Elif Shafak on multiculturalism, the power of stories and making the political personal

Elif Shafak on multiculturalism, the power of stories and making the political personal



my guest today is Alicia Iliff is a writer novelist academic political activists she has written speeches that have gone viral on the internet and books that are some of the most widely read books particularly in her home country of Turkey although she's actually based in Britain and is an intern a sort of a citizen of the world I suppose it's fair to say although that's a funny phrase in this country right now you put politics together with your writing and always have I mean do you do that because you want to change the way people think well thank you I I I've always thought if you happen to be a storyteller from a wounded democracy from a wobbly country such as turkey Pakistan Egypt Venezuela the Philippines I mean the list is so long and it's getting longer but if you happen to be a novelist from these countries I don't think you have the luxury of being non-political a political you can't just say you know I'm only gonna write my stories and close the door also I am a feminist and one of the many wonderful things that the feminist movements of past generations taught us was that politics is not only about political parties it's not only about politically politicians or the Parliament it's beyond that wherever there's power relations there is politics the personal is also political so if you define politics in such a broad way again you can't be non-political there there is there are political questions in my work I like to ask questions what I don't like is when a writer tries to give the answers or try to teach or preach I don't like that at all but I think it's a writer's job to ask the difficult questions we made a feminist bio I think my early upbringing had a huge impact because I was raised by a single mother a divorcee a working mother at the time it was quite unusual I'm talking about late 1970s early 1980s Turkey I was raised by two women in fact my mother and my grandmother and there are very very different personalities my mom is very westernized very modern secularists well-educated my grandma is almost the exact opposite it's definitely less educated irrational in some ways you might say superstitious more spiritual more religious more Eastern and yet the Solidarity between these two women even though they were very different there was such solidarity between them and thanks to that solidarity my mom's life improved my life improved and I'm hoping you know my children's lives as well so I never forget that solidarity the support and I'm a big believer in sisterhood among women who come from different backgrounds I mean those two identities you just just described all the story of Turkey that is exactly right how did you choose your tribe I don't believe in tribes I don't like tribes and I think an artist needs to be needs to refuse to belong in a collectivistic identity or a tribe and this is a lonely position but I think it is the best position for for art and for the artists for the writer I have always felt since my childhood a bit like an outsider insider in my even in my own motherland so I'm familiar with that feeling always on the edge of the society close enough to understand it and to feel emotionally attached and connected but also maybe in in your mind a little bit distant enough to see things from a critical perspective that is a lonely position but I really think it is the right position for a writer what you live in London in some ways I know these are not favourable words anymore I keep a list of all the words that have fallen out of grace in the last decade including words such as multiculturalism diversity I know people underestimate these words in the world we're living in right now but they matter to me I come from a country that has lost its diversity that has lost this cosmopolitan heritage and I do know that by losing that we have lost a lot in Turkey and even something in our conscience was was gone there's a void there so I'm a big big supporter of cosmopolitan encounter drew you to this is one of the reasons I think it's a truly diverse society and and unlike many other places there is much more interaction here among people who come from different backgrounds so it's not like everybody in their own boxes things need to improve of course but there is a beautiful treasure of diversity that I'm not sure everybody appreciates on the other hand the fact that as a writer I felt free the freedom of speech that I found here as a woman the the Equality relative equality of course again there are lots of things to improve all these things matter to me and maybe I should add that I do write in the in in English as well as in Turkish so to be able to breathe this language to inhale this language it mattered to me so mostly because of the city itself but also the language the culture and the intellectual heritage that I found here drew me to this country so how have you felt watching the divisions and the tribalism and the identity politics and the hatred really takes heed in this country over the last few years you know that makes me really really sad because when I look back it's been 10 years now since I moved here and throughout those 10 years I have seen a big change a social cultural and political change I used to think when I first moved here British people are very calm when they talk about politics I no longer think that way I mean before referendum and during the referendum things change dramatically not to mention of course the mess that we are in right