Orientalism In High Heels

Gouge my fucking eyeballs out, please. I hate this orientalist tripe dressed up as modern anthropological-cum-travel writing observation:

The Turks, as everyone knows, are insane and deceitful. I say this affectionately. I live in Turkey. On good days, I love Turkey. But I have long since learned that its people are apt to go berserk on you for no reason whatsoever, and you just can’t trust a word they say. As one Turkish friend put it (a man who has spent many years in America, and thus grasps the depth of the cultural chasm), “It’s not that they’re bad. They don’t even know they’re lying.”

Affectionately? Do you have any idea how horribly insulting a Turk would find this? And for good reason, too. It’s an ugly, untrue stereotype. This kind of crap just reinforces orientalism and, considering the source, is a set-up for a kind of ‘Wogs begin at Calais’ trope that delegitimizes anything the Turks might do. It’s also just plain wrong. How about this for a little thought experiment:

My friend is right, and his comment suggests a point about American culture that I doubt many Easterners grasp. People here—and, I would guess, throughout the South and the Mountain States, though Texas is the only state I know well—see “truth” as something plastic, connected more to emotions than to facts or logic. If it feels true, it is true. What’s more, feelings here tend to change very quickly—and with them, the truth.

The above paragraph can be used to describe every Fox TV-watching, Sarah Palin-loving person in America. Now go read the original. The whole essay is full of really, really odious stuff that proves a singluar point about human nature: we see what we want to see. Take me for example: when I first discussed hejab in Turkey with three girls who were wearing it, I saw what I wanted to see. Only later would I learn that it was much, much more complicated than my first, oversimplified impression.

Look, the Turks do have unique characteristics. They love practical jokes. Have a very different and wonderful sense of humor. They are supremely hospitable and kind. But this idea that the truth, to Turks alone, is plastic, malleable and that ‘orientals’ are deceitful and insane is an old Orientalist trope. It’s also complete bullshit.

Human beings lie. Human beings tell you what they think you want to hear. We all do it. Why? Because we don’t like hurting people’s feelings. It’s human nature.

I can’t believe it’s 2010 and I have to fucking point this out.

Please, shoot me.

On Trains in India

Delhi SquatterA correspondent from India chimes in on my criticisms of the rail system in India. Full disclosure he writes on more topics than this, but I want to address his one idea on the trains in India specifically, as it is a meme I encounter about the online booking system in India that is, well, rather infuriating. He writes:

a) I travel regularly by train and it never takes more than 5 minutes to book a confirmed ticket online.

This is all fine and well. I applaud the ease with which middle class Indians, all 120 million of them, can use the internet to make online reservations.

But really, we’re forgetting the other 880 million Indians who do not have internet access, much less know what it is. This is a bogus excuse.

Does the farmer in Orissa who needs travel 300 miles to go to a family wedding, or somesuch, have access to the internet?

Does the woman who lives in a small Kerala town, with several children, and no internet access, have the whereabouts to visit her son in the army halfway across the country?

Or do they both have to stand in interminably long lines at the train station, fighting off huge crowds for a day or longer, just to get their tickets?

If you have ever traveled in India you know the answer to this, even if you life in a middle class cocoon of privilege and servants.