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Friday, February 25, 2011

Why I wanted a misleading image on the book cover

I just got the new, revised cover image for my forthcoming book. Someone who knows Istanbul well and is familiar with the Ortaköy Mosque on the picture and how it is actually located in relation to the Bosphorus Bridge (Boğaziçi Köprüsü) in the background may be confounded. With good reason. The image is distorted.

So why would I want a misleading image on the cover? Here's an excerpt from the introduction:

The image on the cover of this book — what appears to be a mosque on the eastern shores of the Strait and a bridge leading west, to a Europe only faintly visible in the distance — suggests a simple geographic, cultural, and religious demarcation between Turkey on one shore and Europe on the other. It is, however, an illusion. The image is reversed: it is a mirror image. The Ortaköy Mosque in the foreground is actually located on the western, “European” shore and the bridge leads to the Asian side of the Strait. Looking closer at the mosque, the simplistic demarcation between an eastern, Muslim Turkey and a western, Christian (or secular) Europe is complicated further still, for the Ortaköy Mosque is one of the finest examples of baroque architecture in Istanbul. It was constructed in 1853 by the Paris-educated Armenian architect Nigoğayos Balyan per the request of
Ottoman Sultan Abdülmecid, who also presided over the western-inspired Tanzimat reforms. 
Indeed, the seat of Ottoman power was long situated far west of the Straits, in Adrianople (today’s Edirne), and Ottoman power reached far into southeast Europe and played an important role in European power politics for several centuries. Moreover, Turkey has since the creation of the Republic in 1923, embarked on a conscious project of Europeanization that involved the removal of Islam from the public sphere.
In other words, the question of whether Turkey is a European country cannot be straightforwardly answered with a quick reference to an atlas or history book, in part because Europe lacks clear geographic boundaries, and also because Turkey has legitimate claims to being both Asiatic and European. On Samuel Huntington’s map of the world, Turkey is split in two by the boundary that separates his Western and Islamic civilizations. Huntington’s theory is plagued by a wide range of methodological, empirical, and ethical problems,  but his description of Turkey as a “torn country” is in many ways rather apt.  These European and Turkish ambiguities have given rise to profound questions about Europe’s own identity and borders, certainly no less so after Turkey entered into accession negotiations with the Union.  The seductively elegant but ultimately misleading symbolism implicit in the image on the cover of this book can serve as a reminder to be critical of all attempts to establish easy answers and clear demarcations with respect to Turkey’s role in Europe and the latter’s “true” identity.
Another way to put this is that the book - about Christian and European images of Muslims and Turks throughout the ages - is about distorted representations of Others. And like the distorted picture on the cover, they typically tell us more about their authors and the assumptions and preconceptions they hold, than they do about the diverse and complex peoples and places that they purport to depict.

So now you know.


  1. Looks fantastic Paul

  2. Thanks, Jarrod. Got the typeset page proofs last night - now the inside is beginning to look like a book, too.


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