now it changed people it divided families friendships it affected but what worries me mostly is this emergence of tribalism how political demagogues just like they do elsewhere in other countries try to sell us this illusion that we will be safer if we are surrounded by sameness that's a lie that's an illusion but that's basically what they're trying to sell us but also it worries me when I see and hear things that resonate that bring to mind an imperial nostalgia you know talking about these golden days people talk about British exceptionalism but there's nothing exceptional about this kind of Imperial nostalgia that I hear from some leading brick city as that kind of rhetoric actually is happening elsewhere mostly in the along the fringes of Europe it's happening in Hungary it's happening in Poland even in you know places like Croatia in Austria so we have to understand how tribalism can become toxic how it's a catalyst it leads to other things and I think we need to remember what we have left behind memory is a responsibility we can't behave as if the past does not matter we do know we have had enough experience as human beings to know and that when nationalism tribalism isolationism takes hold that leads to a very dangerous place do you think multiculturalism led to tribalism and identity politics here's what I think I make a distinction I am very critical of the inequalities that globalization triggered and I think it was a shame that not many people understood these well enough and early enough yes globalization did bring lots of positive things but also it affected many people in many areas in a very negative way and that economic inequality but also emotional factors are important anxieties people rightly saw have lots of anxieties I think in many ways this is the age of anger it is age of anxiety resentment bitterness and many people rightly fear that their children or grandchildren are going to have a much harder life than they themselves had so there is a part of me that respects that understands that and I'm very critical of echo chambers I'm very critical of you know tribes we have to understand people who do not necessarily think like us talk like us or vote like us that's something else but I am also very critical of the demagogues who have been leading another movement of their own for their own political interest in Britain I think you know we you know we would a lot of people think well that there's no such thing as a demagogue in British politics I mean okay maybe I do an or you know Viktor Orban or maybe Trump even is a demagogue that is not true we do we do have demagogues it's it's not necessarily I mean we don't need to name names but I think we live in an age and this is happening all around the world in which the power of rhetoric is so so important facts can be sacrificed for rhetoric people say I mean throughout the referendum campaign we've seen a lot of that as well emotions can be stroked fear can be stroked just to give you one example I never forget that huge sign seventy millions of Turks are coming turkey is going to join the EU Turks are coming so it's time for us to leave everyone knew that that was a lie Turkey was not going to join the EU anytime soon it is not joining the EU even if that day comes one day in the you know in some distant future that kind of movement can be regulated but they still put that sign out there because it speaks to people's emotions so when I say political demagoguery I'm talking I'm referring to a particular rhetoric that is based on emotions that manipulates people's emotions and there's a lot of that going on at the moment in the world we're living in how did you feel I felt sad as if you know Turks out the barb you know this barbaric tribes at the gates of Europe also I felt sad because as someone who's always supported turkeys democracy EU membership because I thought it would be good for our democracy but also good for the continent in the long run I have experienced a different kind of tribalism back in Turkey and if I may put it this way when we isolate countries the only people who benefit from that are the isolationists themselves yeah so the tribalists the ultra-nationalist and the religious fundamentalist in Turkey never wanted Turkey to be part of Europe anyhow when I was growing up it was a different country you know back then we always thought we were part of Europe except Europeans were not aware of this but one day we would all come to an understanding now it's a different country now people are growing up young generations are being told that actually democracy is not necessarily our it doesn't necessarily suit us our national needs it's a Western concept maybe we should go and draw in the Shanghai pact we can look elsewhere so that kind of rhetoric is is very dangerous that kind of isolationist rhetoric especially for a country like Turkey and that makes me sad so I have I have been observing the damaging effects of tribalism in very different countries and I think they're all connected so you're squeezed on both sides aren't you I mean you know your turkey is moving in a direction that alarms you and Britain is rejecting people from foreign lands I think Britain is of course there isn't one single Britain feels like a less welcoming place then even for those who were born then it used to be I understand absolutely and we need to be very careful about about that when I look at myself I I've always been very critical of identity politics singular identities and belonging in one single category I I think as human beings our minds and our hearts are inclined to go beyond that to transcend those