Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West


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May 17th, 2011:

With any luck, I’ll be able to look back on my first few blog posts and think, “What an idiot I was.”

Struggling to understand the complexities of politics, war, religion, economics, and culture in the Middle East of history and today—with a focus on the modern Republic of Turkey.


May 17th, 2012:

One year ago today, on May 17th, 2011, I fashioned my first post, which focused on the Syrian crisis in the context of the Arab Spring—still a rapidly evolving news event at the time. After publishing it, I composed an appropriately vague “about” page, with the intention of allowing the blog to take its own shape in light of personal interests and world events as they developed. Such were my thoughts at the time:

With any luck, I’ll be able to look back on my first few blog posts and think, “What an idiot I was.”

Struggling to understand the complexities of politics, war, religion, economics, and culture in the Middle East of history and today—with a focus on the modern Republic of Turkey.

Now, with the benefit of a year in hindsight, I cannot say that my thoughts or my purpose have substantively changed. In fact, the vagueness of the initial project has—as my scant readership has no doubt noticed—been borne out most faithfully by the scatterbrained, irregular nature of the blog.

But despite breaking a good many of what are considered “cardinal rules” of blogging—e.g., I do not always “write what I know,” I certainly haven’t found a “niche,” and I don’t always post regularly—I refuse to be apologetic. The blog primarily developed as a means and an encouragement to “read with a pen,” and to that end, it has been instructive and worthwhile.

That is not to say, however, that I do not wish to improve my readability, the quality of my analysis, or my posting habits (though finding a “niche” can wait), and with that in mind, I have some excuses for the past and implications for the future.

The 28th meridian east.

The first thing that I should address is that I have neglected to answer the most basic question of new readers: Why “28east?” My answer is that while this blog seeks to investigate what defines “East” and “West,” I know full well that this investigation has no conclusion. So instead of taking up a semantic debate or defining the cardinal directions, I have focused the discussion primarily around my topic of interest, the Republic of Turkey, which is notable for bridging Europe and Asia—west and east—in more than a purely geographical sense. The symbolic location of this “bridge” is European Istanbul and the Bosphorus, dividing the continents and located at approximately the 28th meridian east, 28° east of Greenwich.

But despite what may otherwise seem a claim to geographic specificity (perhaps this is why I never explained the name), this blog is interested in a broader understanding of Turkey’s place in the world. Which leads to the second thing that I should address: Analysis that is lacking in broad scope. I acknowledge that, for the most part, I have analyzed minutiae more readily (and capably) than broad themes. Similarly, I am not always able to relate smaller ideas together, and often leave loose ends. I blame this on two factors that I am (slowly) attempting to address: (1) limited historical knowledge and (2) limited cultural and linguistic adeptness. Though the first will merely(?) take books, time, and effort, the second will require much more on-the-ground experience in Turkey.

Turkish coffee. Not as good as it sounds.

Fortunately, the latter is something that I hope to be able to address in the upcoming year. Compared with prior experiences, I should have ample opportunity to engage in Turkish language and culture in the near future, and I intend to actually start using the blog’s “Culture” category. It is my opinion, neither optimistic nor pessimistic, that this will represent a slight shift in the blog. As I have suggested, I think this will be a necessary step toward culturally aware; and thereby broader, better analysis. My readers are welcome to disagree. If nothing else, some readers may appreciate a few more colorful elements to oppose my not-so-popular economic analysis.

But in keeping with the original project, I would like to emphasize that I am making no promises. The next year of the blog will, for all practical purposes, serve the same function as the last—and neither sanity nor clarity, nor regularity, are guaranteed. This is merely an outlet, and a motivation, for thought. The reader is welcome to engage in, and improve on, this thought.

If thought is too ambitious a goal—which it very well may be—then I hope that my readers have gained, and will continue to gain, some knowledge, perspective, or at the very least, amusement. Cheers.

M. James


May 17th, 2013:

A lot can change in two years, and—looking back on my first few posts in May and June of 2011—I would say that a lot has changed. This is not to say that the Syrian crisis has been resolved, that energy pipelines have become less crucial, or that Arabs have stopped watching Turkish soap operas, but that the blog itself has changed. Where the first year primarily made “news analysis” its goal, the second year was unapologetically less focused. Though I still posted the occasional headline as a sort of mental bookmark, it was rarely accompanied by meaningful analysis. As of this writing, I haven’t read a newspaper properly in several months.

What the missing “news analysis” was supposed to be replaced by was “on-the-ground experience.” But even this didn’t regularly make its way to the blog, especially after my trusty laptop unceremoniously kicked the bucket. I described myself as “cut loose.” I hardly know how to categorize what has happened in the meantime, but it has led me to a number of interesting places and situations: Like conversations with communists outside rickety bars, late-night fights with kitchen-knife-wielding cab drivers, and short stays in seedy Trabzon hotels. Or like this desk with this old computer and this Turkish keyboard (getting used to it) on this hill overlooking a halogen-lit Ankara.

It also led me to a hard-hitting realization.

With my attempt “to actually start using the blog’s ‘Culture’ category” still a matter of great difficulty, it should have been obvious: I was missing the most crucial aspect of the culture—the language. Greetings, transaction terminology, and a basic grasp of grammar may be enough to blend in with the crowd, but it’s apparently not enough to know what the crowd is thinking. If Turks think in Turkish, then understanding Turkey requires a real understanding of Turkish. By now it seems obvious, it having been beaten into my head unrelentingly for the past six months, but it had never seemed as crucial as it does now. Accordingly, this post will be the first in the “Language” category, which will likely have a significant—if not central—role in the future of the blog.

But despite these obvious shifts in the method, or the means, of the blog; I’d like to emphasize—as I did last year today—that the aim, the end, remains the same:

This is merely an outlet, and a motivation, for thought. The reader is welcome to engage in, and improve on, this thought.


M. James


May 17th, 2014:

It is time to utter some parting words:

This blog has been more successful than I could have possibly intended three years ago. At crucial intervals, it has provided the stimulus—as a feeling of obligation—to write for the sake of writing and to, most importantly, read with a pen. The praise and criticism—both prompted and unprompted—for what has been essayed on this blog has been both galling and reassuring, yet always useful to my thought. Perhaps most importantly (albeit harder to explain) has been the feeling of release that the “Publish” button has provided, which has been crucial in deadening the frequent urge to publish unfinished academic or professional work, or to contrive some false narrative purpose for the sake of my career.

Nonetheless, and despite my anonymity, I have received on several occasions the gratification of peers’ compliments as well as the simple pleasure of a few high-traffic days. I must admit that despite my oft-stated purpose, others’ commendations are motivation in themselves.

To the reader who has encountered this post before any other, I will issue a word of warning: In any field of knowledge, prolific publication should be viewed as a red flag. Writing to put food on the table, as some academics and professional analysts will admit they must do, is often detrimental to honest thought. This blog has fed no one. If for no other reason, I encourage the reader to peruse these pages. The thought—and the progression of that thought—is uncommonly honest.

To the reader who has returned, or who has actively contributed to the clarification and criticism of the thought on this blog (of whom there are precious few)—thank you.

Nothing remains to be said.


M. James

Written by M. James

April 16, 2011 at 2:50 am

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