A waste of life.
Kevin Barry: Anonymous
In Mountjoy jail one Monday morning
High upon the gallows tree
Kevin Barry gave his young life
For the cause of liberty
But a lad of eighteen summers
Yet no one can deny
As he walked to death that morning
He proudly held his head on high
Just before he faced the hangman
In his dreary prison cell
British soldiers tortured Barry
Just because he would not tell
The names of his brave companions
And other things they wished to know
“Turn informer or we’ll kill you”
Kevin Barry answered, “no”
Calmly standing to attention
While he bade his last farewell
To his broken hearted mother
Whose grief no one can tell
For the cause he proudly cherished
This sad parting had to be
Then to death walked softly smiling
That old Ireland might be free
Another martyr for old Ireland
Another murder for the crown
Whose brutal laws may kill the Irish
But can’t keep their spirit down
Lads like Barry are no cowards
From the foe they will not fly
Lads like Barry will free Ireland
For her cause they’ll live and die