categories so when I look at myself I am an Istanbul light of course I'm very attached to Istanbul but I'm also a Londoner and I do believe that I can be two things at the same time I am attached to the Balkans the Aegean the Mediterranean there are elements in my soul that I bring from the Middle East I'm a European by birth and the values that I share and up I uphold and I became a British citizen over the years so and in on top of that I would like to believe that I am a global soul why not can I not be a world citizen you know why do we have to reduce ourselves narrow ourselves down into one category when in fact we can have and we do have multiple belongings so you can be a citizen of the world yes I know it's not it's not a positive word at the moment but it's very Teresa may particularly attacked that idea of if you were a citizen of the world you're a citizen of nowhere actually I so disagree if you are a citizen of the world it doesn't mean that you don't care about anywhere sometimes your attachments are even stronger because you're not you're not guided by any kind of nationalistic fervor or any jingoistic rhetoric it's it's it's a different kind of attachment emotional attachment you can love two cities multiple cultures multiple belongings at the same time that kind of patriotism without being nationalistic is an interesting conceptual difference that nowadays of course people like macron are talking about but I've always thought patriotism is too important to leave to nationalists faith is too important a concept to leave to the to the religious I think these are areas where the Liberals left need to rethink more actively I I think faith and patriotism are concepts that we haven't really thought about for a long time what role does faith play in your life I what I am more interested in is the dance between faith and doubt I think faith is important but faith without doubt is a dogma and dogmas are quite dangerous what puts me off is this need for certainty that I observe among you know lots of people who are very religious they want to be very sure of the ground beneath their feet and they want to get rid of doubt and when I talk to people who are very sure of their atheism they want to get rid of faith whereas what intrigues me is the dance between these two can they talk to each other faith and out can't can they accompany each other can they be companions so I guess in that sense I'm closer to agnostics people who are not that sure you know who see life as a journey as an open-ended journey I don't like certainties to make asking questions and having open under journeys matters much more what I do not is collectivistic religions because I think at the end of the day they're all based openly or secretly on this assumption that there is an us and there's a them and that us is closer to the truth or closer to God than them so that kind of dualistic framework doesn't work for me I mean we're sort of dancing around Islam I mean in the in the doubt exists very obviously in Anglican Christianity and Hinduism and Judaism and the place where doubt doesn't really exist as Islam actually I do disagree and I'll try to explain why I disagree because I think first of all I do agree that today unfortunately an orthodoxy dominates the mainstream of Islamic religion however historically and even today when you look at the periphery heterodoxy always existed and actually when you walk around Istanbul you will come across some Sufi cemeteries and I'm not trying to romanticize Sufis either because there might be some Sufis who can be just as hierarchical just as patriarchal as the mainstream itself but there's something in the ancient philosophy of heterodox mysticism in Islam that was quite critical actually of the orthodoxy and because of these these people throughout the centuries have been silenced persecuted when you read people like Rumi shams of Tabriz or even Arabic there is a reason why their voices have been suppressed silenced censored today by the orthodoxy that we're both critical of so there is a there's an element of doubt actually we have these Bektashi poems in Turkey and across the Middle East similar narratives as well questioning the imagery over of a transcendental patriarchal God that the orthodoxy created questioning with humor I I that culture is still there that philosophy is still there but of course it has been suppressed to a large extent I mean it's not that's actually the tragedy of what's going on in Turkey at the moment that the church he truly was the bridge between Asia and Europe he could have could have been so much more of a bridge today at a time where it is needed more than ever yeah yeah and yet it isn't and what a shame that is because as you as is so rightly said it could have been that bridge turkey had never a proper democracy but it wasn't as bad as this I mean we've been going backwards and in that regard I think Turkey does hold important lessons for progressive minded people everywhere because it shows us a few important lessons one obviously that history is not necessarily linear you know we tend to think that the future is going to be more developed than today that is not necessarily the case secondly it shows us that generations can make exactly the same mistakes as their great-grandparents had made as if the nation is drawing circles but I think it also shows that I am that bit because I'd like to explore that a bit these are countries that in our past there are so many dark chapters that we can't talk about or is that even though it has an old rich history it's a society of amnesia you know we have collective amnesia