Saturday, June 15, 2013

Tahrir, Taghyir, Taksim

So the ague-fever dreams of freedom have spread to Istanbul.   And once again, the spark was no economic development, but a spiritual imponderable, just as in Tunisia:   The authorities had a sort of Stalinoid bureaucratic vision for transmogrifying a park -- “They paved Paradise, put up a parking-lot.”
It was like that in Berkeley, too, when I lived there:  People’s Park, nothing but a semi-vacant and highly unsightly lot off Telegraph Avenue, overrun by dogs and vagrants, but a symbol to the die-hards.

De Toqueville nailed it when he identified the Revolution from Rising Expectations, rather than objectively increasing tyranny.    The ground-shaking developments in the Muslim world  have no evident economic motivators -- none that were not equally in place  ten, twenty, fifty years ago.   Nor is it really the spread of ideas (these are surprisingly few;  emotions, rather), nor even Exemplary Action:  if anything, you would think that the dreadful results of the insurrection in Syria  would give potential insurrectionists pause.  Nor do Iraq, Egypt, Libya  or Tunisia  offer a hopeful model.  -- Likewise, you would have thought that Erdogan, contemplating the example of Assad (and Mubarak, and Gaddhafi) might have thought twice about playing the tyrant card…

And so the Zeitgeist rolls, groans in its sleep.   And its brain-born feverdreams  people the planet.


Philological footnote:
The three names above look similar because each is in origin a verbal noun (masdar) of a form-II Arabic verb.  In each case, the final vowel is long, and hence receives the stress:  tahh-REER, tagh-YEER, tak-SEEM.  (That “gh” is a gargling sound, similar to the Parisian “r”.)
Tahrîr means ‘liberation’;  Taghyîr means ‘change’ (click here for an explanation of why that square in San`aa is so named);  and Taksim  well, taksim doesn’t necessarily mean anything, it’s just the Turkish spelling of a word borrowed from Arabic,

ميدان تقسيم

I have no idea why the square was named that.  Literally, taqsîm means ‘division’, quite at variance with the usual Mideast fetish for Tawhîd (‘unity, unification’; also ‘monotheism’).  


For a more generous collection of morphosemantic remarks about Arabic, check out this:

A correspondent comments:

The real issue is the attraction of violence on the personal level, in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, etc.. Unstable societies with large components of young men with little to lose plus religious divisions and no protection for minority religious groups. But then most wars have always been holy wars.

My response:

That is a giant issue in societies generally, to be sure;  but, it by no means explains the movements symbolized by the three Squares here.
The current, potentially revolutionary situation in Turkey  was unleashed by a government plan to cut down some trees in a park, and the protestors are to a great extent women.   Nor does religion particularly figure in this one.
The very oddity and symbology of these "Square" protests are what make them intriguing.

Indeed, specifically in the Turkish case, the symbolism of that Square as the site for a militant ongoing sit-in, is especially piquant.  In the expert words of Wikipedia:

Taksim Square (Turkish: Taksim Meydanı), situated in the European part of Istanbul, Turkey, is a major tourist and leisure district famed for its restaurants, shops, and hotels. It is considered the heart of modern Istanbul

(And no, don’t imagine for a moment that the infallible Wikipedia, greatest of all the gods, has nodded here by so much as a jot or a tittle -- specifically, the jot or dot over the final vowel of Meydanı.   That is indeed orthographically a dotless “i”, its pronunciation comparable to that of the similar Russian vowel in non-palatal contexts.   Indeed, these vowels are not only phonetically but phonologically similar, since neither contrasts phonemically with the tenser variant, being rather conditioned by the palatal/nonpalatal environment.)

[Update 29 June 2013]  This morning’s Washington Post offers an intriguing survey of ‘Taksim’-like developments around the globe, emphasizing their volatility, unpredictability, and elusive etiology.   The trigger can be something as offbeat as this:

In the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, thousands of furious residents across ethnic lines united on the streets this month, at one point blockading lawmakers inside parliament for 14 hours to protest government ineptitude in clearing a massive backlog of unregistered newborns. Public anger erupted after a Facebook posting — about a 3-month-old baby whose trip to Germany for a lifesaving transplant had been delayed by the backlog — went viral.

Sarajevo, recall, is celebrated in history as the locale where a seemingly minor insident -- the 1914 assassination of a ducal royalty whose name otherwise would not even have come down to us -- proved the spark for a world-wide powder-keg.

[Update 26 juillet 2013]  The latest from Tunisia (miserere nobis, domine):

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