that's what we're suffering from that is why in Turkey it's very difficult to talk about the Armenian Genocide the moment you utter the words you're labeled as a betrayer it's very difficult to talk about lots of dark chapters in our history and yet we must in order to grow up in order to face in order to say you know I share the pain I understand and hopefully those mistakes you know those horrible things will never happen again hopefully the future will be better but in order to say that we have to have a memory we have to have a responsibility so we don't properly learn from history in Turkey instead there's a void and that void is filled with ultra nationalistic very bombastic in religious rhetoric about our great Ottoman ancestors what a great Empire we were this is the popular culture in Turkey at the moment and of course it's very much backed by the political elite and we see similar things happening in Hungary in those even in Austria I see the same nostalgia tossing about I mean a lot of people are concerned that Europe is not you know people are incredulous but it's a that it is possible for Europe not to have the mistakes of history as the first thing it thinks off when it wakes up in the morning when we all wake up in the morning and yes you know do you think we are at risk of making the same mistake yes it's quite interesting there are several academic studies that have been conducted recently I just want to share one of them which was done by a Harvard professor Yeshua monk to me it's very important because he asked this question how vital it is for you to live in a democracy to citizens on both sides of the Atlantic and what he found out was the importance of age people above a certain age people who either had the memory of the Second World War or the aftermath you know they over 70% of them of that group said it is incredibly vital for me it is essential for me to live in a democracy under the age of 30 that percentage drops to 25 only 25 percent of the Millennials said it was very crucial for them to live in a democracy so memory is important because when you have the memory of the days of war or the aftermath when you know what jingoism ultra-nationalism tribalism led then you appreciate democracy more I'm not saying democracy is a bed of roses there are lots of problems but it is the best political system we as human beings could come up with we need to improve it liberal pluralistic democracy but abundant democracy will end up in a catastrophe my worry is and this is also happening in the Middle East for different reasons I hear lots of people even people have been educated in the Western world saying and I wrote about this in one of my novels the three daughters of Eve people saying you know democracy doesn't suit us maybe what we need is a Singapore model we need a strong leader getting with technocrats and good economy but democracy is not a priority anymore human rights is not a priority freedom of speech is not a priority when things come to that point I think the door the world will be a much darker place yes because I mean you do hear people now saying democracy's not such a yeah yeah great thing even in this country yeah yeah talking about people who are too stupid to vote don't know what they're doing you know voting is so important it is so important we can't brush it aside but again coming back to Turkey I think one important lesson that Turkey has given us is the difference between democracy and majoritarianism you know you can have a ballot box you can have relatively free elections regular elections but still that's not enough to render a system a democracy if there is no rule of law separation of powers if there's no free and diverse media independent academia if there's no women's rights LGBT rights minority rights without all these components if you only have the ballot box or if you only or mostly rely on the election results that system is not a democracy so majoritarianism and once majoritarianism settles in from there into authoritarianism it's a very short slide it's a very short step how do you go about telling a story in your novels what's the process for you i am i start with small questions i like a child i think we should never lose that curiosity why was it like that what really happened most of my stories come to me through images it's like photographs i chase those visual moments but also maybe because I have this academic background I take my research very seriously whether it's a historical novel or a contemporary novel I read everything I can find on that subject i immerse myself fully and then there comes the moment when you stop breathing and then you can fly then you can dream but for me to be able to dream my story fully and freely I need to my subjects and for that I do a lot of research how did you become a storyteller I I was an only child I thought my life was terribly boring and because I moved around a lot my life was very nam addict in a way I felt very very lonely and so I know it sounds a bit like a cliche but books really were my friends and books saved me they gave me a sense of center that I otherwise lacked and I when I you know every time I moved into story land I felt more free to me it was much more much more real if I may share this with you in my grandmother's house it was it was full of superstitions evil eye beads you know coffee cup readings melting lead it was there was a lot of magic in that house and yet this was a time when outside the window outside the house in Turkey bombs were exploding there are political marches human rights violations and I remember as a child as a teenager sitting by that window and thinking about this outside world with its political chaos and my grandmother's world inside the house with its magic and maybe irrationality and maybe there's a part of me that wants to leave the political and the magical in in in my stories I want to bridge those two worlds when did you first write something you're proud of I started actually writing at an early age but that's not because I wanted to become a novelist I didn't know such a thing was possible you know it was like an almost need like an animal instinct I tried to keep Diaries journals but because I thought my days were very boring I thought there was nothing to write so I started making up things about people who didn't exist and things that hadn't happened so for me it was a very short step from keeping Diaries into writing short stories and then once I started writing novels at an early age I loved that huge canvas that the novel can give you where you can have we can discuss ideas when emotions and thoughts can mingle the heart and the mind can work so I love the I love the novel as a genre very much but if I may add this I think writing in English was also a big turning point for me and it wasn't easy because I did not grow up bilingual and when I look at my own children I see the difference they're always making fun of my mispronunciation the words my son is still trying to teach me how to say squirrel which I can't see it's so hard so I'm very much aware like every foreigner or late comer I'm very much aware that there's a gap between my mind and my tongue and the mind runs faster and the tongue is trying to catch up that gap can be a bit intimidating but I also think it's very inspiring is stimulating you know over time I realized I love writing in English it gives me maybe a sense of freedom and I feel maybe more intellectually attached whereas to the Turkish language I feel more emotionally attached and I need I need both if there is melancholy sadness sorrow in my writing I find it easier to express it in Turkish and humor satire irony is much easier in English I mean we don't even have the word irony in Turkish so imagine you know all these cultural differences I find them fascinating what do you think the role is of the novel in an era of the internet and box sets videos people were so worried you will remember you know how ebooks were going to take over and actually because we were living in a very fast-moving society the age of fast food and fast information there would be no place for novels and that prediction wasn't actualizing it didn't it didn't happen that way it might someday but not so fast and I think there's a reason because the faster we run the bigger our need to slow down and just to sit down and go within and stories provide that you know stories connect us with people beyond our own limited existence and there's a big value to that if I may give you an example I have mini readers back in Turkey who are actually quite xenophobe you know if you ask their opinions about Armenians Kurds Jews Greeks the main minority is in Turkey they will tell you lots of negative things that they've just heard from people around them but then they come and they say you know I've read your novel and I love this character I cried when that character was hurt and the character they're talking about is Armenian or Jewish or Greek equally I have lots of homophobic readers because this is a very homophobic land my motherland is and then they come they say this is the character that I loved most and maybe that personality is gay or bisexual or transsexual so I thought about this a lot how is it possible that people who are much more intolerant bias dogmatic in the public space when they are reading a novel alone they become a little bit just relatively more ready to understand the story of the other you know and I don't think it's a coincidence because all authoritarian regimes all collectivistic ideologies they need synchronized energy of the masses people chanting together people moving together you need to erase individuality in order for fascism to flourish or in order for any totalitarian ideology to flourish what the novel does is to restore that kind of individuality but not a selfish individuality it's the kind of individuality that connects you with the rest of humanity by reminding you that the other is in fact your brother that the other is your sister that the other is me you know it's no different than me so I for me that's very important and I think at the end of the day racism sexism nationalism they all try to dehumanize the other and stories try to reunite those people who have been dehumanized so at this age in the age we're living in right now I think storytelling has to be political but I'm not talking about partisan politics I'm not talking about party politics just core shared values democracy human rights equality on these issues we have to be vocal in my opinion as writers do you remember the books that first moved you yes young reader I remember them actually very vividly for different reasons some of them because I fell in love with their style language some others because of the stories and I and my reading lists are very eclectic I like to read from east and west I read on mysticism but I also read political philosophy I read fiction and nonfiction I'm a curious reader you know it's as simple as that I do not believe in this artificial distinction between so-called highbrow literature whatever that means as long as it speaks to us our hearts or our minds we will read it you know whatever I don't care about the genre or the category I just want to connect and I want the act of reading to be to be continuous I think every writer needs to be a good reader and stay as a curious reader all their lives so how do we get people to read I'm speaking she was a father now yeah I share I hear you of teenage yeah children who who resist reading serious books how do you how do you introduce literature of course you know it's also a challenge for me as a mother of young children but I think it has to start with us because if children observe their own parents reading at home then you don't have to say anything the problem is we often say something but we don't do it ourselves because we don't have time but if they see us reading on the tube you know going from somewhere to another sharing stories and oral stories matter as well I never underestimate oral culture that is incredibly important in the Middle East in Ireland I listen to women and my god how rich is that that heritage that culture so there are many ways of sharing stories but I think if we make it a vital part of our daily lives children we don't need to say anything further they observe it and they take it in as much as they want because pushing and insisting is not going to help on the other hand I find it very important to have libraries to support libraries you know to make books accessible to children from very different backgrounds including disadvantaged backgrounds because at the end of the day if you cannot Ford books no matter how much we talk about literacy it's not going to get us anywhere so it's another thing that breaks our hearts to see how local councils and at a national level as well the money the budgets put aside for libraries is dwindling is just shrinking do you think movies and television are a good influence on reading or not I mean are they are they are they're an easy alternative or are they an introduction to storytelling I'm not like unlike many of my colleagues I'm not completely against you know TV and actually I think there can be any interesting collaboration between cinema and literature we have seen prime examples of that but of course it is mostly the the video games that worry me because the way they affect our wire our brains is very different you know how our mechanical things become how repetitive things become and once you're fixated there they're interesting studies that show us the impact of such games particularly on the minds of young people's evolving brains so that's the thing that that worries me what is the role of the mass media now in in a country that is deeply divided where there's lots of political anger hatred and actually where the main function of the media is to is to err the division and exposes rather than try to bring people together because the mass media doesn't see its role as trying to heal anything how do we change course it's quite interesting to see this duality being repeated again and again you know real people versus the elite I think we need to stop there and question who exactly is the real elite how I'm very critical of elitism however I also don't buy this duality that's being repeated over and over again and I find it's very dangerous this romanticization of the VOC of the people which was one of the core elements of nationalism in 1920's 1930's 1940's the romanticization of the real people goes hand in hand with the denigration of the intellect we are looking down upon the word intellectual in this country you know nobody wants to be called an intellectual it's the worst thing you can say about someone because immediately we think it's arrogance intellect matters you know I'm not talking about elitism but to put thought into a subject to talk about it publicly these are things that are important so much more important than that I think I have a lot of respect for journalists for proper journalists who are trying to do their jobs journalism became the most dangerous profession in many parts of the world there was a survey in Turkey two years ago they asked people in your opinion what are the three most dangerous professions in Turkey at the moment people said the police forces the military and the third job they mentioned was journalism I mean the fact that journalism is mentioned alongside police and the army it tells us something but it's not only in Turkey as we're saying in in Brazil right now in Venezuela in the Philippines in Russia obviously so in an age in which the truth is being eroded people can easily use words like alternative facts it's constantly blurred and and most dangerously we are being bombarded by misinformation and after a while people don't know what to believe in anymore those are very dangerous thresholds and I think we need journalism we need proper journalism more than ever ever before if journalism if the media diversity and independence collapses as we have seen in Turkey the collapse of democracy is imminent because this is so vital for democracy to breathe we need the media we can be angry at journalists we all are at some point in our lives but I have a lot of respect for the for the profession itself if writing for you should be political what is the goal I think the goal is to ask questions as writers we are certainly interested in words language stories but equally I believe we are interested in silences I know I am when I say silences the things that we cannot about the taboos in a society this could be a political taboo it could be a sexual taboo but asking questions about issues that we can't debate openly just saying why is it like that you know and having an open space in your stories in your books where you can hear a multiplicity of voices and then leave the answers to the reader it's up to the reader to make up their own mind to come up with their own solutions or their own paths that is something that the writer should never try to you know manipulate or not so teach or preach that's where I make a distinction so questions to me are very important asking difficult questions about difficult issues and having open spaces in my novels where I can discuss these issues and to be honest when I look up my work I realize I've always been interested in giving more voice to people who have less voice I've always been interested in bringing minorities to the center the periphery to the center to me this matters people who stories have been forgotten erase there's a part of me that wants to say to my readers remember remember the stories that we have forgotten or or at the end of the day I think all literature is a mental exercise to put yourself in the shoes of another person I never forget I was a high school student one day I read a novel by Yvonne rich the bridge over the Drina and to me it was it was eye-opening in many ways because as a Turk at school I had swallowed this ultra nationalistic education and I always thought that we were a great Empire with a great military etc and then he was evil and rich telling me have you ever thought about the story of the Empire from the eyes of two peasants who lived in the Balkans how did they experience that story and then he has these two characters one of them is very critical the other one is also underlining the positive sides of the Empire but they're having a dialogue and that dialogue was eye-opening to me because you realize there is no such thing as history as an absolute truth but in fact there are many stories that we've never heard about how do you can apply that sort of teaching of empathy yes to current lives when you think about where Britain is right now I think it's so crucial to teach empathy to ourselves and to younger generations and it has to be done through stories because when you hear someone else's story when you realize how multiple their stories are it is much more difficult to generalise the other then I cannot make sweeping generalizations about women or men about whites or blacks you know it becomes harder because I know individual stories so it's incredibly important to bring not only one story but a huge multiplicity of stories and also as human beings we are emotional creatures we need to accept this fact and we connect through stories if I know someone else's sorrow pain what they've gone through there's a part of me that understands it better if I only read about categories or numbers then I stop feeling it's very interesting to me when I look at the writings of people who have survived the worst atrocities in human history including the Holocaust genocide civil wars almost all of them are saying almost the same thing they say that the opposite of goodness kindness is not necessarily evil or badness you know they're saying these atrocities happened not necessarily because people were evil they say the opposite of goodness is numbness is the moment when we stop feeling indifference when we are desensitized you know there comes a threshold when we stop caring whether it's five thousand refugees five hundred thousand refugees numbers don't mean anything after a while if I don't know their stories that threshold is something that I find very dangerous because once we have that kind of desensitized numbness once we stop caring for the other then anything can happen from that moment onwards so I think it's the job of storytellers to punch holes in that role of numbness and hopefully help people to feel empathy for the other if people haven't read why should they start that's that's difficult for me because when I look at my books each and every one of them is very very different and I think I changed by the time I started writing them I was a different person when I finished I feel like something in me has shifted but I I guess I might advise if I may to start with either the three daughters of Eve which is the latest or the 40 rules of love which is a bit more mystical the bastard of Istanbul which has a little bit more anger and higher energy or the architects Apprentice which is a historical novel I asked all my guests what they think that their most controversial or difficult to achieve way of changing the world might be I think I like small steps and I find small steps important I don't belittle them and I I think we live in an age in which we all of us need to become activists for human rights for freedom of speech for democracy we need to become more active citizens and there's a lot we can do actually that energy that comes from civil society not not top-down but the other way around I I like that I believe in that we need to keep an eye on the Internet it was such a big mistake that kind of extreme optimism of early 2000s when people thought thanks to technology we were all gonna become one big global democracy now we know better the dark side of Technology we need to be aware of that we need to be aware of the dangers of misinformation right we need to be aware of the dangers of numbness and we all need to be more engaged citizens we have to become engaged it either at local regional or national level care about core issues we don't have to be partisan not at all but be engaged politically in our civil societies in our communities and to speak up louder and I honestly think we need more feminine energy we need more women speaking up in the public space and the diversity of women and more minorities speaking up in the public space thank you very much indeed

36 thoughts on “Elif Shafak on multiculturalism, the power of stories and making the political personal

  1. Elif Şafak'ın bu kadar iyi İngilizce konuştuğunu bilmiyordum. Harbiden teklemeden konuşuyor helal olsun. Tabii ki anlattıkları her zaman ilgi çekici, dinlemeye değer. Ozellikle 15:40 civari din hakkinda dedikleri cok basit, ama cok da dogru seyler kanaatimce.

  2. Turkey is very lucky to have such a writer. Sadly the country is not aware of it, like it is never aware of most of its wonders.

  3. Sometimes the beauty without equals the beauty within and the beauty of the voice equals the beauty of the message.

  4. Is there a chance for a talk between Elif Shafak and Jordan Peterson? If anyone who reads this has a chance of initiating such a conversation… I'm begging you to try!

  5. Feminism, multiculturalism and secularism are the unholy trinity leading to the fall of the west…. this piece of rejected filth has been spitted out of it own country and embraced by the west because????

  6. When are Channel 4 going to give as much air-time to other deranged conspiracy theorists as they do feminists? Get a few dozen Scientologists on your headline interview shows in the next few months.

  7. Apart from all the multi kulti leftist bullshit, there's no solidarity between women. What you've mentioned was a loving mother-daughter relation. Women are loyal to their men and families, not to other women. You are a 50 yo woman, Elif, and don't know that? Unrelated women (subconsciously or not) hate each other and rivalize with one another, even best friends, sometimes even sisters. Now, think about the women in your lives, people, and tell me it isn't true.

  8. Multiculturalism doesn’t work, and even Tony Blair admitted this. I am not anti immigration, but I would like to see controlled and sustainable levels

  9. Always enjoy seeing people get upset by "multiculturalism"….you just know they cry salty right-wing tears.

  10. Sameness doesn't make you safer? Tell that to the Japanese. They're so safe that the police has to go on strike because there isn't enough work for them to do. Japan is one of the most homogeneous countries in the world. Does she seriously believe Japan would remain as safe if it's flooded with Pakistanis or Nigerians? You have to be seriously deluded to think that.

  11. so make Turkey officially multi-cultural, go campaign over there, tell them they have no free speech… and why Turkish-British? why two countries when I only have one? #ElifShalak

  12. Diversity usually leads to ghettos in capitalist countries. Elif has done well so would be able to avoid these poorer, crime-riddled areas.

  13. Between the Russian bots, fake accounts and the actual racist bigots, it's difficult to have a proper conversation on the topics raised. So many negative and false claims made. Which is the whole point for some.

    Without sharing understanding there will always be mistrust of the other.

  14. I'm originally from Turkey 30 years living in London ( nearly all my life) I went to Turkey last year and I realise how much I don't belong there mentally and after brexit I realised I don't belong to UK physically

  15. Excellent Brave woman storyteller with feminist eyes of the future living in the present times. Merci bien🍀

  16. In summary; there are exceptions to every well established, observable pattern. So let's ignore the pattern.

  17. Ūetta er mjög gott Viðtal og ræða. Ég vil líka því lengur viðtal – það er mjög upplýsandi

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